Predictions Week 7: District Championships

FIRST in Michigan District Championship:

There has never been an event quite like what the Michigan state championship. Over 100 teams earned the right to compete together on two fields, running alternating matches, that will then be paired down to a whopping sixteen elimination alliances. The Greater Toronto “super regional” is the closest we’ve seen before. GTR experimented with running two fields and 16 and 12 alliance elimination brackets in 2004 and 2006 respectively. However, 2004 was before the age of the serpentine draft (or even 3v3 matches, for that matter), and both events were before Ontario became the hyper competitive region it is now. And obviously neither event featured the playoff structure that Recycle Rush uses. Only two matches to advance past four alliances in the quarterfinals is difficult enough, but the eighth-finals at MSC will be absolutely brutal. A single miscue or poor can match-up can spell the difference between advancing and your season ending when there are fifteen other alliance vying for spots. While Michigan has been largely devoid of upsets (#1 seeds won 17/18 FiM events), it seems very plausible that some of the better alliances may be felled early this weekend. And while the serpentine may be an easy culprit to blame, the depth (and sheer size) of the field should mitigate its effects, even with 16 alliances. What will perhaps be most interesting is how confrontational teams get about can battles early in the eliminations. Raising your own score helps a lot more than reducing your opponents’ during the early stages of the playoff tournament.

The quality and type of competitors has shot across the gamut over the eighteen FiM events this season. As a result, it’s no surprise that there’s a large clump of teams that could end up on the winning alliance this weekend. Usual suspects like 33, 67, 469, and 2054 are among them, but so are teams without as much of a national reputation. It’s not a mistake that 314, 548, 1023, and 2137 are among the leaders in the district standings. Bedford Express may have had the best showing of any team in Michigan at their home event last weekend, frequently putting up three 42-point stacks in a match after completing a successful 20-point autonomous, and has a chance to match the feat that Skunk Works pulled off at PNW Champs last weekend of earning six banners before championship. However, the margin between them and the other top competitors is slim, and it seems plausible that other teams could push out that extra stack at MSC. With that much parity among the scoring teams (and the general depth of the event), bringing extra points to the table from autonomous or co-op can make a huge impact in the standings. The Bees, HOT, and Bedford bring consistent 20-point autons into MSC, and the Tech Vikes up them at 28 points, but there are plenty more yellow tote specialists in Michigan, such as 70/494, 107, 4003, 4967, and possibly 2337 (who’s success rate regressed between events). Even if some of those teams might not stack as prolifically as teams like 1918, 2834, 226, 1189, or 3641, being able to raise their alliances’ potential max scores with their autonomous scoring throughout qualifications may prove enough of an x-factor to give them an edge in the rankings.

With the sheer magnitude of the event, alliance selection will be fascinating. Different captains will obviously take different approaches to building their alliance, and will have different goals. As many as 20 teams that miss eliminations could potentially qualify for St. Louis via points spots. Many (if not all) of the 16 alliance captains will likely qualify for championship on the basis of their seeding and alliance selection points already, so advancement points in the playoff bracket may not end up a priority concern. Given that, after the first few selections, it will be interesting to see if any captains gun for gold and snatch the fastest can burglars they can in the first round, potentially at the expense of their average scores in the first two rounds. 27 and 503 would be the most obvious beneficiary of can grabbers boosting draft value, though the Robostangs or NC Gears could slide up as well (even if both would be early selections anyway). More than likely some of the powerhouse teams may switch up their game to incorporate autonomous can snatching into their arsenal, as well. By the time the finals conclude, there should definitely be can races similar to what we’ve seen at Livonia, Hawaii, and Sacramento. MSC might provide some of the first real insights in the can war metagames that will progress during the playoffs at championship.

Mid-Atlantic Robotics District Championship:

The fourth MAR championship event is poised to be a dynamic one that could break any number of ways. The two most prolific scoring machines heading into the event are 2590 and 1640, both capable of putting up more than two capped and feathered six stacks when working from the human player station. Nemesis already has their championship ticket punched via their win in Montreal, and won both of their districts, including topping Sab-BOT-age in the Hatboro-Horsham finals. 25, 303, and 1403 aren’t very far behind them, and could conceivable match their outputs with continued improvements (especially if Cougar Robotics can convert their 5-stacks into 6 highs). There are a slew of other corner loading machines beyond these top tiers. 56, 272, 316, and 1923 can put up multiple 30-point stacks on their own. 193 and 2607 can create 42-pointers, but do so in multiple trips to the station, and may be able to find their best value completing 4-stacks made by alliance partners. That kind of collaborate strategy could also maximize the value of teams that either cannot cap (423) or cap separately (the Cyber Crusaders and 4373), both in qualifications and the playoffs.

As a result of the glut of human player loaded stackers, teams capable of working the center of the field will be in high demand. 225 and 1218 are the most notable landfill miners in MAR, and will figure prominently into alliance selection. Tech Fire’s remarkably consistent landfill routine and 3-tote autonomous has earned them the stop seed at both of their previous event by more than 20 points, and it would be no surprise to see them at the top of the rankings at Lehigh. Both teams also procure their recycling containers from the center step, a big factor in boosting both qualification and playoff scores. Vulcan Robotics are slightly more can efficient, with their 5-stacks to Tech Fire’s 4-stacks, but they don’t have a proven autonomous canburglar like 225 (yet, anyway). And if an opposing team can beat Vulcan to those step cans, it can really diminish their value to an alliance. 222 (who can also create a 42-point stack with their ramp), 869 (who is the best bet to create a 6-stack from the landfill), 433, 1143, and 3974 could be filling landfill roles for elimination alliances as well.

Can battles have been a fixture of the MAR game at many events over the course of the season, though rarely in autonomous. A number of fights during tele-op have existed over the recycling bins dating back to week one in Hatboro. Tech Fire, 365, and 1676 have the best track records of quickly acquiring totes during the first fifteen seconds, but it would be surprising if other contenders don’t add the capability to their robots. If an alliance needs a can grabber late in selection, it could seriously boost the value of teams like the Firebirds, 219, 484, or 5407. Roboforce has the most stacking ability of the bunch, though Wolfpack’s capping specialist could possess a lot of utility for the right alliance. Ultimately expect a lot of the container wrestling to move to the autonomous portion of the match, especially in matches involving the alliances that can seriously contend for the finals.

NE FIRST District Championship:

WPI will host New England’s premier event this weekend. This is New England’s second year in the district model, and the benefits are starting to show. Top tier teams are getting the matches needed to perfect and tune their machines while others have more than one event to work out the kinks. Where other regions have taken to acquiring containers first and building stacks beneath them, many New England teams seem to focus on building stacks, then acquiring and capping with containers afterward. Capping focused teams such as 133, 558, 95, 230, and **319 **will be in high demand as long as they can prove that they’re capable of putting up a few stacks of their own. 230 has filled this role especially well this year, teaming up with 236, Mechanical Mayhem and the Cyber Knights in their three district wins. Among the flock of New Englanders that view stacking and capping as separate actions, 1519 is the odds-on favorite. Mechanical Mayhem is gunning for their fifth and six banners of the season, after winning all three of their previous events from the #1 seed and Chairman’s at Northeastern. Their consistent play and ability to acquire containers from the step make them a scoring force in qualifications, but it remains to be seen if their shorter stacks can claim gold at playoff play of DCMP caliber.

There are teams in New England that raise their recycling containers with their stacks. After a rocky start 195 was a dominant scoring force at their second and third events of the season, earning a spot in St. Louis in the process as they won Tech Valley. At Hartford they were putting up three full stacks per match, and could challenge for the #1 seed at WPI this weekend. 125 has put up as many as three 5-stacks in a single match, and typically improves between events. 1768 has what might be their best robot in team history and should be a solid acquisition for an alliance that needs an independent effort. 501 found their rhythm late at UNH, capable of putting up multiple 30 or 36 point stacks. While in lesser supply than the teams that cap and stack separately, either from the human player (3467, 4564, 5122, 5687) or the landfill (246, 2067), there are options out there for alliances that need solo work. Even if some of them could probably increase their total point output if they didn’t have to cap themselves.

Like everything this weekend, can battles will be crucial. New England has seen very little of the canburglar races so far. Entropy and the Robo Squad have two of the faster and more proven in the district, and Apple Pi could be a major factor if they can up their reliability. Mechanical Mayhem and others have incorporated acquiring cans during tele-op into their gameplay, and 1519 will definitely be working to speed up that process, but if a class of autonomous canburglars appears, those bins may be gone already. PNW champs saw many teams adding can stealing devices after unbagging, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar trend at WPI this weekend.

Will you be at any of the events?

I want to meet the Great Oz!

She will be at all events at once, as always.

Great wisdom and insight as always, Looking Forward! Michigan will indeed be especially interesting to watch, with it being such a totally unique event… I happen to think New England might be the most exciting, but I’m sure the eliminations will be quite the exciting affair at each DCMP!

I’m just going to let the cat out of the bag (since it’s probably going to be apparent to those in Worcester in an hour or so) but we’ve been expecting RCs to disappear quickly at DCMP since the beginning of January. Accordingly, we’re bringing our own ‘Can Theft Auto.’ It hasn’t been as fully-tested as we’d like, but it seemed to be doing it’s job on the practice robot.

Spot on analysis for MAR! How do you do it?

I think it’s interesting to see a lot of new teams finding success in MAR this year. It definitely seems like some of MAR’s older contenders have really been taken down a notch in recent years and simply can’t keep up with the newer, emerging powers.

When I saw the dumbbells strapped on to your robot, I wondered why there wasn’t some sort of can-grabbing mechanism. Looking forward to seeing it!

Also appreciate the note about 1768. It’s my second year with the team and I can’t begin to express how proud I am of everyone involved.

We have < 4 lbs to add grabbers. We have a 3 lb 8 oz solution. Will it work? Will hold up? Gone to be an interesting weekend. Good luck teams.

It’s a great weekend to watch FRC.
Three excellent District Championships.

Looking Forward provides the in-depth analysis a la ESPN to really enjoy this weekend’s competitions in anticipation of the CMP.