The elimination tournaments in Aerial Assist have provided tons of excitement for the past six weeks of district and regionals, but every match this weekend will play like an elimination match. Almost every team taking the field this weekend can handle the ball consistently and score in autonomous. The few that can’t will be able to provide other value, such as a human player-loaded truss shot or game changing defense. Every team knows how to play the game at this point, and a majority can be difference makers on offense. Don’t expect many scores underneath 100, even for the losing alliances. Yet parity and defensive play are strong drivers in this game, so scores north of 300 will be rare as well, and many talented finishers might not have a ton of experience handling an inbounding or assist-oriented role.
Multiple alliances began playing a more free-flowing, adaptable style of game this past weekend. Rather than a set progression of robot A to robot B to robot C, we saw alliances like the winners in Vegas and Chesapeake or the #4 alliance at Lonestar start to rotate who was finishing the cycle based on the situation in each individual cycle. Having an inbounder capable of a quick truss really opens up options for an alliance, and that will be entirely plausible for most elimination alliances this weekend. While this free-wheeling play won’t necessarily become the norm, especially with some of the more specialized machines out there, the adaptability presents a lot of appeal to alliances that can react well on the fly and need to have constant defensive pressure on their opponents.
Two more district finals will come into play this year, and all four events should provide further samples as to the kind of strategic variety that will be available at the deeper fields of the championship divisions. A vast majority of the competitive teams from each district will be attending, and the decline numbers are low this year (especially for MAR, where a large number of teams opted not to attend last year). There are still a few notable MAR teams skipping the event, most of which managed to qualify for St. Louis through other means. But the overall quality of the events will be superb, and there will be some excellent teams that don’t even see elimination play.
- In terms of team age, the Pacific Northwest is the youngest of the four districts by a notable margin. Only seven teams with numbers under 1000 will be heading to Portland, while the same number of sub-100 teams will be heading to Ypsilanti for MSC. Rookies in 2000, 360
is the eldest sustaining team competing at the PNW champs, while twenty teams in Boston this weekend took to the field in 1999. Half of the field at PNW is numbered 3000 or higher, while only ten of the fifty-five teams at MAR champs are over that same mark. - If you look at their resume, it’s hard to argue that 1640
wouldn’t be a favorite in Bethlehem, PA this weekend. Sab-BOT-age has won both of the previous MAR championships, won the Philadelphia regional the year before that, and was on Einstein last year. Yet, both of their MAR champs banners came as the final pick of alliance selection, and their selection on Newton last year was only two picks earlier. On the other hand, they have twice been the #1 overall selection at district events in the past two years, but neither time were they able to capture gold. Expectations for 1640 are tough to pin down, as their designs are ambitious and they have significant upside when firing on all cylinders. But keeping their machine at 100% and event-to-event consistency has yet to emerge as a one of their strengths. - After being shut out of MSC last year, seven rookies qualified for MSC in 2014, the most of any district (though 5114
declined their invitation). 5162 and 5053 needed the ten bonus points for being a rookie to reach the event, but the other five would have qualified regardless. The surge in rookies thanks to Michigan’s grant program certainly played a large role in this, and it’s awesome to see some of these rookies take off immediately. 4967 managed to rank fifth in the FiM standings as a rookie, and captained the #2 alliance to a convincing victory at Gull Lake. That ONE Team stands the best chance of all the rookies at playing in the eliminations this weekend. - The grind of back-to-back-to-back play hasn’t worn on NU-Trons yet, as they’ve captured four banners in the past three weeks. In a region that prides itself on intense defensively play, 125
has flourished as one of the premier power forward robots in New England. Overall, many in the district prefers to finish cycles from range. 131, 2168, and repeat alliance partners 175 and 2067 also excel at scoring in front of the low goal, but Buzz and Apple Pi have had issues dealing with focused defense. - 862
and 2337 may lack some of the flash of the top tier competitors in Michigan, but their smart play and flexibility had made them successful. The two teams played in the final match of all six districts they attended, and combined for three wins. The Enginerds have a proven track record of understanding games and capable defensive play. The coopertition bridge was critical to their high ranks in 2012, and their incredible drivetrain earned them spots on alliances at MSC, Championship, and IRI in 2013. Despite never reaching an event finals prior to 2012, Lightning Robotics have continued their surge over the past few years, capped by their Einstein visit last year. While it’s unlikely either of these teams are a very early selection, both have excellent odds of playing after lunch on Saturday, and their quick possessions, strong defense, and good decision making could help their alliances advance in the tournament. - The Lunatecs aren’t flashy, but they’ve quietly been racking up quite the hardware collection. Dating back to last season, 316
has won three consecutive districts and were finalists at the district preceding those. They haven’t been able to translate that success to MAR champs yet though, missing eliminations entirely in 2012 and being bounced in two matches last year. If their trussing specialist robot can align with a high caliber finisher, they may be able to change that this year. - Some of the non-traditional powers in Michigan have stepped up and had huge years. 107
was always solid, but their last event win was all the way back in 2002 and they sometimes declined invitations to MSC. With wins at Southfield and Escanaba they tripled their all-time banner count, and picked up a silver in West Michigan to boot. 314 also won two events and reached the finals at another, marking their first wins inside the state of Michigan and first win anywhere since they were the second selection [pre-serpentine] of the #1 alliance when they ventured to Southern California in 2004. Both have a reasonable expectation of playing in the eliminations, and their long range shots and quick releases make them particularly well suited for a trussing role at this level of play. - The Bobcats aren’t known for their early season success, but 177
has had plenty of it in 2014, winning both of their district events as the first team off of the board during alliance selection. There high release point and multi-ball autonomous success make them one of the best ranged finishers in New England, along with 230 and 195. The Cyber Knights can score seemingly from anywhere on the floor, and their exceptional speed, power, and intake mechanism make them a favorite at the district championship. It’s no fluke they seeded #1 at both districts they attended, even if they were shockingly ejected in the quarter-finals at Groton. - New England has a crowded field of trussing specialists, headlined by 3467
. Windham Windup’s tool set is limited, as they can’t pass without launching the ball and they had some accuracy concerns with high scoring while defended earlier in the season. Yet, with their long range shot and bull of a drive system, they’ve found a niche to occupy in the back court, and play their role about as well as anyone. 78, 558, 4048, and 1519 should also be playing in the eliminations, and could have plenty of success if they’re allowed to truss and assist a reliable finisher. - Predictable play leads to defensive pressure, and there are few points in a cycle more predictable than the inbound. While catching has been rare, catching devices have often be repurposed to allow for ranged inbounding and providing an easy target for human players from different teams, and several notable Michigan teams will take advantage of this. 33
, 469, 1918, and 2054 will make use of their catchers, even if they aren’t earning the 10-point bonus regularly. If they play anywhere near their potential, it would be shocking to see any of these teams left on the board past the 4th or 5th captain’s first selection. - A number of Michigan teams made the most of the catapult and roller intake design. 27
, 51, 74, 910, 1023, 1718, 2137, and 3098 all had successful implementations of the design archetype, and all but TORC and CHAOS played in the finals at least one district event. RUSH has the most upside, assuming they stay functional, and will need to the least to distinguish themselves from the field of similar machines. While all of them could be very useful contributors in the eliminations, the depth of similar machines will leave little margin for error during qualifications. - 3539
has arguably the best autonomous mode in all of FRC. While they don’t have the hot goal detection of the Cheesy Poofs, the Byting Bulldogs are nearly 100% accurate with their 3-ball autonomous. The value of a multi-ball autonomous, particularly a 3-ball autonomous, diminishes as the average level of competition increases, as there are more and more teams capable of scoring their own autonomous ball, and a scarcity of useful goaltending mechanisms to take advantage of the goalie zone placement. Beyond that, the Byting Bulldogs scoring a ball in a regular goal removes the potential for 5 hot goal bonus points an ally could score. Their autonomous will be useful, certainly, but don’t expect their 3-ball to carry them to the top of the standings of deep in the tournament. Granted, the Byting Bulldogs certainly have the top level scoring ability to accomplish both of those feats through tele-op. Their high release point and close range shot removes a ton of variability from the equation, and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with at MSC. - Defense and reliability issues have led a number of MAR alliances to rely on the low goal to finish cycles, even during eliminations. Most alliances are likely going to need 40 or 50 point cycles to distinguish themselves, so the winning alliance will probably complete cycles in the air. 225
, 1218, 193, and 869 have been among the better MAR teams at converting cycles with the ten point goal, and have four wins and an additional finals appearance between them. TechFire and Vulcan Robotics can score the best on the fly, even under duress, but intense defense, penalties, and the serpentine has contributed to them losing to lower ranked alliance in the quarter-finals this season, and TechFire relied heavily on the one-point goal during the defensive brawl that was the DC finals. Power Cord is elusive and flashy, but their intake has been a weakness so far this season. 341, 11, and 3929 have the potential to be effective finishers, but have battled consistency, reliability, or defensive issues so far this season. Expect Miss Daisy to be playing in the eliminations at least as a defensive and assisting force, but they showed substantial improvement in their offensive game as the season progressed. - Most teams without high goal scoring ability would be relegating to inbounding and defensive duty, but 25
was an early selection at both of their districts for their low goal prowess and catching ability, and reached the finals at Hatboro-Horsham. 2084 completed numerous catches with a variety of partners, and showed promise as a low goal finisher in New England. Robots by the C weren’t able to find the same elimination success as Raider Robotix, but could be a great x-factor on the right alliance. - When AndyMark released their COTS mecanum wheels, it changed the drivetrain game for a large portion of FRC. Yet, there were a handful of teams who took the time to develop their own mecanum wheels before and during the early years of the AM wheels. 357
and 1595 were among them, with Royal Assault’s “jester drive” being a hallmark of the team for years. Yet neither Royal Assault or the Dragons are using them this year, opting for higher traction drivetrains and plenty of power. 1595 is among the most accomplished defensive forces in the Pacific Northwest, and combined with their well-executed el toro intake, they stand to be a solid last assist machine and back-field presence. - 948
, 1318, 1425, 2046, and 4061 should be in the hunt as solid scoring machines at PNW. Bear Metal needs to work out some of the kinks they experienced later in the season with their machine, but was quick and effective at scoring one pointers while those issues persisted. Error Code Xero and the SciBorgs have two of the more interesting machines in Aerial Assist. 488, 2557, and 2471 have the potential to play at the level of the aforementioned machines, but haven’t put everything together yet, and may be best suited in a supporting role. - 1983
has been the most successful team in the Pacific Northwest over the past couple seasons, but didn’t kick their district campaign off on the right foot with a shaky start and quarter-finals exit at Eastern Washington. They rebounded strongly in Auburn, securing a gold medal as the top overall selection and look to be building momentum heading into the Autodesk PNW Championship. Their trussing game is among the best in the region and they’ve proven time and time again they have no qualms with defensive play. They may be the ideal complimentary bot for some of the top scorers in the region, and shouldn’t have too much of a problem securing an invite to St. Louis at the very least. - A number of young teams have taken to the spotlight around FRC this year, with several already earning their way to St. Louis. None have excelled quite like the 2013 Curie Rookie All-Stars, 4488
, who will look to join them this weekend. Shockwave is already ranked #1 in the PNW, and should have no issue amassing enough points to earn a bid to championship even if they don’t win the event or Chairman’s Award (yes, this second year team is already a DCA winner). Some of what sets them apart is obvious, like their two-ball hot-goal autonomous and terrific open-field scoring, but some is more subtle. Few veteran teams managed to create catapults that could fire without extending their intakes, for instance. - Team Nemesis hasn’t left a district or regional event without a banner since week 1 of 2012. After their second consecutive win at Hatboro-Horsham, a finals appearance at Lenape, and the Lenape DCA, 2590
finds themselves at a familiar place on top of the MAR standings. The defending MAR champs are the best team in the district at forcing their way near the goal to finish a cycle, and play tenacious defense when away from the ball. They’ve had issues with keeping their puncher functional, and it has cost them at times (including in the Lenape finals), even though their excellent possession skills makes them a solid assist bot and one-point scorer. They’re the favorite heading into Lehigh, but they don’t have much room to slip up. - Despite having one of the best robots in all of FRC, Ultimate Ascent marked the first time that HOT failed to win an event for the first time since 2007 (when they also had a terrific robot). 67
made sure that wouldn’t happen again in 2014 at their first event, winning in Howell and following that up by a finalist finish in Waterford and a victory in Lansing. HOT is up there with Spartan Robotics, the Cheesy Poofs, and Simbotics as one of the best power forwards and finishers in all of FRC. If they can pair with a quick trussing machine, it’s hard to see their unbroken streak of MSC finals appearances ending this year, barring untimely robot failures.