FRC Doesn't Need to be a "Spectator Sport" to Change Culture

tldr; FRC doesn’t need to be viewed by all audiences to change culture and making it more like a conventional spectator sport (in having the same rules every year) takes away what what we (at least I) love about FRC.

btw, not trying to sound like “my FRC” is being threatened, cause I don’t think it is - just musing

A couple months ago the announcement for FIRST’s 2021 theme, Game Changers, came out. It seemed to be the consensus that FIRST might be ditching the medieval, steampunk, 8-bit, and scifi themes to go for something with a more mass market appeal - that’s all cool with me, though I did really like those themes.

At the time, it was also suggested (if my memory serves) was that FIRST could use the Infinite Recharge replay as an opportunity to transition to games that are similar year to year so that a wider audience can watch and appreciate what is going on without having to learn new rules every year. (I don’t necessarily think this will happen but it was discussed). I think the main argument was that if FIRST wants “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated…” they could do this by selling FRC as a spectator sport for the masses and in that way get STEM a little more love from the general populace.

While working on our team manual I was looking at FIRST’s vision statement and that brought the discussion into the front of my mind. This had been brewing in my head for some time and I decided to post it here: I think the most effective way for FIRST to change culture is to have a team at every school - something Dean has already expressed is a goal of his. Simply put, the best way to change the world’s mind set (in my potentially naive belief) is by starting with the kids. If there is a team in every (or even a lot) of schools and each team participates in outreach and represents FIRST’s goals I think the culture change part is pretty well covered.

In the discussion about what it would take to make FRC a televised, a couple of points came up. 1) FRC would probably have to become more restricted to raise the level of play (even quals at champs can sometimes not be that impressive to watch), and 2), if you are only a causal spectator (not an active member of a team) it takes a bit of effort to fully understand the ever changing rules and so the rules would likely have to remain mostly static year to year.

I think doing those things would really hurt FRC. Firstly, making FRC more restricted would go against the goal of having a FIRST team at every school. Secondly, a fresh challenge every is what makes a lot of us love FRC. Members of our team were more upset to learn that they wouldn’t get a new design challenge in 2021 than they were to learn we wouldn’t get to complete this year (yes, covid will disrupt 2021 too - but that’s besides the point). Doing something new each year is what makes some people tick.

Maybe FRC isn’t the program for the masses, maybe a totally new program can televised, maybe Princess Bride is the best movie in existence (it is) - that’s not really what I’m getting at. IMO, culture change doesn’t require a Robotics Cable Network and totally new robots every year is what’s kept me coming back to FRC.

Just thinking. If one person reads this I’ll call it a success.

PS. Am a 2020 grad so GL next year and I hope you all get as much of a season as possble.


Please know that at least one person was very very happy to read this.

I 100% agree with everything you said, new game challenges are the backbone of what keeps FRC fresh and exciting. The strategic game analysis and conceptual design of a new robot are just as exciting as the competitions for me, and I really hope FRC continues offering new games.


As someone who very, very strongly feels that FIRST should place much more priority on making FRC more spectator friendly, I don’t think there’s really any widespread belief that FIRST should move away from the “new game every year” model.

The biggest things that I, as a proponent of the “make FRC more mass media friendly” side, want to see HQ do is:
a. Design games that are more spectator friendly. This means avoiding overly crowded fields with bad sightlines, convoluted scoring mechanics that aren’t visibly obvious while watching matches, etc. I honestly think most of the things that make games more audience-friendly frankly just make better games as well.
b. Put more effort into raising the competitive floor of FRC. This is a hard, complicated problem, no easy solutions here. One potential solution I’ve seen is a more expansive KOP that includes an Everybot-style robot that can score points.

I don’t see making FRC more mass media friendly as an either/or scenario with continuing to expand the program.

This is more of a return to normalcy IMO, heavily themed games only started in 2016.

I don’t think district events or qualification matches will ever have the quality of play to make FRC televised well without unnecessary restrictions. That being said, FRC events are long, just televising elimination matches of your DCMP seems pretty reasonable. This is (I believe) similar to what FiM has been doing for years.

The devil is in the details here; having a FIRST team at every school /=/ having an FRC team at every school. Unless FRC substantially changes to drastically lower it’s barrier to entry, I don’t think it’s realistic to have FRC in it’s current form in every school. A mix of FRC and FTC? Possibly.


Agreed fielding a competitive FRC is easily 15-20K a year 5K registration 5K robot 5-10K everything else before considering not having a free build space or going to DCMP or multiple regionals or God forbid world, the cost is the number one constraint on FRC growing and probably kills more teams then anything else.

Ya, this makes sense and the two points you mention probably would make the games better for everyone. It’s just that in the one thread (I forget which one and it was big so I didn’t want to go digging for the post) keeping the same rules every year was suggested. Like I said, I don’t actually think that’s likely to happen but I just wanted to talk about it.

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I was deliberate in my choice of words here. While Dean may have mentioned have an FRC team in every school I don’t think that is realistic with the current cost structure. I think it’s enough to have a FIRST team in every school.

Making frc spectator friendly doesn’t just come down to keeping the game same every year. Something like aerial assist is easy to understand even if you haven’t read the rulebook but still requires unique engineering solutions to play, meaning anyone can just watch a couple matches and figure out the basic rules. With simpler field elements and simpler rules, we can keep the yearly game change that provides a lot of the FRC experience while still reducing some cost and making frc more “mainstream”.


This fallacy needs to go away.

2008 - Racing/NASCAR theme
2009 - Moon/NASA theme
2010 - Soccer/World Cup theme
2011 - Logo Theme (in honor of Jack Kamen)
2012 - Basketball Theme
2015 - Recycling Theme

Many of these themes were explicitly stated by FIRST prior to or during kickoff.

What started in 2016 was a heavier use of field elements with printed graphics.
Unified themes across programs started in 2018-19.


They had themes, sure, but FIRST in 2011 wasn’t like “Make all your team’s branding FIRST logo themed and we’ll make FIRST logo themed jokes and have a FIRST Logo rapper in the Kickoff presentation!” 2016 was when they started theming everything from the field to the cups at the Championships.


I think that’s what I meant by heavily, I was a student from 2010-2013 and those themes felt significantly milder and at least somewhat integral to the game design as well. 2016 (or 2015) onwards seemed much heavier on the theming overlayed on a separately designed game with elaborate backstories, tie in with HQ released media (anyone remember the cringy 2016 kickoff broadcast), more field graphics and much more elaborate field setups, etc. Overall, it just seems like there was a point where a decision was made to make the games more of a spectacle.


Most football teams spend more than FRC teams, I think that FRC is “expensive” in the U.S., is just a sad excuse. It’s a matter of priorities, and unfortunately it still seems the priority is on sports that damage your mind, rather than ones that expand it.


You want to come over here and change the admin’s minds, you’re welcome to try… :wink:

I’d agree, in general, but the fact is that the admins (particularly in some states) are all about the sports teams having the latest and greatest, partly because of the admission fees. It’ll be particularly entertaining this fall to see how they handle having no revenue from sports admissions…

Meanwhile, the robotics team doesn’t bring in $$ for the school…

That’s definitely part of it a lot of highschool sports teams generally football and sometimes baseball often break even due to concession and ticket sales and the sports that are lower profile get the same nothing in school support we do. Some schools run massively expensive massively lose making sports teams but it’s probably fewer then most people think.

11 years ago, my school, a school known across the state for its academics, didn’t want to let the robotics team take time off school to go to the world championships after we won chairman’s in Seattle, meanwhile when the baseball or football team or whatever was in state semifinals or whatever it was, the whole school got a day off. And this is a school that charges high tuition for its academic rigor. That kind of crap makes me extremely upset. And I’m sad 11 years later it doesn’t seem to have changed at all.


Not really familiar with this as Canadian in a smaller high school (we have no football or baseball [it’s less common overall here] and our school is pretty supportive). …In what way does this related to the above? If schools had better priorities more of them could have frc teams?

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Yes, U.S. Schools mostly have money for these things, it’s just they choose to spend it on sports, or a second gym, or what have you, instead of on the academic achievement and improvement of their students.

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At least most of the schools I was around did - probably not all schools, but a lot of them.

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that’s an interesting statement without support.


I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

U.S. High schools tend to spend money on sports, as they believe they can actually make money back at a certain point if they spend enough on them. This can be seen clearly when looking at the best High School football teams(often in Texas), which can easily make over $10k in ticket sales per game. The school admin sees those schools and envisions a future where they make that kind of money for their own school too. Additionally, having good school sports is seen as a type of prestige for the school, much more so than a superb debate team, model UN, having reps in the International Mathematical Olympiad, a good robotics team, etc. To the administration, they generally believe that better sports means more students, means more money. They aren’t actually really wrong on that either.

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the vast majority of sports is done at a loss to the school. Football, and in some places basketball, profits are used to pay for the other sports.