STEAMworks 10.5.3 and the plight of the lower seed

EDITOR’S NOTE: The scenario described below has changed with Team Update 4. See the end of the article for more details.

Asymmetry in a game can lead to improvements in gameplay. Frank Merrick was on Gamesense Wednesday night and he commented on why this year’s field is rotationally asymmetric for the first time since 2004. He gives a very valid reason for this; they want opposing alliance robots to meet in the neutral zone and cross paths. That is good game design, that makes matches more exciting for the audience instead of just two teams playing on their own side of the field, e.g., Recycle Rush.

However, the rules don’t follow this rotational asymmetry through to its natural end. Instead, they stop just short and leave the playoff alliances in a very unbalanced situation.

The Facts

From the STEAMworks 2017 Game & Season Manual – Section 10

10.5.3 Playoff MATCH Bracket

ALLIANCE Leads are assigned to PLAYER STATION 2, the first picks are assigned to PLAYER STATION 1, and second picks are assigned to PLAYER STATION 3. If a BACKUP TEAM is in play, they will be assigned to the PLAYER STATION that was assigned to the DRIVE TEAM they’re replacing.

The Player Station numbers were clarified in the FRC Q&A earlier this week.

Q23 Player Stations Numbering

Please provide an explanation of the numbering for both alliance player stations. 10.5.3 details at which station playoff alliances will be assigned but these numbers are never mapped to the field. Which player stations are closest to the boiler? Is the numbering asymmetric like the field? Are they in order at all?

Here are some quick graphics so everyone can understand the setup of the field and the two alliances in this station.

WBGXViV.png

wikguif-imgur

Some Assumptions

We are assuming that the lower seeded alliance in the first round of the playoffs will be assigned to the Blue Alliance Station. This is not explicit in the rules and should be clarified by the answer to Q&A 130 however this has been the case for over 15 years.

The Problem

Are you starting to see the problem? During the elimination rounds, the 1st and 2nd picks of each alliance are in the opposite player stations in relation to their Boiler and Loading Lanes.

The 2nd pick on an alliance is normally the weakest robot in terms of ability to complete the game objectives and that often means they are the robot chosen to play defense on an alliance where defense is part of the alliance’s strategy.

Sam Fuchs of FRC#236, TechnoTicks, put together some very useful illustrations of the sight line from all 3 possible driver station positions.

Position 1

Red 1 Sight Line.png

Here we can see that Position 1 (Red 1st pick and Blue 2nd pick) have unobstructed views of their own alliance Loading Lanes and Boilers. However, they have an obstructed view of their opponents boiler this would make playing defense near their opponents goal far more challenging than when they have a clear view of what may be the primary scoring area of STEAMworks. Red 1st Pick is in a prime spot to be an offensive asset for their alliance. They can visually align to the Return Loading Stations with ease, then zip back down the field to line up near the Boiler to deposit the Fuel and start building pressure and earning points. Blue 2nd pick also is primed for an offensive strategy but this is traditionally the location of a team’s primary defender and in this case, they will have a very hard time defending the Red key when they effectively can’t see the area.

Position 3

Red 3 Sight Line.png

The opposite is true for Position 3 (Red 2nd pick and Blue 1st pick). They can clearly see both Boilers but have an obstructed view of their own Loading Lane. The Red 2nd pick is probably the perfect position for a robot that will likely be spending some of their time defending the opposing team. They have a clear view of the opponents boiler and make it difficult for them to acquire a scoring position in their Key. Blue 1st pick has a far more challenging task if they are an offensive robot especially if they rely on loading from the Loading Lane. The obstructed view will make alignment to the Return Loading Stations far more challenging for what is likely a robot that will be focused on scoring Gears or Fuel.

The Solution

I think it’s clear that this is an unbalanced part of the game. It gives an advantage to the higher seeded alliance that is far greater than we have seen in previous years of FRC games. The solution is simple. FIRST HQ can update 10.5.3 to read.

10.5.3 Playoff MATCH Bracket

ALLIANCE Leads are assigned to PLAYER STATION 2, the Red Alliance first pick and Blue Alliance second pick are assigned to PLAYER STATION 1, and Red Alliance second pick and Blue Alliance first pick are assigned to PLAYER STATION 3. If a BACKUP TEAM is in play, they will be assigned to the PLAYER STATION that was assigned to the DRIVE TEAM they’re replacing.

This simple solution will help balance the playoff matches and not dictate an alliance’s strategy solely based on their bumper colors. I hope that we will see this updated before the first STEAMworks Playoff matches get underway in 49 days.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this article was published, FIRST HQ has released Team Update 4. In this update, FIRST addresses the concerns presented by Allen as follows:

ALLIANCE Leads are assigned to PLAYER STATION 2, the first picks are assigned to the PLAYER STATIONS 1 closer to the BOILER, and second picks are assigned to the PLAYER STATIONS 3 closer to the opponent’s LOADING STATION. If a BACKUP TEAM is in play, they will be assigned to the PLAYER STATION that was assigned to the DRIVE TEAM they’re replacing.

This change has removed the discrepancy between the sight lines of the red and blue alliances, caused by the non-rotationally symmetric field. Thank you FIRST!

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