If this thread steps on the toes of another, merge them together or something.
…so, with that said, what were everyone’s impressions of Houston and the Event?
I’d really, really, really like to see the event return to Walt Disney World next year. If it weren’t for the company of some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, thanks to both CD and Tigerbolt, I think I would’ve had one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
Now, in fairness, a lot of that misery wasn’t because of the competition itself, but because of the city of Houston, and because of other things I couldn’t expect FIRST to control. But, still, it left me with a really bad impression of the event, Houston, and Texas, and I won’t return to that state again for a very long time, FIRST or not.
The pits felt ‘dirty’ to me. They were on the field of the Astrodome, which has the look of an old, abandoned building that hasn’t been used or cared for in ages. . . maybe because that approaches what it actually is. The floor was uncomfortable and dirty and being surrounded by tens of thousands of empty seats was depressing. Whatever energy there was from students and teams was sucked up into the emptiness of that huge building.
The walk from the pits to any of the fields was atrociously long, and getting out of the Astrodome felt like taking a stroll through a dungeon. The magic and excitement of the competition loses something when you’re trekking endlessly through sterile, dirty, unkempt concrete corridors, climbing toward the daylight. The walk outside, between the buildings, was more reminscent of FIRST competitions from the past. There were the familiar white tents, the state flags, the areas of grass with people camped out resting, and the sunshine, too. Then, when you walked into the Reliant Stadium, all of that went away again. Once more, you were surrounded by more empty seats and more concrete corridors.
The fields, which should be the focus of the event, were nondescript and bland. They were all sitting on another dirty, sterile floor, backed by depressing gray drapes, and they lacked the same presence and feeling of importance they had in Florida. Beside it’s location in the center and it’s lighting rig, there was nothing special about the Einstein field, either.
Team queuing took place “behind the scenes,” and for as much as I’ve been told by FIRST staff that they’re trying to put on a show, this seemed a little out of place. It felt odd and to be lurking around in the bowels of these buildings when we were supposed to be taking part in this amazing, beautiful show.
I left early on Saturday, so I didn’t go to the party that evening at Six Flags Astroworld, but I was under the impression that it was nothing more than access to the park with the general public and a catered meal from the park. Thankfully, at least, FIRST did start selling discounted tickets to the private event on Friday night and I was able to attend that. I found the atmosphere to be very, very different here than it had been in previous years, marked by rude, inefficient, uninterested employees and very little that made me believe I was at a FIRST event. At Epcot, Disney made a great effort to spruce things up for us, decorating the park and making the party something exciting and special. At Astroworld, I got a strong impression that we weren’t welcomed there and that the employees (and by proxy, the park) didn’t want to be working that night. It felt forced.
Security at the event was puzzling. At first, they were only checking bags on the way into Reliant Stadium, but not into the Astrodome and the pits. After I’d passed through the security check a few times and they were starting to recognize me, they just began to wave me through without getting searched again. If they’re going to do that, what’s the point?
Others have already posted about their issues with some of the hotels. While I didn’t stay at a FIRST recommended hotel because of the very last-minute nature of my trip there, it seemed like the various hotel areas were very far away from one another. Admittedly, this only limited my social opportunities, but I definitely missed Disney’s convenient transportation system – especially when I was stranded at another hotel by an apparent murder-suicide near where I was staying that subsequently closed many of the surrounding roads. After leaving Astroworld on Friday night, I found that the security left after we were out of the park, they locked all of the gates to the parking lot, and I was again left stranded with no way out. Houston did not make me feel safe at all.
The people saved the trip for me, though, and made me want to stay for as long as I could. If it weren’t for the amazing people I’ve met in FIRST, I would’ve have left to come home Thursday or Friday evening. The people were great, and will continue to be so no matter where the event is held. But, for what it’s worth, I was wholly underwhelmed by this year’s Championship and I hope that we return to the benefits of Walt Disney World for next year. The Astrodome is big, sure, but it’s too big. Walt Disney World’s event village is the perfect size for us because it’s built specifically for us. In Florida, everywhere you looked you saw busy people, manicured facilities, and a clean, appealing show. It was exciting there. Houston? Not so much.