Two weeks into the season and it’s becoming clear that STEAMworks is less about the steam than it is the hard work of putting on gears. While the exceptions to this rule became far more common in week two than they were in week one, they are still the exceptions to the rule. It won’t be until these exceptional performances become both more frequent, and more importantly, start occurring in opposing driver stations, that the meta will shift. Most events are about the race to 305, with occasional fuel scoring acting as a tiebreaker (albeit a tie breaker with far less impact that simply avoiding mistakes). Even with a quality fuel scoring machine, it’s hard to overcome a sub-optimal alliance structure elsewhere. Top tier fuelers can overcome a single rotor deficit, but leaving liftoff points on the table or failing to reach the 140 point rotor threshold makes it incredibly difficult for most alliances to emerge victorious in the playoffs.
What exceptional teams will do is start to shift the qualification landscape. While bonus ranking points will never reach the ubiquitous level of breaches in 2016, being able to bank a few additional ranking points will matter a great deal in the standings. Elite-level gear scorers will have an easier time translating their bonus objective into wins, but the fuel teams tend to have greater individual control in reaching their ranking point threshold without aid from alliance partners. The inverse side of that is the ripple effects caused by these teams. While solid but unspectacular gear scoring teams can combine efforts to create a perfect storm 4 rotor match in quals (and this may become a semi-common event at the DCMP level), they are at least playing a direct role in the additional bonus point. When an elite team fills the boiler in autonomous, they’re giving bonus ranking points not only to themselves, but to two partners that will likely contribute very little to the boiler scorer during the match. Thus far, examples of teams leapfrogging adversaries with better WLT records than them are few and far between, but they should start growing more common in the weeks ahead.
For the Peachtree District, like most elsewhere, the name STEAMworks has been synonymous with “gears and climb.” The strategy employed by the winners of the Gainesville and Dalton events called for a full onslaught of gear runs and climbing. With the district event season halfway done the PCH district is gearing up for a strong second-half showing. The Columbus event is arguably the strongest district event outside of the DCMP. While the Gainesville event’s roster showcased depth, the Columbus event assembles 3 previous event winners, 3 previous event finalists, and a wealth of teams who had success at their previous district event.
The key to success at an event is no longer a secret; delivering a few gears and consistently climbing in each match will get a team into the playoff rounds, and the Columbus event will be no exception. However, the teams with sights higher than the DCMP will be looking for more, and will showcase strategies not seen previously. Could the fourth rotor be a regular occurrence in the playoffs? 4468 and 1683 are all looking to prove so with their quick drivetrains and simple gear delivery mechanisms; both teams should be more refined than their rough performance in week one. Come playoffs, the ability to vacuum the floor and reduce cycle times is a huge advantage for an alliance attempting the fourth rotor. 4026 and 4188 will be debuting mechanisms to fulfill that niche role and have another go at the win after their tough playoff exits at Gainesville. While gear mechanism improvements will reduce cycle times, the largest factor in gear cycle time is directly related to the driver skill, and by extension, the drivetrain. 1002 and 4910 both utilize the agility of their drivetrains to leave the competitors behind in the dust and boast some of the quickest cycle times and consistent climbs.
1648, 1746, and 2415 may be sitting high off their wins at their district events for now, but these seasoned winners aren’t sitting complacent on the sidelines. 2415 is well versed in what it takes to succeed week after week, and look for them to continue their winning ways through their slick driving. 1648 walked away from week one with a win through a combination of scouting prowess, a consistent climber, and nerves of steel (the winning alliance at Gainesville played 10 unofficial matches in eliminations). G3 did not field the most dominant machine and they know it; Grady looks to silence the critics with their redone gear mechanism and the unveiling of their shooter. 1746’s driver put on a gear-cycling clinic during the Gainesville playoffs, but OTTO will need to increase their climbing rate of success in order to have a shot at defending their title. With this lineup of all-star teams, Columbus will be the PCH event to watch until the DCMP.
Over the past several seasons, the GKC regional has become one of the best in the Midwest. The 2017 edition should be little different, even with some longtime regulars like SWAT and the Kuhnigits skipping the event. As usual, 1986 looks to be the favorite. Team Titanium has won each of their four past trips to GKC (they skipped the event in 2015). Titanium also represents the best odds of pushing a boiler-focused strategy at the event, especially if they can dial in their hopper popping, 58-ball autonomous mode. But they, like traditional GKC contenders 1730 and 1987, have yet to take the field, and there are numerous STEAMworks veterans standing between them and victory.
4522 reached the finals as the #2 alliance captain in Little Rock, punching their ticket to St. Louis via wild card. [b]1775[/b] fell to SCREAM in the Rock City quarters, but were still a first round selection (despite not having a fully functional shooter). 624 also earned their Championship (Houston) ticket in a prior outing, via the Chairman’s Award at Hub City. But CRyptonite’s robot was no slouch, reaching the semis as the first round selection of the #3 alliance. But it was 935 who was part of the underdog #8 alliance at Hub City who shocked the FRC world as they won the event. 4959 has yet to compete, but they’re a team that’s improved each year they’ve competed (seeding 4th at both of their events last year). While numerous powerhouses stand in their way, with the right alliance the Millenium Falcons could have a chance of reaching their first Championship event.
FIRST STEAMworks marks an occurrence that has not happened in some time in the inland Northeast – three competitions are all on the same weekend (Finger Lakes, Pittsburgh, and Tech Valley). With many newcomers and fewer veteran repeats, this overlapping schedule greatly changed the landscape and dynamics of how these three competitions will play out.
Looking at FLR, most of the core group still remains and is looking to prove that New York is the next powerhouse region. Two neighboring teams and good friends are looking to take FLR by storm. 3015 is looking to repeat their Einstein appearance last year and is coming to the competition with their best robot so far (including accurate high boiler scoring). 340’s reveal video, showcasing their sleek gear scoring and climbing systems, has already earned them praise for their strategic design. The combination could be deadly if partnered together for playoffs, especially since they practice together regularly. Looking to outdo the partnership is 1405. Their Einstein appearance last year (partnered with 3015) was perhaps the most visible display of effective courtyard defense in Stronghold. This year, Finney looks to fly above the competition with what they hope is a primarily offensive machine, but with a powerful drivetrain that can certainly stand up to defensive pressure. 1559 is one of the very few teams at FLR that has already played this year. Making it to the semifinals as part of the second alliance in Miami Valley, they will use their knowledge and skill of the game (and practice with 3015 & 340) to be in the mix.
Flying under the radar, but looking to be in the hunt, this year are the usual suspects. 1126 had great success in 2006 (reaching Einstein) with a previous “unlimited” ball launching game, and will look towards their lessons learned to win this year. 191, 1511, 3003, and 5254 are also in the mix to be a solid presence to quickly do cycles.
While the explosive growth in Michigan has diluted the talent pool at each individual district event, you wouldn’t be able to guess that by looking at the top teams in Waterford. This event will play host to a bevy of strong teams, some of which faced off two weeks ago in Southfield. 33 is the obvious headliner from the Southfield group, with a machine that’s capable of scoring gears and fuel at a very high level. The Bees stormed thru their week one competition, winning as the #1 seed and compiling a 17-2 record along the way. A pair of other noteworthy Michiganders in 67 and 548 fell to the Bees in the semi-finals, and both will be looking to improve upon their robot’s performance and their final results in their second outings. 2137 and 1701 clashed in the quarters in Southfield, and both should be factors once again this weekend.
However, expect plenty of top teams who weren’t present in Southfield, either competing elsewhere or unbagging for the first time. 27 reached the finals in Duluth, but did so as the second round selection of the 4th seeded alliance, often taking on a defensive role. RUSH will be looking for more consistent offensive production from their dual turrets and intake-mounted gear mechanism this weekend. 1718 and 3539 might not have the national reputation of some of Michigan’s Hall of Famers, but both Fighting Pi and the Byting Bulldogs have quite a reputation in their home state. Both will be unbagging their machines for the first time this weekend.
Despite the crowd of top teams at the event, the depth of the field will be tested. A full twenty of the forty teams in attendance have team numbers 5000 or higher. Among those, most are either competing for the first time this season, or failed to reach the playoffs at their opening event. Only four of those teams managed to reach the eliminations. While 5467 had the deepest run of the bunch (Southfield finals), they did so as a second round selection. 6117 and 5561 were each alliance captains at Kettering #1. Determining a winner in Waterford may ultimately fall on some of these younger teams to execute some make-or-break scaling moments in the playoffs.
Powerhouses Unbagging for the First Time in 2017 – 111, 1625, 2169, 2826
Showed Promise at Previous Outing – 2481, 4143
Hometown Heroes – 1736, 1756, 2081
High Profile Visitors – 217, 359
Ohio Contenders – 2252, 4028
Trying to Keep Hardware in PA – 291, 3260
Looking to start a new streak – 118
Already been deep in playoffs – 1477, 3847, 5417
Quick ground gear pickups – 231, 2582
Perennial Favorites – 20, 3990
Has Won Their Second Event each Year since 2011 – 195
Still Seeking their First Banner – 2791
Rising Stars – 333, 5236, 5240, 6300
Local Contenders – 1493, 3044
Elite Debuts – 254, 971
Younger Teams Gearing Up from the Ground – 5499, 5940
KISS – 604, 1726, 4904
Ambitious Young Team – 5924
Southern Cross Champs – 1772, 4613
Looking for Redemption after SF Red Card – 5985, 6579
Seeking a Spot on the #1 Alliance – 3132, 4253, 5331
Two Gear Autonomous – 5818
Moving Up from FTC – 6550
Have Yet to Play STEAMWorks – 36/42 Teams
Potential Contenders – 8, 1138, 2576
Hometown Favorites – 2363
Tuning Up for Raleigh – 435
Defending Champs Making their Debut – 5546
Trying to Lock Up a Spot at CHS CMP- 401, 620, 1610, 3359
Already Have Steamworks Experience – 32/40 Teams
Looking for Deeper Playoff Runs – 836, 1111, 1418, 1895, 3793
Silver Medals in First Outings – 623, 2849, 5338
Favorites – 245, 894
In the Mix – 857, 2586, 439
Locking up MSC Invites – 1025, 3538
Contender Debuts – 51, 1711, 2075, 3618
Rising Stars – 5505
Looking for a Second Blue Banner – 4327
Among the few playing their first event – 858, 910, 2834
Smoking Hot Contender – 3656
Missing the Playoffs – Only Three Teams
Still Need to Lock Up DCMP Slots – 1690, 2630, 3339
Already Earned Silver – 5614, 5747
NE Powerhouse Fresh off a Win – 2168
Fuel Duel in the MO Finals – 303, 747
Gear Cycling Favorites – 834, 1257
Looking to improve in their second outings – 219, 1279, 1676, 1989, 4954
Swerved to Their First Win Since 2008 – 103
Gearing Up for Success – 486, 3974, 4342
Airship and Boiler Threats – 341, 708, 2590
2017 Debut – 225
Interdistrict Rookie Sensations – 6334
Aiming for a Third Straight Week in the Finals – 587
Building on Early Season Success – 1533, 3506, 5511, 5854
Fuel Focused – 125, 230
World Class Gears – 5687, 95
Improvements in place – 238, 2067
2016 NEDCMP and Carver Finalists – 133
Looking for a repeat – 1058, 319, 6161
Young Guns To Watch – 5962, 6324
Teams That Won’t Be Playing in Eliminations – Only Three
Contender Debuts – 4039, 5406
Durham Champs – 4939
Already Saw Steamworks Elimination Action – 1075, 1305, 5076, 5428, 5719
Local Power Trying to Make a Turnaround – 1983, 2046
West Valley Winners – 1595, 5920, 6076
DCMP Bubble – 2923, 4125, 4608, 5942
Gunning for their First Banner – 4104, 4450, 4513
Emerging PNW Powerhouse – 5803
Trying to Rebound After Missing DCMP in 2016 – 488, 948
Contenders – 3238, 3663
Trying to Lock Down DCMP Slots – 360, 2907, 4911