Predictions Week 7: Crowning the Districts
The regular season is completed. All that remains between the FIRST faithful and the strongholds in St. Louis are the five remaining district championships. North Carolina, Chesapeake, and the Pacific Northwest crowned their champions last week, but Michigan, Peachtree, New England, Indiana, and the Mid-Atlantic are slated to compete once more this weekend. The three DCMPs last weekend gave a taste of the levels of play that can be achieved in a qualification-only tournament. Scores were universally up, with qualification averages ranging between 88.3 points in Charlotte to 104.27 in Portland (compared to a 72.11 worldwide average on the season), and these figures come without the elimination bonus points. Similarly, breach and capture rates both saw significant increases, with breaching being virtually guaranteed (both PNW and CHS saw breach rates above 96%) and captures reaching a whopping 48.05% during the qualifications at PNW.
As implied by those high breach and capture rates, such competitive events raise the stakes in terms of what it takes to be an alliance captain. While we’ve seen hyper competitive races for the #1 and #2 seeds at several events already this season, it took an average of 2.58 ranking points just to claim the #8 seed at North Carolina (an event with only 32 teams in attendance). At the 64 team Pacific Northwest DCMP, that bar was raised all the way to 3.08 RP/match (and even then the difference between the #8 and the #9 seeds was decided on autonomous points). Based on worldwide breach and capture averages, a typical team can expect 20 ranking points during a 12 match qualification schedule. A 20 RP performance would have only earned 25th of 32 in North Carolina, 55th of 58 in Maryland, and 61st of 64 in Oregon this past weekend. With the stakes raised this high, it’s not a surprise it was teams that could ensure frequent breaches that ranked on top. Low goal specialists with hanging mechanisms seeded #1 at all three of the district championships in week 6, with two of them going on to win their events. Consistently being able to breach and capture is crucial, but wins are not to be overlooked, as only 3506 was able to overcome more losses to secure the #1 seed (on an autonomous points tiebreaker).
Elimination play saw some divergence between events. PNW’s capture rate essentially stayed the same, only elevating by 2% between quals and eliminations. And while the average match score climbed 40 points, that can be deceptive given the 20 points of that is the breaching bonus, and 50% of alliances got a further 25 point bonus for tower captures. In large part, this was because of an increase of defensive play, and the efficacy of many of PNW’s shooters dropped significantly under defensive pressure. By contrast, the capture rate in Chesapeake climbed 22% to a whopping 58.33%. The #1 alliance won the event without a single high goal, although they did score as many as sixteen low goals, reaching a very healthy total of 35 boulder points (including autonomous). The two best shooting alliances were knocked out in the semi-finals, and twice the margin of victory fell within the two category C crossings that the finalists alliances accomplished. The winners in NC were propelled largely by a dual hanging end game, whereas the dual hangers in PNW were ousted in the finals by a blistering high goal assault from the #5 alliance. Going forward, expect to see more unique takes emerge in the playoffs, as each event is molded by alliance selection.
Indiana State Championship
No region in all of FRC has seen more towers toppled this season than Indiana. The incredibly high standards of play, depth of offensive machines, and blitzkrieg offensive strategies of the region have led to absolutely nuts scores and capture rates. Perry-Meridian, a 33-team district qualifier event, had a whopping 56.25% elimination capture rate and average playoff scores of 139.81. It’s hard to imagine those stats can climb much higher in Kokomo, but Indiana’s numbers have done nothing but increase from event to event all season long.
The top of the district rankings are a pretty good indicator of the favorites heading into the event. After sweeping all three district qualifiers, the Kil-A-Bytes rightfully have a firm grasp on the #1 spot with 142 points. 1024’s consistent outerworks catapult earned them a spot on the #1 alliance three times, despite an abundance of high powered shooters in the state. But a fourth victory is far from guaranteed, with the next three teams in the standings right on their tails. 1747 had some hiccups at Walker Warren, struggling through quals and being eliminated in the semi-finals. However, HBR was on fire at their other events, pairing with the Kil-A-Bytes and Technokats for wins at both. 868 was poised to step in at Walker-Warren, claiming the top seed en route to victory. They then backed it up two weeks later by earning a ticket straight to St. Louis when they won the Queen City regional as a member of the #2 alliance.
Not all of the contenders have an array of standard streamers collected this year. 71 pushed the Kil-A-Bytes to three matches twice this season. Team Hammond is the most prominent team in Indiana to skip on the high goal, but a combination of their effective hanging mechanism and an effective breaching and low goal game propelled them to a whopping 43 rankings points when they secured the #1 seed at Perry Meridian. 1501 was Hammond’s selection from the #1 seed, ahead of of either 1747 or 1024. If any team can hang shot-for-shot with the big scorers, it’s THRUST. There are a slew of teams with plenty of potential to make big names for themselves at the event, as well. 461, 1720, and 4982 have shown the ability to ring the chains, but aren’t quite as consistent at some of the top ranked competitors. 135 and 4301 can also shoot high, but their scaling is their most noteworthy aspect. 234 and 1741 are speedy breachers that have the potential to score high, but have frequently been more effective down low. 1529, 3559, 5403 and 3940 have shown themselves capable of toppling the tower’s foundation with low goals, and CyberTooth is working to get their five point shot tuned. No teams know what it takes to win better than 45 this season, who was the final selection of the winning alliance at both Tippecanoe and Perry Meridian. If the Kil-A-Bytes and HBR pair up again, perhaps their familiarity with the Technokats will prove enough for them to select 45 yet again.
Mid-Atlantic Robotics District Championship
Shooting games and defense are two of the Mid-Atlantic’s fortes, so Stronghold seems like a natural fit for the district. While the defensive tactics were present at almost every event, it did take a little while for the shooters to really get rolling. The high goals started to take hold at Seneca and Chestnut Hill in week 3, but truly showed what they were capable of at Westtown and Montgomery in weeks 5 and 6 respectively. Heading into Lehigh, the top teams are looking to take it up another notch and there’s plenty of room for growth from the middle tier.
Only one of the defending champs from last year, 225, qualified to defend their title in 2016. They had a pair of strong performances, winning both Chestnut Hill and Westtown on the #1 alliance, and has rightfully earned their top seed in the MAR standings. After some claw issues led to them temporarily abandoning their batter shot in favor of low goals at SCH, TechFire reinforced their claw, added a scaling mechanism, and began draining shots from the outerworks in Westtown. While a majority of MAR’s shooters prefer to post up along the tower or take aim from the comfort of the courtyard, TechFire is not alone in terms of using the safe zone around the defenses. 1640 started slowly, but refined their distance shot as the season progressed, and is looking to use their consistent shooting to claim their third MAR title. 365 can shoot from almost anywhere, and used the cover of the outerworks effectively during their championship run at Seneca. MOE also boasts the ability to hang, but some Sunday morning hiccups caused them to the odd team left out of the #1 alliance at Westtown.
Plenty of other MAR teams have shown the ability to launch boulders high from various points around the batter and courtyard. 2590 low goaled their way to victories in both Hatboro and Seneca, but was launching boulders into the 5 point goal from the batter during their finalist run at South Florida in week 5. 5895 is the most impressive rookie in MAR (thanks in part to some mentors with significant FRC experience), and their batter shot enabled them to captain the #5 alliance to victory in Montgomery. 303 and 3314 lost to Peddie’s alliance in the Monty SFs, and neither team has been able to claim a victory in Stronghold yet. The TEST team has a slightly more refined shot, and could begin draining 5-pointers from the outer works, while the Mechanical Mustangs have a 15-point end game to help set them apart. 222, 341, 869, and 5404 are among the districts most dangerous batter shooters, with Power Cord and Daisy both opting to skip out on crossing the low bar in favor of taller designs that enabled them to scale the tower at the end of the match. 41, 56, 1089, 1143, 1218, 2607, and 4954 all represent dangerous offensive threats when given the space to align from the courtyard floor, but their consistency and success varies greatly when the defensive pressure of the eliminations is applied. With a densely competitive field, consistency and flexibility will be key for some of the middle of the pack shooters to secure spots in the playoffs.
The low goal has remained a viable alternative for many other teams in MAR this season. While 25 wasn’t able to take home a banner from either district qualifier, Raider Robotix’ swift breaching and scaling machine earned a spot on the #1 alliance at both Hatboro and Bridgewater, and they may be the most dangerous low goal machine in the district. Seemingly half of New Jersey, including 25, lost to 1676 at one point or another this season as the Pascack Pioneers breached and captured their way to wins in Mount Olive and Bridgewater. 1257 selected both Pascack (Mount Olive) and Raider Robotix (Bridgewater) to play in the playoffs this season, and came away with a gold and silver medal as a result. 708 is Pennsylvania’s most effective low cycle machine, and at their best they can weaken the tower on their own while cycling back and forth through the low bar before finishing the match with a 15 point end game. Hatters Robotics isn’t quite as fast at breaching some of the other defenses, but teams like 11, 193, 834, and 3637 had plenty of success breaching rapidly while scoring low (and occasionally high in the case of MORT and the Daleks) to earn high seeds this season. 1391 captained their first two alliances this season as a low goal breacher, but consistency issues and some high goal experimentation allowed them to drop to the final selection at their home event, where (with the help of their recently completed scaling mechanism) they were able to finally secure a win in the finals after losing their four previous trips in team history. If any of the high goal teams falter or have a tough match schedule, expect some of MAR’s swift breachers to secure some high rankings in qualifications.
FIRST in Michigan State Championship
For the second straight season, Grand Rapids will play host to more than 100 teams competing for the right to call themselves Michigan state champions. Even with the truly massive field, the rampant growth in Michigan still means this event is highly selective (more so than any other DCMP), with roughly 25% of the FRC participants in Michigan qualifying. Some well known teams with ambitions typically at the Championship elimination level ended up on the outside of the cut. With such a high points cutoff, teams couldn’t coast by on a single strong performance (and a couple district event champions were left out based on subpar outings at their other event). Virtually every team in attendance is at least a functional Stronghold machine, and breaching really should be a virtual guarantee in every match.
Even with the absences of teams like 245, 469, and 910, there’s still plenty of FRC star power at the event. 33 has torn through the season, winning both of their events on the #1 alliance. The Bees are an ultra-swift high goal shooter, who have shown the ability to out maneuver defense to get to their preferred shooting locations. With a consistent and quick end-game scale, pretty much the only thing missing from their arsenal is a consistent autonomous shot. 67 is the other primary favorite, and is looking to start a new finals streak after being denied a medal at MSC for the first time ever in 2015. HOT is headed into MSC with a stunning 34-2 record, winning Waterford and Howell as the #1 seed. Perhaps scariest of all is that HOT can still get better. 1023 didn’t quite live up the lofty expectations set by their 2015 at their first two events, with technical issues (including calling for a back-up bot in Waterford) keeping them away from gold. But they ended their season on the right note with a #1 seeded victory in Livonia. If they can avoid issues and increase their autonomous effectiveness, they have the potential to contend. After reaching the finals at an outside regional, 27 was the primary offensive machine on that winning alliance in Livonia, and followed it up by captaining the #1 alliance to the finals at Woodheaven. 1718 was the top selection in Troy, and their consistent outerworks shot was the perfect compliment to the Bees batter scoring.
While the big names will draw plenty of attention from casual observers, there’s plenty of lesser known teams establishing themselves as Michigan powerhouses. 3357 has the best machine in their history, and this is a team that’s been to Einstein before. After tuning up their machine in Indiana, they returned home to claim wins in Lansing and East Kentwood as captains of the #2 alliance. 2771 also started their season in Indiana, and paired up with The Comets to set the world high score (221) during the East Kentwood quarter-finals. 3620 and 2767 paired up on the #1 alliance twice this season, winning St. Josephs and getting knocked out in the East Kentwood semis. 2834 took home a pair of wins as the top selection at both of their events. Veterans 70/494, 85, 107, and 217 each have one of their best machines in recent years, with BOB and Holland Christian having shown the highest levels of play so far. Sophomores 5460 and 5505 could sneak up the rankings after reaching at least the finals at all five of their combined plays this season. Nor should anyone count out 1918, 2054, 3539, 3688, 4384, or 4967 from making sizable impacts on the tower. With sixteen alliances heading into the playoffs, there will be plenty of room for low goal specialists like 573, 2137, 2337, 3543, 3546, and 3604 to knock down tower lights, both influencing the qualification standings (especially those that can scale afterwards) and helping borderline alliances punch through with captures in the playoffs. Rookie hanging specialists 5926 will also try and slide their way into one of the fourty-eight playoff spots after they won both of their events this season (although once from penultimate selection).
The most interesting aspect will be those sixteen alliances and extra round of playoffs. Last year, the stakes of the Octofinals was among the highest in all of FRC, as alliances had only two matches to try and raise their average above at least 8 other alliances to advance to the next round. For instance, the #3 alliances’ chances were essentially over after putting up only 98 points in their first match. In best two-of-three, at least teams now have slightly more breathing room to have a bad match without the fear of elimination. With Stronghold returning to a more familiar bracket format, match-ups will take on much more value, and it will be interesting to see how much the serpentine selection can impact the results. Even with such an enormous pool of teams to pick from, it’s easy to imagine that the top seeded teams might opt for a more defensive robot near the end of alliance selection. Most of all, an extra two or three matches is a big tax to put on a robot in Stronghold. And while Michigan teams have learned to function in the fast turnarounds of districts, the elimination tournament is even faster and more stressful on pit crews to get robots back into shape. Back-ups will be called, and a couple alliances are likely to fall because of dead preventing a capture.
Peachtree District State Championship (yes, that’s the real name)
After four district events, the top 45 teams in the state of Georgia have been determined, and it’s time to pit them together in one arena. New and old friendships, rivalries, and story lines will come into play and the competition will be exciting, but only three will be crowned state champions. Many of the teams in attendance played just a few days ago in week 6 at the Kennesaw District Event, and will likely have very minor improvements or changes for the state championship. If there’s any team that will show up better than they were at KSU, it’s going to be 2415. The WiredCats have a very nimble robot with an unblockable outerworks shot. However, the Wiredcats suffer from inconsistency, shooting anywhere from only 2 high goals to a peak of 8 in a qualification match. If they can nail their shot consistency and drive hair better, they will be near unstoppable. Every team at the state championship will be gunning for that previous #1 seed, so they can help control 2415’s playoff destiny. Hot on the tail of the Wiredcats are the RoboLions, Team 1261. The RoboLions seemed to have perfected a high goal autonomous shot, a rare commodity in GA. While the RoboLions seem to be capped at 3-4 high goals, their versatile autonomous mode can guarantee an early lead and momentum in their favor. At KSU, we saw 1746, 4468, 5332, and 5632 almost always breaching and getting captures often. At the state level competition, having any of these four robots will almost always set the alliance up for a breach and capture in qualifications.
While the public has witnessed most of the robots attending states at KSU, there are still several top tier teams who are looking to unveil what they’ve been iterating on the past few weeks. After playing for 3 weeks straight, 4188 finally got a break to work on improvements. With a Championship spot already locked up, logic dictates that 4188 should take it easy at states, however the title of “state champion” is very alluring. 2974 unveiled an unblockable catapult shot at Dalton, but their lack of an effective intake prevented them from getting the throughput to get captures. In these higher levels of play, a strong intake game will be necessary to advance in the eliminations, something that 1648 seems to understand. Despite putting on a low goaling clinic and being the #1 overall selection at both of their district events, 1648 has yet to taste victory. G3 may be hungry for a win, but the rest of the state’s elite have caught up to their low cycling ability; 1648 will need to win the possession battles and perfect their high goal shot if they want to be on top again.
While the best shooters and cyclers are taken first in the draft, the climbers of the region may be the key for lower seeded alliances to pull off the upset. At KSU, we saw the #6 alliance set the high score for the state as they were poised to make the upset. Although the upset wouldn’t happen, an alliance of 3 cyclers and 2 scalers is an alliance with plenty of potential at the State Championship. Look for 1771 and 5608 to be high on the picklists of the lower seeded alliance captains in an attempt to counter the offensive firepower of the top seeds.
New England District Championship
This weekend, 64 teams will converge on the XL center in the capital city of Connecticut in hopes of racking up enough points to lock in a spot at the last singular World Championship. Over the past 6 weeks we have seen teams adjust their strategies, iterate their designs, and push harder than before to try and capture and elusive blue banner. Despite New England’s reputation for strong defense, weeks 1 through 5 saw Stronghold largely played as an offensive game with opposing alliances both sprinting for the capture. This rapidly changed in week 6 during the Pine Tree District playoffs when teams realized that each alliance was capable of securing the capture. Defense played a big factor in the outcome of many playoff series, with some high powered alliances missing captures when their scoring potential was severely reduced under defense. Expect similar strategies to develop as the NEDCMP progresses. Captures will play a large roll in New England rankings, but will still pale in importance to wins. Clever alliances will send a robot to their courtyard in an effort to either secure the win, or cause an upset and potentially leapfrog the opponents in the rankings.
Several teams have shown that they can put up points rivaling some of the top teams in the world. Leading the offensive game and scoring primarily high goals from the outer works and surrounding courtyard are teams 195, 125, and 1519. The Cyberknights have put together an accurate catapult mounted on a solid tank tread drive base and drove their way to two blue banners already this season. The NUTRONS built one of this year’s smallest robots, but with their catapult they are putting up a large amount of points, netting them four runs to the finals and a blue banner. Mechanical Mayhem has been on a hot streak, their arm/shooter has been very consistent thanks to their camera code and they’ve come out on top at all their events thus far. All three of these teams are capable of scoring 6+ high goals in a match, but the team that can maintain that level of firepower under heavy defense will be favored. The next tier of high goal shooting robots is still very dangerous in the proper alliance. **558 **showed up to the Hartford District after winning in Waterbury with what essentially looked like an entire new machine and quickly went to work scoring high goals from the batter. The Gaelhawks (230) put together an accurate catapult and, when left to their game, can be deadly. **166 **and **133 **have both stepped up their game this year building quick machines that are excellent at crossing defenses and shooting into the high goal.
Several low goal powerhouses will be aiming high at DMCP. The PVC Pirates (1058) have dominated the low goal and scale game with their robot this year, taking three blue banners back home with them without scoring a single shot in the high goal, but expect that to change. 1058 has added a batter shot catapult that looks like it could be faster than their low goals. **78 **has modified their outer works shot to score from the batter cleat to hopefully take advantage of lighter defense in qualifications. **319 **used their time at Pine Tree to add and tune an Outerworks shot. The New England low goal ranks are still strong without these teams, with fast low goal scoring teams like 839, 1099, 228, 4905, and **1153 **likely securing high capture rates in quals.
New England is deep with very capable teams that should make for 8 strong alliances. **4564 **has the potential to put 5+ boulders into the high goal from the batter and sport one of the more consistent scalers. 177, 2168, and **2067 **have fallen short of their expected performance this season, but DCMP gives them all another shot to show what they’ve got. Second year team **5687 **and rookies **5813 **have fielded capable high goal scoring robots. Expect these teams to be playing after lunch. With plenty of driver practice over three events, **1768 ** racked up two blue banners, and put together a very capable batter shooting and scaling machine. Similarly, **238 **stepped their game up in a big way this season, winning in North Carolina and reaching the finals in Windham and Boston. Expect these three event veterans to really shake things up come alliance selection time.