With four weeks of competition in the books, teams are developing an idea of what they need to do in order to compete in Ultimate Ascent. Many teams will be competing for the second (or third) time this season in week five, and are hoping to improve upon their results from earlier this season through robot modifications, additional practice, and strategic evolution. Improvement will be a constant theme this weekend, with a number of hungry competitors that weren’t 100% at their first outings of 2013. For as much as Ultimate Ascent has encouraged high scoring, designing a machine for this year’s challenge was still one of the difficult tasks in recent memory, especially for ambitious teams.
The big advantage for teams who were close to their desired functionality at their initial event will be the chance to use Thursday’s matches to practice new roles and tactics, rather than having to focus on testing functionality and learning their robot. These teams will be able to dial in new shooting locations, autonomous routines, hanging approaches, and opening maneuvers. In a game that encourages contact as much as this game, the ability to avoid stepping on your alliance partners’ toes is critical. Thus, having the flexibility to shoot from multiple locations (particularly when they include scoring threes from the sides of the pyramid) is an attractive attribute to an alliance captain that truly understands alliance construction. Subtle changes to a teams’ tactics can often result in significant improvements in alliance performance, as managing to keep all three teams within their comfort zone (or at least closer than the opponent) is a critical element to a successful alliance.
There are other, more overt, features that make alliance construction a very interesting task this year. Deciding to draft a climber, ground pickup, or full court shooter can entirely change the complection of your alliance. Level three climbers are becoming much quicker as the season progresses, and more and more alliances are utilizing climbing points as part of their arsenal to advance. 1114 is obviously a special case, as they’re arguably the best cycle shooter in addition to their rapid ascent, but they’re not the lone example of climb and dump success. 842 won in Arizona while 2481, 1918, 1421, and 88 reached the finals at Wisconsin, West Michigan, Bayou, and Boston respectively, and 3309 ended up on the top alliance at Long Beach. But some of those teams brought more than 50 points to the table, and week four may have marked the emergence of the hybrid shooter/climber.
Thoughts for the week:
- Vulcan Robotics might be the best example of mid-season improvement in 2013. With a ticket to MAR Championship already punched via a Chairman’s Award, 1218
tore apart their elaborate, full-court shooting, 30-pt hanging, suction-cup gathering superstructure after it provided less than desirable results in week one at Hatboro. The result was a lean, under pyramid scoring machine that found itself as the 3rd selection and semi-finalist at Chestnut Hill. Expect further improvement from them at Connecticut, but it may prove difficult to advance past the semi-finals in a larger and much deeper field. - They’ll be far from the only team looking to up the ante in Hartford after disappointing performances earlier in the season. 228
, 195, 177, and 2067 were all bounced in the quarter-finals at their previous event. 175 fell to the 2nd round in New Hampshire, but started heating up in the eliminations in route to a silver medal. Even WPI champion alliance captain 2168 will look to assume a much more offensive role in Connecticut. Perhaps the team that looked most ready at their first event was 20, who’s useful ground pickup will make them a force to be respected once again. - The battle for the top at Inland Empire will be fierce, wtih several strong contenders. 1538
and 3476 have the autonomous advantage, as both teams possess the potential to score 5-7 discs without their drivers behind the controls. 2485 will likely be the tele-op heaveyweight, as their long range shooter can be a real game changer and they’re not too shabby from the pyramid, either. A pairing between the WARLords and one of the aforementioned autonomous specialists would be intimidating. 399, 3512, and 4322 also have shown enough scoring prowess to be in the hunt. If 1323 wants to contend, they’re going to have to work out all the kinks in their machine quickly. - Plenty of the competitors at Buckeye are already familiar with each other, after facing off at Boilermaker, Queen City, or Finger Lakes. The winner in Cleveland may be decided by who has improved their play the most since their last event, with plenty of teams demonstrating unfulfilled potential earlier in the season. 340
is hoping that an streamlined climb and feeder will help boost their scoring. 2016 had a lackluster event at TCNJ, and will want to step up their consistency. 3003 won FLR, but as a defender during tele-op. Their autonomous shooting is solid, so they have the potential to contribute more under driver control. 48 and 1126 have demonstrated the ability to have very good two-way play, but their offensive numbers might need a bit of a boost to overcome the established scoring machines. 1507’s accurate under-pyramid shooter and 1629’s tall, long-range bomber seem to be the most established offensive threats heading into the event. - Is there any better example of how well the Robot in 3 Days design can work than 4343
? Max Tech’s simple and reliable scoring machine captained the #2 alliance to the finals at GTR-East, and they should be one of the more consistent scoring machines at the other Toronto event this weekend. They may have to convert some of the twos they scored from the sides of the pyramid into more frequent threes if they want to reach the finals again, though. - Every year the Washington DC regional has existed, at least one member of the winning alliance has had to suffer through hours of travel to get there. Gold medals adorn teams from Indiana (2x), Pennsylvania (3x), Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts. This year may be more of the same, with several strong contenders from outside the DMV area, even without Nemesis joining the party this weekend. 379
(Ohio) is coming fresh off a victory at Queen City and sports a dangerous autonomous, but will have to increase their accuracy when shooting at the 3-pt goal during tele-op if they want another win. 2415 (Georgia) has plenty of upside, but has to prove they can harness it consistently. 79 (Florida), 303 (New Jersey), and 2630 (Israel) shouldn’t be overlooked, either. 836 and 2377 represent the best odds of keeping a banner near the US Capital. - Several of the heavyweights at Seattle met last week in Ellensburg. Chief among them are 948
and 1983. NRG’s full court shooter is poised to become a high profile machine yet again, and will likely earn an invite to a top alliance once more. If Skunkworks can keep the momentum they developed at the end of Central Washington rolling, they might be able to knock off 948 again, though. If the two pair together, it would be surprising to see them defeated before the finals. - Livonia is about as open for the taking as FiM districts get. A number of very solid scoring machines are at the event, but there’s no team that has a significant leg up on the others and more than 25% of the field has numbers above 4000. 27
looks like the best pyramid shooter coming into the event, but don’t quite have the game changing potential of 1023 or 2771. If Bedford is fully recovered from their nasty spill and can become a consistent auton scoring, climbing, and dumping machine, they’ll be tough to stop. Beyond those teams, 1189 and 503 could be very solid contributors, but will need some additional help if they want to go deep. - Of the 123 teams attending the two Minneapolis regionals this weekend, 117 are from Minnesota. While the Twin Cities’ events don’t appear to be as competitive as the Duluth events a few weeks back, the State of Hockey is starting to come of age in FRC, both in the quantity and quality of the competitors. 525
represents the lone hope of taking a medal away from the 10,000 Lakes Regional to another US state. But the Swartdogs should have a good shot, as they already grabbed gold at the Northern Lights event (though much of their alliances’ scoring was done by 2169) in 2013 and are the defending 10K Lakes champs. Many of the locals are competing for the first time, but 2052 and 2705 look poised for a run at the title after strong events in Duluth (including the KnightKrawlers captaining the #7 alliance to victory). - Northern Lights looks like the deeper of the two Minneapolis events, in spite of the slightly smaller size. If 3928
can manage to get everything working together (and keep it together), they could be the top scorer at the event. Even though they faltered in the QF at Lake Superior, 2177’s climbing machine may be a serious factor this weekend as well, as they look to go back-to-back at Northern Lights. 967, 1816, 3130, and 3883 should also figure prominently into the elimination tournament. - Despite a heavy crossover with Orlando, the South Florida regional is much smaller and much shallower than its older brother. This has the potential to really change the dynamic of the elimination rounds, likely shifting the focus away from alliances with three scorers. 1902
‘s agile scoring machine looks to be the favorite heading in. 179 is both the next best scoring machine and poses the threat of a 40pt climb and dump, but Swamp Thing will likely have to improve their ability to cope with strong defensive play or find a partner who can divert attention. 744 and 1065 will be in the mix, though if they don’t improve their rate of fire and reduce their time to acquire the target, they’d fit better as secondary scoring machines. 180 is the wild card at the event. If their loading woes are fixed, they could be right in there with the best of them. - Perhaps no story is more inspiring this year than 801
and 1592 rebuilding their machines and reaching the eliminations after disaster struck their trailer in Orlando. Both teams will be competing in Alamo this weekend, and with more time to rebuild and modify their machines, they have the potential to be among the better scorers at the event. But they’ll need to be on the top of their game in order to best 624, 1429, 1477, and 2587. - Thirty-four of the fifty teams competing in Knoxville this weekend weren’t around to play Breakaway. Nearly a fifth of the event will be competing in FRC for their first time ever. Good scouting and alliance selection will be key to winning the event, as finding a quality third member in an inexperienced field will be critical to going deep in the event. Expect 829
, 2614, and 1319 to be among the contenders. - In an event overflowing with teams named after their school mascots (perhaps with a “Robo” thrown in front), team 4264
might have the greatest team name in the history of FRC. “The Fellowship of the Springs.” - Several teams attending the Oklahoma regional demonstrated some solid potential at their first events, but weren’t able to put it all together. 932
, 935, 1540, and 1775 will aim to up their game at their second event, but winning gold may be a daunting task if they don’t seed 1st. 1986 is the favorite at the event, thanks to the ability to post scores worthy of many elimination alliances by themselves. 1806 won GKC with Team Titanium, and their robot has a variety of assets that make them dangerous in many different ways. If either of them seeds on top, the regional may be over before the eliminations even begin. - While there’s a crop of rookies gearing up for their first ever FRC event at GTR-West, almost every veteran team has competed at least once in 2013 already. Many of them quite successfully. Experience and practice make a huge difference in teams’ performances, and GTR-West is going to be a dandy because of it.
- Is there a combination more suited to play together than 1114
and 2056? The two robots compliments each other almost perfectly, and have absolutely dominated as a result. Given the diminishing returns of having multiple floor loading robots on an alliance (especially when teams aren’t missing many shots or one already has a 7-disc autonomous), Simbotics’ swift hanging mechanism looks like a brilliant choice at this point. Just like last year, it’s likely going to take another team seeding at the top and separating them in order to bring one of them down. 1334, 1310, 1241, and 4343 seem like the best candidates to do that. Outside chances that 1503 and 772 could sneak in there as well, but they’d need very favorable schedules. - Three of the most revered names in Michigan will be competing at Troy, in HOT, the Thunder Chickens, and Las Guerillas. 67
and 217 will be looking to get their full court shooters on track after first events with finishes that did not live up their historical standards. HOT looks closer to their goals at this point, but it would be foolish to count out the team from Sterling Heights. 469’s quick loading pyramid scoring machine could be the perfect compliment to either of them, and is favorite heading into the event. 68, 245, 2851, and 3539 will also be very dangerous, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see an alliance with one of them knock out some of the bigger names. - With two districts already under their belts, it will be interesting to see if 2851
and 68 are more willing to take risks in order to win Troy. The Thunder Chickens, AdamBots, and Las Guerillas (while safe bets to reach MSC) need to accumulate points where they can in order to guarantee themselves a spot in St. Louis.