[FVC]: Longer competitions

The randomness as well as the ranking point system bother me as well, and I am not sure it delivers the expected results. But that is another discussion.

Would it be an improvement if teams were sub-grouped into lots of four and then had to play three matches between themselves? Because everyone would be on the field, it might be much faster to run. You might even be able to repeat the regrouping three times (each team would then play nine matches).

Without giving this more than 20 seconds thought, I think this might reduce the effect of random partners causing such wild swings (more matches certainly would).

–Bill Wiley

One possible improvement to the point system is to have rank points based not on the losing alliance score alone, but finding the differential between the winning & losing scores and adding this amount to the winning alliance’s rank points, and subtracting the same number of points (ouch!) for the losing alliance. That way, a strong alliance is not penalized by having low-scoring opponents.

On the other hand, perhaps FIRST is trying to add some uncertainty to the strategy of the game – an alliance that sees that its opponent is low-scoring might strategize to help its opponent score some points near the end, benefiting them both. I suspect this is why 3053 didn’t try for the atlas ball in a 1 vs. 1 match we played with them.

Yes, it’s faster to run, but I think there are limitations to this situation. Suppose that 4 of the best teams are grouped together. Half of the outcomes must be losses, whereas all 4 teams might have had all or or mostly all wins had they played some weaker teams. Conversely, in a grouping of 4 weak teams, at least 1, possibly 2 teams could have all wins, and look like an artificially strong team. Ideally, you want to see each team play with and against a variety of strong, intermediate, and weak teams. This also allows a team to show off the range of its abilities for scouting purposes. However, your idea has spawned a model I’m developing where clusters play in groups of 8.

The 2 models that have invaded my brain this past week look like the following:

Increment Model - For each match, separate team numbers by different increments.
• No duplicate alliance partners
• Minimal duplication of opponents
• Odd number of teams is easily dealt with

• No provision made for minimum spacing

Node Model - Form clusters of 8. Have each team play 7 matches (or fewer) against the other teams in the cluster.
• No duplicate alliance partners
• For tournaments of > 15 teams, minimum spacing of at least 2 matches
• Duplicate opponents are likely
• For number of teams not divisible by 8, special provisions must be made (if the remainder is close to 8, leave gaps and fill in with volunteers. If the remainder is close to 1, mix in the extra teams, extending the cycle length by 1 match.

The details take 9 pages. :confused: and are attached. If you can see improvements or ways to overcome the disadvantages, please send them along.

Oops, thought I’d attached but found out it was too large. It’s posted as a White Paper here:


The one day format I feel worked great for the smaller tournaments.

I personally would rather see more numerous smaller events than a fewer number of larger events.

Really its an issue of limiting the number of teams in order to give the teams at the event a reasonable number of matches.

That being said, FVC has had this year a quick match-to-match turnaround (2 fields is a must) so we were able to play more matches much faster than FVC in event.

At this point, I would very much agree with Rich - Keep it to one day. With more events held with fewer teams, multiday events arent needed.

More events with fewer teams = more tournament sponsors needed to help underwrite the costs of holding the events.

Pushing the system in the direction of more, but smaller, events is certainly an option. I see a few things that would need to go with it.

  1. Less whoop-tee-doo for each small(er) event.

Finding the right balance between non-robot entertainment, ceremony, decoration and marketing eye-candy, and making the events attractive simply because the students’ competing robots are interesting; is a tough judgement call. However, most local sports leagues manage to attract participants and crowds with the action on the field, not with other trappings. FIRST may want to adopt revised tournament standards (beyond the revisons already suggested during this last season for inexpensive events) for these proposed smaller events.

I presume that if FIRST competitions expand into the majority of the US’ schools, then those schools and related organizations will take over determining how much of those marketing expenses are important to the program. If FIRST continues to be responsible for regional and world championships, then I presume those would still have budgets similar to their current ones.

  1. Teams will need to have opportunities to attend these events throughout the 6 month FVC season (or whatever length it evolves into) at times that match their local calendars.

Offering a team two or three small events nearby them does no good if the events occur too early or too late in the season to match their local needs.

People in the small regions or counties/cities these proposed smaller events serve will need to be (trained and) entrusted with running them, or the formal FIRST organization will need to expand enough to supervise all of the events at the times the local areas need the events. The events final results will need to satisfy a globaly enforced standard. Their fanciness (and expenses) will not.

  1. If the number of teams increases dramatically and if tournaments are small, then winnowing the teams down to a managable number for an (assumed) eventual world championship will require a few levels of competition.

Attending these levels will be an expense, and as the lucky/better teams move up this ladder they will have to travel farther and farther from home… For these teams, this might cause a net increase in time and expense, not a decrease!

So… While I understand and agree with Kathie’s point about funding more instances of the current style of tournament, I suggest that additional sponsors aren’t needed so much as events that are less patrician and are more plebian. As the program becomes successful, more widely adopted, and more engrained in the culture, there is less need to make each event a perfect, do-or-die showcase that “hooks” first-time participants. Managing the transition from now until then is the tricky part…


Two words: FIRST Alumni

Often, student organizations at colleges can get the use of college facilities at free or reduced cost.

Reaching out to FIRSTs best resources: its people, is the way to alleviate that particular problem.

By small local events, I mean like 35 team events - not small but at the same time, small enough everyone can get their 6-7 matches in.

35 teams x 7 matches / 4 teams per match x 6 minutes per match = Approx 360 minutes = 6 Hours.

This is 6 hours if everything runs like clockwork. This doesn’t include a lunch break, opening/closing ceremonies, etc. Also, only a single field is implicit in the time per match.

I agree that this can be done, but you can safely bet that many events that attempt to stick to a schedule like this will run long.

Of course I’m in the camp that likes longer (multi-day) FVC events…


If you have two fields side by side, and set up on one field while competing on the other, and have good crystal control, then you can easily make such a schedule. We did it here in Southern California in two events that had about 50 teams each. We had a third event where I assume they did the same thing a couple of weeks ago, but I was unable to attend.

This previous experience resulted in great disapointment for the Southern California teams that went to Atlanta. Only 4 matches over two days? They felt that the cycle time between matches was unreasonably long. Remember this was from teams that have RUN competitions (both Vex and FRC), so they have some idea what they are talking about.

I don’t doubt you for one minute, but… The 2nd fields does jack up the expense (or logistics headaches) of each event and the number of volunteers needed by each event. This is a little worrisome if you are trying to promote a strategy of having many, “small”, less-expensive events.

In my message I wanted to remind folks of the difficulty of pulling off a low-budget, 1-day event with 35 teams and 7 matches per team on a single field.

Your are right. Fetching and then later returning a borrowed 2nd field, and digging up volunteers to help with the extra duties of running a 2nd field, is one way (one that I like) to make it safe to plan on running 35 teams through 7 matches in one day.


I know that others feel differently, but we actually liked having only 4 matches in Atlanta. We attended the April 2005 Pilot, and there were 7 matches, 5 the first day, 2 the second, with a match about once an hour. That year, teams entered the dome from the far entrance, and the “commute” each way was about 15 minutes, counting time to collect gear and bodies. With 30 minutes travel and 10 minutes on the field each one-hour cycle, it left only 20 minutes to “relax” in the pit. We felt constantly hurried & harried; we never had time to check the robot and seldom had time to talk to alliance partners about strategy. Two matches, we had no-show partners who didn’t make it to the field in time, once we were almost a no-show because we got there 10 minutes late (thankfully, they were 20 minutes behind schedule), and one match, we had a dead robot on the field because we didn’t have time to check the batteries. This time in Atlanta, we were able to communicate with alliance partners about strategy, check the batteries before each match, and even change a bad motor before one of the matches. Quantity is not quality.

The distance between the pits and the field is a huge determinant in how desirable it is to have time between rounds. If the pit is in the same room as the competition field, minimal time between rounds is fine. If the pit is in the GWCC & field is in the dome, I would either prefer a very long break, or a very short one (10 minutes between matches is fine if you don’t have to go back and forth). If the teams cycle once per hour, I would deliberately try NOT to have much minimum spacing so that some breaks are very short, which would make the next break very long. Much better to have one break of 10 minutes and one of 1-1/2hours+ than to have 2 breaks of exactly 50 minutes, most of which is eaten up in “commute” time.

Longer breaks this year meant we actually got to spend some time in the pit, whereas in 2005, we were so exhausted running back and forth that we sometimes just found a place to plop ourselves outside the intervening corridor. Our pit experience this year was very valuable – we got to check out other robot designs, exchange funky drawings with other teams, talk in broken Mandarin about rules, procedures, and culture to the Chinese teams (they’d never done alliance selection), and generally connect to the community at large. Despite the fact that there were 100 teams this year vs. 53 in 2005, we had a much better sense of the abilities of the various teams and robots (and had our favorite picked out for the finals).

When we returned home from Atlanta in 2005, we divvied up the 4 (free) kits among the 4 students, and those kits went virtually untouched for over a year. Invitations to get together for building projects were politely declined, and three of the 4 students never returned to Vex. In contrast, when we returned home from Atlanta this year (4 rookie students, one veteran student), the rookies went scouring e-bay & Vexlabs for Vex paraphernalia and their wallets are now considerably lighter. They are talking about numerous projects for the summer. Inspiration comes from enjoying the ride.

If adding matches does not diminish the total experience, I’m all for it, but it’s important to consider what is lost by adding matches, as well as what is gained.


With only 4 or 5 students on an FVC team, it is hard to split them up, but your experiences are an argument for either having fewer matches, OR for dividing up the team during the competition. Other options exist too.

For example:

  • One person scouts future opponents in the field and in the pits.
  • One person has a strategy kick-off with future allies, keeps the batteries charged, and fetches emergency spares from the pits to the field.
  • Two people operate the robot, finish the strategy conversation with allies, and maintain the robot.

Obivously there are other ways to organize. Obviously if the team is cross-trained, the members can swap jobs once or twice during the tournament.

You are right that if everyone is making the hike from the pits to the field and back every 60 minutes, then everyone is losing about 45 minutes of productivity during those 60. Slowing down the pace of the matches is one degree of freedom that can be used to reduce this waste (Seems dissatisfying). Changing the location of the field or pits is another option (tough). Dividing the team to conquer the jobs is another way (Seems fairly easy to me, but maybe others would hate it).


6 hours a day isn’t too bad. If opening ceremonies are 9, then the 6 hours takes us into 4oclock with a full hour off for lunch, finals and awards wraps up the last hour and a half.

After working at the NJ Vex event, Hartford, Delaware, and the championship events, I really think that that schedule works.

You mention a second field increasing costs: a second day of a venue also increases costs, probably a lot more than a second field would cost. A field costs 1300 dollars, and different groups borrowing each other’s fields makes a lot of sense to negate that cost.

I agree that the travel back and forth between dome and pit is a huge waste of time, and I can see how seven matches would make the logistics even more daunting. I know that we missed our practice match because of the distance.

I am still enamored with the idea of grouping teams into lots of four and then having them play all three combinations successively. Although I haven’t done any statistical analysis of the concept, my instinct tells me that it will not result in a series of pairings that are any worse than the current method and that it might normalize out the problems that occur when one robot on a team is much less capable than its teammate.

If the regrouping is performed three (or four times for nationals) with no repeat teammates (this can be done), you will actually have more matches (which is itself the best equalizer) across a what may be a more even distribution of partners.

Because all the teams are present and loaded with crystals for their first match, the opportunity for delays is that much less for the second and third matches of each regrouping.

This also forces teams to produce bots that can run for three matches in a row, in a manner similar to that which occurs during the finals.

The one other item that needs to be addressed is forcing a team to compete when their partner is a no-show. My solution is to have all teams that have just competed to remain ready to fill in for any teams that are not present or become disabled during a match. The last grouping of the day would be used as backup for the first grouping.

–Bill Wiley
Coach, Vexy Things

So “Yes”, we agree. One way to make success more likely in a 35-team, 7-match, one-day, inexpensive, “small” event is buying or finding, fetching and returning a second field, and then having enough volunteers in place to keep both fields humming during the event.

I never said it couldn’t/shouldn’t be done, I simply pointed out that some folks in some locations might not immediately identify that approach as a small or inexpensive approach…

Same goes for attempting to stay on a schedule that attempts to fit 35 teams times 7 matches per team into 6 hours. I never said it couldn’t be done. I just said that if the next few seasons contain dramatically more “small and inexpensive” 35-team, 7-match, 1-day events than this last season held (as a hypothetical consequence of both significant and rapid growth, and hypothetical FIRST encouragement of that style of tournament); then I predict that a lot of the tournaments are going to run long. I don’t say this becuse running on time is impossible; I say it because I predict that there will be a lot of “newbies” running and participating in those events.

My true, big-picture, bottom-line is that these sorts of topics are never black and white. The only realistic “answers” are always compromises. A clever governing body will encourage the compromises that align best with their long-term objectives and will not get distracted by transient conditions that can be overcome by a little patience.

I would love to hear those official long-term FVC objectives for three reasons.

  1. I could align my local league efforts with the vision (either to contribute to it, or to complement it).
  2. I could offer positive feedback and constructive criticism based on my local experiences. These could be combined with the experiences of other locations to help establish what the FVC governing body has to make common across all locations, and what it can leave optional or unspecified.
  3. I could pass the objectives/vision on to my peers, local financial sponsors, local team sponsors, etc. so that they aren’t surprised (in some bad way) as the program matures and so that they can plan their long-term investments.

To return to the thread’s topic… The subject of “the length of a typical FVC event” is right smack in the middle of any conversation about how FVC might chose to pursue its long term objectives. I have profited from the discussion so far.


While your solution may be hard to actually implement (such as deciding which teams need to stay behind, how those matches would factor into rankings, how you can input a surrogate team ‘on the fly’ with the scoring software, how you would eliminate the other team from that match, etc.), a similar solution of a ‘placebo’ robot might be feasible. In the FRC almost a decade ago, there used to be placebo robots that were used as ‘stand-ins’ for no-show teams. They never actually did anything (one was a remote-controlled vacuum cleaner), but they were there just for the show.

well, the thread’s topic was to test the waters to see if anyone was interested in a social/networking event on Friday night, actually, but I am also enjoying the conversation, so please keep contributing your ideas… :slight_smile:

One other way that I could see to reduce wasted travel to the pits in Atlanta is to open one of the gates from the competition floor to the stands so that immediately following a match, teams could watch other teams (would greatly improve scouting), rather than running back and forth. This would some introduce some complications but I think they could be fairly easily addressed.

  1. A gatekeeper would be needed to make sure that only appropriate badges would receive admittance from the stands to the floor.
  2. FIRST would need to decide whether to permit teams to carry their robots into the stands, since spectators are not required to wear safety glasses. If not, a robot “parking lot” with “valet” could be designated – leave your robots on the floor when you go to the stands.

Yes, we would hate the divide and conquer strategy (we are a young team trying to deepen our bench, so I realize that the more developed teams would not necessarily feel this way). Our students stuck together most of the time, and much learning occurred through the continual running commentary that went on, especially right after a match. One member would reflect on the team’s performance, another would chime in a suggestion, others would critique/analyze it, and the whole team would arrive at a consensus as to whether they would implement that change for the next match. Some of these comments were strategy-related, some design-related for the future. They also made many observations on other teams’ strategies & designs and incorporated some of the ideas from earlier matches into later matches. As demonstrated by the requirements of the engineering journal, reflecting is an important part of the experience, not only after a tournament, but in the middle of the process.

If teams could travel from the floor to the stands, I think adding one extra match on Thursday afternoon and one on Friday morning (for a total of 6) would not cause too much extra stress (on the teams – I don’t know about the tournament staff). But I would not recommend trying to squeeze in 7. While a limited number of matches may cause teams to feel that the rankings were unfair, the crux of the matter is this: did the limited number of matches result in the best teams being excluded from the finals, causing the “wrong alliance” to come out on top? I think not! When done right, alliance selection paints a better picture than limited statistics can.

Although that would have been great, (we were trying to get a stair put in in atlanta for a while), an easier solution would be to simply have an extra team member in the stands.

I personally would have preferred to see a two day event at the nationals, however, for whatever reason (I don’t know) it wasn’t.

Regionals, however, I think work better as 1 day events, because as soon as an event becomes an overnight venture, cost spikes - securing the location overnight, reserving the venue another day, getting volunteers, etc all adds up. Plus the 1 day events run great - I think they are a lot more efficient than 2 day FRC events. I also think that FRC events could be done in one day, but there are too many teams and the reset time is longer than vex fields, thus 2 day events for FRC.

One of the reasons teams at Championships needed to return to their pits was for the judges to interview them! Several teams that had been identified as potential award-winners never seemed to be in their pits when we came around. :frowning:

When you have such small teams as ours on FVC, it’s difficult to do scouting, visit the practice area, travel back and forth from pits to competition field, and still staff your pit with enough team members that the judges can interview you. It’s one of those things we have to work on, as the program evolves.