[FTC]: NorCal Advancement

I was reading the advancement page for Northern California FIRST the other day, some pre-competition scouting, when I discovered that only host teams and inspire award winners were guaranteed advancement to the NorCal regional championships. “Next eligible teams”, so winning alliance captains, are placed into a LOTTERY to advance to the regional championship. I’m curious, does any other state do this? I’m an alum of VAFIRST, and we always had six qualifiers where at least 6 teams had the opportunity to advance.
The team I mentor has been incredibly discouraged by the realization that all the hard work they put in may all go to chance in a lottery. They’re not hosting a competition, and don’t have the time or the resources to have a winning inspire award presentation/operations. They do have the time to build an incredible robot; they’ve been the winning and finalist alliance captain several times over. This is only their second season!
So my question is, is this unusual? When I contacted NorCal FIRST Tech Challenge on their Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/norcalftc/posts/10154238952506298], I was told that the options were shrinking the regional championship (I’m unsure how this changes anything) or having a lottery. I don’t understand why they can’t advance the inspire award and winning alliance captain, and then have a lottery of host teams (whose advancement is optional) and next eligible teams.

What are others thoughts on this?

I posted my thoughts on this:
In the middle of “How FIRST inspires me” campaign even a possibility of winning team not advancing is hugely un-inspiring. May be slogan “Sport for the mind” need to be changed to “lottery for the mind”? I am so glad we don’t have to deal with this headache.

It is amazingly uninspiring, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Our first competition is next weekend, and prior to discovering this, we were very excited about it. After finding this out, all of the energy was sucked out of the team. We know we can win if we try hard enough, but for us to win and then not advance? It really disappointed them. Their goal for this year was to make it to worlds. They made it to super regionals last year, but not farther, and they felt they’d learned from their mistakes and could go farther. And now… they may not go farther, even if they do win, because they weren’t selected in a lottery.

Man, I feel so fortunate that we do not have these headaches. FTC saturation in Canada is very small, so we have much better chance to advance and it’s simply either Inspire Award or Captain of winning alliance.
I attempted to understand US system with it’s multitude of FTC teams and my head got spinning. This situation makes it even more confusing for me.

I hope you guys will find ways to get re-inspired in spite of these difficulties. May be even make it into a life lesson.

The two NorCal competitions next weekend will both advance their winning alliance captain to the NorCal championship, provided that team has not advanced already. Google has no host team, and Burlingame is a two-field event, so they have more advancement slots. (Saratoga, another two-field event, advanced four teams. I believe Burlingame would be the same.) The official Advancement Summary page has more details. I hope that helps.

Those are two of 14 competitions though.

I did a breakdown of the advancement data I have, for those who are curious.

The policy that has decided been on states that a minimum of 2 teams (4 teams for the 3 two-field events) will be advancing to the NorCal regional championships. Under this policy, the only two teams guaranteed a spot at the championship, from any qualifier are the host team (whose advancement, according to section 4.8.2 of the game manual part 1, is optional), and the Inspire Award winner. At the 3 two-field events, the Winning Alliance Captain and Inspire 2nd place also advance. The remaining teams will be drawn by lottery.

A breakdown of the data would indicate there are 12 host teams, for 14 qualifiers (not the 16 the website claims), plus 14 Inspire Award winners, equals 26 teams. From the 3 two-field qualifiers, an additional six teams get slots: 3 Winning Alliance Captains and 3 Inspire 2nd place. That adds up to 32 of the 48 available slots. The remaining 16 slots are then to be filled via lottery.

There are still 9 Winning Alliance Captains that do not have a spot (as there are 14 qualifiers, and 3 are two-field events that automatically advance the Winning Alliance Captain, plus 2 no-host events). Instead of advancing these Winning Alliance Captains automatically, when there are clearly still slots available for them to take, and filling the last available slots by lottery, the policy is instead to fill all 16 slots via lottery. This in turns creates the highly probable situation where a Winning Alliance 2nd pick or Think Award winner is selected to go to the regional championships instead of a Winning Alliance Captain who earned the spot, according to the rule of advancement from the game manual (section 4.8.2, part 1).

How is this a sensible solution? It appears more like faulty mathematics, where it was decided to simply divide the number of available seats by the number of qualifiers and then declare that that is the most any competition can send automatically, while advancing an optional team over a mandatory team, instead of taking a moment to consider the situation and work out a neater, more equitable solution.

Last year, there were 11 qualifiers—12 if you count Daly City (two fields) twice. Each qualifier advanced 4 teams, and Daly City advanced an extra 4, since there were two fields. 48 teams exactly. [http://www.norcalftc.org/2014-2015-advancement-results-2/]
This year, 3 new physical qualifier locations have been added, and 2 additional 2 field events, for a total of 17 qualifiers; roughly 1.5 times more qualifiers than last year, and half the number of teams automatically advancing. And yet, one qualifier was rescheduled because there were not enough teams participating and 5 qualifiers remain open into their 3rd play, with a number of teams already signed up to play 3 events! 2 competitions, both next weekend, remain open to those who wish to play a 4th event! [http://www.norcalftc.org/qualifying-tournament-status/].

Increasing the number of qualifiers so drastically was patently unnecessary and the issue is further compounded by the decision to fill the remaining 16 slots, a full 3rd of the competition, by LOTTERY, instead of awarding those slots to deserving teams who earned them, and now face the possibility of not being able to advance in the competition because by chance they were not drawn from the lottery.

Can you clarify for me what is “host team”? And in case you know the answer, why is it decided they automatically advance?

A host team is one that puts on the event at their venue or school. They gather the volunteers and run the event. Normally spending more money to run the event than to compete in it.

A host team is a team that “hosts” the qualifier. As far as I know they offer space, resources, volunteers, etc. to put on a qualifier. FIRST lists, in section 4.8.2 of game manual part one, that in the advancement rankings, OPTIONALLY, the host team of a competition may be granted an automatic slot at the regional championship.

Game Manual, Part 1, Section 4.82 states
1. Optional – Qualifier Host Team (NOTE: Each region’s Affiliate Partner decides if this advancement
opportunity will be offered
, and if so, when the host Team must be identified. The Team should
compete at one other Tournament within the region and must meet the criteria set forth by the Affiliate
Partner in the agreement. This advancement applies to Qualifying Tournament hosts only, and does
NOT apply to host Teams of Meets, League Championships or Championship Tournaments).”

The “optional” refers to the decision of whether a QT will have a Host Team, not to the advancement.

That’s not actually true. You are citing the advancement section of the game manual; it doesn’t say optional to have to have a host team. It says “each regions affiliate partner decides if this advancement opportunity will be offered”. The affiliate partner (NorCal) has chosen to offer the optional advancement. They are not required, as per the advancement section of the game manual to offer advancement to the host teams.

I am missing something - aren’t there more lottery picks than teams in the lottery?

I count 17 lottery picks of 14 teams in the lottery. (I count 11 host teams)

There’s actually 12-- Intel Folsom has a host team, 5901, that isn’t listed on the chart but is listed elsewhere on the website.

I calculated 14 teams in the lottery for a lottery of 14 slots. 34 teams automatically advance, including 5 winning alliance captains. The rest are placed in a lottery. In theory there should be no issues with that, but there are. My primary issue with it is that teams have no idea if they’re advancing or not until February. So say you’re the winning alliance captain, and next eligible to advance and in the lottery. You’re only competition is this month. What are you supposed to do until February? Not build your robot, so you don’t waste time and money if you’re not selected? Build your robot in the couple of weeks until the state championship? That’s a risky gamble. Plus, NorCal is still calculating on 16 qualifiers physical qualifiers, in which case there are fewer lottery slots than teams, and winning alliance 2nd pick could be chosen over a captain.

It would make more sense, especially if the number of lottery slots is equal to number of teams, to just make winning alliance captains automatically go. Then there’s no question of if they get to advance. There is already one winning alliance captain in this lottery.

If the number of slots is greater, then clearly there’s space for all winning alliance captains to advance. And it raises another question: are they going to fill up the lottery with next next eligible teams? Or are they going to advance winning alliance captains, and then draw the lottery for the last seats. Either way, teams who have rightfully earned a spot won’t know if they actually have until February, which makes it hard to iterate on the robot.

Based on what have you said and looking at the website, it sounds like a team with a check mark will eventually get into state. It seems like by marking them as a lottery team instead of as a qualified team the main effect would be when one of those teams do qualify at a later tournament. As it is, the next team in line at the earlier tournament becomes a lottery team. If they were instead listed as qualified, the next team in line at the later tournament would qualify. It skews the qualification spots to the earlier tournaments. I think that is what the scheme is but I don’t find it clear.

In MN the qualifying spots are skewed heavily towards the early tournaments. The first tournament has 7 spots while the 11th has 2 or 3 spots (MN is not qualifying host teams this year). Half the teams qualified for state this year came from the first 4 tournaments.

It seems like NoCal is trying to do the same thing but in a hard to follow scheme that leaves teams in limbo.

BTW - I know why they skew heavily to early tournaments in MN. Three years ago they didn’t and the last tournament almost didn’t have enough non-qualified teams in it. The result was some pretty weak teams qualifying late in the season while better teams just missed early in the season.

IMHO, the Winning Alliance Captain should always, always get a guaranteed spot to advance to the next level at every tournament. Otherwise, robot performance is completely irrelevant!

As an aside, I’ve been pondering this problem with uneven advancement across tournaments for a while. I’ve recently written an FTC Qualifier Advancement Proposal for inter-tournament advancement based upon Weighted Ranks. See the proposal for a full explanation of what this is, why it’s better, and examples of how advancement would have happened in Virginia had it been used last year compared to how advancement actually happened. I’ve been asked to generate comparison data for last year and this year so it can be considered for the next season.

I’d appreciate any constructive thoughts on the proposal. I might not-so-humbly suggest that NorCal could adopt this in place of their lottery approach, which would result in the Winning Alliance captains advancing due to their strong Weighted Ranks. MN could replace their ad-hoc system of advancing more teams early and fewer teams late with a system that advanced the top 3 spots (Inspire #1, Winning Captain, Inspire #2) at every tournament and then advancing remaining spots based on the Weighted Rank wildcard system at the end of the tournament season.

That doesn’t appear to be publicly viewable. I’ve sent a request for access, but maybe you want to make it view-only to anyone with a link.

Sorry about that. I updated the link in the original post to a shareable one. But here it is again. Let me know if you still can’t view it.

One other strange thing about the NorCal strategy: you have a better chance of advancing if you’re at a tournament without a host, which motivates you to pick tournaments without hosts.

In Virginia, the two tournaments that have hosts at least still advance the same number of non-host teams as the other tournaments, so teams aren’t motivated to avoid the hosted tournaments. [Aside: If anything, there’s a slight advantage with the current advancement system to attending a Virginia tournament with a host, because there’s a slight chance that the host team will also be high in the advancement order which results in a team lower in the order getting to advance.]

That’s a valid point. However, I agree with wgardner:

It’s not a robotics competition if the winning robot doesn’t get to advance. I’m not sure what it is at that point.

I appreciate the work that hosts teams do, don’t get me wrong. I did robotics in VA, and my team put on a 48-team qualifier every year. It was a lot of work, and host teams help give others a chance to compete at more competitions. That being said, a host team shouldn’t advance at the expense of a team who put their heart and soul, and countless hours, into building an amazing robot.