With three weeks of competitions of competition in the books, STEAMworks is taking shape as we head into week four. Week three saw the continued growth of the seeds of high boiler scoring planted in week two. While the vast majority of playoff alliances are predominantly gear focused during tele-op, we’re seeing the growth of shooting (particularly in autonomous) being used to find an edge. Only a couple (if any) teams at each event are really capable of scoring enough fuel to make it a central component of their tele-operated game play, and it typically requires the rare talent of being able to flirt with the 40kPa threshold in autonomous for it to be worth selecting fuel over gears. But those truly elite shooters have now demonstrated the impact they can have on the game, and the kind of ranking advantage they can generate in qualifications. Ten teams have put up RP averages above 2.0 (with 4613 doing it twice, and flirting with 3.0 in their latest event). While there’s still more meta shifting events ahead of us (particularly once the top flight shooters start congregating together at the same events), we’re seeing the development of game play where both fuel and rotors matter at the higher levels. As a result, we’re starting to see increasing amounts of defensive attention turned towards fuel, rather than just obstructing traffic in and out of the loading station.
In individual matches, getting that fourth rotor remains the ultimate trump card in eliminations. But a single match does not win an event. An increasing number of alliances have demonstrated brilliant gear running in one or two matches, only to be bounced out of the playoffs short of victory because they couldn’t produce those results consistently. In virtually every season, the elimination rounds are marathon more than sprint, but it seems this is doubly true this year. Winning events is much more about keeping autonomous scoring tuned, inspecting and maintaining rope integrity, avoiding costly technical fouls, and surviving the deluge of game pieces and competing traffic patterns of STEAMworks. Having the potential to complete four rotors when everyone is on top of their game doesn’t mean much if opposing defense or game pieces can throw a team off of their game.
Week four should play fairly similarly to what we saw in week three (save perhaps the 2v3 heroics in San Francisco). There is a solid blend of teams playing for the second (or third!) time this weekend with those preparing for their debut performances. The veterans will be looking to refine their game play further, and perhaps fully utilize some features that they couldn’t really show off earlier in the season. Some of the first time unbaggers will be at a disadvantage because of this, but many are in the company of plenty of other first time competitors (such as in Montreal, Waterloo and Hudson Valley). Towards the end of the week (and practically week 5), we will see our first glimpse of District Championship play in Israel, where every team will have played at least twice before and some of the world’s leading fuelers will be taking the field.
With Northern California’s regional splits between the Central Valley/Sacramento crowd and the Silicon Valley/San Francisco crowd, it’s no surprise that many in Davis faced off two weeks back in Madera. That familiarity and experience with STEAMworks should lead to an exciting 57-team event this weekend. 1678 has yet to demonstrate the 2 gear or gear and kPa autos in their videos, they still won CVR with a strong gear, fuel, and climbing robot. Their CVR alliance partner, 1323, will also be looking to take home a second banner. On the other hand, 973 and 1072 were defeated in semis by Citrus Circuit’s alliance, and are still looking for a ticket to champs. Greybots missed the #1 seed by just one climb, but when at their best, could beat Citrus at the fuel/gear hybrid cycle game. Their first pick, Harker Robotics, was one of the strongest human player gear robots, capable of notching 4 or 5 gears on the lifts before their rope ascent. 1671 will be looking to iron out the bugs in their machine and improve their second round pick selection.
These CVR alliances will have competition though. 2073 won their first regional at Utah by pairing up with the High Rollers on the #3 alliance after some scorched Earth picking by the #2 captain. Don’t interpret that to mean EagleForce was a slouch, as they’re a threat in virtually every aspect of STEAMworks. 2073 opens matches with a lightning quick center peg score, followed by a dash to the boiler to score high in autonomous. Combined with their reasonably quick hang and ability to collect gears from the carpet, it was no fluke that EagleForce won their first banner. 701 will aim to hang in there with their quick cycle, grounding loading machine (and potentially innovative human player feeding method). Likewise, 649 will also be unbagging for the first time this weekend. Each of 1458 and 5924 had solid outing in SF, with the former earning the 6th seed and the latter’s #8 alliance giving the top seeds closer of a run than any other alliance in quarterfinal 1. With the amount of talent at the event (and the amount of teams already qualified), for many it will be a battle simply to get to the finals in order to earn a wild card invitation.
Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the north, Southern California is also hosting a massive 60-team event this weekend in Long Beach, featuring multiple previous world champions, 2016 Einstein veterans, and a member of the FRC Hall of Fame. Most FIRST spectators will be waiting on the reveal of the new robot from the 2016 Champions of the world, 330. Dating back to 2001 (when the even was founded as the Southern California regional), the Beach Bots have won this event seven times and been a finalist another five times. Fellow former world champions 294 have also taken away five silver medals from this event in the past, although they’ve only punched thru for a win twice. However, Beach Cities Robotics will have to improve upon their second round selection and quarterfinal exit at CVR if they want to figure into the plans of a top seeded alliance. Similarly, 3309, 2486, and defending LA champs 1197 will be aiming to improve upon quarterfinal exists at Arizona North. The TorBots have a history of improving at their second event, with significant jumps in each of 2015 and 2016 resulting in trips to the finals as alliance captain in LA. However, the TorBots are the only one of that trio not to already have their tickets to Houston punched, as the Friarbots picked up Chairman’s and the CocoNuts won Engineering Inspiration.
3512 also has a Championship invite locked down, but did so via wildcard as the top seeded gear specialist captain of the finalist #1 alliance in Ventura last weekend. 2637 wasn’t quite as fortunate with the wild card spots in San Diego, where they lost in the finals by a combined eight points as a member of the #8 alliance. The Phantom Catz will be looking to once again find the right 1-2-3 punch alliance to spur them deep into the playoffs and earn a Championship invite either this weekend or in Las Vegas. CVR’s top seed 2761 was narrowly edged by five fuel points in their fourth quarter-final match. While it will be difficult to claim the top seed again, IronHorse is hoping to cycle gears to a deeper playoff run this outing. With this much experience in the field, seeing how the first performances of teams like 696, 3880, and 4201 stack up.
With a full field of 40 teams and plenty of experience under their belt, much of the Washington side of the Pacific Northwest is gathering together at Glacier Peak High School to duke it out. Only a couple of competitors haven’t competed at least once. A handful of teams, like 1983, 4911, and event favorites 5803, are competing for the third time this season. Apex already took home gold medals from the #1 alliance at each of their previous events, playing as a strong gear specialist with a quick hang. There’s no doubt that Apex could stand out as one of the best teams at this event with that role, but without district points on the line, they are likely to go more experimental and try and bring their shooting mechanism into play.
Plenty of strong competitors still have DCMP points on the line, however. 3663 lost to Apex in the Mount Vernon finals last week, narrowly besting 2928 by a 309-305 margin in the semi-finals to get there. Both teams are likely to be in the hunt for a high seeded alliance once again. 4915 is perhaps the most proven shooter in Washington, seeding #1 en route to winning Auburn Mountainview back in week 1. Spartan Robotics isn’t too shabby with gears either, but with shooting taking on a greater role as the season progresses, their experience in launching fuel could give them a leg up (especially if they can increase their rate of fire). 4469, 5588, and 4681 teamed up together to take the #7 alliance to the finals at Auburn Mountainview (where they fell to Apex and Spartan), besting the #2 seed 2930 in the quarter-finals in the process. While none of those teams may dominate individually, they can all contribute valuable gears and consistent hangs that an alliance requires to run deep. Along with 2557 and 1778, they are currently on the good side of the DCMP bubble, but each of these teams will be looking for another solid outing in order to lock in their spot at the district championship.
Like many other areas, CHS play has been dominated by gear running and hanging. With many of Virginia’s best teams assembling outside of Richmond this weekend, don’t expect that to change (although someone may need to reach into their bag of tricks to pull out an edge). With this many gear runners, don’t be surprised if a couple of elimination alliances put up quad-rotor matches. Perhaps chief among these gear masters is 1885, who finally broke through for their first event win in team history in Bethesda two weeks back. ILITE’s ground pick-up and swift hang should help them stand out from the field, but they aren’t the only proven winners here. 384 and 1731 teamed up to take gold at the event hosted by 1885 back in week 1, and still remain the most consistent alliance in CHS at reaching the 305+ point plateau. 540 also took home gold in week 1, as the #1 alliance captain in Blacksburg.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the teams already with gold medals are the only contenders, as there are plenty of hungry teams trying to punch their ticket to district championship and beyond. Event hosts and defending world champions 1086 are in comfortable point position to reach DCMP after reaching the finals in Southwest Virginia, but will be looking to add a blue banner in one fashion or another this weekend. Speedy gear running rookies 6334 captained the #7 alliance in Haymarket, but upgraded that for the #3 alliance captainship and a finalist run last week in North Carolina. 346 and 5950 each already proved worthy of being on the #2 alliance, and are looking safe to reach DCMP, but would want to lock their positions with another strong showing. 1262’s ground loading and modest fuel ability may help them stand out among a herd of other capable gear scoring teams fighting for an invite to CHS champs, including 5546, 5279 and fellow ground loaders (when necessary) 1080.
After Chief Delphi declared that fuel points are dead in week one, it was Israel who answered the call with week 1.5 action. 1574 soared to a top seeded victory in Haifa on the backs of 40 kPa autonomous modes. A week later MisCar backed up that win with another top seed (2.3 average ranking score), district victory, and a Chairman’s Award in Tel-Aviv. After a slow start at their first event, 1690 responded with a resounding performance in the 4th ISR district event. Despite a mere 6-4 record in qualifications, Orbit earned the #1 seed with a 2.0 ranking score thanks to 407 pressure built. With assistance from ulta-swift gear cyclers 1937 (who they partnered with twice this year), they put up a massive 491 point match, achieving 4 rotors and hitting the 40kPa threshold. Ultimately their run ended one match later, as missed hangs sent the #1 alliance home in the semi-finals. Despite their lack of banners, Orbit stands shoulder to shoulder with MisCar as some of the best fuel scoring teams on the planet. And with their sleek ground collector for gears, Orbit may have more overall utility. The race for the #1 seed at the Israel District Championship should be terrific. But unless one of these teams truly pulls some amazing tricks out of their hat to coordinate both teams popping hoppers, their autonomous modes may not be well suited to pair up. It will be interesting to see if the top seed opts for a pure gear team to help round out their alliance, or they select the other fuel master to remove their biggest threat from the field.
The strength of the Israel district is not just the biggest names at the top of the field. The depth this year has been impressive, and any pure merit event like a district championship is bound to be incredibly competitive. Numerous teams will vie to stand out among the more gear-focused crowd. 2230 and 4320 each earned the top selection from MisCar once this season, and were a first round selection at their other event (with The Joker even reaching the finals). The appropriately named 1577 found plenty of success as a gear specialist, with one victory and one finalist appearance. Like 3339, SteamPunk has the ability to acquire gears from the floor, but they also boast very good ability to cycle back to their feeding station. 3211 and 4590 both feature the ability to pot a few points of fuel in the high efficiency boiler during autonomous, and can use that as a factor to help distinguish themselves from the host of other primarily gear-focused teams like 4338, 1943, and 5614. Regardless of who emerges with banners, the depth of the ISR district will shine through as the battle for acquiring enough points to reach Championship plays out.
Going for a Second Regional Win- 180, 1319, 1706
Looking to get to Houston- 79, 179, 4451
On the bubble- 343, 1369, 1758, 2386
Gunning for a Threepeat – 1619
Colorado Contenders- 159, 662, 1339
The Out of Towners- 399, 1011, 3005, 4153, 4183
Number of teams over 6,000- Zero
Early Pick, Early Upset Previously- 525, 2410
Contender Debuts – 967, 3928, 4536
Building Off Strong Starts – 876, 1987, 2512, 3528, 4329
Rookies – Eleven
Gear Specialist – 1730, 2992, 4592
Always in the Hunt – 456, 3478, 3937, 4587
Not to be Overlooked – 364, 3039
Looking for Blue – 3284
3rd Ranked Finalists followed by Missing Playoffs – 4522
Opening Day – 1806, 3593
Preparing to Go Far – 932, 2341, 2352, 3507, 3160
Won in Two Prior Trips to Montreal – 2590
Quebecois Powerhouses – 3360, 3990
Won Events as a 2nd Round Selection- 5526, 5952
Ambitious Younger Crop Establishing Themselves – 5528, 5618, 5910
Mission: Second blue banner – 48, 3824
Hungry for a win – 63, 108, 744, 801, 1287,1876
Dont overlook – 2393, 2641, 4020,
Fun fact – 21 out of 48 teams competing are taking their robot out of the bag for the first time.
Top Tier Blue Banner Brothers – 1732, 2220, 3130
Expecting a Strong Debut – 1306, 2062, 2194
Striving for Redemption – 706, 1259, 1675, 2202
Why Not? – 3419
NYC Contenders Getting Warmed Up – 395, 1155, 1796
Visiting from MAR – 303, 1923, 3314
Favorites – 20, 1156
The Reason FRC Will Have a Max Character Count on the Name Field Next Year – 6504
Effective Gear Runners – 449, 2537, 4514, 5945
Trending Up – 619
Aiming for double blue – 5053, 6618
Gunning for their first win – 1023, 1481, 5915
Late debuts – 226, 280, 5050, 5907
Silvers so Far – 4216, 5205, 5114
Some West Siders – 2771, 3234, 3357, 2474
Some East Siders – 70, 494, 2611
From Underwater to Steam – 6591
Hometown Favorite – 2619
Not the usual suspects – 3770, 5166, 6753
Only teams under 2K – 703, 1506
Likely to pair up – 85, 2054, 3546, 3620
Likely improved since their first event – 107, 1918
Grabbed gold from the lower seeds in past weeks – 4003, 5675
Dark Horses- 4325, 5980
In the hunt for the #1 seed – 71, 1018, 4272
Going for blue banner #2 – 234
Here to spoil the District Rankings – 1501, 3940
Up and Coming – 5484
Working Out the Kinks – 1640, 5895
Proven Gear Runners – 293, 2607, 4750
Ground Loaders – 272, 316, 708, 1218
Top Guns – 219, 365
Trying to Play a Fuel Game – 900
Third Play for this Ground Loader – 2059
Gear Cyclers – 435, 2642, 3196, 3737, 4561
Rookies or Sophomores – 12/33 Teams
All Gears, All the Time – 95
Hoping to Bounce Back from Missing Eliminations – 1735, 3467
Rookie Stand-outs – 6328
Veteran Contenders – 131, 138, 213, 501, 716
Bringing the Heat – 125, 2168
Making Changes and Gearing up – 78, 176
Looking to Shake Things Up – 1099, 1124, 1153, 1768
Playing for Richard – 781
Not Going to Slip in Alliance Selection this Time – 4946
Sibling Rivalries – 1241/1285, 1334/1374
Needs a Good Showing to reach DCMP – 2013, 299
Einstein Debuts – 2056, 4678
Yet to Play STEAMworks – 27/32 teams
Still Have Work to Do for DCMP – 4476
Different Paths to the #1 Alliance – 1114, 4525
Hunting for a Fourth Blue Banner – 2974
Houston We are Clear for a Win – 4188, 4941
Trying to Rack Up District Points – 1771, 3635, 4189
Early Pick, Early Exits in Wilsonville – 1425, 4488
Wilsonville Winners – 2550, 2990, 5198
Trying to Break Up the Wilsonville Rehash – 2374, 5468