Pros and Cons of Defense

With the season almost over, we’ve gone through 7 weeks of “competition”. We’ve seen stack after stack scored, and the heartbreak of a 42-point stack falling over. We blinked and missed robots steal center RCs right out from the competition. I would now like to start a discussion if future FRC games should eliminate defense. Here are my pro’s and con’s.

Pro’s of no defense

  • With no defense, FIRST could stop the W/L ranking system and try out the average score system. With this new ranking system, a 100-150 game would be more beneficial for both teams compared to a 10-15 game.

  • Teams can expand to any horizontal distance. In the past, teams have been limited to how far outside of their frame perimeter they could extend. This was to prevent robots from being damaged. With no defensive interaction going on, teams can now expand as far as they want. With the weight limit being the same, it provides that much more of a challenge for teams taking advantage of this. We can see awesome designs such as 148’s Batman and Robin, 3322’s giant wingspan, and even robots with no drivetrain!

  • With no defense, robot-robot penalties are very rare. 2014 week 1 was won by penalty points. Without defense, robots can’t smash others and win.

Con’s of no defense

  • Without robot-robot interaction, games were rather stale. If a teams could consistantly put out 2-42pt stacks, there wasn’t any difference in how they did it.

  • There are no jukes. No 360 no-scopes. There is very little outplay.

  • There were little-to-no upsets. In Michigan, 18/19 of the events the #1 alliance won, Including MSC. I still remember MSC 2011 when the #1 alliance lost to the #8 alliance from strategy alone. The #1 robot didn’t break, no big penalties, just strategy. You’ll never have such an upset like that without defense.

Recycle Rush does have a bit of defense, and that itself is causing controversy. The only defense you can play (outside of a really good noodle throw) is obtaining the center RCs in auto. That is it. The reason it’s controversal is because RCs are worth so much, if you lose the RC race, you lose the match. I’m really curious as to why the GDC added this to a game with no defense.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. If you have anything to add, please do so.

Many have complained about the lack of defense. We were delighted to see this. Why? Year after year we have created a competitive robot. But we do not have the facilities to produce what I would characterize as an industrial type robot that will hold up to the constant pounding. A robot that could constantly take the punishment of a contact to contact defensive game without some type of breakage or failure. We envied those teams that could build a bot that withstood the punishment. This year our robot has had zero breakage or need for major repair (knock on wood) because of the lack of defense. No defense has benefitted our limitations in making a robot as robust as the elite teams.

We built our 2014 robot using a chop saw and a $50 drill press and managed to make a fairly sturdy robot. If we can, everyone can :smiley:

And you made it to Worlds!

For reasons I can’t yet *officially *disclose, hearing that fact about your robot was very encouraging. As is your overall success as a community based team. You are certainly being looked upon as a role model!


It was very possible to build a durable robot last year with limited resources.
Two of my favorite rookies from last year were 5236 and 5254. Both had very limited resources and built awesome, robust machines that did very well.
I had the pleasure of visiting 5236’s shop during this past build season. They have only hand tools and a few handheld power tools. I have yet to see either of their robots break down, and both were very competitive. They made nearly every shot I saw them take in 2014, and they made more uncapped stacks in eliminations than 20 did playing the same role this year at the Tech Valley Regional.
5254 is a beast this year, ending as Finalists at both upstate New York events this year. They have similarly limited resources, but using COTS parts made a incredible machine, making 2.5 capped stacks of 6 each match at FLR.

Did you experience week 1 high speed ramming?

It is interesting to note that a lot of your cons also contribute to the game this year being incredibly consistent. While consistently stale I wouldn’t say that defense is the only way a game can be considered exciting. The tension when a stack almost falls over is anything but stale to me. So while this years game is definitely not as skill heavy as some previous games. A major takeaway from this year is that utilizing safety zones appropriately is important to good game design.

Last years game was very simple in regards to what your robot could be doing to effectively utilize time on the field. You could be manipulating a game piece, you could be playing defense. So the trade offs were more resources dedicated to the drive base vs super structure (in my opinion it was pretty stale design wise).
When you design a robot this year with so many different needs to effectively manipulate game pieces. In order to get the maximum amount of points you need to pull resources from all over the place. So the paths you can take when designing a robot are far more complex and it reflects completely in the diversity in robot types due to the really good resource distribution.
So while the game play does seem stale to me the overall diversity in robot design makes up for it.

Technically you can’t win a match just by wining the RC race because they are worth no points at all.

The mindset I had with this years game compared to last years game I just cannot compare. Last year my brain worked in cycles and in the moment. Keep an eye open for paths help manage defense coordinate where robots go on the field.
This year I got to sit down with the scouting information look through capabilities and say “this is my read on the opposing alliance they are going to go for points in this fashion our best bet is to adapt to this role and play in this way”. With no defense and no major interference from the other side we got to lay out plans and execute them to our fullest ability. We got to utilize the mechanisms on our robot and see that all of our hard work was worth it.

Last years pinning mechanics and robot to robot interaction while exciting was the most demoralizing things to watch for me. I remember a match where our team broadsided a robot and shoved em halfway across the field it was intense and exciting to watch. After we dropped the pressure and moved away from the robot to help scoring I noticed that robot wasn’t able to move. The robot we pushed used tread and we managed to wreck the tread. Yeah it was exciting to watch but when I walked by the pit and saw how the team felt, I felt pretty bad. We had 6 weeks to design a robot to play a game and utilize the games rules to design an incredible machine. Yet a decent amount of matches threw the rule book out the window in favor of just playing “defense.”
Defense is just a mixed bag for me, and I’m not about to blame the GDC for it because having just the right amount of defense in a game is hard to pull off.


2014 had the most defense in any FIRST game, while 2015 has none. Comparing these two is comparing both ends of the extremes. Both have pros and cons.

With the penalty system in 2014, a lot of matches (most in week 1) devolved into battlebots. That is something I never want to see again for the same reasons you don’t. I watched the #1 alliance captain at centerline get disabled in a match because #8 had ripped off their bumpers. #1’s first pick broke down in a match becuase of “defense”, and then was penalized for it.

I believe safe zones are necessary when there is defense. Could you imagine 2011, 2012, or 2013 without safe zones? If they had added safe zones in 2014, maybe it wouldn’t have started week 1 as battle bots.

No. We competed week 2 and 5. Doesn’t mean we didn’t deal with some serious rams (and tips)

That explains it. Week 1 devolved into battlebots.

I wouldn’t go that far and say that those who participate in week 1 events just resorted to battle bots. When most people are thrust into the unknown people stick to what they know. A good games meta won’t be defined in a week.

From firsthand experience I would say Championships was more agressive than week one.

The meta definately changed after week 1. The week 1 strategy was to hit a team with an extended appendage such that their appendage contacts something inside your frame perimeter. Because the rule didn’t have the case for who initiated the contact, you could effectively stop a robot from scoring while making them cause penalties. They corrected this after week 1 with the rule saying you can’t force your opponents to get penalties.

As a team who played in a week 1 competition last year, yes it was a very destructive time period however it was very exciting. We had a shifting tank so we were able to play strong defense, we ended up bending the modified KOP chassis frame and tearing apart our other exposed sheet metal pieces. Ultimately our actions taken paid off and led to winning the central Illinois regional. Very exciting matches.

We built our robots out of shipping container through last year–we finally have a shop this year. We finally got a manual mill last year but probably didn’t make much difference. I think we demonstrated that you can build a sufficiently robust robot to get pretty deep into competition with relatively minimal facilities.

I think that having defense is imperative in team sports to keep the competition interesting, which is the point of FIRST. I can’t think of a team sport that is primarily parallel play. The primary focus of FIRST is social engineering vs technical engineering.


  • Relay Race
  • Sculling
  • Synchronized Swimming
  • Scramble Golf

That said, I fully expect the bumper rules to return in 2016.

Relay races actually have a lot of interaction on the track. (See the British team knocking the baton out of the hand of the US team in the 4x100 at the Olympics in 2012, and the many battles in the 4x400.)

Rowing and other lane races such as swim and track relays are head to head competitions that are heavily influenced by your position relative to your competitors. There is team trial cycling but it’s usually one component of the larger tour race.

I’m not even sure of the rules of scramble golf! Curling is a team sport/game that could fall into that category.

I excluded judged sports like synchronized swimming because I was limiting to my universe to quantitatively scored sports. There’s pairs ice skating too. Probably should have made that clear.

While I haven’t followed relays or tracked races that closely, I would think that the interaction there is similar in impact to what we had in Recycle Rush, between the scramble for the cans and the occasionally nefarious litter.

Curling would definitely **not **constitute parallel play. While the teams take turns with the stones, each stone can displace previous stones, and serve as a barrier to the desired placement of future stones. And IIRC, one player on the opposing team can sweep towards the end of the stone’s travel.

This year had defense, just not robot to robot, at least not most of the time. There was the occasional snag on a can that could tie down two robots for 30 seconds or more and to those who say there was NO robot to robot action, I point to Final 2 of the Hopper division (don’t worry, its on youtube). Going into this year I thought it would be boring, and for a spectator who was not well versed on the rules and objectives, it probably was, however as an involved member of the team, I was not bored for a second, and as programmer, this year has offered the opportunity for my most advanced and longest auto routine. I think equally of both types of game having now played both. That being said, I do have one complaint about games with no intended robot to robot action. Teams who do not have the background to build a good superstructure are left out in the cold with no place to go. I saw one team this year with no way to lift totes and honestly, because of driver practice, they got more totes scored than some teams who tried, but failed to build an effective manipulator. This, near forcing teams to build some superstructure also created some interesting designs, for example, I saw one team who used a garden rake head with some teeth cut off to lift totes and it was one of the most stable one sided lifts on the field. Strategy wise, this game was not as fun because the other side could not do much to mess with your strategy, most matches you had a reasonable idea of how many cans they could grab, if any, and how well they could throw noodles and could easily plan for these. In previous years teams could do things unexpectedly to mess with your alliance strategy, for example at last year’s SCRIW, our alliance had one robot that was just a kit base that when we asked if they were ready to go on the field they replied, “do you have a screw driver?” They came out to play in our final match and all three of the other alliance’s robots were working against that one base to try and score the ball leaving us and our other partner free to score as much as we wanted. To clarify, SCRIW elims were played like champs with 4 robots per alliance, so we did have 3 robots on the field every match. This unexpected defensive domination is not possible this year with this style game play. In answer to cries of robustness or lack thereof, if your base has trouble being robust enough to take full power hits, then you should use the kit base. Our 2014 bot has survived not only a cross the field hit, but also a 3ish foot tall drop off our cart while driving down the road and has some suspiciously yellow powder coat paint chips on it, sorry Flash. It is built primarily of the kit base and 80 20 extrusion and we continue to abuse it at numerous local demonstrations. It has been one of our lowest cost robots and IMO one of our best. This year though, because of the game and the humps in the field, I saw some robot damage of their own doing from tip overs and yes, can wars. So as this thread indicates, there are pros and cons of each and personally I think that each can produce a very fun and challenging game. That being said, because we are good at building robust robots and I enjoy seeing the sudden twists that come with the buzzer beating 360 no-scope shots, I would like to see the bumper rules return.

My team had a pretty major malfunction- match one of our week one competition at Southfield, because I had listened to another team member’s suggestions on how to program our autonomous and did it based on seconds at his insistence, and that included turns, we kind of sort of maybe broke a yellow tote and slammed into the left wall and driver station wall.