Realistic Offseason - Social Distancing + Robots

This thread is a thread to [hopefully] brainstorm realistic formats for 2020 offseason competitions [if such a thread already exists please re-direct me]

When FIRST champs were canceled and all further events suspended due to COVID-19, my team (maybe yours too) assumed our robot would one day still compete at an offseason event.

It is increasingly becoming clear that,

  • Large (non-essential) events will likely be banned for the remainder of 2020 (in CA at least)

  • High schools will likely reopen in a modified format this fall (to accommodate social distancing) but giving access to robotics labs.

  • FIRST is rolling out a new theme, and probably new game next season.

and so the question is, will Infinite Recharge robots ever compete?

So CD community, can you envision a new format the 2020 offseason that allows teams to safely play the 2020 game? some ideas I’m thinking about.

  • Event model (Chezy Champs) ==> Season Mode (Chezy League)
  • Large tournaments ==> Very small local scrimmages
  • In-person spectating ==> Live stream viewing
  • Temporaraly constructed fields ==> scheduled “games” at permanent practice fields
  • 3 team allinaces ==> 2 team alliances
  • whole team travel ==> drive team only
  • on field refs ==> remote refs
    obviously I don’t have all the answers . . .

Of course, the “realistic” part means that any competition structure would have to conform to CDC, state, and local regulations/guidelines and emphasize student safety. Taiwan is bringing back baseball with cardboard fans and robot drummers, with a little creativity could we make plans now and bring back our sport too?


This issue is taking up a lot of bandwidth in my mind these days, since my team hosts an off-season event in September. I will be carefully watching for ideas and guidance.

Could you clarify what you mean by this?

Nope, don’t go there. It’s hard enough seeing things in person, now watching them on a screen?

That said:

I would start with no team larger than 10 people on site, stream out for everybody else. Then, I’d spread out the pits–so if the venue has space for 20 teams normally, it’s a 10-team pit area (and hopefully I can scrounge up another space for the other 10 teams!), and hard cap on team attendance.

PPE: Safety glasses, closed-toed shoes, and masks. Masks are worn at all times.

Theoretically, playing 2v2 might not be too bad (use stations 1 and 3) but let’s assume for a moment that we decide that we can’t agree on how to change the point values for that and go 3v3.

Reduce field staff–normally there’s about a dozen field reset. Cut that in half. Other field staff step in. Similarly, it’s possible to run with a reduced ref crew–this gets MORE possible with a 2v2-- so let’s say 3 refs plus a head, plus one spare (let’s say that person is on reset when not reffing). No FTAAs, just FTA, CSA, Field Supervisor. At this point that’s about 13-14 field staff–could do fewer if the refs jump in on reset duties as well. (Oh, wait: that’s a typical offseason/scrimmage! Yep, let’s call it 10 field staff total.)

Long match schedules–don’t hustle teams on and off the field. Teams come on, play, then fully exit the field area before the next batch of teams come onto the field. (In a back-to-back? Don’t bother leaving.)

I wouldn’t use teams’ permanent practice fields because the quality varies wildly. A team near us has an AM field perimeter with wooden elements… but others just have lots of carpet and some elements. At MINIMUM I’d require a certain level of field for a team to host. Sharing elements encouraged–disinfecting before and after the event required.

To be completely honest, though? I don’t see this being workable until December or January at this point in time, given the pace of reopening so far.


When it comes to a team activity like robotics, multiple people using the same areas and touching the same things is almost more of a problem than keeping people apart. And I mean this not only for events, but for teams in their own labs as well. There are still a lot of questions about what school will look like if and when it reopens. But, so far everything I’ve read indicates it will be very different, and that school districts will struggle to both fund and procure the adequate supplies to implement a safe return to physical campuses. My personal prediction is that schools will find more problems with returning than they have the means to solve, and instead will put their resources into continued remote learning.


In my opinion it is going to be up to the states. At this time some states are “open”. It really comes down to what happens in the next month or so. Most offseason events are late summer early fall. If the governor of the state of Minnesota allows it we plan to host our offseason in late October. If individual school districts allow their students to compete is a different question but that is to each of their own.

1 Like

an idea from a student on my team.

It could also, if there is a problem with venues, be set up where instead of playing the game teams individually set up half fields and run through a game on their own competing for a high score among local teams

Chezy Champs hosts the applications, collects the fees, and selects the teams who will participate in the League.

Rather than hold one event, they organize 5 - 10 qualifying division scrimmages (6 - 9 teams at each) with some kind of ranking system.

Then the “season” ends in a playoff between division winners.

more or less what I had in mind.


Could you play w/o field reset, just toss the power cells back onto the field and ask teams to set them for auto if they plan to use them. Ideally we would sacrifice any “nonessential” set up in order to reduce personnel

This is true ^

This is speculation ^

I know you said “probably” but I think that FIRST has given us no indication one or way or another about next year’s field.


There is a specific layout that the power cells go in, per rule. You have to change the rules to do that. That’s not per se an issue for offseasons, but you need to THINK about the rules you change and WHY you’re changing them. Not having enough Power Cells would be a good reason to omit some. Just “toss them wherever” because “it’s not essential setup” is NOT a good reason.

Field Reset’s job also is NOT confined to power cell placement. They also repair the field, replace power cells, help get robots off the bars, and during the match return misses to the fields.

I’m suggesting–if you read further–that a couple dedicated field resetters join the referees and other staff, to bring the entire field complement up to 10 staff. FTA, CSA, Field Supervisor, Head Ref, 3 referees, 3 Field Reset. For resets, the referees join the Field Reset as available. Teams are free to join in the reset as well, to be clear–but I would generally regard the initial placement of power cells as essential to the game.


This is what my team has been thinking of.

Similar to how some events did it in 2020 - 5 people per team, with lots of PPE and far pits.

This could work, although it would be less fun - at this point, though, I’d be glad to just see the robot I built compete in a match.

I came across this relevant article that’s pretty interesting. I don’t know the author, but it’s interesting nonetheless


Outside of general admission/pit tickets at larger concerts, robotics events have to be among the absolute worst evens for social distancing. There are just so many interactions fundamental to FIRST events that violate principles for mitigating the spread of infectious disease.

  • Groups of people assemble from a range of different schools/areas/population subsets
  • There is frequent forced interaction between these groups (alliances, volunteers, etc)
  • People are confined to limited proximity in the pits and drive areas
  • People share common contact with mutual surfaces (driver stations, tabletops, etc)
  • People share common contact with tools
  • People (both volunteers and teams) share common contact with game elements
  • People share a common seating area with limited space
  • People share a common dining area with limited seating
  • Servicing robots requires actions of multiple individuals in a small space simultaneously

Even with measures put in place to mitigate some of these effects (fewer attendees, more pit space, smaller alliances, etc), you can only go so far while still having an event. Students will still have to work together to lift and move robots. Referees will still have to share access to touchscreens. Large crews of people will still have to work together to assemble/break down the field. Tools are essential to use and be shared.


The CDC’s guidelines for opening were just leaked (apparently the administration didn’t want to release them):

Obviously, there’s nothing specific to FRC in here, but the child care center and school guidelines are interesting.

From the child care program guidelines (this is for Phase 3):

  • Limit gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene, and restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas (Phase 1 or 2 areas)
  • Continue to space out seating and bedding (head-to-toe positioning) to six feet apart, if possible.
  • Consider keeping communal use spaces closed, such as game rooms, playgrounds, or dining halls, if possible; if this is not possible, stagger use and disinfect in between use
  • Consider limiting nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups. Restrict attendance of those from higher transmission areas (Phase 1 or 2 areas).
    -Consider staggering arrival and drop-off times or put in place other protocols to limit direct contact with parents as much as possible.

Things I can think of that immediately stand out as issues at an event:

  • Teams getting robots on and off the field will almost necessarily touch game elements and field elements, if not accidentally touch other robots. This seems to violate the idea of staggering use and disinfecting between uses of communal areas, which the field definitely would be.
  • Events would need to be hosted in places where it’s easy to avoid people being forced to walk in tight spaces together (even bathrooms, lines for bathrooms, lines for food, crowds to get in and out of events, etc would need to be figured out)
  • Borrowing tools and parts from other teams is probably out

I have strong doubts that there is any circumstance in which running events would be feasible, because I don’t think any number of modifications will get us to meet CDC thresholds for phase 3, let alone phases 1 and 2.

These are the types of things we would have to live with letting suffer if we managed to play Infinite Recharge in any form. Whoever is running the league, or if it’s just scrimmages then whoever is running those, can decide on their own rule modifications, and if we don’t like them, we don’t attend the scrimmages. But these events are not going to be official regardless, and these circumstances are anything but normal, so we will have to live with things like poor reffing and modified power cell layouts if we can play the game at all.


If reffing is going to be done remotely, don’t bother. I’m calling it like I see it here: Refs are in person or not at all. People complain about the refs as it is–you don’t want to hear the complaints about purely remote refs. Particularly when the calls are delayed (stream lag), not explained to the teams (because connection issues or similar), or missed entirely because the stream isn’t great quality on the ref(s) screens.

The nail in the coffin for reffing remotely is that you have to have SOMEONE score the hangs and the Initiation Line. At official events, that was the refs. Now, sure the FTA could do it. But the fewer people you have helping the FTA and Field Supervisor, the less they’re able to check something like who gets the points–they’re more likely trying to figure out why BlueBotA wasn’t working for the last 50 seconds of the match.

Can you run an event without refs? Probably–but it won’t be pretty. Can you run with REDUCED refs, definitely. I’ve done it before. Depending on experience and field sightlines, you could probably run 2 refs and get away with it this year. I’ve done that at a scrimmage. Poor reffing might be the game but there’s a difference between poor reffing and impossible reffing, and over stream is impossible.

And for the second time this thread, somebody responded without finishing reading what I wrote. Modified power cell layouts can be lived with. But should the reason be “we just wanna dump them in the field because we don’t have resetters because COVID restrictions?” NO! (For reference, that’s the suggestion I was replying to.) The reason should be “We are choosing to run shorthanded in order to be able to run at all, so what we are going to do with the Power Cells to make things easier is X, Y, and Z.” (For example: “All Power Cells go on the Rack unless placed by the Alliance in one of the allowed places on the field”–though to make that work there’s a couple of OTHER rules that will need to be adjusted–G4/H10 to be exact.)

Like I said, I doubt we’ll see Infinite Recharge before late fall if at all. And like I said (literally in the two sentences AFTER the ones you quoted), you can change the rules no problem but you need to think about what you’re changing and why, and what other effects it could have on the gameplay. To go with the suggestion I was replying to of just drop the balls onto the field, and have teams place them where they want them if they care, I can see a pretty major potential issue. It could be entirely possible that one alliance has a large number of power cells in places that are beneficial to them and the other doesn’t. I’m not saying that it would happen intentionally, or that if noticed it wouldn’t be corrected by either side, but it’s entirely possible that a match starts with one side having a massive advantage–if you take that route. OTOH, if you simply change where the balls are placed (all in the Rendezvous, all on the Rack, all in the Trenches, whatever) then all you have to do is get them there in reasonably even quantities.

One final note: I happen to have some experience with operating offseasons with a limited crew. The usual crew for the group I’m thinking of is:
1 facilities/everything person (food, facilities, wrangling…)
1 FTA/FTAA/Field Supervisor/Scorekeeper, plus 1 Alternate/Assistant for same
1 MC (often an onsite recruit)
1 Queuer
2-3 Referees including designated Head Ref
1-2 A/V
Field Reset is however many we can press-gang into service day of and actually keep busy–often ends up being 4-6 and the refs as constants and the rest in-and-out.

You could probably lose the MC and queuer for a COVID offseason; one random personage grabs the mike, announces the teams for the match, and says “go” (and, uh… the mic is mainly for the stream viewers). Teams can queue themselves, generally speaking–just need to make sure that they all have the schedule and that the match cycle time is long enough. Lose most of the field reset as well–you need a couple for catching and returning missed shots that leave the field, but if you make the reset an all-hands effort for the departing teams then it should be pretty fast.

You can’t lose the FTA-type, or the field won’t work. You can’t lose the facilities person or nothing else will work. If you lose the ref(s), then it’ll be really easy for teams to, ahem, forget about the rules–trust me, they do that enough as it is.

I would hope that people could deal with all of these issues with minimal complaints given the situation, but as I haven’t been an event volunteer, I’ll assume your experience suggests that they won’t.

For the record, I did read your post, but disagreed with the idea that “it’s not essential setup” is not a good reason. I think the difference in how we’re viewing these things comes down to what we visualize these events to be – I’m seeing these as scrimmages, where the goal is just to get teams’ robots on the field so they can play in some form of match. From what I can tell, you’re trying to run these events as scaled down offseason events with some staffing. I would prefer your version in a vacuum but am thinking that any reduction in volunteer capacity is worth the degraded game quality (to some point, at least), as we’re just playing for fun at this point anyway.

A more thought out rule modification than “just dump on the field” will certainly result in better gameplay, but in the absence of that, I’m saying that worse gameplay is (in my view, at least) worth the tradeoff of 3 fewer dedicated volunteers by your 10 volunteer plan.

If anyone’s willing to share, I’d be interested to see what everyone’s respective districts are planning on doing to enforce social distancing in schools?

Seems like an impossible task considering many schools across the country are already well over capacity.

1 Like

I won’t disagree with your point of view. I will say that if somebody does disagree, they ain’t gonna show up at all. Probably #1 thing in the offseason/scrimmage game: be honest about what your setup will be like and what constraints you’re operating under (hard end time cap, team elements/real elements, if teams will need to provide volunteers, rules changes both for gameplay reasons and COVID lack-of-staffing reasons…)

But I’m going to give you a dose of my experience: worse gameplay–or more generally speaking, lousy event experience–is the fastest way to kill an event. I saw an offseason just about suicide because for several years… how shall I put this… someone went with a “we will do it this way even if it’s not working” that had a tendency to not work. Teams were understandably a bit annoyed. When another offseason started in the area most of the upper-level teams went there. Gameplay suffered–but if you know to expect lower levels of play from the robots attending, then that’s something you can work around. Field issues depressing the play is something you can’t. Once that someone moved on and workarounds started being employed to get the teams playing, word started getting around and more teams started showing up and getting more play time. On top of that the events started running ON TIME which is a bit of a perk.

I’m trying to say that you need those volunteers anyways. Doesn’t matter if they’re refs or field reset, you’ll need them, or you’ll need to cover their spots. If you don’t care about the score, or the rules, then that’s fine–but you still need to get the field reset, and that means that SOMEONE has to do that. Can drive teams do it? Well, somewhat. But they’re going to be understandably focused on “robot on, robot off”. So where do you get the bodies (particularly with each team only having 10 people or so at the event)? Right. If you need volunteers anyways, may as well have them act as refs during the match. Speaking of which: these numbers are from my experience at a 2020 Week 0 scrimmage. Except we didn’t have many dedicated reset. We used the refs instead. 2 refs/reset. 1 field operator (FTA/CSA) plus 1 backup. A couple other multi-talented folks doing a couple of different things–I think 1 was normally inspecting and 1 was acting as Field Supervisor/Queueing. 1 facilities liason (not usually on the field but easily findable). I believe we did have a part-time MC and a part-time gopher or two that also did some resetting.

One other thing: Many teams have already done a scrimmage. Maybe more than one. (A fair amount of Week 0 events still happened this year.) And I’m thinking that a fair number of those teams also want competitive matches on a real field if they can get them. But a real field can be tough to get.

From our superintendent yesterday:

“We will need to continue to be agile and make adjustments in how students and teachers are connecting. Until health officials give clearance for a return to normal school operations, we will need to adhere to social-distancing guidelines and will likely offer a mix of in-person and remote learning. We will also likely need to make schedule adjustments periodically during the school year depending on how successful our community is in containing the virus.”