You’ve built the robot – now build up your scouting
By now, pretty much everyone has realized that FIRST STRONGHOLD is easily one of the wildest game designs delivered to us in recent years. The dynamics of this game have the potential to make it exciting for the audience, engaging for drivers (maybe not so much for human players), and fun to design mechanisms for. However, no matter how good your drivers are, no matter how effective your robot is, a team with good scouting and good strategy could take you down in a heartbeat. The level to which scouting can totally change the course of an event this season is more than we’ve ever seen before. Below, I have listed a few key concepts to keep in mind when you’re scouting STRONGHOLD.
Do what you’re capable of
There’s a lot of teams think they can make a great electronic scouting system, but it ends up being buggy, cumbersome, and inefficient. At the same time, I’ve seen teams who “make do” with paper, when they are fully capable of taking their scouting to the next level. Sure, electronic scouting is better than paper in pretty much every way (if you disagree, prove me wrong), but if you don’t have the time, money, or programmers to do it, either use paper or take advantage of another team’s system. A lot of teams (including my team) publicly release their scouting systems, so spend your down time before competition finding one that’s perfect for you. However, if you have the resources to dedicate to making a custom system, do it! Being able to adapt your scouting to your team’s exact strengths and weaknesses is one of the most powerful things you can do, but I’ll get into that later. The speed and efficiency of electronic scouting comes with some huge rewards, so I strongly suggest it to any team with the resources to do it properly.
Know your defenses
The ability to change your enemy’s terrain is incredibly powerful. If there’s anything you should be scouting with pinpoint accuracy, both qualitatively and quantitatively, it’s what defenses teams can cross, which ones they can’t cross, and which ones teams have gotten stuck on. As a rule of thumb, you should always pick the defense that one of your enemies has gotten stuck on. However, there are numerous exceptions to that, so you should take plenty of time to analyze your enemies’ defense abilities, comparing these abilities to the scoring potential of each individual team, then select defenses accordingly. Remember, as well, that you can’t rely on pit scouting data alone. Most teams will tell you things that aren’t true, even if they don’t actually know they’re lying, so watch the matches.
Know who is challenging, and who isn’t
Be sure to know which teams are missing challenge/scale points. Despite all the indicators telling drive teams when the end of the match is nearing, some drive teams lack the competence to make their way to the tower for those easy points. Picking a team that lacks time awareness could cost an otherwise strong alliance tower points. Also, although it’s only a 10 point difference, teams that can scale the tower present a huge opportunity to their alliance. It’s a relatively complex mechanism and relatively few points, but those are extremely safe points. Since there’s no way for the opposing alliance to stop a team from scaling the tower, a robot with a good scaler provides guaranteed points to their alliance, with absolutely no counterplay from the enemy team.
Record robot weights
In 2015, the world of FRC was introduced to the wonderful world of cheesecake. With very niche objectives like scaling, cheesecake has the potential to shape the highest levels of play once again. At lower levels of play, I would not be surprised to see strong alliances putting a cheesecaked collector on a second pick robot, for the sake of those sweet, sweet extra points you can get through strong boulder control. Will we see an incident on the scale of the legendary “can harpoons?” I doubt it. However, cheesecake has the potential to completely change the scene of many events this season.
Have a “do not pick” list
This one isn’t directly related to STRONGHOLD itself, but I’d like to emphasize it to newer scouting teams. I hate to admit it, but a DNP list is always necessary. Any robot that regularly is penalized, (almost) any robot that dies on the field, and any team that is highly uncooperative, or shows a severe lack of gracious professionalism is a liability you don’t want to deal with in eliminations. At some point, you will come across a team that, despite having a decent robot, acts in an unprofessional manner, is uncooperative in pre-match discussions, and is generally toxic to the alliance around them. Don’t pick those teams. Don’t be one of those teams.
Take advantage of the audience-selected defense
This is the kind of thing that’ll really only change the game at higher levels. However, if you have an abnormally big (or abnormally noisy) team, leverage your loudness to take control of the audience-selected defense. Analyzing the teams in that round will enable you to rig matches ever so slightly in your favor (or against their favor, whatever floats your moat). A big team with a well-coordinated scouting team has the potential to have a slight effect the outcome of matches they aren’t even in. If you’re a big team, it’d be a shame to let that power go to waste.
Pick based on the other alliances
Some captains, when on the field for alliance selection, get major tunnel vision. All they’re looking at is their picklists, crossing off teams as they hear them. Doing this puts you on the fast track to a mediocre alliance. Be aware of who picks who, and what alliances you will face! If a low-seed alliance can tell what strategy the higher seed alliances are going for, they can pick accordingly. There is a ton of counterplay in this game, especially relating to defense in the neutral zone and allied courtyard. For example, if you’re the second seed captain, and the first seed captain (a low bar shooting specialist) picks another low bar cycle shooter, make sure you get a team that can block shots, or pick up a team that’s good at moving balls into the courtyard so the opposing alliance has to work harder to get boulders.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Too many teams lie to themselves when considering their strengths and weaknesses. The more readily you can admit to your weak points, the more effectively you can build an alliance that compensates for those weaknesses. Say you’re a tall shooting robot, with an extremely accurate shooter, but you struggle with getting across the defenses quickly to go retrieve balls. You could pick an insanely high-scoring shooter much like yours, or you could pick a slightly lower-scoring breaching robot with an awesome collector that can move balls over defenses for you. Of course, pick the breacher! Even though they are worth fewer points, they compensate for your weaknesses, making your alliance stronger overall.