How to Defense

It’s-a me, back again with more time-proven tips on how to drive. This is branching from an earlier post I made about general competitive driving. To sum up the topic, I wasn’t great at articulating my points about defense, and it led to some pretty good discussions about different team’s defensive strategies about when/how to play a good D. I will be mixing my own strategies as well as other ones mentioned into this one big post. The floor is open to discussion and I’d like to hear your own thoughts!

Lets start off with when you should play defense.

This was the most debated topic on the linked forum, and for good reason! My general philosophy on it was essentially “don’t make it your default action”, which some people didn’t agree with. After thoughtful discussions and debates, the honest result was that each case is different for each team. Anyways, I’m going to try and cover as many scenarios as possible, but not be extremely wordy. At least for me, my strategy is a sequence of “where am I, where are they, and what are they doing?” Here is a breakdown of my process (if yours is different, please share!)

Where am I?

This is a key factor for deciding if/what to do. Depending on where your robot is on the field, regardless of others, there will be some thing messing with your situational awareness. If there is some big game object obstructing all or part of your view of the area around the robot (like the hub from '21-'22 season), it’s most likely not a great idea to attempt defense. The obstruction might be blocking your view of safe zones that your opponent can use, so as you chase after them, only seeing the very top of your robot, you unknowingly fly right into the protected zone and give your opponents penalty points. Conversely, if you have full view of where you are an what’s around you, don’t be afraid to get really aggressive.

Where are they?

This is an obvious, but no less important factor in the decision-making process. This will decide where you will go, and how you get there. If you have to choose between pinning two bots, it’s generally wise to take the closer one. Less time-to-contact leave your opponent with less time to react and escape. Or, if they are close to a safe zone, they might try to bait you into touching it and giving penalty points so it may not be a good idea to chase them down.

What are they doing?

The last thing I’m going to mention about when you should attack, knowing what your opponent is doing will ultimately decide where you go and what you do. If you have to decide between a robot in the progress of scoring, vs a robot only picking up game pieces, what do you choose? If you think you can get to the scoring robot in time, then get after them and throw them off!


That was an extremely abridged version of my “when” decision making, and if you need further explanation I’ll comment on that in relation to someone else’s posts. Now, we get to the “what” of defense. There are so many ways you can contact a robot or influence an alliance’s ability to score. It is very, very, very important that you know exactly what you plan on doing before initiating contact, because hesitation is the ultimate bane to defense.

Here are some of my favorite maneuvers to defend with, as well as the funny names I like to call them by (warning, they are cheesy, and probably have real technical names):

Soft-locking (a variant of pinning)

In video games, a soft-lock is when something stops your progression, but it isn’t caused by a technical glitch. Usually it’s breaking the gameplay loop and getting somewhere before you are supposed to, stopping the progression of the level you are on. When I drive, Soft-Locking is when I keep a robot from going anywhere without actually pinning them. Note: this can be a risky move depending on where and how you are blocking someone. Keep an eye on the ref to make sure you aren’t being counted out. Executing a soft-lock: Get your opponent to a corner. After they are there, give them lots of room to move so you aren’t technically pinning them, but be ready to block their exit attempts when they move to escape the corner. When: You should only do this if your opposing alliance has only one robot deemed to be a high-scorer. If you are the designated defender, you’d be in charge of keeping the primary scorer in a place that stops them from scoring.

Sweep the Leg (drive-by maneuver)

This mostly applied to the last two seasons, essentially shooting hoops. This is a move of opportunity, not (primarily) a constant strategy. Let’s take last year as an example. Some team’s shooters took a pretty long time to ramp up, so they’d just sit there at the tarmac line for multiple seconds. If you were shifting targets or just driving by while this was happening, all it takes is a quick bump to spin them out and make them miss the shot. Note: A properly executed sweep shouldn’t break your “stride” as you cross the field. It is a high-speed maneuver, so make sure you aren’t contacting any exterior parts of the opponent 'cause you might damage it if you miss. Sweeping the leg: Line up as if you were going to ram them from the side. Drive at them as if you were planning to T-bone them, but at the very last second, change your approach angle so you clip them only with the corner of your bumper. If executed properly, the extra angular velocity from turning at the last minute should equalize with the energy lost from contact. Your target should spin out, missing the shot, and you should be somewhat back to your original heading as if nothing had happened. Take that, LaRusso!

All that said, these maneuvers all come with a risk of penalties if done wrongly. Make sure you keep an eye on the judges whenever you are defending to make sure you aren’t doing anything to give the opposing alliance points.

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A good write up but I would add a few points.

First, the goal for defense is not to stop the other team(s) but to just slow them down. I say this as if you are playing defense you are, in most cases, using a worse drive train/robot than the bot you are trying to play defense on. As such, they will get around you and they will score, but that is okay you are there to slow down their cycles for your alliance’s scorer(s) to out pace their scoring.

My preferred defense strategy, be in the way! Be where the team you are defending wants to go next, make them either push you or go to their second choice. I.E. do they have a preferred, non protected, shooting/scoring spot? Go there as they collect their last ball/game piece! Do they have a preferred path to the pick up zone? Move to that path, as they score! Or are there game pieces they will pick up after they score? Collect/block/move the game pieces away, as they score!

Final note, I don’t recommend counter defense. In theory it sounds good but in practice most of the time the counter defense bot tends just get in the way.

Hey, as a driver, this is awesome advice. All things I’ve done and am working on, but always good to refresh and keep getting better by watching film and listening to others’ opinions. Let me tell you, as driver of a very fast bot, soft-locking is one of my favorite things to do. Also, it’s just great because the more frustrated the opponent becomes the more frantic their moves are, and the easier it is to defend.

Thanks!
Ben, 3489

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Here are a few of my personal favorites from rapid react:

  1. moving their cargo to the most time inefficient and inconvenient spots possible
  2. giving other robots a firm sideways shove right before they shoot
  3. make their life difficult by pushing them in inconvenient directions
  4. (for low goal scoring robots), get between them and the hub

hope this helps

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