[FVC]: Longer competitions

This comment by me has little to do with rwsmay’s specific quote above; but is a more general one to folks discussing FVC.

Saying FVC is/isn’t, should/shouldn’t, can/can’t follow an “FLL model” appears to be a convenient shorthand for many folks; but as someone not familiar with FLL, I don’t see much value in the comparision.

Saying things should work like FLL, but not exactly like it, carries a ton of baggage that sows confusion when the differences aren’t all explicitly described as part of the statement’s context.

Also, things like needing a multi-tiered tournament structure once the number of teams rises much beyond the current FRC numbers is hardly something the phrase “like FLL” expresses uniquely or clearly. Instead the need is just common sense; and, at least in my mind, it as much like US professional and amatuer football, baseball, swimming, soccer, beauty pagents and all other big competitions; as it is like FLL.

So, am I saying the work that has gone into making FLL a success should be thrown out and ignored? No! Please don’t take that away from this suggestion.

Am I saying that a growing organization needs to avoid falling into a habit of speaking in shorthand that everyone thinks means the same thing to all people in the organization - but probably doesn’t…? Yes.

Am I saying that a growing organization needs to use ordinary terminology to discuss ordinary concepts (so that all readers who are considering joining or contributing don’t have to climb the learning curve of learning to decode cryptic references to other programs). Yes.

The bottom-line hint here is that folks involved with FVC who are also familiar with FLL will find a broader and more receptive audience for their suggestions, and be more clear about what they mean, if they are able to expresss those suggestions without using the “like FLL” phrase.


Custodians and other employees that may be “required” for an event can add dramatically to the cost factor. Electricians, building managers, safety personnel, etc. come to mind. Maybe a high school gym is large enough, I haven’t laid it out to see.

Even though many have stated that they would be against a two-day FVC competition, I still stand behind the idea*. To understand truly how the competition would work, you need to understand the FRC BattleCry@WPI off-season competition.

On Friday, matches start after normal school hours. The pits officially open at 4pm, and there are usually 2-3 hours of first practice rounds, and then qualification rounds. This way, teams do not have to miss school on Friday if they want to attend the competition. (Our FRC team goes to school on Friday as normal, and immediately the school day is over our team meets, packs up the robot and tools, and we drive off for the competition.) Teams are not required to attend Friday, and their rankings will not suffer negatively in any way from not attending on Friday. Basically, Friday (competition-wise) is just a bonus day.

Usually on Friday at BattleCry@WPI, they usually have a whole assortment of activities ranging from a BBQ, to ice cream socials, to movies, to bowling, to CRUD, to games based off of FIRST trivia. For teams who do attend on Friday, the atmosphere on that day is more of a “let’s have fun!” attitude. And the amount of fun activities they plan is unrivaled at many other competitions, including some FRC Regionals!

For Friday night, there are hotels right near the WPI campus, as well as dorm rooms offered for cheap rates to teams attending the competition. (The competition is held in mid/late June, so their school year is over.) But if your team is less than 2 hours away and doesn’t want to pay for hotels/rooms, then driving home for Friday night from the competition isn’t out of the question.

On Saturday, the competition is played out as a normal competition would.

*But realistically, this idea of a multiple-day competition for FVC would not work everywhere in the country. The areas where is would be most successful are in areas with a high “density” of FVC teams, where teams could still reasonably commute for Friday’s activities after school, as well as Saturday’s, without needing a hotel room. Thus, costs would stay cheap and the program would still stay accessible, but now with the added “bonus day” of Friday. :smiley:

New England is one such area where I can see a competition like this working, as we have a large number of FIRST (FRC, FVC, and FLL) teams all in a very small area, so for teams looking to save money by commuting this idea would be feasible. (FRC-team wise, there are over a dozen within 20-30 minutes of my house, including three in towns adjacent to mine.) :yikes:

But in other areas of the country where the mileage between FVC teams can number quite high, then a multiple-day competition might not be as feasible.

ConnVex was held on a university campus, but there are a lot more issues (including capital to fund the event) that go into planning a FVC competition than just picking a gymnasium. With many of the things we needed to address, a university campus was identified as being better suited to host a competition than a high school.

In some places I suppose unions and what-not do create some red tape and expenses.

Here in Virginia, I know one middle school just paid for custodial and any similar services as a way to repay Lockheed Martin and other sponsors for many years of stong support of the school. This was for a PVL scrimmage.

Back in January a local high school did something very similar for a PVL scrimmage. If the custodial services came out of our scrimmage fees, then the services were pretty cheap (fees were $20 and less per robot for about 14 robots). I suspect that the school paid for the services out of the school’s budget.

Both of the above used ordinary gymnasiums that had tons of room for a second field, if we had cared to set one up. I don’t think that either was required to keep electricians, or fire & resucue services, or… on hand.

Back in December, the Virginia FVC Championship put 29? teams into a large middle school without anyone feeling crowded, and put two fields in the school gym. Contact Virginia’s AP, Darlene Panteleo for more info about the expenses and floor plan.

So, I guess regional differences account for part of the expenses and I guess that anyone who hasn’t yet; should maybe investigate using a high school, middle school or elementary school for their next FVC event. Find one that has benefited from the community service support of one of your event sponsors and see if you can’t get some of the expenses waived…



I am not sure I fully follow exactly what you are trying to say here. For that matter I am not sure if you followed what I was trying to say. My comments are certainly not meant to be cryptic. To lay some background here, probably you and other individuals were unaware that after the pilot season of FVC, FIRST made a decision to have the FVC competitions follow in many regards the FLL tournament structure. I am not familiar with the full workings of FLL either since I came from FRC and now doing FVC also. However, knowing this, I have taken it upon myself to learn more about the FLL program in order to be better informed about what I believe is transferable and what isn’t. A discussion on the organization of FLL tournaments is more than we should get into here. There may be just as many people who have no idea about the organization of FRC if their prior experience has been FLL and FVC. Although I doubt this since Chiefdelphi is definitely centered around FRC, but you never know. For the most part I believe that most people that are reading through this thread has some knowledge about all three programs. If there is something specific that can elaborated on just let us know. Either those more knowledgeable or I can jump in and provide background info.

I have to point out though that I never said there was a need for a “multi-tiered tournament structure once the number of teams rises much beyond the current FRC numbers”. I also didn’t say that “things should work like FLL, but not exactly like it”. Hopefully knowing a bit more about the background of FVC as well as FLL will help you understand the comment. FLL has somewhere around 8000 teams compared to around 1500 FRC teams. If my memory is correct, over the past 3 years FLL has also added close to 500 teams per year. That growth potential definitely exists with FVC. Maybe not to the exact same numbers, but there would definitely be growing pains with those kinds of numbers. To organize, support and run the number of tournaments needed to accommodate that many teams would be a monumental task for FIRST. Now enters the affiliate partners. For the FVC program these partners undertake the organization of local and State tournaments, which may include volunteer recruitment, securing a venue as well and potentially seeking sponsors. Again with numbers like these, its not practical to have the top alliance from every tournament go to the championship. Therefore local tournaments determine which teams go to State tournaments, and the State tournaments determine who goes to the championship. It is entirely possible that if the growth continues there may even be another tier whereby the State tournament qualifies you for some type of Regional tournament. I’m just throwing the regional tournament comment out there because although its not a reality for FVC, it could very well come to that.

So what I am saying is that as much as you would like to have the learning curve shortened by using ordinary terminology, the fact is that this is pretty much ordinary terminology for the majority of posters here. I know I have read many of your posts regarding programming and the use of sensors and most of that ends up going over my head since my background is Mech. Engineering. Nonetheless, I would expect that the majority of posters that read through your posts find them informative, useful and totally appropriate including me at times.

Your point is well taken though… so when appropriate I will refrain from using references to FLL without laying some background.

But I can’t guarantee I’ll always be on my best behavior.


The folks here in Georgia have also thought about modifying the scoring software to suit our needs strictly for off season activities. We have been too busy until recently to contact Wildstang and/or Motorola about getting access to the source code to do that.

Also with new games out each year, FIRST usually has new scoring software written that is game specific. I am not sure what to tell you about undertaking something like that. Come September, that reworked code may not be very useful for the newly announced game. There is also the remote possibility that a new game in the future may utilize 3 teams per alliance (hint hint). The current field controls can accomodate up to 6 teams per field.

It seems to me that FVC teams had a rough Championship; I couldn’t imagine only four matches. I think that even if everyone opts out of lengthening the other competitions, the Championship should still be a little longer.
Especially with VEX being in only its 2nd official year, teams need more time to gain more experience. I participated in VEX during the pilot season and we went to St. Louis. I think, at the time, that was one of the nearest competitions. I think we just need to let it grow a bit, expand competition sites, and see where it goes from there. Most of it is going to depend on participation, and what seems to fit well with this program.

One way to make room for more matches is to interleave the interviews with matches. I’ve attached a spreadsheet that shows how a tournament of 24 teams (one field), 6 matches can be run with interviews conducted simultaneously with the first 2 matches. I’m sorry to say that it makes interviews even more stressful, but it does shorten the day. Perhaps some interviews could be spread into Round 3.

One feature of the match set-up is that any given team sees no repeat alliance partners and no repeat opponents (to my knowledge) across matches. This is one improvement that I feel would help the match-ups to be more even, lessening the need for more matches, as our team faced the same opponent 3 times at regionals and the same opponent twice in Atlanta.

The algorithm used to satisfy this condition is based on modular arithmetic. Basically, Round 1 moves from one slot number to the next in increments of 1, Round 2 uses increments of 2, Round 3 uses increments of 4, then inc 5, inc 7, and inc 11. If you have more or less than 24 teams, you can still increment by these values but lengthen or shorten the team list. If you have a number of teams close to a multiple of 24, (48, 72, 96), just change “n” from 1 to 25, 49, or 95 and repeat the blocks. Also, to shorten the day, one or 2 matches could be eliminated.

FVC schedule.xls (21 KB)

FVC schedule.xls (21 KB)

Funny you should mention that particular method for conducting interviews during matches. We considered this early on in the planning of our tournament and came to the same conclusion. That it is a good idea but…

Interleaving the interviews with the matches did not seem like a good option for us because the scoring software generates the match schedule which may conflict with the interview schedule. We generated the interview schedule a couple of days in advance and e-mailed it to teams so they would have advanced notice of when they should be ready. We purposefully pushed some teams toward the end of the interview time period because some were traveling from out of State that morning. There was also the issue of no-show teams to the competition. When that happened and it did at 2 of the 3 state tournaments I attended, a new match schedule had to be generated which again threw off the time slots for teams to compete.

This issue of teams meeting each other multiple times during the matches is one that I saw repeatedly at all the events I attended. This is a “must have” needed improvement on the software. If we could have figured out a way to manually schedule the matches ourselves and then work the interviews around them (or vice versa) we would have been ahead of the game.

Hey… what do you know!

Did we just come up with another suggested improvement on the scoring software? To be able to manually schedule teams into certain matches in order to facilitate the interviews or at least avoid the same teams matching up repeatedly.

You need to bring this issue up with the people running the events you attended. The organizers of the event control the amount of duplication seen by teams when they generate the schedule by choosing the “minimum match spacing” (which is the minimum number of matches a team has in between matches they are scheduled to play in). When this number is set too high, duplication will occur (due to basic math constraints). This is documented in the manual.


We could not find a happy medium when generating the match schedules. When we tried to set a lower minimum match spacing, we sometimes ended up with teams competing in a match while needing to be queued up for another match.

It is possible that we just didn’t go through enough iterations to ensure that we didn’t have duplication. It also didn’t help that we had to generate the match schedule three times because of teams being initially on the list, then not showing up, then finally showing up during opening ceremony. We didn’t have enough time to go through the list and check for duplicate matchups. Some of those issues may have contributed to those other events having similar duplicate matchups.

Correctly written, the score tabulation and related concerns would be an almost trivial part of the collection of routines. Changing the game won’t be a big deal. That certainly shouldn’t cause a big rewrite.

If you want to describe what you like and dislike about the functions and display formats of the current software; I, or the Wildstangs, or whomever will be able to make a better product in the next iteration. If you want to tell me/us that you are “in” then that encourages me to spend some time on it (and would make you the first to cast a vote either way)

Again, if properly written, changing the numbers of teams per alliance (a possibility I and many other folks have noted but don’t expect to see until the field is bigger (not supposed to happen soon unless perhaps it is expanded by adding panels to the current perimeter) is a change that also shouldn’t be too hard to incorporate.


Here is a suggestion for whomever is listening:
Instead of putting the information about match spacing’s relationship to duplicated encounters in a manual, and then apparently leaving it up to a harried user’s eyeballs and brain to scan the freshly created match listing for “problems”; why not have the software display/print out some statistics (along with each match list it generates) that identify the extent to which those problems actually exist in the matches???

In addition to creating the match list, the software should report any/all things in that match list that a human should assess before that human actually uses the list… I give myself this sort of help in the Excel spreadsheet that I use.


None of this is news to me.

OK, however, the point is that those messages (hopefully) should not go over the head of any FIRST or non-FIRST person who has a background in the subject. The key thing is that I try not to assume that readers are “in the FIRST club”. When thousands of new FVC teams appear over the next few years, anyone who doesn’t make their communication attempts “FIRST-neutral” will fail to communicate.

I don’t want to shorten the learning curve for me, I am already pretty far along it. I want to point out (assert) that much, perhaps most, of the “learning curve”, in the sense that I am trying to convey, is an unnecessary stumbling block that will impede FIRST’s progress. Carried to an outrageous extreme, clique-ish-ness within FIRST could result in the organization being a fading set of early adopters that are being absorbed into some newly-minted, 10,00-team organization rather than actually being that 10,000 team organization.

Thank you, I try.

Remember when I wrote this above: “This comment … is a … general one to folks discussing FVC.” Along those lines I suggest that every volunteer involved in FIRST today (FRC has penetrated less than 5% of US high schools) needs to think about how our roles might change (voluntarily or inexorably) if we were suddenly in a sea of 10 times as many teams (FRC + FVC). I suggest we all start immediately training our several lieutenants/replacements now, in order to get ready for tomorrow…

Today, when I look around, I notice that many vital volunteers accomplish their goals through laudable, heroic effort; but that won’t cut it if FVC takes hold and raises FIRST market penetration from under 5% to somewhere around 50%. The smarter not harder cliché comes to mind.

Now if only I were smart…


VEX does indeed need to grow a bit more. I don’t think people recognize its potential. Our team has a satellite VEX team at Perry Meridian Middle School that I was a part last year, and while there are many highschool VEX teams, I think we found that the middle school age group is more than capable especially with the mentoring of high school students. Labeling VEX as middle school robotics could help bridge the gap between FLL and FRC. On a scale, FVC I think should be between FLL and FRC, not closer to FRC as I see it now.

Trying to get back closer to the original intent of this thread, I have been trying to think of competition models that are employed by other organizations; that might also work for an FVC season enjoyed by thousands of teams. Key points seem to be these:

  • Many other competitions/challenges that are both spectator sports and that place participants in head-to-head competition, typically have a long regular season filled with matches that give all participants a good dose of time “on the field”. FVC doesn’t have that but tries to give a worthwhile experience to teams in 1-day tournaments (Petty hard to do with a large number of teams and a small number of layers of competition)
  • Other competitions do not muddy up a team’s chances to prove themselves worthy of advancing, by allying them with pseudo-randomly chosen partners in a handful of matches on a single day. FVC does this, but could instead switch to other formats. Many are possible. Most or all the (1-day) alternatives would poke a great big hole in the concept of coopetition. Most or all of the whole-season options would raise the specter of high costs, if the team-density didn’t rise to something like the densities other popular competitions in this age group enjoy.

So, **if **FVC grows to a few thousand teams, **if **the number of layers of of expensive competitions between a team and the World Championships is kept low, **if **coopetition concepts force teams to ally with random partners during tournaments, **if **doing well at 1 or 2 “championships” per season remains necessary for getting to the World Championships, and **if **the FVC Tx/RX technology doesn’t change to one that can use ID codes to share RF channels across multiple fields; then I *think *that multi-day competitions are going to be necessary in order to give the large number of tournament participants at each event a statistically significant number of matches and enough matches to make the season worth their investment.

Change a few of the "if"s above and maybe two-day events won’t become necessary.


At the beginning of this season we attempted to form a somewhat formalized league with “league play.” Basically, a league would consist of 8 - 12 teams, each of which would play 2-4 events/season, then participate in the Championship in the Spring. Not a single one of the potential dozen teams we contacted was interested. We cut the number of required events from 4 to 2 to 1, but no bites. Money was not an issue for these teams – 20+ kits were purchased for their use, their registration & tournament fees were covered, and even the travel expenses to Atlanta were promised for one team if they qualified. But the teams were so intimidated by the perceived time commitment that none of them even came to the Championship.

Far more successful were the 2 scrimmages held by the Northern CA State partners. These events were “come as you are.” Some teams came with reasonably advanced robots, others came with never-opened Vex kits in boxes. At the first scrimmage, teams mainly built and tested on the field throughout the day (several teams had no practice field or elements at home), and around 3:00, a series of 2 vs. 2 matches were held, open to any team that had something that rolled on the ground. Because of the small number of teams (8), each team had the chance to play 6 or 7 matches (run in rapid succession over the course of an hour). My team loved it because every member got to driving practice, something that would never happen at a formal event.

The more that is required by an event (time, money), the harder it is to get rookies to come. Once they attend their first event, they typically become “hooked” as they are inspired by those around them. At that point, having more complicated events (2-day, or multi-event leagues) is very practical and desirable. But the trick is to get them to the starting gate.

I think that having smaller regionals (about 20-ish teams) that send the top-performing teams to larger Championships could accomplish this goal. With fewer teams, you can run more matches, and scouting is much easier. The “winners” are more willing to spend the money to attend a 2-day Championship, because they feel pride at having “earned” their place, and the excitement of their success at the first event provides sufficient momentum to propel them to the next level.

While some don’t like the idea of having 3 layers to get to Atlanta, the reality is that in the future, Atlanta may become a privilege enjoyed only by a very select few – for example, in FLL only 100/8000, or < 2% of teams attend the World Festival (vs. 100/550 ~18% of FVC teams). At some point, advancing to a Championship may be considered almost as much of an honor as advancing to Atlanta is now, but with less travel.

I have to agree, even though it might appear to conflict with what I said above. I think the “bring anything that rolls” model is one to emulate when bootstrapping new teams.

What has evolved into the community (still very loosely organized) that is becoming the Potomac Vex League, started with a couple of come-as-you are “practice session” and every month since then has attempted to hold a workshop or scrimmage if something big isn’t already occurring in the region that month.

Giving teams, school classes/clubs, etc. the early chances to get their machines built and driven in nearby, low-key, no-risk, supportive somethings called practices, workshops, and/or a come-as-you-are day of fun, seems to be an effective way to get them over the initial hump. Then after they have played a little metaphorical tee-ball, they are ready to ease into a steadier diet of periodic events.

Next season I hope to see 5 or 6 new formally registered teams come out of this year’s informal league regulars, and see the league pipeline become primed by another 5 or 6 groups who are repeating the process we seemed to get right this year (or we just got lucky - time will tell).

To connect this to my previous message and to MM’s comments: Announcing to a group of complete newbies (perhaps containing a high percentage of NEMOs) that a hard-fought competitive season is going to occur if they sign up, might scare them away. Easing them into a steady diet of periodic competitions can work well; and then once they are in the habit of inspiring students by steadily giving the sustained positive feedback (fun) of frequent competitions, FIRST can enjoy the side-effect of not having to make every FIRST championship so long and exciting that it makes the entire season of work worthwhile. The league play took care of much of that.

However, there is still the matter of figuring out a way to run a championship’s field-competition so that the participants generally agree that the best teams have bubbled to the top. Giving teams plenty of time on a league field before the championship only hits some of the important aspects of a successful FVC program, not all of them. Ensuring that enough championship matches are played in a format in which the luck-of-the-draw is substantially less important than the skill of the team, is not solved by league play unless, the league play results are somehow factored into the championship matches.

Come-as-you-are practice sessions & workshops = Good for each/every early season and especially for new clubs/teams/classes.
Frequent league events = Good for helping teams feel they get enough return on the time and money they invest during a season.
How to best organize champoinship matches = ???, but a small handful of Quals doesn’t seem to sit well. There is too much random luck involved.

ManicMechanic - Did I get this summary right?


Yep, that about sums it up. One thing I might add about qualifying matches at Championships is that although the number of matches matters, it won’t do any good if the DIVERSITY of matches doesn’t improve. For example, we had 2 matches where we had exactly the same alliance partner and same 2 opponents. Big surprise: the scores of the matches were very similar -->wasted extra match. While I now understand that the software & minimum spacing were at play here, there’s no reason why the same 4 teams couldn’t at least have the alliances permuted differently, i.e., Teams 1 & 2 vs. 3 & 4 in one match, then 1 & 3 vs. 2 & 4 next match, rather than 1 & 2 vs. 3 & 4 in both matches. At the very least, the software needs to have a manual override so that matches like this can be rearranged. But really, there needs to be some sophistication added to the software that deliberately avoids duplicates wherever possible. While I can do the math/algorithm, the coding is beyond me, and as is becoming my habit, I am leaving the hard work to some unwitting soul who is more competent than I.:wink:

You send me an algorithm suitable for implementing in software; and I’ll both write it up in open source, and wrap a user interface and some output formatting around it.

I need to do this for myself anyway for scrimmages, having some help will make life easier, not harder. I have been nibbling around the edges of the problem; but I haven’t hit upon an approach that I like yet. The result has been two long nights of manually building lists of match pairings (for N=20 and for N=16) (Ugh).