Mid-Season Predictions: Arcade Junkies

Three weeks of intense Power Up action have now had their results recorded in the Arcade’s high scores. Make no mistake, the action was intense. It’s hard to think of any game in recent FRC history that displayed such high levels of play in the opening weeks of the season. Where-as most seasons would see the best teams scoring a handful of scoring objects and a great many teams struggling to score any objects at all, Power Up has seen considerably more game pieces placed. High end teams have been known to score more than a dozen cubes in a match (and not just exchange specialists). Even a pair of above average teams on each alliance can fully clear the fence cubes and starting bringing portal cubes into play. And almost every team is capable of doing something with power cubes in a match, even if they can’t lift off the floor or can’t reach the scale.

The result of all that cube madness has been a meta focused heavily on the scale. While there are certainly switch-based success stories, they are the exception to the rule (and often a curveball thrown by underdog alliances). Through week two, the alliance with more scale ownership points [won 86.5% of qualification matches and 88.5% of playoff matches](https://blog.thebluealliance.com/2018/03/10/2018w2-match-analysis-using-the-tba-api-and-r/). With all that scale action, scale crowding was a concern as early as week one. As the cube piles grow, so does the risk or misplaced cubes falling off (or even knocking over already scored cubes). The result has been an increased emphasis on how quickly alliances can place their first five or six cubes on the scale. Afterwards it becomes slow and cumbersome to place additional cubes for most teams, especially if they’re on the alliance that doesn’t already control the scale. With the notable exceptions of events like Central New York and Southern Connecticut (where cube stacks reached the third level!), the result has often been gameplay where the first alliance to fill the first level (or place one cube on the second) guarantees themselves the scale for the majority of the match. 

Tremendous Top Seeds:

Climbing and the end-game has been a nice touch and important for power-houses attempting to rank high in qualifications. Teams like** 148, 254, 1619, 1678, 2590, 2791**, and **5172 **used their ability to secure additional climbs to seed #1 at events. All of those teams also sported well above-average scoring mechanisms for controlling the scale. Other ramp-bots and buddy lifts like** 4905, 2338**, and **3489 **can score occasional bonus ranking points and some additional end-game help, but haven’t been able to upset the scale juggernauts to secure top seeds. 

Regardless of how teams reach the #1 slot, top seeds have faired exceptionally well in the elimination tournament. Through the first three weeks of competition, #1 seeded alliances have won 63.63% of events. Expanding that selection slightly shows that 93.5% of events have been won by an alliance that wore red bumpers in the quarter-finals. Unless you’re playing in the Chesapeake district (which has zero wins from either #1 or #2 seeds and just one finalist appearance for #1 seeds through five events), it’s hard to pull off upsets in Power Up. 

At the Silicon Valley Regional, **254 **are the definite favorite as the only team entering the event undefeated and with a ranking score above 3. 973, 971, and **846 **have all won events from the first alliance and are all capable of 4 RP matches, but have a ways to catch up as they’ve achieved it in 30%, 10%, and 0% of their quals matches so far, compared to the Poofs’ 56%. **670 **also secured a 4 RP match (via two independent climbs) as they seeded fourth and reached the finals as part of the #3 alliance in Utah. Last year, 604’s finalist run at SFR became a win at SVR, and they’ll be hoping to replicate that success again in 2018. They’re not alone, **8 **and **192 **have been lower alliance captains this year but have yet to repeat their success from 2017, and SVR is their last chance for a ticket to champs. 5499, 2489, and **4159 **all captained alliances at SFR with switch-only robots, but with the greater number of scale-robots at SVR, their hopes may depend on being able to build strong alliances with robots with loftier reaches. With such a well defined group of scale and lift machines topping the field, monitoring if and how lower seeds can craft upsets at SVR can give hints at the future direction of Power Up.

Both the race for the top seed and the elimination tournament afterwards should be white knuckle affairs at the Colorado regional in week 4. With numerous strong contenders from the previously stacked Dallas and Utah regionals, it will be a very experienced and talented event. Each of **118**, **148**, and **1619 **have multiple four RP qualification matches already on their resume, and **1730 **claimed the #1 seed at Heartland without the aid of a buddy lift. **1339, 2848, 2996, 3005,** and **4388 **all bring scale-oriented machines worthy of early selections at prior events, while **1011 **and **3374 **will aim to tear up the switch and the exchange. With this much firepower, it will be interesting to see what high powered alliances can be formed by lower seeds and if the ability to stack cubes high high on the scale or earn 30 points in the end game will take on increased importance during the eliminations. 

Autonomous Action:

Power Up is not just about how many cubes you can place, but also about how quickly you can place them. And there’s no earlier time to place cubes than in autonomous. For many teams in the early weeks of the season, simply scoring in the scale at all during autonomous was a notable achievement enough to earn them a prominent pick in the draft (especially when you consider how many opted for switch scoring to guarantee the auto quest in qualifications). Crossover autonomous routines, finding space and timing for multiple teams to score on the scale, or worrying about how quickly cubes got on the scale were largely luxuries reserved for top teams. With a limited pool of routines to work with, the random chance associated with getting proper field configurations played a non-trivial role in autonomous success. The most ridiculous example of this would be quarterfinal 1 at Finger Lakes, in which teams on each alliance score for the opposing alliance in each of the first two matches (including a two cube routine in QF1-2!). 

Of course the crown jewel of early week autonomous were the handful of teams with multi-cube scale routines. **254 **was obviously the most notable, with their three cube routine in Arizona. Barring incredible steps forward from 846, 971, or **973 **the Poofs will retain a serious autonomous advantage at SVR in week 5. **4028 **busted out a two-cube crossover autonomous routine at Miami Valley, and will use it to stay ahead of 217, 303, 3504, 4522 and others in Pittsburgh. **225 **and **2383 **showed off double cube routines on their straightaways this past weekend, and will look to mix in some crossover variants at Montgomery and South Florida in weeks four and five respectively. As more teams take their robots out of the bag for the second (or third) time in the coming weeks, we should see some more fancy autonomous routines. And the autonomous arms race will only become increasingly important as the weeks progress. However, multi-cube routines will remain a rather rare feature and save some truly special matches, we won’t see too many multi-cube scale battles until we approach district championships and beyond.

District Standings Shaping Up:

With three weeks of competition in the books and the vast majority of district teams having seen the field at least once, the rankings in each district are starting to take shape. Teams will look to jockey for position in the comings weeks as they look to qualify for their district championships or put themselves in favorable positions to earn FRC championship berths. New England’s **2648 **needs a strong outing at Pine Tree if they want to compete in Boston. In Michigan, after some middling initial outings, there are notable teams with significant work left to do to even guarantee themselves a trip to SVSU. **107, 469, 2960, 3539**, and **5166 **are all flirting with the expected cutoff for Michigan State Champs at this point. Las Guerillas, Automation Nation, and the Byting Bulldogs, in particular, will have their work cut out for them to earn points at their second event, as all are competing at the stacked Troy district qualifier in week five. They will have to earn points in a field that also contains **67, 70, 245, 910, 2337**, and **2851 **(and the seven sets of medals they have between them already). In even more dire straights are the 2016 Indiana State Champs, **1529**, who finished 39th at the St. Joseph event and will have major ground to make up in Tippecanoe. But with 32 of the 49 teams in Indiana reaching the DCMP, nothing is out of the realm of the possible. 

Of course some of the biggest district news in the coming weeks will be in Israel and Chesapeake, both of which have their district championship events set to conclude before calendars flip into April. With two events on the docket for week four, the CHS roster for DCMP is not yet set. However, even despite the rough season in CHS for #1 seeds, several teams do seemed poised for big runs towards securing a Championship berth. **1731**’s multi-cube autonomous was instrumental in securing the Greater DC win, and their alliance partners **1885 **should also sit well positioned (assuming they can repair the elevator issues that sent them home in the Southern Maryland semi-finals). They will be attempting to stay ahead of a crowded group of younger teams looking to leave their mark in College Park, including **5546, 5587, 5724**, and **6334**. It would also be foolish to rule out some of CHS’ annual contenders, like** 836, 1418, 1610, 1629**, and **2363 **as they try to hit their stride at the right moment. In Tel-Aviv, it’s a lot of familiar teams near the top. **1577 **is in the midst of their best season in team history, cruising to gold on the #1 alliance at both of their qualifier events, and has to be viewed as the favorites heading into the event. **1574**, **3316**, and **3339 **each picked up one win and will contend for spots on the top few alliances. After their 2016 Einstein run, 1690 probably has the biggest profile within North America of any of the Israeli teams. However Orbit is approaching their second consecutive season without a blue banner (although it would be foolish to rule them out). Defending champions **5654 **followed up their ISR victory by captaining an alliance to Einstein in Houston. With a pair of finalist medals already on their resume in 2018, Phoenix will be aiming to secure their spot as an annual powerhouse in Israel with another strong performance at DCMP. **2230, 2231, 2630, 3075**, and **5987 **will also be in the mix to secure spots in Houston. 

Beginner’s Luck:

First year competitors have fared remarkably well in the first few weeks of Power Up. The fact that scoring in the switch and exchange are both achievable and highly impactful has allowed for simple and well-driven machines to produce results. **6933 **and **7211 **both utilized this to advantage earlier in the season, securing trips to the finals at district events. While you’ll have to wait until week 6 to see Archytas again, Hollywood will look to build off their impressive start at the Shepherd event in week 5. The wait to see week 1’s rookie darlings **7179 **will be even longer, after they managed to secure a spot at the Houston Championship via Rookie All-Star at Lone Star Central in week 3. The switch has also proven a useful asset for some of the taller rookie machines, providing a useful fallback for when scale action is too crowded or cumbersome. **6886 **carried this philosophy fully through their design, with a ground-to-scale pinch claw elevator on one side of their robot and an everybot-like bucket for receiving cubes from the portal on the opposite end. This design has synthesized some impressive early results for them, with #2 rankings at both Heartland and GKC, although they weren’t able to escape the quarter-finals at either event. Some other successful rookie scalers include Ontario’s **7013**, Israel’s **7039**, North Dakota’s **7048**, and most notably Wisconsin’s **7021**. TC Robotics ranked 2nd and joined the #1 alliance in winning Northern Lights. With some tweaks to improve their autonomous consistency (including a crossover scale routine back in week 1), they shouldn’t have much issue scoring and hanging their way to an impressive finish at Seven Rivers in week six. 

Lousy SmarchWeather:**

Despite it now technically being spring, the weather is still plaguing teams and events across North America. The Hatboro-Horsham District Event in MAR became the first ever FRC event to be cancelled, after a vicious combo of snow and wind knocked out the power to the venue back in week one. Hatboro has been rescheduled to week five, but the new event dates sent many teams shuffling and saw schedules re-arranged. Expect a significantly different roster for the week five iteration than was queued up to play there in week one. And the current stretch of storms is threatening team travel plans and other events across this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled to see how Toby impact the CHS Blacksburg event, and if teams across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are forced to drop-out of events due to school closures. Even when teams do attend, many of the district teams may have lost some of their unbag time this week. 

FIRST Webcast Unit:**

Huge credit goes to the newly expanded FIRST Webcast Unit. 2018 has more and better webcasts than any previous point in FRC history. But the even bigger improvement has been the rapid parsing and archival of match footage. No more having to wait weeks for match videos to show up on YouTube or digging through hours-long stream archives to pick out specific matches. Remember that FRC is only a decade past the era of **108**’s SOAP website being about the only place to find archived match videos. The age of The Blue Alliance and GameDay helped bring FRC webcast and match data into the 21st century, and the webcast unit is helping provide more and better content than ever before. If you’re attending a regional event that the FWU will be handling, make sure to take a moment to thank them for what they’re doing.

So where is the camera hidden in our lab? :smiley:

As always, thanks for the updates.

I really appreciate this report. this both strengths and changes my opinions about the current meta. keep up the good work!!