Week one was a rough start. This was magnified by the fact that the last few years’ opening weekends had gone relatively smoothly. This past weekend was a throwback, of sorts, to the massive delays and field issues of FRC antiquity (although this may have been the worst of all). The multi-hour field delays got so bad that multiple district events had to cancel matches in order to maintain anything that even mildly resembled their scheduled finish times, and FIRST HQ had to issue an impromptu rules update to curb the rampant issuance of yellow cards. For all those competing this weekend, go hug* your FTAs and field officials. This is not a fun game to manage, and they are no happier about the inconveniences presented by failures of lifts and touchpads or tolerance stack-up issues than teams are.
When it comes to the actual game play of STEAMworks, the debut weekend went pretty much as advertised. Rotors and the end-game dominated the scoreboard, powering airships so fuel-efficient that they put James Watt to shame. With the notable exception of the top alliances in Haifa and Granite State, most playoff matches were essentially a race to either 255 or 305 points. There were of course some alliances that would put in some fuel to break ties, but ultimately fouls were a much more common way to shift the outcome of a close match than either boiler. Even in autonomous, fuel was often a non-factor. While much ado was made about the processing rate of the serializers during build season, it was the latency between balls entering the funnel and them actually being scored by the sensors that caused the more significant devaluation of autonomous fueling. Where neither fuel nor fouls came into play, plenty of ties filled the void (ironically in the year when FIRST finally softened the anti-tie rules put in place after 2010, not that table 10.2 made a difference in many of these cases). The result was a play-style that was focused on making fewer mistakes than your opponent. The alliances that could most consistently execute without missing a hang, committing a penalty, or missing an autonomous rotor were the ones frequently taking home gold.
As it stands, STEAMworks is a very hard game for the top flight of teams to dominate. Like 2014, it’s a game about full alliance play. With the incredible value of hangs, getting consistent end-game value from the third member of a playoff alliance is crucial. Only when teams can achieve the bonus points from hitting 40kPa without sacrificing a rotor are top flight machines going to have a tool in their arsenal that can out value a deficit in the end game. Perhaps we’ll see a handful of truly spectacular gear specialists in the coming weeks, but effective utilization of defense in the chokepoints next to the airships has mostly proven effective in mitigating the chances of 4th rotors. Expect this to carry forwards into play this weekend.
As a final aside, the expansion of FRC into the eastern hemisphere is resulting in some creative scheduling, and we ended up missing our chance to get predictions up for Israel District #2 before it started. Israel has had mid-week competitions since its inception in 2005, but growth there forcing the conversion to districts and the expansion of FRC in Australia have led to some interesting scheduling quirks. Both of the first two district events in Israel and both of the Australian regionals are taking place consecutively at the same venue. Not consecutively as in back-to-back weekends like is seen at Kettering, but back-to-back as in the very next day. It certainly makes for an easy commute for teams competing at both, but definitely an exhausting experience of several days straight of constant competition. In particular, a special shout out to team 4613, the Barker Redbacks. They will be competing three times in the span of only ten days, with a 4500 mile (each way) flight to and from Shenzhen, China starting it all off.
*Don’t actually hug them unless they want it. There’s enough germ spread from the crowd to volunteers at FRC events as it is.
Over the past several years, Ontario has grown into one of the most noteworthy power centers in FRC. The top level teams in the region pushed others to become even greater, and the ensuing arms race has led to an explosion of high competitive teams in the region. Growth in the province already spurred some smaller venues to host events, so the transition to the district format in 2017 was a seemingly natural fit. Even with the “super regionals” of Toronto past a long way in the rear view mirror, the abundance of small district competitions and the dilution of the top talent leaves a vastly different landscape for the 2017 season.
Ryerson is an example of this landscape shift. While the top of the roster is star studded with a handful of Ontario’s best known powerhouses, half of the field wears bumpers with numbers over 5000. With a game that was not kind to top seeded alliances in week one, it will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out in the playoffs. Among the younger contingent, 5036’s simple gear machine already proved a capable competitor, captaining the #3 alliance to the semi-finals at Durham College. 2609’s ability to acquire gears from the ground helped earn them the top overall selection at Durham College, although their run was snubbed short in the semi-finals as well. Along with 907, 1310 or 1325, these teams could prove themselves to be a threat to pull off upsets over the better known powerhouses, especially if they can find a partner with a consistent hang in the second round of alliance selection.
After a decade of almost constant recognition as one of the top five teams in FRC, 1114, the Simbots saw a 12 year streak of blue banners (41 in all) come to an end in 2016. 2017 was a year of change for Simbotics, with their head mentor stepping down and adaptations in manufacturing techniques. Conversely, 1241 is coming off of what is unquestionably their best season ever, including captaining the top alliance in the toughest division at Championship last year to the division finals. Was 2016 a fluke for either of these teams, or is it a new standard? 188’s Championship alliance knocked Theory 6 out in the Newton finals, but Blizzard’s lone playoff appearance ended with them stuck in the moat on Einstein, eliminating their alliance. 188 is refocused on simplicity, omitting a ground intake for balls in favor of optimizing their gear intake, autonomous shooting, and hanging mechanisms. Likewise, 610’s machine is a throwback to their 2013 world champion, in many ways. While they sport a turreted high goal scorer and intake, it’s their quick release active gear mechanism that should enable them to be a lightning fast cycling machine, and one of the favorites in Ryerson.
Seven of the thirty-two teams scheduled to compete in Greensboro this weekend have already taken the field in official play, either at the Pitt County event last weekend, or as an inter-district warm-up in Blacksburg, Virginia. These teams’ results ran the gamut, from 900 and 1255 missing the eliminations entirely to 587’s high ranking, top selection, and blue banner. The Hedgehog’s simple gear scoring and hanging should have them in contention once again, along with the Pitt County #2 seeds 2059 and Southwest Virginia semi-final alliance captains 5854. 5544 and 4816 already face pivotal moments for their season, with their district championship attendance on the line after decent but unspectacular finishes in Pitt County left them 21st and 23rd in the NC standings after week one (albeit with a sizable 9 point edge for SWIFT, despite only being two standings places higher). Both will need better outings this weekend to stay in the DCMP qualification race.
Not every contender in Greensboro has already placed their robot on the field of play. 1533 are defending state champs, and have continued to push the limits of their drivetrains with a 775Pro powered swerve drive. Barring any smoking drive motors, their velcro scaler and ground acquisition of gears should help them stick out among the host of omni-directional competitors. 2655 is breaking with much of Chief Delphi wisdom, spending time this season on a tall robot with mecanum drive, fuel focus, and a non-winch scaling mechanism that can interact with the field rope. 4935 and 3196 will both be unbagging more orthodox approaches to STEAMworks (short frames, large hoppers, passive gear mechanisms, winch climbers) as they start their quest towards Campbell University and maybe an invite to Houston.
With 23 district events in the state, the odds that you would get a deep and talent filled district continue to dwindle each year in Michigan. Even with 20% of the field comprised of rookie or sophomore teams and a host of other Michiganders ending up an hour south in Indiana, the St. Joeseph district is definitely an outlier when it comes to depth this season. Ten teams competing in the event were in the elimination rounds at championship last season. The headline team coming in is 1918, who are one of just three teams to play in the eliminations in each and every Michigan State Championship. Certainly hot on their heels are a couple teams that partnered together at districts twice last season and turned their best seasons ever, 2767 and 3620. Stryke Force is known for an outside the box approach to every game and expect this season to be no different. The hosts for St. Joes, Average Joes came out firing on all cylinders last season and kept it up throughout the year.
As with any Michigan event this season, the depth at the back end of the draft may be tested, but the St. Joes crowd may come closer to passing that test than many others. Look for 4967, 85, 2959, 2474 and 3452 to try and find their way onto a properly balanced alliance. With all of these teams and a half dozen more that have had success, there’s plenty of potential for upsets in the elimination rounds. The alliances in the corner of the serpentine have the potential to be full of teams that have experience playing deep into Saturday, and that could be a huge bonus when these alliances meet.
Two years ago, Utah was the regional that caught just about everyone by surprise, by posting scores far beyond what most of the rest of FRC was capable of at that time. While it didn’t quite live up to that lofty standard again in 2016, it’s poised to once again be a very talented event in 2017. With a 50/50 blend of in and out of state teams, the Maverick Center is playing host to a regional competition that’s practically a who’s who of teams from the mountain west. 2016 Hall of Fame inductees 987 headline the roster, with their (of course) turreted shooting, active gear intaked, velcro scaling machine. If the High Rollers can dial in their potential to shoot on the fly, they could help pioneer the inclusion of fuel points into gear-oriented cycles. 1619’s machine is fairly similar, from a high-level functionality standpoint, and should be among the strongest competitors at the event as well. This is especially true if their ability to deploy their intake into the hopper trigger plate helps them get reliable fuel dumps in autonomous, an issue that many of teams with 40kPa aspirations struggled with in week one. 846 is fielding a robot that’s a toned down version of those two powerhouses, with a shooter that can rock between the two sides of their robot, allowing them to strafe aim from both sides. While the Funky Monkeys have yet to recapture the magic of their 2014 season, ground gear acquisition and velcro scalers will keep teams like them and 1339 on the path for a solid spot in eliminations.
And we yet to even touch on either of the repeat finalists in attendance. 4334 is gunning for a three-peat at the event, as defending Utah Regional champions from both 2015 and 2016 (albeit in very different draft positions). 2122 won the event in 2014, were finalists in 2015, and then captained an alliance all the way to Einstein in 2016. Rounding out the field will be several other competitive veterans, including 2996, 3230, and 2403. With all the high powered firepower at the top of this event, it will be up to the rest of the 48 team roster to step up and round out the alliances.
Defending Favorites – 16, 3310
Knocking at the door – 3937, 4522
Dark Horses – 364, 3039, 5437
Notable Favorites – 842, 1197, 3309
Second Regional of 2017 – 192
Notable Wildcards – 60, 1011, 2486, 4183
Can they reach elims without gears or a climber? – 5012
SoCal Powerhouses – 399, 1538, 2485, 3476
Hunting for their first win – 3250
Not the Cheesy Poofs – 4
Number of Teams Who Already Competed – Fifteen
Already Won Their Ticket to Houston – 386, 1523, 3653
Strong Teams Unbagging for the First Time – 108, 180, 744, 1065, 1592
Rookies – 26/43 teams
First event of their four regionals, spanning nearly 40,000 miles of travel – 4613
Chinese teams with playoff experience – 5308, 5453, 5839
Has won at least one award at every regional they’ve attended since 2010 – 1884
No Shooter, No Problem? – 1208, 1939
Always ambitious designs – 4143
Contenders – 1658, 1675, 3284, 4329
Fresh Off A Win – 234
Aiming High After Einstein in 2016 – 379
Younger Competitors – 5413, 5811
50% of the Turrets, 100% of the Pwnage – 2451
Locks – 148, 2848
Experienced Already – 2468, 3366
Contenders Unbagging for the First Time – 1296, 3005, 5431
Previous world champions – 294, 973, 1671, 1678
Local favorites – 1323, 5817
Gear specialists – 1072, 4543
Second stop on their world tour – 4613
Countries Represented – Six
Established Contenders – 3132, 4253
Dark Horses – 4537, 4774, 6083
Hoping for Gear Mastery – 1389, 1885
Fighting for Standings Points – 422, 449, 1111
Got Some Sunny Unbag Time in South Florida – 2914, 5243
Gearing Up for a Deep Run – 862, 3322
One of Michigan’s Best – 1023
Strong Contenders – 68, 3098, 3641, 3656, 4384
Notable MSC Absences Last Year – 201, 469, 1189
Needs More Points than Last Week to Qualify for MSC – 1188
Looking to Rack Up Points Early – 123
Four or Fewer Years of Experience – 25/40 Teams
Pushing for MSC – 1684, 2612, 3534
Trying to rebound from a rough 2016 – 314
Top Contenders – 494, 2337
Wrong Turn on US31 – 2054, 2690, 3357
Making their 2017 Debuts – 71, 135
Lost their last four trips to the finals inside Indiana – 1501
Highest Fuel Scores so Far – 1574
Quick and Consistent Gears – 2230
Appropriately named for 2017 since 2005 – 1577
Fighting for DCMP slots- 2096, 3075, 3211, 3316
New Name, New Number, New Results? – 747
Failed to reach eliminations in week 1 ventures outside MAR – 11, 3314
Crowded field of quality performers – 193, 222, 1403, 1923, 2016
CVT Swerve – 1640
Starting their push towards DCMP – 834, 1391, 1712, 4342, 5407
All Girl Gear Specialists – 433, 4637
Hall of Famers – 365
Big auto potential – 1519, 190
In the hunt – 5813, 1768, 4905
Climbing late into the event – 501, 2877
Quick turn around – 78, 1831, 4908
Strong contenders – 2168, 2648, 4761
Warming up for MAR – 4954
Gainesville’s Rookie Sensations – 6705
Traditional Georgia Powerhouses – 2415, 2974
Budding Fuel Threats – 1311, 5293
Gainesville Vets – Fifteen
PNW Powers – 1425, 1540, 2471
Hoping to Pull it Together on Time – 4488
Frequent Alliance Captains – 2990, 3574