Predictions Week 0.5: The Siege Begins

Week 0.5: The Siege Begins
With build season barely over, teams are assembling in Palmetto to kickoff FIRST Stronghold. Week Six of 2008 was the last time a regional event had a weekend all to itself. While New York was able to hog the spotlight to close the Overdrive regional season, Myrtle Beach will play host to the opening weekend of this season’s challenge. Never before has a regional event occurred so soon after build season. That quick turnaround will present unique challenges to teams and volunteers alike.

The single event this weekend also presents a new opportunity for Looking Forward. 2016 Looking Forward posts will be following the same featured event format that was used in 2015, but with only one event on opening weekend, it creates the chance to explore many of the questions posed by Stronghold in greater depth.

It’s no secret that, in most seasons, the sizable majority of teams will build a robot intended to score in the “high goal” (whether it be a shooting game, or whatever equivalent challenge there is that year). With the abundance of alternative design considerations and no bonus ranking objectives associated with the high goal, Stronghold may the first FRC challenge to buck that trend. Or, minimally, push the ratio closer to 50/50. While nobody should bet on a shortage of teams attempting to launch boulders skywards, even many veteran teams this year have opted to spend their resources on other mechanisms and strategic goals rather than maximizing the points per boulder. Seeing how that design trade-off works out in Palmetto will be interesting, as teams learn to cope with a brand new game and the actual field defenses. The early season always has lower scores, which will raise the relative value of defense crossings in the total scores. Expect very few (if any) matches where alliances successfully damage all five defenses in front of them. That leaves the option for more versatile (and quicker) breaching machines to have offensive value, and that value will quite possibly exceed that of boulder scoring machines on many alliances.

Even among the launching robots, there will be an interesting dynamic to watch regarding the position teams opt to fire from. The outworks provide a tempting launching location, given the protection from harassment provided by the rules. However, the distance and alignment concerns presented from that location (as well as blocking alliance access to a defense) could prove to be significant hurdles for many teams. The batter or player station wall can provide a hard stop for teams to align quickly and reliably, and hopefully increase their shooting percentage. However, the steeper required angle may simply rule out many teams that did not explicitly design for that challenge. Further still, the predictable location and limited range of movement provides ample opportunity for defensive robots to stall and harass teams getting into or out of position. Even the added protection of Team Update 10’s pinning clarification does not stop the added time to cycles in and out of position. Given the visual obstructions between the drivers and their machines, having a trustworthy alignment tool may prove too useful to pass up for many shooters. However, those same teams will be the ones that warrant more defensive attention.

Naturally, this begs the question of how much and what styles of defense will actually be played in Stronghold. There’s certainly plenty of points-accruing activities for all members of alliances in this challenge, including ones that simple drive bases can accomplish. Obviously the high end scoring machines will demand defensive attention. However, will the more pedestrian shooters draw defense? Low-goal specialists? Breaching robots?

The fact that the ranking formula is not zero-sum may behoove alliances to invest less, or not at all, in defensive activities. In early week events like Palmetto, getting those bonus ranking points will be the exception, rather than the rule. And the teams that acquire them frequently will have a massive advantage towards becoming alliance captains. Obviously that changes in the playoffs, as preventing an opponent’s breach or capture becomes just as valuable as earning one for your alliance. When alliances are playing towards the breach and capture points, neutral zone play will take on increased importance. With the space occupied by the outerworks (and the implicit requirement of driving nearly perpendicular to them in order to cross) combined with battles for the mid-field balls, the neutral zone can get crowded quickly. It may make sense for alliances to attempt to slow or prevent effective neutral zone play, rather than sending a defensive robot to protect their own courtyard. This will be especially true for teams with organized scouting and strategy systems, who can utilize outerworks defense placement to funnel traffic favorably. While it’s a lot to expect that level of strategic sophistication this early in the season, Palmetto will have an exclusive chance to set the tone for how Stronghold will be played.

Early data is supporting what most expected early in the Stronghold season. Below is data collected from FIRST’s Official Week Zero event in Merrimack, NH last weekend:

*2 scales were awarded due to penalties.

One can clearly see that class C defenses presented the most problems to teams at Week Zero, but this can be expected based on the number of Low Bar capable robots we’ve seen released so far. Many teams are relying on being able to ignore class C defenses in favor of the other 4 defenses on the field. This strategy may come back to bite them, however, as the data shows that both the Cheval De Frise and the Ramparts are more difficult than expected.

High goals and scales are expected to be the exception instead of the rule during Week 0.5, but it’s surprising how infrequently challenges occured. Only 32 of the 96 available tower faces were scaled or challenged at Week Zero. Expect that number to increase as teams realize the value of challenging at the end of the match.

Palmetto

With the weekend to itself and the capacity to survive the initial rush of registration, Palmetto became an attractive destination to teams from a far range of locations. Even with North Carolina and Georgia transitioning to districts, there’s quite a roster of teams assembling in Myrtle Beach this weekend. While a majority of the roster hails from the southeast, there are also competitors from Ohio, Texas, Connecticut, DC, and a handful venturing across the border from Ontario.

With all that outside talent, **4451 **might stand the best chance of keeping a gold medal in South Carolina. Robotz Garage has quickly established themselves as a premiere SC powerhouse, even ahead of longer tenured competitors like **343 **and 1319.

A betting man might place their money on an away team this weekend, however. 179 (Florida) will certainly be among the favorites at the event, but if **1296 **(Texas) can get off to a faster start than last season they won’t be far behind. **3824 **(Tennessee) is also looking to continue their reign with a third win in a row at Palmetto and all signs show they have no intentions to let off the gas. Among the Canadian contingent, **2200 **may be the top bot. Rambotics might be a good litmus test for the viability of low goal machines, as well, as they try to hang with some of the better high goal scorers at the event.

I was so looking forward to this. Awesome predictions!

I see what you did there :wink:

Honestly I am very much looking forward to seeing what team 900 is doing. They have out of the box ideas every year.

As a scouting man I loved the attention payed to game analysis in this thread. Some of the thoughts reflected in the post mirrored my own and some I hadn’t even considered yet. I am so psyched to see what happens this week. Good luck to all teams competing, at I applaud you for your bravery in taking on this week 0.5 event.

It Begins! My favorite weekly post! So glad for the analysis.

I expect some breaches and very few captures. I also expect some teams that designed a robot to fit under the low bar to realize they built a robot that was too tall. I expect that teams will find some problem with the field elements requiring some kind of modification. I’m really offering nothing here.

Great post! Interesting to see how the dynamic of the game changes over the weeks…

Great post, thank’s for stepping out of the box and adding some nuances that we should be looking for on Gameday.

Add me to the list of people that appreciate the hours you spend analyzing each weeks event. With the growing number of districts you have even more events to cover week to week.

I have a question for next weeks analysis “Does the audience participation in the defenses play an important role in the game?” It’s one of the fan friendly things the GDC has added, I like to know what the professional analysis is.