Based on our experience this weekend, floor pickup of both hatches and balls isn’t needed… until it is. Let me explain. All of the following is based on the assumption that your floor pickup isn’t lightening fast.
Everything in this game is about fast cycle times. Usually, running to the feeder station for both balls and hatches is faster than picking them up from the floor. But, there are lots of common circumstances that change this calculus. Here are three common ones:
Balls block access to the feeder station. Many bots require the robot to be flush to the wall to get hatches or balls. It is quite common that the pile of balls ends up blocking the feeder station. The first time I took note of this was when a robot plowed through the pile during sandstorm, pushing it in front of the feeder station and slowing down their own alliance. Balls in front of the feeder station can easily make it quicker to pick up from the floor rather than clearing the balls to get to the station. (Full disclosure: Before being reminded it was illegal, I thought pushing the balls there would be a valid defensive strategy. It still happens regularly in the natural course of gameplay, though.)
Your partners get in the way. Even with the best deconfliction plan, if there are 3 bots and 2 feeders, at some point you will be waiting on your partner to get out of the station for you to get a gamepiece. A good field coach will be looking ahead to see if the feeder station is open, and if not, telling their drive team to get gamepieces from the floor rather than waiting.
Defense bots get in the way. An efficient defense strategy is to slow down access to one of the feeder stations. That forces 3 robots to use just 1 feeder station, rather than 2, drastically increasing cycle times for that alliance if they don’t have floor pickup bots. This is even more effective if the feeder station you are blocking is the one the fastest cycling bot would prefer to be using.
Floor pickup doesn’t need to be faster than feeder station retrieval. It just needs to increase your cycle times when access to the feeder station isn’t assured. You just need to remember to use that capability, if you have it, when it’s wise to do so.