Predictions Week One: Preparing for Liftoff

Across the globe, boilers are starting to warm up as teams gear up to place gears for the first time in official FIRST STEAMworks play. As with any FRC challenge, the first week brings not only clouds of intrigue into how the game will be played, but also mystery surrounding the actual game field (both in terms of how teams react to it, and how the field itself performs). For many teams, acquiring the actual lift spring from McMaster-Carr proved challenging this season, so it may be their first attempt at scoring on the real deal (let alone witnessing spring deformation). For others, the challenges of the actual davit, touchpad, rope release, and each of their relative positions to an airship that very few teams built could prove a new obstacle. And for the community as a whole, many are waiting with baited breath to see how the first motorized field in FRC history will perform. Week 0 provided little insight into the real world processing rate or fuel counting accuracy of the boilers.

With week one also comes a different set of expectations. It takes time for teams to figure out the game, the strategies, the field, and their own robots. Outside of a handful of notable exceptions, don’t expect teams to be lighting up the high efficiency boiler right away. Expect much of the early weeks to revolve around the airship. Rotor sets and preparing for take-off will make up the vast majority of points scored in a vast majority of matches in week one. That’s not to say fuel scoring robots won’t have a role. While boiler imbalances aren’t yet likely to matter in outcomes of many matches (and will almost certainly not overcome rotor or hang deficits), scoring fuel in autonomous can provide a significant boon in close matches and isn’t likely to significantly take away from gear potential. The biggest bonus early on for these powerhouses will be getting the bonus ranking points from kPa, and the select few with an autonomous that approaches this bonus will have a massive leg up in the qualifications standings race. Don’t expect highly polished “super cycles” that efficiently combine running gears and scoring in the boiler just yet. Discrete focuses will likely be the predominant method of play in week one.

By season’s end, hanging should be nearly ubiquitous for competitive-minded teams, but that may not be a universal fact in week one as teams adapt to the real field elements. This is going to create an interesting dynamic in alliance selection, and in specific scenarios it may end up favoring some lower seeded alliance captains. This isn’t universal, as some of the smallest events may struggle to even round out two quick and consistent scalers per alliance. Ultimately, when you combined end game scarcity with the collaborative nature of rotor scoring, STEAMworks may prove a difficult challenge for elite teams to single handedly dominate in the early stages of play. It’s only once the depth of the field behind them creates a more rotor and scaling parity that the fuel masters will be able to truly shine.

 

Hub City Regional:

No week one event approaches the name recognition or truly elite firepower of the Hub City Regional. If you want to see some dueling fueling going on in the opening weekend, Lubbock may be the place to watch. The top of the roster is absolutely stacked, with members of three of the past four FRC Champion alliances. 118 will certainly cause a Ruckus, and are the odds on favorites with their insanely fast shooter, climber that comes out of nowhere, capable gear intake, and multiple autonomous modes. Defending world champions 2481 made the relatively bold choice of forgoing a ground intake (for either gears or balls), and are banking on their swerve drive and quick release gear scoring to become one of the fastest pure cyclers in the game. 1477 is hoping to return to the lofty level of play that led them to Einstein in consecutive seasons in 2013 and 2014, and are fielding a robot with twin spiraling feed systems, passive gear loading, and a reliable climb in their effort to do so. These three teams will obviously play a huge role in deciding who comes out victorious, and as a result, the race for the #1 seed will be massive. If the Robonauts or Roboteers can consistently run hopper popping autonomous modes, the ranking points advantage they obtain could be critical to ensuring they have the opportunity to exercise their desired game plan during alliance selection.

Hub City is much deeper than just the previous champs. 624 and 2468 are perennial contenders in Texas. Thanks to a 2016 Galileo Division Engineering Inspiration award, Appreciate already has their ticket to the Houston Championship punched, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a strong on-field contender. CRyptonite is bringing Nautilus, equipped with an articulating drive base, passive gear mechanism, and velcro climber, with the aim of being a consistent scoring machine. Colorado’s 4499 is fielding a high potential machine in what they hope could be a breakout season for them, but it remains to be seen if they will be dialed in during this week one event. Similarly, 3847 may still need some time to fine tune their shooter, but should be among the quicker gear scoring machines even if they aren’t fueling up the high efficiency boiler. 1817 is looking for a rebound season, after missing eliminations in 2016. 192 is known for the mechanical marvels in their drive systems, picking up an Excellence in Engineering award last time they attended Hub City (2014). GRT will put those systems to the test to see if they can strive further than the semi-final exit they faced in their last trip to Texas.

Lubbock will prove an interesting trial balloon into potential alliance compositions. No top seed this will have as many viable choices for how they want to construct their alliance as the #1 seed at Hub City. Will the two standout fuel scorers simply pair up in an effort to deny other alliances a weapon that can contend with their fuel scoring? Or will they opt for a more gear oriented partner that frees the captain to focus their energies on ball collection? Which alliances are going to have a viable shot at starting four rotors? Will there be enough climbers to survive until the end of alliance selection?  While the strategies in week one rarely stack up with what we see at the end of the season, Hub City can give us a hint of what we might see later in the year.

 

Northern Lights Regional:

Because Minnesota uses each team’s first event to qualify for the State Tournament, every MN team at this event needs to put forth their best effort or risk being one of the state’s best teams to miss the tourney – a la 2175, 3130, and 3026 where they faced the buzzsaw of high-powered teams in Iowa in 2016. Some of these teams will walk away from this Northern Lights with their heads in their hands – and will be watching from the stands in late May as the rest of the top teams in Minnesota play for the coveted MSHSL State Champion Banner. And with six former state champions in attendance, the stakes will be high right out of the gate.

The team with the biggest expectations on their shoulders heading into the event is 5172, coming off of their breakout 2016 campaign that saw them reach as high as #3 in some polls. Their quick shooting six wheel drive machine should be among the best scorers, assuming their passive gearage works at an adequate level. 525 paired up with the Gators to take Iowa last year, before moving on to another victory in 10,000 Lakes. All that success came in spite of some of their efforts being spent helping run events in Iowa and China. With those events being a year more mature, the Swartdogs could be even more impressive if they were able to focus all their energies on the robot in 2017. The Swartdogs aren’t the only out of state teams that will be relevant.. Hall of Famers 27 will be bringing in a solid robot with a 6 wheel drop center WCD and a full-width over the bumper intake.  876 won in Central Illinois and reached the Curie finals last season, and will be aiming even higher in 2017 with their large hopper and dual chamber shooting mechanism.

Rarely does 2883 disappoint in Week 1 as they were finalists in Duluth the last two seasons.  Utilizing a six wheel tank drive that seems a little touchy, their autonomous could be the best of the regional.  FRED has a fast intake can load hopper quickly coupled with a single barrel shooter.  Another expected top-performer, 3883, the DataBits from Cottage Grove, MN boasts a 20-mode autonomous, fast cycler, and a single barrel high-goal shooter. While 3130 did not so much in week zero, they are a perennial Minnesota powerhouse. They are among a host of Minnesota teams looking to contend, including 2512, 3026, 4607, and 2175. Overall, the field in Duluth should be deep enough to make for a very interesting event.

 

IN District –  Tippecenoe Event:

The Indiana District was the first area in FRC last year to employ run-and-gun, high-goal-all-the-time strategies in 2016. The massive scores that resulted from that (and the caliber of robots required to implement that) earned them some very deserved attention. With only three events in the state before DCMP, there are huge overlaps in attendance between all of them. As a result, all three events are essentially previews of the state champs, but Tippecannoe stands out just ever so much.

Coming off a five INFIRST event winning streak going back to the 2015 season, as well as a finalist appearance in the Carson Division in 2016, the Kil-A-Bytes seem like definite favorites in Tippecanoe. 1024 has recently been on a tear of making the most of simple and effective machines, and this year’s robot is no different. Expect 1024 to be playing late into Sunday afternoon. Team THRUST has earned at least one blue banner each of the last three seasons, however last year was easily their best. Coming into 2017 on the momentum of being the Archimedes Division champions in 2016 and a high level of expertise with projectile-based games thanks to some heavy lifting by their controls crew, 1501 can easily be penciled in for a deep playoffs run this weekend. Harrison Boiler Robotics impressively earned gold medals at two of three INFIRST District events in the 2016 season alongside team 1024, and came close to breaking 1024’s streak in the semi-finals of the Walker Warren event. This year, 1747 is back with another aggressive robot featuring a strong robust drivetrain, and a ridiculous amount of fuel capacity. Look for HBR to have another strong showing this weekend.

But the depth of the field extends far beyond the top of the fight card. 234, 829, 868, 3940, 4103, and 4982 will all be right in the thick of things. Over the last twelve months 1529 has quickly expanded in size and popularity within their community thanks to their 2016 State Championship win. Though their team has changed a lot over the past year, their design mantra this year is the same; fast and simple. Their racecar of a robot this year geared at an insane 22 ft/s, aptly named The Scarlet Speedster completely ignores fuel in favor of a robot-wide gear intake and a fast climbing mechanism. And don’t forget the Westside Boiler Invasion, who is entering their 18th season this year, having yet to win an in-season event, ever. However, WBI has a large pile of silver medals to back up the real performance of their past robots. This year, 461 has their most prepared entry yet, featuring a double-wide fuel shooter and high amount of fuel capacity. Will this be the year where Westside finally seals the deal, and could it happen this weekend?

 

South Florida Regional:

South Florida continues its trend of flipping between weeks each year by returning to week one. The 48 teams competing in West Palm is a diverse group representing 5 countries and 6 states.  4481, is the historically strongest of the international coalition, with one of the slickest gear pick-ups in FIRST and a velcro climb, they will be a force to be reckoned with. 125 reached the finals at their week 0 event, despite still needing to address issues with their shooter accuracy and gear mechanisms. The NUTRONs will use South Florida as both an attempt to qualify for Championship directly, as well as an opportunity to tune their machine before returning home to the New England district. 694 had an amazing season last year, winning New York City and Curie, however the blemish last season was their trip to South Florida losing out in quarters, the Stuyvesant team is hoping to not repeat their poor performance.

           The Florida locals are not to be outdone by the visiting teams. 2383 built a large turreted machine but may not have it dialed in at their week 1 outing. 1523 has a quick gear cycler however their mecanum drive may make them highly susceptible to defense. 179 is competing with a simpler machine when compared to previous years, but consistency issues have plagued them recently so the simpler machine may lead The Children of the Swamp to win the event that has alluded them the last 2 years. The biggest question mark going into the event is 233, after rumors of their demise were greatly exaggerated, it will be interesting to see what the Pink Team looks like down in West Palm.

 

ISR District – Israel District Event #1:

The Eastern Hemisphere’s oldest regional is transitioning from the regional model to the district format in 2017. Israel has quietly been developing numerous highly competitive teams, but a combination of their distance, time differences, and their previously small Championship allocation had largely kept the Israeli scene under the radar. But even with only six Championship invites in 2016, two Israeli teams managed to find their way to Einstein. The district format should give them a larger delegation heading to Houston in 2017, and is starting off with an event that is practically a preview of their district championship. If you want some midweek fireworks between week one and week two, tune into the competition in first of the two consecutive* events in Haifa.

The biggest name of the bunch is the team that was a single point away from being crowned champions in 2016, 1690. Orbit won’t have a cakewalk to the finals, as many of Israel’s other historical powerhouses stand in their way. 1574 has a rapid shooting machine, and is looking for their seventh event win in their history. 2630 had their dreams of four consecutive Israel regional titles dashed in the finals last year, and is aiming to get back in the winning column this year. 1657 and 3316 couldn’t escape the quarters last year, but will be taking their gear-oriented machines to Haifa in hopes of a deeper run. 5038 has been trending solidly upwards in each of their prior seasons, and along with last year’s rookie upstarts 5951 could represent the next generation of competitors in Israel.

*ISR Event #2 is literally the next day in the same venue

 

Lake Superior Regional:

Top Contenders – 2052, 4009

Mid-tier – 1714, 1816, 3102, 4539, 4818, 5690

Sophomore stars – 5913, 6175

 

Palmetto Regional:

Haven’t lost a mainland regional since 2011 – 359

Two world championships, Hall of Fame member, zero regional titles – 120

Won in three of their previous six trips to South Carolina  – 11

Hoping to punch their ticket to Champs – 343, 2614, 3824, 4265, 4451

 

Toluca Regional:

Mexican Powerhouses  – 2283, 3158, 3478

Rookie Teams – Eleven

 

CHS District – Northern Virginia Event:

Going sophisticated after a simple design led them to become 2016 CHS champs  – 1418

Some of Virginia’s strongest – 346, 384, 1731, 2363

Sleepers trying to set themselves up well for DCMP – 623, 1080

 

CHS District – Southwest Virginia Event:

Portion of field warming up in week-one interdistrict play – 9/39 teams

Proven contenders visiting from up north – 1676, 3314

2016 Champions of the World – 1086

Fighting for CHS standings points- 836, 1262, 1413, 1629,  5279

 

FIM District – Kettering University District #1:

Established contenders – 70, 245, 5460

Attempting to build on promising 2016 seasons – 5114, 5150, 6086

Gunning for MSC invites – 1322, 2619

 

FIM District – Lakeview Event:

Event wins in three straight seasons – 3602

Hoping to rank high- 830, 4003, 4381

On the rise- 5448

 

FIM District -Southfield Event:

Revealing more than their teaser – 33

Still working out the kinks – 67

Gunning for a high seed – 548, 2137

Trying to pull off an upset with a well rounded mid-tier alliance – 573, 1188, 1250, 1481, 3538, 6193

 

MAR District – Hatboro-Horsham Event:

Sophomore Standouts – 5895

MAR powerhouses aiming for a quick start – 341, 2590

Searching for their first ever wins – 708, 1647, 3974, 5404

Hoping to improve upon their 2016 results – 103, 1218, 2607, 3929

 

NC District – Pitt County Event:

Picked up five banners in 2016 – 3506

Hoping for their second straight top 10 finish in NC – 435, 2059, 2642, 3459, 4561

Trying to Shake ‘N Bake their way onto the right alliance – 2640

Trending Upwards – 5190

 

NE District – Granite State Event:

Top contenders picking up dropped gears- 78, 319, 1058

Teams on the rise – 238, 5687, 6328

Home state high performers – 131, 811, 3467

 

NE District – Waterbury Event:

The Usual Suspects – 195, 230

The Upper-Middle Class  – 175, 176, 177, 228, 236, 558, 2067

Rising to the New Challenge – 1099, 2170

 

ONT District – Durham College Event:

Testing the viability of the low efficiency boiler – 1360, 3683

Event wins in three straight seasons coming into STEAMworks – 2013

Trying to capitalize in an Ontario event lacking “giant names” – 1285, 2200, 2386,  2609

 

PCH District – Gainesville Event:

Generating rookie buzz – 6325

High potential, but still getting tuned up – 1261, 1648, 1746

Hoping their driver practice will provide them with a jump start – 4188, 4910, 4941

 

PNW District – Auburn Mountainview Event:

Aiming higher in their second season – 5803

Trying to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being reigning PNW champs – 360, 4469

The PNW old guard- 1318, 1983, 2046, 2557

 

PNW District – West Valley Event:

Picked up an event win and at least one Creativity Award in each of the past three years – 4061

Gearing up for their sophomore season – 5920

Have become a technical award powerhouse since PNW switched to the district format – 1595

Should be in the thick of things – 2147, 4125, 4911

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