Suggestion for a new overall approach

The comments on this year’s game makes me wonder if FRC should take a different approach to releasing the game design so as to promote greater cooperation within the FRC community.

Other than the disproportionate foul points, I think this game gets an important aspect that can enhance the FIRST experience across all teams. It requires cooperation across the entire alliance to succeed. Unfortunately this year’s competition has been dominated by power teams, even to the extent that there’s a thread about the “ethics of saying ‘no’”. This game gets all of the teams back into the action. I think that the game could be better designed, and even Ultimate Ascent could have given even more incentives to alliance play (e.g., more points for FCS and rebound collected shots, and more allowance for blocking FCS to require counterdefense.) But that shouldn’t take away from the aim of the GDC.

That said, the lack of design and build experience by the newer teams is highlighted in this game. A disabled or unavailable robot creates a 20 point per cycle penalty. That’s unfair to the other two alliance members who have absolutely NO control over that aspect–it’s even worse than a 50 point technical. FIRST accentuated this problem this year by pursuing a strong team recruitment effort, particularly in California and Michigan (which I applaud hugely!) The result is even MORE inexperienced teams. From my analysis of the OPRs, it appears that the spread between teams has increased this year compared to 2013 and 2013 (which had very similar year to year spreads).

The answer is requires a three-fold strategy (which we plan to implement the our part locally here in the Sacramento Valley).

  1. FIRST needs to announce in September, long before Kickoff, that it is planning a game that requires robot interaction with bonus points. This gives all teams a signal that they must rely on their alliance members much more than in the past. The GDC need not reveal anything more so teams are not going to get a jump on design.

  2. FIRST needs to provide a list of newest teams (including prospects) to other teams in the region so that the older teams know who they need to contact for step 3). FIRST should try to finalize this list by the end of November.

  3. The more experienced teams should start in September to visit the newest teams, both this year’s and last year’s rookies to start, to explain how they design for different game strategies, including focusing on specific, manageable tasks at the outset, and to train these teams in building robust, reliable robots. And guess what? This program both enhances the FIRST experience AND achieves some of the most important educational objectives of FIRST. It also builds community by bringing together the best teams (which aren’t always viewed in the best light) with the newest teams.

FIRST could take this a step further by assigning the top teams a number of new teams to mentor, e.g., 3-5, and start the assignments based on world ranked order. Participating could become a requirement for FIRST membership. Many top teams do this, but it would formalize the process and ease finding the newest teams. FIRST could even create the ability to have “superalliances” that some how play into regional rankings and world championships qualifications.

Or… You can visit those teams and mentor them regardless of whether the game will require it or not.

Yes, we’re planning on that anyway. But we can’t change the entire FRC culture acting as a single team, and it’s evident that many other teams are not acting in this way.

As an economist I’ll tell you that people act much more strongly out of incentives than just through voluntary acts, and also through self-interest. This has been shown empirically over and over. (For a good article on this, Hal Varian, now Chief Information Officer at Google, wrote about this in a 1986.) FRC, and the GDC in particular, should be thinking deeply about the incentives it creates and how it wants to direct the whole organization. Just sitting back and wishing for things to happen won’t make them happen. My suggestion is intended to make many more teams to act in this manner, not just us.

But what incentives would this actually give teams? It is J̶u̶s̶t̶ a̶s̶ more likely that the team you are helping is going to be against you as it is that they are going to be on your alliance. If I magically made everybody in New England 10x better except for my own team, we would have a much harder time, regardless of the game.

I am personally of the opinion that FIRST should stop trying to force coopertition on us with the games. All I see it doing is getting teams mad at other teams who can’t do what they say they can do/refuse to play defense for a match because they want to show off their skills and screwing up the rankings. The teamwork and good sportsmanship can happen off the field, where it really matters.

Personally, I think the approach is fine and there are more resources than ever to being a competitive robot on the field.
As a participating mentor since August 1999, I can tell you that there are WAY more resources out there for teams to be successful.

Teams that are unsuccessful in producing a robot that is relatively effective on the field is not something that FIRST can help with, other than cost.

Previous inspiring team designs, and vendors like AndyMark and VEXPro are the ones that truly created an improved overall approach to helping teams with more turn-key parts, 3 day robots (among others), and design ideas.
Today, there are way more teams already assisting and collaborating with each other compared to before where each team saw themselves as an individual against others.
I cant see doing anything more other than just building it for them.

Time management, getting the right mentor support, school support, funding support, commitment to success, etc. is something a team needs to figure out.

Richard- Good comments and suggestions all.

Number three of your post is something we’re promoting as well, though the new teams in our area struggle with skills, having no experience with them during the regular school day. In our area (Los Angeles) public education is mostly a wasteland when it comes to technically-based hands-on learning, and our biggest effort is to teach students during what educators call “flipped” time these kinds of real-world skills.

Mentors too sometimes have little conversance with “make it” skills, though expert with design, systems, and the conceptual underpinnings of making a machine play the game well.

I’d like to know how many teams have late spring/summer build seminars to keep the skill-building conversations and motions in play, previous to January.

One added recommendation: more off-season FRC events, locally based and sponsored, that support 30 to 40 teams across maybe two days, that will promote the skill and knowledge base, and transfer the team institutional memory. A focus for the off-season gig would be on inviting newer teams to play the game one more time, helping them along, with expert teams sending their expert people, but not necessarily their machine, to help out.

One more thing-- make the off-season game cheap and local, with minimal awards and junk.

Point #2 - list of new teams in the area can easily be asked for from the local Regional Director or Senior Mentor in the area

List of Senior Mentors:
Regional directors list here:

If nothing else, the RD/FSM can send your contact info to the new teams.

Teams should be helping other lower resource teams in their area regardless of whether FIRST provides an incentive. If they aren’t, they are missing one I consider a fundamental feature of FIRST that differentiates it from other robotic programs.

I don’t know of any special push for teams in CA this year (MI is a different case this last year). We had about the same amount of growth we normally do, I think our attrition was lower than usual this year. So there must be a different explanation for the lower OPR in CA.

I think the Ri3D stuff that came out in the last couple years has done more to help the level of competition than any other efforts in the recent past. Promoting these effort will go along way to helping the quality of play

I believe most mentors want to see a higher level of play across the board. Not supporting the younger teams leads to a lower level of play, and for the more proficient teams, a smaller pool of available competent alliance partners during eliminations. The drag from a non-functioning alliance partner is much worse than the potential loss from facing a more competent opponent in this game. The best teams have taken that lesson from this year’s competition, not the lesson you propose here.

And if the more experienced teams are given an incentive to engage those teams in the pre-season, then you are less likely to see the resistance to suggested strategies that you note (and others have noted as well–see the thread “the ethics of saying no”.)

Engaging other teams to increase teamwork across the organization is an important goal. Remember that FIRST is not the NFL–the objective is not about winning a championship trophy; it’s about increasing education and engagement in STEM. Competition is only a means to an end, not the other way around.

My point is not to leave it to individual teams to act–that will NOT lead to widespread change. FIRST must initiate this from the center to cause fundamental and widespread change. We can’t rely on what teams “should” do–we have to act on what they “actually” do.

As for the push in CA, Jim Beck told us several times about the efforts he made (plus the announcements he made that off season events.)

Fortunately, Northern California had 3 such events last fall (we went to all 3), and they each cost about $200-400 to enter. Great team motivators.

I’m sure that the Hawaiian Kids have had a huge positive impact on the teams around them. However, as I mentioned I have seen a wider dispersion of teams’ competencies this year than in the past as borne out in the data.

What I see is not so much a failure among those teams in building and execution, but rather in understanding the game and choosing a strategy to address the problem. Too often these teams chew off too much, and then are overwhelmed in their attempt to execute. So of course their robot doesn’t run well. This year’s game compounded this problem because many teams didn’t understand the complexity of interrobot exchanges. Providing that guidance, including lowering expectations, can have a better overall experience for these teams.

This is worth a whole other thread! Robotics competition has the potential to be the new career tech track. We have so overemphasized college education that we are leaving behind the students for whom traditional formal education is not appropriate. Many recent articles talk about how we have many technical jobs available but not enough trained graduates.

In California, we need to campaign on Superintendent Tom Torlakson to start incorporating robotics more directly in the school curriculum and requiring districts to offer these types of courses. This is too important to leave to self-funded afterschool programs.

But I still don’t see how coopertition among an alliance makes a team more likely to help other teams. The good teams out there always have helped teams, and always will, not at all because they are afraid of getting bad alliance partners but because it is making progress towards the ultimate goal of FIRST. I can’t imagine a team saying “I don’t want to be with bad alliance partners, so I am going to help all the teams around me to be better alliance partners… Even though it is more likely that they will be competing against me.” I imagine them saying “I am going to help the teams around me because it will help to inspire them and their community to take up STEM carreers, as well as increase the competitiveness of FIRST in order to better bring about the culture change which we all desire.”

The stronger the teams, the more meaningful the competition.

If all you’re after is a trophy, you can get a very fancy one at any engraving shop for way less money and effort than it takes to compete in FRC. It’s having as many excellent teams as possible - and the pursuit of excellence - that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Your taking my quote out of context. I absolutely agree that helping other teams is a huge part of FIRST. I just don’t agree that including coopertition as part of the game incentives teams to do so.

How does it not? If you think having to rely on your alliance partners in order to win a match isn’t a good incentive to help them do well, I don’t know what you’d suggest as a better one.

As an economist, I’ll say that there is a very big difference between what people SHOULD do, and what they ACTUALLY do. (I think I said this earlier as well.) Right now teams are not ACTUALLY reaching out as well as they could. (And our team was one of them until recently because we were spending out efforts building up internal resources.) I think the GDC came up with this game because they made the same observation and wanted to increase interteam cooperation. I agree with the GDC if that’s there objective. I’m making suggestions to further the GDC’s objectives.

The status quo isn’t working–come up with a new suggestion.

The status quo has only been one competition season. Give the current system time to sink in. If there is 2 or 3 years in a row that we see strong intra-alliance cooperation required, we will see exactly what you are describing.

Why not give a signal this coming season? Why wait until next January? Why wait 2 or 3 years for something that can happen in 6 months?

The status quo I was referencing was the history of FRC in which more experienced teams generally have not shared with and supported newer teams.
(Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s not the general case.) The GDC went part way to fix the status quo. I’m suggesting going further.

I just don’t think it is necessary to send out game information before kick-off. The assumption should be every year that robot interaction will be required. Sending out a ‘Robot interaction required’ signal on certain years will only really help on those years. What happens with rookie team who starts on an ‘interaction’ year vs one that doesn’t?

Your goal is one that I think FIRST shares, but giving game information before kickoff is something that to my knowledge has never been done and is likely not the best way to change how teams work together outside of competition on a sustained time scale.

Maybe the focus should be on encouraging the less able teams to ask for help when they need it. My team has never been refused a reasonable request for assistance. Nor have we ever refused to help anyone who has asked us for help we were capable of providing.