Hello! Brian and @Katie_UPS here!
Alliance selection is hard, and there are not many resources out there about how to navigate it. Given the positive reaction to Katie’s thread on scouting, we decided to create a comprehensive guide for alliance selection and everything that goes into it. If you missed it, we highly recommend checking out Part 1: The Picklist and Part 2: Alliance Selection.
Picking is an art, not a science, so much of this advice is subjective and reflects our experiences. We would love to hear about other philosophies and methods in the comments.
About The Authors (a.k.a. “Why listen to us?”)
Katie Widen, self proclaimed Scouting Guru, has been making picklists since 2011. Her work has also been featured by 1675, 3928, 1296, and 253. She takes pride in her obsession with spreadsheets and seeing 20+ students working together to create the Ultimate Picklist.
Brian Maher currently mentors FRC 333 and was a mentor on FRC 2791 from 2016-2019, helping the team overhaul its scouting and strategy processes. Smart scouting and picking helped them take home their first ever regional win in 2017, followed by three other regional wins, six offseason wins, and getting picked in the first round in three championship divisions. He loves getting students excited about analyzing data and scheming up winning strategies.
Gettin’ Picky, Part 3: Getting Picked has been a long time coming and we are grateful for everyone who has read and provided feedback on parts 1 and 2. Thank you for your patience as we took forever to get part 3 finished and published!
Before the event
- Watch Week 1, and understand how winning alliances play the game and how you can contribute to one.
- If you are competing Week 1, watch Week 0 and take it with a grain of salt
- Practice makes perfect. Dedicate a significant amount of time to driver practice before your first event. Driver skill is a huge component of how well a robot performs, and even a robot that can hardly score may get picked with good driving.
- Develop a pre-match checklist for doing a thorough systems check. This helps ensure reliability during matches.
- Build a robust robot. No one wants to pick a robot that is threatening to fall apart at any moment. No one wants to pick a robot that can’t take care of itself. No one wants to fix your robot for you. If this sounds like you, here are some tips:
- Doing more things does not mean a better robot. 9 times out of 10, I’d rather pick a robot that is 100% at 2 game tasks than 60% on 4.
- Plan your robot before you make it. Design it in CAD - at least somewhat: measure twice, cut once.
- Use better parts - don’t reinvent the wheel when you can buy it. Use nylock nuts where possible. Use bearing blocks if you don’t have precision manufacturing. Make sure your chain is tensioned. If it’s structural, don’t zip tie or duck tape it.
- If you can’t program a turret, don’t build a turret.
- Understand appropriate gearing and torque v speed.
- Low resource does not have to mean low quality, you can always work smarter instead of/along with working harder.
- Did you use a KOP chassis? If not, did you really make something better?
- Brian’s take: most teams who field a custom drivetrain are wasting time they could be spending on building good manipulators, programming, or practicing driving. Plus, the KOP chassis is an incredibly well-tested and robust solution. Many look down on the KOP chassis, but I actually consider it a major plus in potential second picks compared to a custom drivetrain with unknown engineering quality.
- Katie’s take: I get that using the KOP can be difficult for interfacing with other components so I don’t knock custom chassis - but there is definitely something to be said for KISS. Custom or not, keeping your drivetrain simple and reliable is key.
Be a team that others want to work with/at the event
There are a lot of non-numbers that go into picking, especially when differentiating between a lot of very similar teams on paper. There is value in being the team remembered positively by the drive team, pit crew, or strategy members. Equally, there is value in not being remembered as a team negatively. You want to be an addition to a potential alliance, not a liability.
Have a clean pit
- Know where your tools are. Keep track of your batteries. If you can’t find your tools then you can’t fix your robot. If you can’t fix your robot, you can’t play in matches. If you can’t play in matches, you can’t win them.
- Low key subset: How many batteries ya got? Having enough batteries to support yourselves during elims is super helpful, having batteries to help out your alliance partners is helpful, requiring others’ batteries to have a successful elims run is a liability.
Be prepared and enjoyable to work with
- How well does your team communicate with your alliance partners? Are you meeting them for the first time as auton starts? Are you seeking them out long before queuing to plan out the match? Does your team follow the agreed upon strategy? Do you come up with solutions if something is causing that strategy to not work? Have you been the team making sure the strategy is executed? Cross-team communication, both formal and informal, is key.
- Most teams have experienced being in a strategy meeting and being told, “you’re playing defense.”
- How you react to that says a lot - most teams find it disappointing to be relegated to that position. Reacting with facts, reasoning, and compromise makes you a much better partner than being rigid and seeing options as black and white.
- If you’re the team bullying other teams into playing certain roles with no compromise, who wants to work with you?
- Match strategies don’t need to contain rigid roles and all teams need to learn to be flexible.
- Be realistic about abilities and weaknesses and communicate those during pre-match huddles. Knowing everyone’s abilities and weaknesses accurately allows the strategy team to pick positions that maximize potential earnings and minimize potential losses. It’s okay to have flaws as long as you are aware and work with/around them.
Mind your manners
- This should be obvious - don’t be rude. You can’t go wrong by being nice. Did you win a match you should have lost? Be happy - you earned it, but make sure to be graceful - no boasting or showboating. Did you lose a match? Shake hands with your teammates and, if easy to do, congratulate the winning teams. Did you bring your Gracious Professionalism?
- Be courteous to others: don’t clog the pit lanes, don’t spill into other people’s pits, return tools that you borrowed promptly and in the same or better condition than they were borrowed to you, etc.
- Don’t be annoying - don’t stand around another’s team pit without invite, don’t interrupt a team working frantically on their robot for a button, and don’t give unsolicited advice. Also, read the room: some people are not chatty/enjoying your company at this moment, that’s okay. Try to recognize when that’s happening and move on.
Have a robot others want to work with at the event
- Move and do something meaningful every match:
- Don’t die repeatedly. Figure out how to not throw chain, not brown out your radio, not unplug a wire, etc. You are surrounded by other teams who have figured this out - ask for help.
- Earn the easy points in auto + endgame (drive across the line! park on the thing!)
- Use pre and post-match checklists. Being the robot that breaks down will not improve your prospects. Many failures could have been prevented with checklists.
If it’s good enough for NASA, then it’s good enough for FRC
- Do Your Thing™ and do it consistently. Try to focus on doing the tasks you do well. It’s better to take your time with things like game object placement/lining up instead of doing it fast and missing/wasting time.
- Improve throughout the event - small, incremental improvements can increase your chances of getting picked. Get help to improve your auton, find tricks to assist your robot with lining up, practice between matches. If you play defense, watch how others play D and learn from them. There is rarely any benefit to stagnation.
- If there’s a large fix or improvement that drastically changed your performance, it can help to make captains aware of that change, especially low captains who will need to take some risks to pull off an upset
- Ask what captains are looking for and prove it on the field.
- On the other hand, Clueless Captains are real. You might be able to sell your wares to them - but here’s the thing, you could tell them you’re the best thing since sliced bread and walk away but you can do better than that:
- Provide them with your scouting data, show them the stats. You are a better polka dancer than Team X/Y/Z because while your average polka points are lower, you have shown that you have been getting better over the course of the competition - your polka point potential is sky-high!
- Alternatively, you could help them make a pick list because you are a pro (you read our guides!) and you brought your GP. It’s a win-win, you get practice making an excellent pick list and they don’t stand on the field for 60 seconds with a blank look on their face.
“Why didn’t I get picked?”
This is a great question and a great exercise in self-reflection and evaluation.
In bullet point form:
- Your data v their data
- What does your data say about you? What does their data say about you?
- Do some self-reflection - where did you do well? Where did you under-perform?
- Different teams prioritize different things -
- If your robot strategy prioritized hatches but the money was in cargo, then you’re not going to be a top commodity.
- If you collected data on favorite color and they collected data on favorite food, you’re going to get different results/picks.
- Your match strategy may differ wildly from other teams - a good post-mortem in the case of not being picked is looking at the different alliances’ strategies and the roles their different picks played. Try to reverse engineer what qualities the teams were looking for.
- The best thing you can do to hedge against this is show off everything you’re good at at some point during quals.
- Decide when you want to play to get picked: ie if you were to peak at three game pieces in 2019, you should probably play some defense and show off other abilities.
- If you’re not sure if you’re gonna get picked, and the #1 seed asks you to do something in your match together, do it (if you can). Barring unethical situations like match throwing.
- Real Talk: Sometimes the top ranked teams are going to ask you to do something (usually play defense) in a specific match (usually with another highly ranked team) to ensure their picking place. It’s probably in your better interests to follow through on that - but don’t act against your own alliance’s self interest, even if a top end team asks you to.
- There is always some sort of Gut Feel involved in picking… either intentionally or not, especially when looking at the 3rd/4th bots - it’s not easy to place where your team lands on the Gut Feel radar. You can help yourselves somewhat - don’t be the team who’s Gut Feel is “they were really rude to us in the stands.” Be the team who’s Gut Feel is, “They were super cool to talk to when queueing.”
2018 Championship: Alliances by JVN