(Lack of) Value in the Regional Model

I’ll preface this post by pointing out the majority of my 17 years in FIRST has been extremely positive and FIRST and the people in it have had a profound influence on me as person, as a professional, as a mentor, and as a maker. Anyone who knows me knows that I will go out of my way to promote FIRST and that it consumes my life (for better or worse). I am very thankful for what FIRST has done for me.

I’d like to pose a very simple question: Why does the value of a regional vary so greatly? By “value” I’m referring to what a team (the customer) gets for its registration fee, not the production quality of the event.

Looking through the results for the first four weeks of competition, for regional events only, I see a lot of variation in the number of matches. In general, the more teams there are at an event, the fewer matches each team will get. That’s a given. But that’s not always the case this year. Virginia had 64 teams and they only played 86 matches, giving each team only 8 matches. Orlando also had 64 teams but played 107 matches giving each team 10 matches. According to the public agendas available for each event, they had the same time allotted for qualifying matches (11 hours total). I was not at either of these events, so I cannot say for sure if the schedule was adhered to or not, but how can FIRST justify a difference of 21 matches between two similarly sized events?

My team attended Wisconsin this weekend. There were 60 teams in attendance, the same number as in 2014. In 2014, 100 qualifying matches were played, giving each team 10 matches, whereas in 2015, only 90 matches were played giving each team only 9 matches. I can understand that this year’s match cycle time is likely higher than last year’s, but Orlando apparently found a way. Lets go the other direction though - Waterloo had only 30 teams in both 2014 and 2015 and played 65 matches each year resulting in 13 qualifying matches for each team. That’s a lot, but based on my previous findings, they could have had even more with ease!

Many teams still only attend 1 event. Those teams in Virginia payed $625 / match (even higher for rookies). Teams in Waterloo only payed $385 / match. 24 of the 30 teams in Waterloo then also got to play in the Playoffs, further increasing the value of their event whereas 40 teams in Virginia only played 8 matches (a whopping 20 minutes of field time) and then packed up to go home, possibly done for the season.

Lets compare that with the district model for just a second - for the same $5000 registration, those teams are getting two SMALL events resulting in somewhere around 25 matches per team ($200/match). Even if a team could not afford to travel to a second district event, the value of one district event is still well above most regional events.

Now lets look at this from another perspective - the spectator. At these larger regional events, most teams are only going to play 2 qualifying matches on Saturday morning. Many spectators can ONLY attend on Saturday due to work or school obligations. Since the majority of the teams will NOT make the playoffs, those two matches may be their only opportunity to see their son’s, daughter’s, niece’s, nephew’s, grandson’s, granddaughter’s, friend’s, or colleague’s team in action. 5 minutes of play. At least they didn’t have to pay to see it…

Enough about robots. Remember, FIRST is about more than just the robots. So lets talk about everyone’s favorite blue shirted people - the judges! At Wisconsin there were approximately 20 judges. Some of those judges are locked in the Chairman’s Award interview room. Some of those judges are doing Dean’s List interviews all weekend. So, lets say there are 12 - 15 judges remaining. Based on my observations, they are probably broken up into 4 or 5 teams of 2 -3 judges - some of them are judging the robots and some of them are judging more than the robots. In an event with 60 or more teams, that’s not a lot of judges to go around, but I would expect that every one of those judges would be visiting every one of the teams so that everyone has notes to compare. At least in our experience, that has not been the case. For many years, this year included, we have only seen one or two sets of judges in our pit in Wisconsin. This year we saw only one set of three judges, though we did see them several times. Perhaps only one set of judges looks at 1/4th of the teams? I don’t know, but it irks me that the students do not get a chance to talk to more judges about their experiences. We’ve had very different experiences at other regional events (even large ones like Northern Lights and Midwest) seeing multiple sets of judges, so maybe the issue is limited only to Wisconsin. What have other teams at larger regional events experienced?

There were 41 Chairman’s Award submissions in Wisconsin this year. I believe we had 40 submissions last year or the year prior as well. When interviews are going into lunch on Saturday, how can judges properly evaluate and send judges to follow up with teams in the pit when playoffs are beginning (and most teams are packing up)? It’s been awhile since I’ve been to an event with <45 teams - how do others feel the judging is handled at smaller regional events?

No one is forcing us to go to larger regional events, but we can’t afford to travel to two events and our sponsors and families would be very upset if we didn’t play here at home. If we didn’t “HAVE” to go to Wisconsin, we would’ve happily gone to Central Illinois this weekend. While I am doing what I can and meeting with universities and other mentors to get districts into WI as soon as I can, that only helps out a few teams from the problems and inconsistencies I have outlined above. I have no control over what happens in Virginia or other regions.

All this boils down to is consistency. Why the huge variation in matches? Why the variation in judging? I haven’t even touched on inconsistencies on the playing field (more so last year than this year). If the value doesn’t improve, why shouldn’t we just build the robot for the experience and forego official events and just play at offseason events until districts happen? Our kids will get the same engineering experience, we wouldn’t have to build two bots and waste money because of bag and tag rules (well, we don’t HAVE to do that now, but at least it helps us make the most of the few matches we get), we wouldn’t have to burn ourselves out for six weeks, we could volunteer at the local event and still see familiar faces, we could afford to travel to new and interesting places since registration fees for offseason events are tiny, no missed school…I could go on and on.

I never thought I’d say this, but for what reason should any team continue to play in the regional model? Why are additional regional registration fees still so ridiculously high when the event does not see any of that money? Veteran kits are no where near $5000 anymore with no essential items included (this year with the new control system is the exception) and FIRST Choice providing access to donated parts. $5000 also helps pay for staff and logistics and game fields - so, I can see why initial registration is the way it is (especially since it is the same in the district model), but the $4000 additional event fee still boggles me.

Thanks for reading,

Disgruntled Kevin

I love FIRST, but this is what had me switch to VEX and run events. $25-50 per event, 10+ matches per event, most of them 30 teams, about $2-4 per match. Plus it’s not a once and done, but at my peak we ran 12+ events per year in the Philadelphia area. So many teams came to 4-6 events per year. To me, the C in FRC/VRC/FTC is about competing.

The district model is a way to get more “C”, smaller, less flashy events with more play time.

OTOH there is the off season. Lots and lots and lots of $250 events. And I see teams do 1 official event and 8+ off seasons. So your teams value change may be in doing more off season events.

Dear Disgruntled Kevin;

I full heartedly agree with your statements. I have the same sentiments when it comes to FRC and the costs associated with the Regional system. I’ve compiled the numbers as well and I’m surprised that more areas in the Midwest haven’t already moved to Districts. From the team’s perspective you get so much more bang for your buck. I haven’t had too much time to look into scores and statistics between regional and district events this year but looking through the spreadsheets that Ether posted earlier this morning, it appears that the average scores in district events are higher than regional events (after a brief glance). At the end of the season I would like to see the community work together to do a statistical analysis of scores between district and regional events. As time goes on, I only see more benefits to the district system when compared with the regional system. I’m looking forward to the future.

Sincerely,

Disgruntled community member.

I completely agree that there is better value with the district model over the regional model. At least for teams in areas with enough team density to support such a model. Even for geographically isolated teams it may well be true that they get more matches in one district event than in one regional event. I believe this is one reason why FIRST is headed toward a district model everywhere. I think another benefit is making qualifying to the next level more attainable. There are many teams that rarely if ever qualify for the World Championships. For such teams, being able to qualify for a district championship is a big deal. The district model also levels the playing field somewhat by letting more teams participate in multiple events, with the commensurate improvements in robot performance. While we have been fortunate enough to go the Championships more often than not, this year will be the second time in 13 years we have gone to two regional competitions. (And this year it was a last second thing that is stretching our finances.)

So I guess I would say you have every right to feel disgruntled. And I think that FIRST as an organization is moving in a direction that will address this problem, if not completely solve it.

If you’ll look at my location, you understand why you don’t find any pushback from me on this topic. The only caveat I have is that there is a difference between how good districts can be and how well you expect districts in your area to be executed.

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I completely agree that the district model is surperior to the regional model, and you can send more teams to champs that way (at least Virginia can as we only technically have one regional).

The District model can however fail if the good teams in the district are split up too much by location and the smaller size, therefore making some district events super boring. But the fact that the majority of the teams get to play in playoffs or eliminations is 100% worth it, as that is a team changing experience.

I agree that the District model gives more benefits in the end than using the Regional model. One of the main points I’ve heard by people arguing for regionals is that they are held at larger venues and have a more exciting atmosphere than district events held in high school gyms.

However, I think that by having the smaller events, it makes FRC more like a sport, where you “practice” for several weeks, and then get to play at multiple “games”, rather than working for 6+ weeks and having your season over in 3 days. By making it more feasible for teams to attend multiple (3+) events each season, it allows students to get more out of the program. Although the logistics will be difficult to work out, I am looking forward to when Wisconsin goes to Districts.

I never thought I’d say this, but for what reason should any team continue to play in the regional model? Why are additional regional registration fees still so ridiculously high when the event does not see any of that money? Veteran kits are no where near $5000 anymore with no essential items included (this year with the new control system is the exception) and FIRST Choice providing access to donated parts. $5000 also helps pay for staff and logistics and game fields - so, I can see why initial registration is the way it is (especially since it is the same in the district model), but the $4000 additional event fee still boggles me.

When Dean Kamen spoke at the Kettering District back in week 2, he made it sound like a majority of the US was being switched to the district system in the next few years with the hopes of the entire program being districts->state->world

I also agree that the district model is competitively superior to the regional model. More matches leads to more playing time which leads to more opportunity to go to further events.

However, there is always a tradeoff. In many areas (at least of Virginia and Maryland), teams will have to travel a reasonable distance (4+ hours for some) for an event hosted in a high school gymnasium. This incurs more travel and hotel costs than a regional model, raising the “Per Match Price”. Additionally, having an FRC competition is good anywhere, but I think many would prefer to have it at a university facility than a high school gym. These do occur, but less often. Although I cannot speak for myself, I would imagine many VIPs and potential sponsors would rather have the competitions, and younger children (Elementary-Middle school) would be more struck by larger numbers of teams in a larger arena.

Although I do see the benefits of the model, there are certainly drawbacks. Hopefully, every state will find a way to make sure all the teams benefit by the change.

I question the assertion that the district model is cheaper. For a team that does not perform well, they get more plays/$. I understand that. However, what about the teams that do succeed on the field? You get the privilege of going to district champs and paying $4000. If you do well there, you get the privilege of going to World’s for another $5000. In a good year, you get to pay $13000 for the privilege of going to World’s.

In VA they are touting it as a way of playing more for less cash. That logic doesn’t jive with my wallet. Can some folks who are already in districts comment?

There’s no denying that you get more field time for your money with the district model, but there are also some pretty significant differences between a regional and a district event, one of them being that regionals often bring teams from greater distances together, while a district tends to isolate teams within their areas. Personally, one of the things I love most at competitions is to work with teams that are new to the area.

I talked to some members from a few different district teams this weekend at TVR, and for some, part of the reason they travel to regional events is that districts just don’t have the same feel. A smaller district event in a high school is more like an offseason event than an official FIRST Competition. From my perspective, it doesn’t have the same awe inspiring excitement as a regional.

However, I’ve not yet personally competed in a district event, so most of my opinions on this matter come from what I’ve seen and heard about them on delphi, and from members of district teams.

Kevin,

You noticed the same thing I noticed, and wrote about in 3 different threads yesterday. You approched it from the value to a team paying in the per match angle, wherein I looked at it from the angle of comparisons using QPA or other points values (and how it made all the data collected really squed and virtually worthless), to use in any real comparisons of bot to bot across all of the events, or all of FIRST.

We are both looking at the same thing as being wrong, only what had value to each is different…(I was going at it differently…The data value was important to me, and the teams money was to you). I looked at your posting and I fully agree, that both are equally are important!

I don’t see anyone changing it this year, but the approach to the avail. data and how the existing rules of this game, and new QPA data collection and application to rankings affect alliance building & comparisons accross all of FRC and at your specific events competing at & switching from win/loss/tie to QPA seeding & round robin playoffs format affects actual attempted alliance building using the data collected alone affects that.

This must be recognized early by all teams, so they can compensate for that junk data. Using eyes more than the avail. data solves that issue I concluded.

Thank you for going about it differently (and choosing the $$$$ value per match angle of view), as it added more and made me look at the same problem from a different angle combining the 2.

Now, how do we get the built in huge disparity (8~13 Q Matches), depending on what event you attend), changed for the future?

Though simple solution, is YOU choose events you compete in very wisely I guess, until the disparity is changed to a level playing field (I don’t even see how FIRST even begins to attempt to change it), short of assigning the events you can participate in (and I hope that is never an option), or changing the program format by adding or reducing days/time of the event program (I also don’t see the show length being changed either), so it appears to me, the Q Rounds number fits the available robots/teams competing at that event, to the show schedule length, and some math formula to get each an even amount of Q rounds.

Can’t change it this year of course…But, if you want more value per match, go to Waterloo where 13 Q matches are held and fewer robots (though ask anyone not on that steamrolling super scoring winning alliance, that left everyone else in the virtual and real dust today, and they will probably tell you they wish that they had driven to Virginia instead I’ll bet).

They received more value per match for the entry $$$$'s (less for the robot build hrs. and $$$$'s spent), and a higher QPA average in the avail. record stats due to the QPA Inflation accross the board because a couple to few stellar stars added value to QPA of each team present, then had 13 Q Matches to add that value under the new existing format & rules.

Thanks for making me look at something differently that before this weekend I really never paid much attention to.

FWIW: I heard that it costs roughly $60,000 to put on a District Event at a high school vs. roughly $250,000 to put on a Regional event at an arena.

I think it’s actually even simpler.

I suspect that Frank and his crew are aware of this thread. And I further suspect that they may be beginning to discuss how to deal with this.

Here’s where the differences lie between the compared events: Cycle Time (and available time for the “show”). Just to compare Virginia and Orlando…

VA: 7-minute cycle time, breaking for just over an hour at lunch (1 hour, 5 minutes), ending at 5:20 PM and 11:34 AM with qual matches on Friday and Saturday respectively.
Orlando: 6-minute cycle time, breaking for one hour at lunch, ending at 5:45 PM and 12:11 PM respectively.

What that means is that Orlando used a faster cycle time, snuck in two extra matches before Friday lunch (ON TOP OF the 3 matches ahead of VA they already were with the faster cycle), added another 7 matches in before ending the day on Friday, and ran an extra 45 minutes or so on Saturday before quals ended to get more matches in.

Incidentally, Los Angeles, running a 7-minute cycle, did 99 matches with 6 teams, 9 matches/team average. Again, slightly longer day than VA, (L.A. ended Friday at a hair past 6 PM) but with a couple of “extra” teams.

So there is some room for variance built into the system. All you gotta do is go “hey, we need a tighter cycle time” and/or run a little longer, and hey presto, 1-2 more matches/team. It’s not that hard. So it’s a really simple fix, comparatively, and we don’t even need to see it.

All HQ needs to do is to tell the FTAs to “maximize matches/team, and run long if you need to”, and ideally give them a event size vs plays/team range that they’re looking for (60+, 9 matches down to <40, 12 matches). CD might never see that directive. But if it’s there, then there’s a good chance it will be followed.

Kevin, I completely agree with you-- the disparities between large and small regionals, and especially regionals and districts, are becoming painfully obvious. I hope you’re successful speeding up the transition to districts in Wisconsin-- maybe that will help push Minnesota in the right direction too.

Thanks for the data. This is one of the things I’m after. Who decides cycle time (I believe its the FTA) and how is it decided? I’ve been involved with events in the past that ran a 7 minute cycle until lunch on Friday and switched to a 6 minute cycle for the remainder since everyone by that point should know how the field operates. I figured Orlando had a shorter cycle - after experiencing the log jam of the field this weekend, I’m really surprised they achieved a 6 minute cycle and were pretty much on schedule. We were continually being hounded to move faster while stuck behind 2 other robots exiting the field as they reconfigured to transport config. I think this year’s game is an anomaly for scheduling because of the transport config and I hope that those words are never mentioned in an FRC manual ever again.

One other thing that occurred at WI - the quals finished pretty much on schedule and alliance selections commenced immediately after. Selections were finished at about 12:15 with playoffs scheduled to 1:30 according to all published schedules. It was announced that playoffs would begin at 1:00 instead, thus reducing planning time, nourishment time for drivers/pit crew, and potentially causing guests who were told “come for the playoffs at 1:30 - they’re the best!” to miss out on some action. Not a big deal, but I’d rather play more quals later than start elims earlier.

While I had not intended for this thread to become a “praise districts” thread, I’m glad to see there are facts coming out on both sides.

Rich2202: I don’t know about districts, but the cost of a regional event is completely funded by the regional planning committee and none of the cost is covered by registration fees (I am on the WI planning committee). I heard at one point that district events DO get a portion of the registration fees (or rather, the district as a whole does to then use as it sees fit), but someone more knowledgeable than can probably clarify.

“hey, we need a tighter cycle time” - Easier said than done.

Which would you prefer: 7 minute cycle times where the FTA’s have time to help robots connect, or more disable robots in order to stick with 6 minute cycle times?

It is easy to have sub-6 minute cycle times when robots are connecting. When running with 7 minute cycle times, that gives you a few minutes to help a team with a problem when they do come up.

Really Kevin? Had you played one more match the experience would have been that much better? Really? Why don’t you count practice matches? I know our team was on the field on Thursday 6 times. Enjoyed that experience.

I for one do not like the idea of playing in a HS gym. Playing in a large arena is an experience most of our students and their families will never get otherwise.

As mentioned before, be careful what you ask for. The district model is more expensive for those who move on.

I for one do not like playing only with my neighbors. I like meeting and competing with teams from around the country and world. That’s why we do Midwest, for the international feel.

I’ve always felt the Wisconsin Regional was very well run. I like the venue floor, the seating and the downtown atmosphere.

Can’t answer your question about judges. I have no idea how many really were there. All I know is that we saw many more in our pit than you suggest. Is it possible that they were around while you were on the field with your team.

As you know, FIRST is more than just building robots. One of the great experiences our kids get involves fundraising and securing sponsors. This allows us to do two regionals. The second one at a location of our choice. This extends the season for our students and enriches the experience. Also gives them twice as many matches. As a side note, doing regionals around the Midwest has taught me just how appreciative I am about the Wisconsin Regional.

Please FIRST, keep both models and let people choose. As a consumer I like choices. I will not choose attending the high school gym. Hate the bleacher environment, FIRST is better than that.

And even on a 7-minute cycle time, a larger event still had an extra match/team… The OTHER half of that statement was to run a bit longer in any given block of time.

I think a 6-minute cycle time is the ideal, given that you’ve got connecting robots, with 7-minute being more realistic. Smaller events could easily run 8-9 minute cycles, and stick to them, with more matches/team.

But, as part of the “Team Experience” directive from HQ, I think that FTAs should at least consider the effects of running longer on a day, or shortening the cycle time. If there aren’t a lot of robots taking the full minute for Transport Configuration, and there aren’t any connection issues of a major variety (L.A. had to reboot the field twice, and run a pair of replays, and still finished largely on schedule) then you can get away with more short cycles. Say 6.5 minute times.

I think the better alternative is for HQ to say “Hey, we want X matches/team minimum for an event of Y size, do what you need to do to make it work with the schedule.” The FTA then has the flexibility to run faster cycles or longer hours, depending on the event.

This right here. I love the district events, but it takes every penny you have. Our team this year has a good shot at regional champs, and if we make it any farther, we wont be able to go to worlds. paying $9000 is something we don’t have, and our small admin team (me and two others, yay) now have to try and convince our mentors we can get the money (and get sponsorship’s to get the money) to go to worlds if we make it, and that gives us… oh, two weeks to try and get all the money so we can pay for worlds if we make it. As is we have barely enough to pay for the regional championships. Lucky for us we live super close to EWU so hotels aren’t an issue. Other than that, districts have been awesome.