Off-season Only: A Hypothetical

In 2019, 48% of FRC Team 299’s expenses were registration (2 regionals + champs, not including travel). I can’t help but think that most of that $14,000 could be better applied elsewhere to accomplish our (and FIRST’s) stated missions.

One of the solutions I came up with seemed so jarringly simple that I felt it must be too good to be true, so here I am on CD asking for opinions on this hypothetical: Why not only compete in the off-season?

I know this sounds weird, but hear me out: I hypothesize that only competing in off-seasons would be a more efficient way of accomplishing FIRST’s mission for a large chunk of FRC teams in regionals (>33%) than registering for in-season events. I believe this is the case because of the cost savings and added flexibility.

First, the cost savings between off-seasons and regionals is drastic. In California our typical off-season event costs roughly $350 / robot. Some are higher, some are lower, and while I don’t know too much about the average registration for all off-season events, most numbers I’ve seen are around this figure. Compare this to the $5,000 registration fee for a team’s first regional. That’s a $4,650 difference, which I would bet is more than most teams have to spend on their robot. Let’s add a second regional for $4,000 on there for a total registration of $9,000. Two $350 off-season events is $700, which gives a savings of $8,300 in registration fees alone. In theory, a team could attend 14 off-season events at $350 each for roughly the same amount of money as a single $5000 regional registration. Of course no team would compete in 14 events, but the excess in money saved would likely do wonders being reinvested into the team’s competitive robotics program. I struggle to see what value is added to the program that is worth that much money that cannot be obtained elsewhere.

Secondly is the flexibility. Operating outside of the limitations set by FRC would allow programs more freedom to run the way they’d like and to pursue goals outside of FRC limitations. With the game being released in January each year, but off-seasons not starting until early summer at the earliest and continuing into early winter, programs will have greater flexibility in their operating schedule. Those who want to keep the same four-month season can shift their season to start and end whenever they’d like (ie. August - November), and those who would like to change the standard season length can expand or retract their seasons as they see fit. Regardless of what season length programs choose, there is still the same amount of time between official kickoff and each event’s starting point, so no team has the advantage of more possible time over another team (just like no-bag FRC rules), and given the larger time span between kickoff and off-season competitions and the typical lull in summer, teams who do both in-season and off-season events won’t be at an overwhelming large advantage to those who just do off-seasons. Programs will have more freedom in choosing how often they meet, how long their season is, and how much prior exposure to the game they have, how it’s played, and other robots built for the game they see before they start their own season. Alongside this, I have personally found that most off-season events tend to be more lenient with rules that define how the robot is to be constructed and what can be used on it, which opens up the possibility of utilizing technologies and resources that would normally be deemed illegal in FRC. Team 299 has a lot of cool engineering concepts we want to teach our students that we don’t get around to doing because those technologies do not provide a competitive advantage in FRC due to limitations from the program or due to time limitations of the FRC season making the technology the less efficient method of solving a problem compared to more black-boxed solutions. I would be willing to bet this is not a problem unique to us.

The Downsides
Of course there are cons to this, and they are definitely worth considering. These are the ones I’ve thought of, but I am interested in hearing more.

  1. Off-season events are not FIRST-Official

Off-season events are not official or sanctioned by FIRST, and while that doesn’t matter to me personally, I understand that some people place a lot of value on the credibility and namesake of the organization running the event, and as a byproduct off-season events do not hold as much value to them.

  1. No official world championship event

I believe this is the biggest downside. Not competing in in-season events disqualifies teams from competing at any world championship events, and despite there being off-season events such as Chezy Champs and IRI that do a good job of bringing in teams from all around and creating a highly competitive atmosphere, there is no real replacement in the off-season for the FIRST world championship experience.

  1. No access to FRC-specific grants (EDIT:) or scholarships

Pretty self explanatory. Even though most of those grants go to FRC registration, the lack of FRC grant opportunities is notable. @Mike_Schreiber also pointed out that this removes students’ eligibility from FIRST scholarships, which are another downside.

There can be more downsides, these are just the main three I can think of.

So yeah, this is my hypothesis. To me it seems like the resources put into competing in official FRC events can be better used elsewhere in robotics programs to get kids inspired about STEM and give them more hands-on experience with engineering. I don’t know if I’d do anything about it just yet, but it’s a thought experiment that I’ve yet to be able to disprove. I could be entirely wrong - I often am. I’m sure I’ve missed things, so I’m interested in hearing what people think. It’s definitely a weird idea, but it kinda makes sense?


My understanding is that Australia did this for years. It’s a great model. We recommend it to folks who approach us about starting new teams.

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Does this mean your students are no longer participants in FRC and are therefore not eligible for the plethora of scholarships available for FRC students?


How well this plan would work would be really dependent on what is local to you. You have to have a few somewhat local events that will let a non-FIRST team register.

Really the practical strategy is to do one regional and as many off season events as possible. There are some teams that are kind of doing this in MN.

In MN a team in theory could do one regional for $5000 and do 4 to 7 events in the off season - some of those would offer the chance to bring multiple robots as well (not including week 0).

I would be hard pressed to believe the events that fill would let a shadow team enter over a FIRST sanctioned team.


I agree with Whatever in that this approach is only effective depending on your location. In places where FIRST has taken root and there is a large presence, then there will naturally be an abundance of off-season events. As a result, I question your claim that this will accomplish “FIRST’s mission” in that teams (or pre-teams) that would benefit from this are generally in areas that have already been “inspired” by FIRST, such as Michigan or the Silicon Valley region.

A case where I can see this approach working, outside of the Australia model mentioned earlier, is a team that is just on the outskirts of a major FIRST-hub, like a team in Bakersfield or Fresno. Given the heavy burden of FIRST registration costs, cheaper off-season events would allow them to get more bang for their buck with respect to “inspiring students”.

That’s a valid point I have not considered, though I would say there are lots of scholarships out there for students active in STEM activities. Does the potential for FIRST-specific scholarships outweigh the potential to run a program better?

EDIT: To clarify I’m not saying put the program over the students (especially since the program is about the students) - I’m just not aware of many students who have received FIRST scholarships so part of the consideration is what that potential return is over a more guaranteed return.

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@Whatever @aaronfang you both bring up good points that this would be very geographically dependent based on what off-seasons are available. From what I’m aware of, I haven’t seen an off-season that requires a team be a registered FRC team to compete, but that’s also understandably not a common scenario. I personally don’t think a barrier would be made against allowing non-season-registered teams to compete as long as those teams participate with robots that fit within the allowable scope the off-season event allows.

I am admittedly naive about FRC life outside of major geographical hubs. My guess was that there would be at least one off-season close by to most regional teams, though I could be wrong. In the case where there is at least one off-season accessible to regional teams, I feel like programs that only do a single regional a year would definitely benefit from instead doing a single off-season event, and capitalize on the saved money and more adjustable schedule to fit their program’s needs.

I am definitely interested in learning more about the life of FRC teams that live further from geographical hubs and the value they get from competing in a regional events.

Not registering for an event also means no KoP, no FIRST Choice, and no team pricing for FRC electronics. That’s going to make it significantly more expensive to keep up to date with electronics and get FRC-specific products. This almost certainly doesn’t make up for the difference in registration prices, but it’s still something to consider.


I think there is also a heard immunity comparison here. This plan works for a couple teams but fails once HQ doesn’t have enough money to pay employees, design games, produce fields, train volunteers, etc. I do believe this makes sense for teams just wanting to try out FRC, but I don’t think we should encourage teams to follow this model in perpetuity.

Things like OCCRA make much more sense, they are doing all the work to build a competition and run it at a low cost.


It definitely wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone did it, but I would be curious to see if the bottom 10% of teams resource-wise doing this would both improve their programs + be a small enough lost to FIRST that it doesn’t affect their ability to run the company.

Big robots are expensive enough as it is, I wonder where the equilibrium point is with regards to operating costs and accessibility. We may already be there, but I’m not so sure.

What about just doing one regional, thus keeping open the possibility of going to a championship, then pouring more resources into off season events? Even with travel expenses I could see that shaving a sizable chunk of the costs off of a team.

Jumping off of Allen’s reply (and also off my thoughts that grew out of a different thread earlier today), I would be a supporter of an alternative robot sport to FRC, like OCCRA maybe. Maybe with a two year game phase, allowing games to grow and evolve. Aerial Assault League, anyone?


I have been wanting this for so long. We can play pickup aerial assist in parking lots with just some poles and string.


Teams could create a special robot just to play AA year after year. Simplify the rules a little and it is robot soccer. Hey, right now we are building an Ultimate Ascent grandchild robot. I would be down for this being our off season project next year. We’ll come play with y’all, Allen.


Resource-wise this would work well with a team such as my own, but it still seems that that initial singular regional entry cost is just so much money for such little unique return. Would lower resource teams find this sustainable? Alongside this, if most a program’s focus and resources really went into the offseason, are they solely signing up for an in-season regional just for the possibility of competing at champs? If they’re putting most of their resources into the offseason, is it likely they could even qualify for champs?

I love the idea of OCCRA and one day wish to start a version over here in California, but in the meantime I’m still not sure if I’m convinced that the costs associated with just being a part of FRC are worth it.

Teams do that much already. I’ve been there, and spoken with others.

Here in SE Louisiana, there are two off-season events within about an hour’s drive, but as far as I’m aware, nothing else until you’re at least six hours away.

In addition to the no KoP (and especially no rookie KoP), there’s the question of whether you’d find out about and/or be welcome at your local off-season events. Not necessarily a showstopper, but I suspect that ultimately those teams which tried this would end up beginning their design/build season in late March or April (or later), after the meta-game had a chance to develop, and the serious build season would be over the summer. As such, this would likely benefit community teams more than school-based teams. In locales with a local event just before or soon after school starts, a full-summer robot camp sounds like a good thing.

857 still has a robot ready to play.

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At first as I read this, it seemed like silly idea.

However, we are a fairly low resource team. We got a grant allowing us to go to a second event and we’ll scrape enough together for a robot, but it’s likely students will be paying extra to go to the away event.
We’re in MN which I know of at least 5 off season events without week 0.

Right now my rough tally that I have to present to the school is:
$2,000 for hotel
$1,500 for meals
$4,000 for the event (paid for by the grant though)

So $7,500 before getting a bus for 5 days (I don’t have the quote on a bus, but I’m expecting a couple grand)

Possibly $10k total

Suddenly those off season events plus money to build the program look a lot nicer…


A place where this could really have merit is for a team that is going to fold because of lack of funding for that year. If they can’t afford the registration, build a robot for the game anyways and get into as many off seasons competitions as possible. This can keep the team going, and try to raise enough money for the next registration year.


This is an idea I’ve pondered for a while, and I know others who have as well. It’s also something that can mimic a lot of the value of the district system, even in regional areas and even for teams still competing officially in FIRST. If you’re hurting to play more matches, off-season events are hard to beat.

Ultimately, choosing not to register for official events comes down to what you want out of the program. You can certainly get a lot more matches per dollar in off-seasons only. But it’s likely your entire build process would also morph significantly (as you now have from January to May to build before your first event, if not January to September or October). As much as I love events, the part of the season I value the most is the first few weeks of build season. I love the process of analyzing and speculating on new games. The process of tinkering and experimenting with prototypes and a new game piece. The difficult design decisions made in a vacuum of game data. I really enjoy leading students through these tasks, and I find that I see tons of growth from my students during this period. If you don’t compete until we’ll after every other team does, there would be a lot of temptation to devalue these early season engineering challenges. There is still a ton of educational and inspirational value in building to a “solved” game challenge (and I use “solved” loosely), and my team and other teams have got tons of value out of reworking and updating mechanisms after build season concludes for off-season play. But it’s just a fundamentally different type of engineering challenge at that point, and I wouldn’t want to give up the build season challenge of designing to a new game.


^^ This. Designing to a set of rules (rather than the post-meta-game) is what makes the whole “new game each year” special.

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