Proposing FCL—The FIRST Champions League

Would you expand the age or grade level limit of FRC in the FCL? Expanding the age limit to say 20-25 and or grade wise opening it up to undergraduate students that meet certain criteria such as previously mentioned age??

As somone who deeply believes that robotics is and needs to be the sport of the future, I agree with much being said here. You have a lot of really solid, really important points, and I think most of what your saying is true and will likely become a reality as we look into the future.

My question for you would be, why do you feel that FIRST is the correct outlet for this sort of competition? And what do you feel is missing from current attempts at an “FCL”, such as Battle Bots, that FIRST could do better?

I think you’re going to be VERY surprised at that.

Particularly with the flood of FRC veterans at universities these days. Went to a competition about 8 years back and was surprised at how much FRC-legal hardware was on the robots (NOT an FRC event!).

A few years back, FIRST decided to try a collegiate competition, involving aerial robotics as well as ground-based. After one pilot year, it was grounded (though unofficially it did continue–CARD was the name, Collegiate Aerial Robotics Design or something like that).

But the part that I think will take that argument down cold is VRC’s topmost level: The University division. In that particular competition, at least back when I paid attention, each team had to supply 2 robots that would partner for their matches. (That is, each 2v2 match would be University A team 1, robots 1 and 2, vs University B team 1, robots 1 and 2.)

A lot of Ri3D teams built better robots than a large amount of FRC teams did this year.

VEX U is a strong argument FOR his point; the VEX U bracket is consistently less competitive than the VEX EDR bracket.

I was on a VEX U team consisting of a few handpicked FRC and VEX alum across the country, and despite all our great ideas, the most competitive robot we had was a clone of 169 we built in the hotel room at Louisville. Upper tier teams spend an amount of time on practice and refinement that university students simply don’t have.

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I know this isn’t what’s being proposed, but I would love a for-profit FIRST competition targeted at college students and above. Sort of like Battlebots.

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Seconded.

You’re right, FIRST can be on ESPN

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Someone fax Amazon… we’re bringing Small Parts back to get on ESPN.

That should keep the Grey-T haters quiet.

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I’ll start off by saying nothing I’ve proposed here is gospel, and some of it is doubtless a pipe dream. I want this to be first and foremost an exercise in thinking outside the box, because I see a big problem with FIRST’s trajectory if we ever want to fulfill the vision of “creating a world where science and technology are celebrated.”

When I got involved with FIRST nine years ago, at least I and the people around me had a sorry of received wisdom that FIRST would reach a critical mass, and eventually find itself somewhere in the mainstream zeitgeist like we were told was the goal. The number of teams, events, and students we have on the “inside” has grown enormously since then, but the level of awareness and knowledge of FIRST by those on the “outside” has remained stubbornly low. I know FiM has proven the notable outlier here, but I also haven’t seen evidence that that’s multiplying outside the singular instance of Michigan.

I just don’t see that saturating every elementary, middle, and high school with whatever teams they can support will ever produce that promised breakthrough. I can very easily see FIRST continuing to grow, and grow, and grow in nominal size, but only move the needle incrementally on how much outside influence it attains. So I’m offering an admittedly off-the-wall take on something that could be a paradigm shift and shake up the landscape for FIRST at a time when I think sports media organizations are already primed for openness to nontraditional competitions with the esports revolution well and truly underway.

Nevertheless, I think FIRST is well-positioned to have a big stake in that culture change if it ever comes about. It is the preeminent large-scale K-12 STEM program that maybe potentially can line up against traditional sports for attention and influence. But maybe nothing FIRST can do alone will be able to bring about that change. Perhaps a K-12 program is just destined to play second fiddle to a college or professional equivalent, as is the case for most other competitions, and FIRST’s plan should be to get in on some partnerships and ride those waves as far as they can, or to venture into the college realm themselves again. I’m not sure.

The reason I suggested a FIRST-specific solution rather that getting on board with BattleBots or another program was to promote FIRST itself and support its other programs from within, but I’m not opposed to looking at it from any other angle.

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I think it would work. A system that invites teams from FIRST to compete at a Professional level, with their current years robot. This keeps the fans excited because it offers the possibility that their school could be invited to this.
FIRST’s acceptance in a Professional level competition buy-in. Then get investors seems very possible. Build a program that follows game rules like what other professional sports have developed but keep it in line at a Highschool level to begin with. Expand out to college and professional as it develops. I doubt that robotics will become an Olympic sport, so you could offer teams full reimbursement, with prize money that goes to the school’s robotics team, school scholarships. All of this would spark STEM in ways that could pull in fans just to be amazed. You can broadcast on a you tube channel and probably make enough to fund the whole thing once it gets going, but of course you have the product marketing for robot parts, clothing lines of teams. You need to of course have something like FUN running 24 channel team interviews…. Eventually you get a network interested. Yep it would work. It is working now … every time someone watches a video on youtube… there is money being made. Perhaps it is the blue alliance at this point. I am sure a lot of people on here already know how that payment structure already works…every click watching a youtube video … I am sure the channel would get over a million subscribers… some can explain how that all works now…

See, having seen some of this for myself in similar collegiate programs, while yes, you will generally have better RI3ds because the people who do them are going to be more knowledgeable and enthusiastic than your average FRC team, the general bottleneck is, well, there’s just better things to do in college then what is often largely perceived as essentially trying to hang onto highschool glory (which definitely holds for programs like VexU, a little less so for alumentoring, and generally a lot less for established competition club groups like solar car projects, as they typically are collegiate only).

Participating in research/internships/schoolwork instead generally pays off in greater dividends for career and personal development. Many of my friends who joined VexU teams dipped once they realized they weren’t getting anything out of it. I was on a club robotics team for another competition (which was closer to the solar car side of the fence) with a whole slew of other FIRST alumni and our software lead basically said like, “All the smart kids end up doing undergraduate research instead”. That was kind of the approach I was taking recently where I was in another club working with a lab on campus on autonomous vehicles – until recent events hit. :frowning:

In general, college students simply don’t have the time to dump into something FIRST-like for a whole season, which is why I think the RI3d format is popular – it’s just a weekend, man! – and why VexU has a hard time keeping up with highschoolers.

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This is 100% accurate. College is tons more demanding than high school and there are already a bunch of collegiate programs like SAE Formula, Mini Baja, and other things out there to suck up your time that is as fun or more fun than FIRST. By the time I got to college I was ready to do something different, have a social life, and eventually worry about my career.

Somebody in another thread posted the idea of going into classes or divisions like high school sports. I like that idea so that you can just go play your regular season/districts as scheduled like a lot of sports do (geographic / athletic conference with teams from mixed divisions/classes); but when it comes time for Championship (maybe even district championship depending on the district size) you’re put against the teams in your division/class.

I think maybe if the game was easy enough to follow on TV you could get people to watch the “Einstein Division” or whatever. But, I don’t know of any sport that changes the entire game every year so I think its a pipe dream that FIRST will ever get a big TV contract that makes it mainstream.

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Outside of some high-level high school football games, high school sports of any kind are rarely on national sports channels such as ESPN. The Little League World Series is the only event that I’m aware of that has competitors below college age that is on TV regularly. For e-sports, the teams are composed of a wider range of ages including those beyond high school. So I don’t think that this concept would really catch on for the broadcast channels.

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And they’re playing a familiar sport that many watching played at that age. I’m not sure who these mythical spectators are that aren’t already watching FRC. At best an FCL would look like a highschool version of BattleBots, which does do well, but in that case wouldn’t people just watch BattleBots?

If I wasn’t mentoring, or if I didn’t personally know someone involved, why would I get into FRC? I wouldn’t tune into a random glee club competition. I stream the championship chess matches (and Magnus’s covid tourney) from time to time, but I’m not going to watching high school chess teams compete. High school football airs every now and again, but I’m not watching those if the schools are outside my area (and probably not even if they’re in my area). I’m just one person, but I don’t feel like I’m in the minority here.

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I don’t think what makes FRC hard to appeal to a larger audience is competitiveness. It’s plenty competitive at the championship level. I think the biggest issue is the ability for the audience to be involved. The barrier to entry. So many times FRC is compared to e-sports saying, they can be huge why can’t FRC? But the cost to experience FRC is 4 months of build season + months of offseason + thousands of dollars + lots of hard work. If I want to experience e-sports I can buy the same game they are playing online for $20. And I can play online in matches with the pros. Same can be said for pro football. Sure I can’t actually play pro football, but I can throw the ball in the backyard and spike the ball like Gronk in the endzone. I can experience it in some way.

I think an example of an organization trying to fix this is Robomaster. They released the S1, so that you can experience the same game and excitement from your home. It seems like to me, in order to appeal to a larger audience, there has to be some connection to the audience besides being super competitive.

There are definitely exceptions to this though. The average person isn’t building battlebots in their home, but they were able to land a national TV deal.

For me, without a personal connection to the program (mentor, teacher, parent, alum, etc) I would find FRC virtually unwatchable. Current format could never translate to the general public even with some mods suggested here. First FRC match i ever saw in 2013 ended in a 0-0 tie. How riveting!

From an entertainment standpoint, short matches with lenghty gaps (worse during later rounds of elims), 16’ish hours of tournament play, no personal connection, unmoving robots, unfamiliar games/rules each year. Where is the audience for that other than the frc community?

Take your “bias” hat off for a moment and consider the appeal as viewable entertainment. Would you watch the Korn Ferry Tour? Do you even know what that is? That is where the general populace is with frc. I would even argue that the Korn Ferry Tour has greater general appeal than FRC. If FRC or similar is your product, how do you appeal to a deep pocket title sponsor to invest big $ (beyond the altruistic inspiring students in STEM) to put up significant investment to take it to mass market without a sufficiently sized audience with the proper demographics.

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I can say that due to my personal frc connection…I am highly invested in frc events and watch with a passion. But not naive enough to think my neighbor would do the same.

I don’t think anyone believes that FRC is watchable in it’s current form; the argument many try to make is that watchability should be a bigger priority in game design and media coverage of FRC tournaments. From a game design perspective, having less complicated rules, less convoluted scoring methods, and field designs that have good audience sightlines should be important. Like you said, there’s not much we can do to make qualification matches watchable, and I think that’s okay. If we want to make FRC reasonably watchable, we really just need to focus on the elimination bracket and be adding audience-centric commentary to fill time and explain details between matches.

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Great point. Everyone knows what a home run or touchdown is, but if you ask someone who spectated this year’s game how to achieve an energized shield generator, they’d probably have no idea (apart from the fact it only happened a couple times, to a spectator it would likely be convoluted to begin with). Heck, it even confused a couple people on my team for a bit.

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