What are the differences between VEX and FIRST competitions?

Hi all,

As you can tell from my question, I’m very new to the world of robotics competitions. As I have been doing research on the different competitions out there, I’ve noticed that the two major players in the space are FIRST and VEX. I’m curious to hear about the differences between the two competitions and have a couple of questions and would love to hear a few responses from true enthusiasists.

I noticed that VEX robotics kits are generally cheaper than FIRST’s, are the quality of the kits comparable?

Are there teams that compete in both FIRST and VEX competitions? Are these teams typically FTC or FRC teams?

When considering which program to choose VEX or FIRST what are the main considerations?

I appreciate any responses to my post. As I said, I’m new to the world of robotics but am very excited to get involved!

Our school’s club does both FTC and VEX currently because we had VEX parts from before FTC changed to using Tetrix parts.

FTC parts are stronger and the motors are more powerful but vex is far more versatile, they have pneumatics, and many other parts that Tetrix do not have.

As for size wise, there are more vex teams than FTC teams and more tournament than FTC also since vex follows a regional to world’s format, unlike FTC which is more of a “pyramid” type.

FTC and vex’s robots are similar in size since both have the 18 by 18 by 18 in limit.

Frc is much bigger scale and it requires way more resource than FTC and vex. They only have six weeks to build the robot and hence more intense compare to FTC and vex in that way. Many frc teams have a vex program alongside with their frc program.

Cost wise vex is definitely cheaper than FTC. Only $75 for the first team and $25 for each team after that.

They are both great programs. You can maybe try to attend one of the vex events close to you to get a feel of it. And maybe do so for FTC and frc also.

A quick overview, from “30,000” feet:

Vex and FTC are roughly identical - ‘roughly’ - and I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary to follow that will tell you all about the rough spots.

They are comparable in cost and in the market that is targeted.

As I’m sure you know, FIRST has JrFLL, FLL, FTC, and FRC. Prior to FTC was VEX. For reasons outside the scope of this thread a decision was made to close VEX and start FTC. Ultimately a group of people negotiated the rights to take VEX outside of FIRST and start an independent organization.

Today, VEX and FTC compete in roughly the same market.

Some students progress through FLL, FTC, FRC.

Some students progress through FLL, VEX, FRC. Some just do VEX, or FRC, or FLL, and many other combinations.

Some students do VEX and FTC. It isn’t uncommon to see teams at both VEX and FIRST competitions.

While VEX and FTC compete in the marketplace, it is a friendly marketplace.

Did you know that some of the top people of VEX, including the company president and the head of engineering are big time mentors with well known FRC teams.

Did you know that the VEX and FTC competition court is physically essentially the same.

There are a lot of reasons people pick VEX versus FTC. I would do a straight hard nosed examination of the programs and pick what is best for you are trying to accomplish. You need to consider whether you are doing this as an in-class curriculum or an after school activity. Do you want to maintain a progression in programming familiarity, going from FLL to FTC NXT bricks? Just to fuzzy things up there, you can do RobotC and Labview on bot the FTC and Vex system. You can get curriculum and classroom packages from VEX, and so on and so forth.

Do not worry about the VEX camp versus FIRST camp issues. It is a huge marketplace. It is only about 4% penetrated. There is room for everyone. And competition is good for the consumer.

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Vex is, in my experience, a much cheaper and more “well run” robotics competition than FTC.

I echo the comments from Ed stated above, with a few minor corrections. If you would like to talk to people in the Boston area that are involved in FIRST for more specifics, then drop me a note dhenry@usfirst.org.

Truth in advertising - I now (for about 2 months) am employed part-time by the non-profit Robotics Education and Competition Foundation that runs the Vex Robotics Competition and assists other STEM programs. I guess that, plus about 5 years of experience make me an enthusiast.

When asked your question, I tell folks these things.

  1. Really young students should get into FLL.

  2. Older students with access to big budgets and non-trivial manufacturing resources should think about going into FRC after getting their feet wet (and building up a support infrastructure) in FTC or VRC.

  3. From about 7th grade up through 12th (and into college with the VRCC) It’s hard to beat the value per $ from VRC and FTC.

  4. My calculations always tell me that VRC is perhaps 2/3rds the cost of FTC for what I and my 4H VRC Team(s) do; but other folks get different results; so you should crunch the numbers for yourself.

  5. As a rule in areas that have hit critical mass (but not always or everywhere) there are more VRC tournaments in a school year than FTC tournaments; and the VRC tournaments are pretty inexpensive (FTC events are usually reasonable cost, maybe a little higher than VRC, depending on how well sponsor $ are flowing).

  6. For your tournament $ the FTC tournaments I have seen supply a little more flash and circus along with the STEM benefits. For some students this is exactly what they need. For other students - they don’t care.

  7. High tournament frequency is good if you want to do plenty of iterating and engineering across an entire (school) year. On the other hand, going to one or two tournaments in a mid-year burst let’s your season begin and end without crowding out any other activities you might want.

  8. Vex permits some, but fewer custom fabricated parts than FTC. If you want to cut & bend your own parts, FTC has more opportunities, and in this regard is less (less than is the case in VRC) like a chess game in which you are challenged to outwit your opponents while sticking to a common set of parts.

For me & my 4H club, the lower costs that I experience, the lower barriers to entry for team & tournament organizers, and the ability to attend several tournaments spread out over a school year are the points that swing us. Plus I don’t want to have to fabricate parts from raw stock, so I stay away from that temptation, and just cut and bend the Vex parts.

However, to be perfectly clear (well actually to perfectly straddle the fence) about the “Which is better question?”; I believe in the benefits of FTC enough to volunteer plenty of my time to it and to make sure that both FTC (and VRC) teams and tournaments get full use of equipment Lockheed Martin (my employer at the time) donated for STEM uses in the region.

So what if some folks like FTC better than I - Who am I to argue with them? I (we all) have better things to do than argue over which end of an egg should be eaten first, or other bogus topics.

Talk to teams participating in both, and visit a tournament from each program. The VRC season is already underway and a tournaments are occurring in the Southern Hemisphere and in a few spots here in North America (Visit www.RobotEvents.com). The FTC season will start near the beginning (a little after?) the start of the North American school year.


I’m going to piggy back off many of the comments, but contradict some of the others.

Which is “better” and more “cost effective” can depend on what region you live in. For us in Florida, FTC has 8 qualifiers and a state championship. It would not be cost effective to travel out of state for most teams in this category. I can also vouch that at least Florida FTC competitions carry the excitement comparable to FRC, and are quite “well run.”

Your location appears to be Boston, be sure to talk to both FTC and VRC participants specifically in your area to get a better idea of their experiences because this will best represent what your experience will be like.

I agree with Barry (and others) 100% as of right now the FTC vs VEX debate varies greatly from region to region. I was in RI last year and they are all about FTC, this year I moved to VA, while FTC is still available teams can find 3-4 Vex competitions within driving distance. If I was starting a new FTC or Vex program here I would probably lean towards Vex. In general whichever program is bigger in your area is probably going to be the better of the two.

As a warning (though I haven’t really seen it in this thread) the Vex vs FTC debate can get a bit political, if any one tells you that one is absolutely better than the other I would take the opinion wth a grain of salt. Both are good, well run competitions, neither is perfect but both will expose your students to STEM fields and will provide quite a bit of fun and excitement.

There were 13 VEX Robotics Competition events in Florida last year, and the VRC World Championship was in Orlando.

I’ve done quite a bit of both as a mentor. These are anecdotes, not arguments. I’ll try not to repeat what’s been stated.

  1. Bot-for-bot, Championship FTC and VRC robots cost about the same
    . It’s the engineering process (CAD, torque calcs) and the custom materials (sparse in VRC, plenty in FTC) that can make on bot cost less than the other over the course of a season. My recommendation: ***If the mentors for the group are beginners to the engineering process in general, go with VEX. It’s less expensive because the parts last longer. ***If you have good experience in overall design, tbh ask around your local area. FTC can be cheaper if you do the math & design properly.

  2. Regardless of the program, transportation & hotels are the most expensive costs in robotics anyways. If you plan to go to the championships in any program, be aware of that.

  3. My experiences with VEX competition days is magnitudes better than my experience with FTC competition days. Dropped wireless signals, people who give me the impression that they have ‘agendas’ in FIRST, and difficulty in integrating into the classroom are all working against FTC.

  4. With that said, we’ve successfully integrated VEX into most
    middle schools and are piloting an FTC curriculum this year at our High School. VEX comes with a classroom kit, the parts are more robust for those who are just getting started, and the manuals/forum support for VEX are out of this world. Yet FTC gives more flexibility & integration with custom materials allowed in the FTC competition. This forces students to get away from puzzle piece engineering and into more outside-the-box thinking. We tried curriculum with VEX for several years, but inability to cut the <expensive for this environment relative to their budget> VEX metal caused it to taper off.

  5. What Blake isn’t telling you is that he was the founder of his teams and the driver of the tournament structure in our county. VEX tournaments exist in their capacity because of people like him. If you want tournament density and it doesn’t exist, then either expect to put the work in or choose the program accordingly. It’s much easier to start your own VRC regional tournament structure than it is to start your own FTC tournament structure.

As for FRC
If you ever have the opportunity and time to do it, I’d recommend it. It’s engineering a solution to a challenge from scratch. Except for motors, every piece in the kit is simply an ‘example’ rather than what must be used. It IS industry-grade engineering on some teams (superstars). The rest of us are just trying to catch up :wink:

Videos for FRC, since words can’t do it justice most of the time – this isn’t a comprehensive list of superstars, just the ones I have in bookmarks at work
Team 148
Team 1114 (dominating the left side in that video
Team 254