Predictions Week Five: Taking Flight

Looking Forward 2017 Week Five – Taking Flight

For many areas, STEAMworks is nearing maturity. While some events have yet to see fuel breakthroughs, at many others 305 is no longer a sufficient score in the playoffs. In some cases, such as Iowa and Lansing, even 445 wasn’t sufficient to guarantee escaping the semi-finals. We saw the averaging winning playoff score rise to 330.59 points in week four, driven largely by the massive spike in rotor 4 engagements (which more than tripled from 3.9% in week three to 13.5% this past weekend). Average fuel points in the playoffs actually fell ever so slightly in week four (4.89 vs 4.97 in week three), but the impact of those fuel points was subjectively on the rise, as their role as an important tie-breaker is taking hold. Given the tiered nature or rotor and end-game points, many alliances are now looking for small edges presented in the more linear fuel scoring (particularly during the first fifteen seconds) to help them find the edge.

While most events won’t see the 40kPa threshold achieved by any teams or alliances, the events that do have a chance to play a significantly different metagame than elsewhere. So long as they prevent the opponent from hitting that 100 point bonus for the final rotor, these spectacular fuel shooters have proven they can outgun rotor or sometimes even hang deficits, opening avenues of strategic possibility that simply aren’t available to most alliances. Gear alliances have answers left for them, and the Waterloo finals replays demonstrated that hitting that second autonomous rotor can offset the points bonus for the opponent hitting 40kPa. As we enter the finals weeks of the regional season and into District Championship territory, the interplay between the growth of four rotor capability and these boiler bonus bots will be a topic to watch closely. Even more so will be when enough high efficiency shooters congregate at the same event to see them matched against one another in the playoffs. We’re already seeing that in Israel, as each of the top two alliances have high impact hopper autonomous modes, and have the potential to see it elsewhere in places like Silicon Valley, Midwest, and East Kentwood this weekend.

Midwest Regional

Given that Midwest is the oldest sustaining event in FRC, it’s obviously hard to match the history of the event. But the STEAMworks chapter of Midwest should stand out among the best of them. The roster is stacked. All eyes will be on 1986 and their boiler busting autonomous mode. Titanium’s 40kPa machine was stopped short of the finals by a 4 rotor alliance in the semis, marking the first time 1986 failed to reach the finals at a regional since 2011. Titanium will be looking to correct that in Chicago, but will have to get past 16, 2451, and 3620 to do so. Each of those teams have proved themselves as fast and furious gear scoring machines capable of earning gold medals at their first (with the Joes backing that up with a finalist appearance at their second). While just matching previous efforts will make these teams top contenders, if the Bomb Squad or PWNAGE can dial in their hopper autonomous modes, there’s a chance we could see some high-end fuel duels.

Midwest will also be a reunion of the Central Illinois Regional, as a number of strong competitors duked it out in Peoria. 2016 Rookie All-Stars 5847 punched their return ticket to Championship via wild card by captaining the #2 alliance to the finals at CIR. 1625 captained the #5 alliance to the semi-finals, and have a capable gear scoring robot that would rack up some low goal points on occasions. Fuel, regardless of where it’s scored, can break ties, but one has to imagine that Winnovation’s odds will go up when their shooter works well enough they can consistently score high. 111 and 2338 are two of the most recognizable names from the CIR list, and the two paired up with 4655 at the event. However, that #8 alliance was steamrolled by the top alliance, including to the tune of 506 points in the second match. Wildstang hasn’t won an event since they lost their build space in 2014, and Gear it Forward will have some stiff competition standing between them and extending their finals streak to four years. Teams like 1736, 1756, and 5822 don’t have quite the name recognition outside of Illinois, but should be strong competitors looking for a 1-2-3 punch alliance that can earn them a ticket to Championship.

Yet there’s plenty more strong contenders with homes outside of Illinois. 1939 and 1288 paired up to reach the finals at the St. Louis regional, and will be aiming to bring hardware back to Missouri. Ohio’s 144 earned the top seed in Miami Valley. 1511 and 1405 from New York will both push hard to be selected into eliminations. Minnesota’s 2526 will be looking to increase their contributions even further in order to match their 6th seed at Lake Superior. With fifty-three teams total and this many really solid scoring machines, some quality teams are going to be left on the outside of the elimination tournament.

 

FIM District – Troy Event

Some of the most historic names in Michigan are taking the field in Troy this weekend, set on restoring their place among the top teams in the state. After missing MSC for the first time last season, 469 turned the tables at Center Line this year, with a much more familiar result (#1 seed and winner). Las Guerillas finished the event with a pressure score of literally zero, and will have to reduce their time at the pegs to be a world class gear runner, but their consistent scoring made them the team to beat in their first outing. 217 opened their bag in Greaters Pittsburgh, seeding 3rd and reaching the semi-finals on the #2 alliance. The Thunder Chickens boast a slew of high-end robot features, with a hopper-popping autonomous mode, slippery drivetrain, and floor acquisition of gears. They also have one of the weirdest wins of any team this season, overcoming a three climb deficit in their second quarter-final match in Pittsburgh thanks to the fourth rotor and an autonomous advantage. Despite these giant names, it may actually be 2960 who’s the favorite at the event. Automation Nation’s effective gear scoring machine emerged with gold from both Southfield and St. Joseph (Indiana), and should be among the best gear scorers once again.

There’s plenty of other teams with realistic aspirations of breaking up the top competitors. 1718, 3098, and 3539 will each be in the mix, but have work left to do to fully realize their robot’s potential. 2337 was beginning to round into form in Kettering #2, and three additional weeks of work may have proven enough time to get their shooter dialed in. Like Las Gueriallas, 910 and 2851 were watching MSC from home last season. Foley Freeze did qualify for St. Louis via other means (and were one match away from joining the Thunder Chickens on Einstein). 910 tasted victory much earlier this season, albeit as the second pick of the #7 alliance at Gull Lake. Crevolution will be taking their robot out of the bag for the first time this year. Like the Fighting Pi, 245 and 226 each locked up their MSC tickets via the Chairman’s Award. But both teams also showed themselves capable of seeding well, and should be factors on the field once more. While the majority of contenders in Troy have been participating in FRC for quite some time, 5460, 5048 and 4961 will be among the younger competitors trying to bring home some awards.

 

NE District – Hartford Event

We haven’t seen a competition in the Constitution State since way back week one at Waterbury, and the team list is strikingly similar. This overlap will provide an interesting comparison of how the game has evolved and how the locals have progressed. With this weekend being the last before the NEDCMP a large number of the teams are going to be pushing hard to rack up points to qualify. The depth of this event will go further to make for some really interesting alliances in the 3-6 ranks where an all gear alliance has the potential to take down a boiler/gear alliance. No team has a bigger spotlight (or target) on them then the Cyberknights. With a consistent 40kPa autonomous, 195 has proven they can rank with the best but have fallen in the eliminations at both of their events. Will their strong shooting lead to improvement as the metagame around them has evolved? While 177 hasn’t been at their prime for a few seasons, at Waterbury they were a quick and effective gear runner/climber. Rumor has it they’ve been developing a shooter between events. 3464 came out on top of the pack at the end of qualifications at Waterbury showing that a simple machine and smart play can win in STEAMworks, can Sim-City keep up the momentum? While they had some flashes of excellence, 228’s lack of consistency at Waterbury ultimately doomed their efforts for a blue banner. Will a new roller gear pickup, hanging mechanism, and shooting autonomous turn things around for GUS?

The Gaelhawks started the season out with a well rounded machine that could shoot and run gears and have improved it at each event. If 230 can continue this trend and pick up the pace they could be a team capable of flirting with 40kPa. The Techno Ticks came out strong with gears and climb to win Waterbury, can 236 back it up with another strong showing here at Hartford? At Waterbury 558 struggled all through the qualification matched with electrical problems but came alive in elims after stripping off nearly half their machine. As a team with no fear of change they’ve gone and done a full redesign again with hopes to qualify for NEDCMP. Word has is that the MechaRams have spent the time between events refining their machine and improving gear cycle times. Pair that practice time with a simple and consistent gear and climb and 999 may find themselves playing deep into eliminations on Sunday. 1991 put together good looking fuel machine and made a run at their first event, if they have stayed fuel focused, this may be the week for it to pay off. 2067 has been performing well in qualifications, seeding 2nd and 4th at their two events, but hasn’t made it to the finals yet. Keep your eye on Apple Pie to shake things up this weekend. 2170 built the low goaler/feeder that could. Will improvements to their gear release, auton, and lots of drive practice be enough to up their performance to get them the points they need to move on. The district system has had a positive effect on the middle pack of teams in NE. 181 and 4557 are both gear and climb bots bot have achieved darkhorse (darkbird?) status as they continue to improve. Birds of Prey kept it simple and ended up with their first blue banner since 2012. The Full Metal Falcons have a unique floor pickup and have a been dialing in their auto shooter as well as improvements to their climbing system.

 

MAR District – Montgomery Event

Montgomery High School played host to the Monty Madness off-season for more than a decade, before making the switch to official district event host in 2016. The second edition of the Montgomery district has been heralded as MAR’s strongest even before the season began, given the mean and average district points of the competitors’ 2016 entries sitting at a whopping 97.5 and 102 points respectively. But the 38 entrants in Montgomery have lived up to the billing so far in 2017. Four teams will be bringing five Champions banners into the event, and three more teams (and one of those winners) already have finalist medals on their STEAMworks resume. Even outside that prestigious group, another seven teams have been an alliance captain or first round pick of a top 3 seeded alliance in previous plays. Between out-of-district plays and 3rd plays within MAR, nearly one third of the teams will be competing for their third or fourth time this season. Monty is poised to be a very deep, very experienced, and very competitive competition.

In terms of bling, it’s hard to beat what 303 is bringing into the event. The TEST team double-bannered at Mount Olive, won Bridgewater-Raritan as the top pick, and reached the finals at the Hudson Valley Regional last weekend. While they were stymied by a missed hang and 4 rotor match from their opposition in the finals in Suffern last weekend, 303’s rapid gear cycling and ability to accurately shoot fuel if left in front of the boiler makes them ideally suited for playing 3-rotor style matches (they haven’t scored lower than 259 in the playoff match all year), and it’s no mistake they haven’t lasted beyond the second overall pick at any of their three events so far this year. 303 hasn’t been tested by a top flight fuel scorer so far this season, but 225 could present them that challenge in Monty. TechFire had a bit of an inauspicious (for their standards) start to Springside, but closed out qualifications with four straight 40kPa matches to lock in the #1 seed. However, 225 was dealt a swift defeat in the quarter-finals, as their fuel-centric strategy failed to either get the kPa bonus points or start the third rotor, and the 8th seeded alliance advanced past them in two matches. That loss was TechFire’s first time failing to take home a banner from a MAR event since 2014. With two more weeks of refinement under their belt, 225 will be hoping to start a new winning streak this weekend. 25 ended an opposite streak at Mount Olive, picking up their twentieth blue banner in team history, but first since 2012. While it may be hard to stand out in the deep crowd of gear runners, Raider Robotix’ consistency helped them earn the second seed and victory in Mount Olive. A similar performance, perhaps with some quicker spooling on their hanger and some more autonomous routines reaching competition-ready status, could have a similar result in Monty. 222 ranked just behind 25 at Mount Olive, and was picked just ahead of them. The Tigertrons’ snap release to the back of the peg and autonomous maneuvering towards the neutral zone were among the relatively small refinements that helped them shave seconds off their cycle times and stand out as a top cycler at the event. Failed scales ultimately cost them winnable matches in the semi-finals, but the Tigertrons will be right in the hunt this weekend as they look to grab their first banner since 2013.

It isn’t just the top teams that will make Monty a great event, but the depth of the field as well. 102 and 1923 played secondary roles as the 23rd picks in gold medal winning alliances earlier in the season, and displayed growth in their second outings. Both contributed defense and some timely gears and hangs to contribute to their alliances’ wins (with the MidKnight Inventors’ ability to center hang freeing 25 to hang on their preferred side rope), and developed into gear cycling alliance captains afterwards. The Gearheads (along with 1403) pulled off the upset of the #2 alliance, led by consistent gear cycler 56, at Bridgewater. MidKnight captained the #6 alliance at Hudson Valley, but ultimately didn’t have an answer for the fuel points contributed by 3314’s autonomous scoring, as they narrowly lost by a 307-305 margin in the third match of the quarterfinals. 75, 1279, 1391, and 4954 all boast the ability to acquire gears from the floor (with 4637 looking to add it), which is a relatively rare feature at this event (and certainly when compared to the Pennsylvania side of MAR). Palindrome will need to prove their value with ground loading the most, as they’re in dire straights to reach MAR Championship with only 15 points earned at Bridgewater after they (along with partners 1676) were knocked out by the eventual finalists. By contrast the RoboRaiders took home two silver medals from Mount Olive, while Metal Moose and Cold Fusion are playing their third MAR events. Moose is likely the best of the bunch, with a strong penchant for thieving gears from the opposing loading zone and a fuel scoring autonomous mode that helped them earn the top seed in Seneca. The depth of the event could make the playoffs unpredictable, especially given the potential for multiple alliances capable of spinning up the fourth rotor likely to form. Expect some intense defense and close matches, especially when one alliance feels they can create an edge with fuel.

 

FIRST North Carolina State Championship

Thirty-two of North Carolina’s top competitors are gathering at Campbell University to settle who has the right to call themselves state Champions. The event should be a strong mix of North Carolina’s younger bucks and well established contenders. STEAMworks in North Carolina has been dominated by gear running and increasingly consistent hanging ability, and this dynamic has led to some impressive victories for the younger generation of teams. 5190, 5544, and 5511 have each taken home a blue banner this year (with Green Hope and Cortechs also picking up a silver), establishing themselves among the top gear runners in the state in the process. Even some veteran teams have found new levels of success. 587’s simple gear running machine is arguably their best in quite a while, picking up a win just north of the border in Blacksburg, Virginia before earning two early selections from Triple Strange back in North Carolina. The Hedgehogs were also involved in each of the first three of North Carolina’s 4-rotor matches. 3737’s mecanum driven, tall configuration gear runner also tasted victory in week one, the first time they’ve taken home a win in team history. Similarly 3196 picked up their first ever blue banners (both of them!) in Greensboro, and then followed it up with a finalist run in Raleigh. With the possibility of a high goal boiler autonomous, SPORK may have an edge over some of the other gear specialists heading into Campbell (especially if they can get the cross points afterwards).

Don’t take that to mean North Carolina’s established contenders don’t have a chance. 2642 sits atop the NC rankings after picking up two wins from the #1 alliance and a Chairman’s banner on top of that. The Pitt Pirates are undoubtedly one of the most proven competitors heading into state champs, and they have untapped upside beyond that (especially if they can get their side peg and boiler scoring autonomous routine fully operational). Other veterans will be looking to find more out of their machines, and with everyone at this event having two (or three) events under their belt already, having that additional potential is important. It took three tries for 1533 to emerge with their first banner last year, but Triple Strange ended up taking home gold at state champs. With their swerve drive and ground pick-up, they’ll be looking to defend their title and claim their first victory of 2017 after a pair of high ranking events. 900 stands out as a wild card, as the predominantly fuel focused machine. They have yet to escape the quarter-finals at an event and don’t provide much utility beyond scoring balls, but they did manage to top 40kPa twice in Raleigh. If the Zebracorns can keep improving their rope acquisition, they could be an X-Factor in 3 rotor battles. Other teams will be hoping to push the fourth rotor more frequently into the conversation (it only happened seven times in the four district qualifier events). Gear cyclers like 435, 4561, 4935 and 3506 along with ground loaders 2059 will each try and find their way onto alliances capable of earning the 100 point bonus in the playoffs.

 

Orange County Regional

Making Fuel Matter – 3309

Looking to Make Gears Matter More – 597, 3925, 4276

Hoping to Rebound – 3476

Robot Debuts – 24 teams

 

Silicon Valley Regional

Wild Card Generators – 12/60 Teams

Dynamic Fuel Scorers – 254, 971

Successful Gear Teams – 115, 199, 604, 846, 2468

Building on Early Promise – 8, 4904, 6036

 

Hawaii Regional

Local Legends – 359

Taiwanese Contenders Looking for Repeat Finals – 4253

First Unbag – 368, 2090, 2438, 2439

Aussie Powerhouses – 3132

 

Idaho Regional

California Contenders – 399, 701, 3256, 5499

Utah Usurpers – 3230, 3245

Arizona Aces – 2486

Home State Heroes – 2122

 

Laguna Regional

Fuel Shooting Favorites – 3478

Houston Tickets Punched – 3158, 4635

Rookie or Second Year – 17 of 35 teams

Trying to Build off STEAMworks Experience – 2283, 3472, 4603, 4735

 

SBPLI Long Island Regional

Building off FLR Debuts – 271, 870, 5254

Upset Early at HVR – 1796

Solid Starts – 263, 358, 1156, 1635

HVR Champs – 2601

 

Buckeye Regional

Earned CMP Tickets at Finger Lakes – 340, 1507, 3015

Trying to Win Their First Banner Since their Rookie Year – 4028

Solid Starts – 379, 2614, 3003, 4050

 

Brazos Valley Regional

In an “Arms” Race at Brazos – 3310, 2848, 1817

Looking to improve on finals performance – 3997,6133

In the hunt – 1296, 5431

 

Lone Star North Regional

Hometown Heroes – 624, 1477

Determined for a win – 148, 2992, 5842

Hoping to shift into high gear – 231, 1255, 3735, 5417

 

FIM District – Howell Event

The Hall-of-Fame Favorites – 27, 51

Need a huge bounce back after their first district – 4384, 3641, 4362, 3536

Silvers Medalists Looking for Gold – 2384, 302, 2145

8th seed champs – 2612

 

FIM District – East Kentwood Event

Upset Champions – 1243, 141

Swerve Shooters – 2767, 2054

Three Straight MI District Wins – 3357

#1 Downed Early – 2771

Looking for ONE big district score – 4967

 

FIM District – Lake Superior State University Event

Late Debut – 4377

Yoopers Looking for Gold – 857, 2586

Driving 5+ hours for the chance at gold – 3452, 862

 

NE District – Pine Tree Event

Fuel Shootout for the Top – 125, 133, 1519, 2648

Sprinting for Gears – 4906, 5687, 58

Looking for Elimination Redemption – 348

 

ONT District – Windsor Essex Great Lakes Event

Powerhouse Visit from Michigan – 33

Dynamic Gear Scorers – 610, 1285

Untapped Upside – 1241

Hoping for the Right Alliance – 772, 4917, 4920, 5912

Missing the Playoffs – Just Five Teams

 

ONT District – Western University, Engineering Event

Sole Loss at Vic Park was a Red Card – 4039

Late Season Debuts – 2852

Trying to Upgrade Silver to Gold – 190, 2200, 4814, 5024

 

PNW District – Lake Oswego Event

Gearing Up from the Ground – 2471

First Two Seasons – 9/31 Teams

Missed Elims at First Event –  More than 50%

Trying to Run Gears Past the Quarters – 1432, 5450, 5975

Autonomous Gunner – 2811

 

PNW District – Auburn Event

On the Bubble, Trying to Make Points Vanish – 360, 1318

Contenders Playing for Pride – 2046, 2907, 3663

Captains with QF Exits – 948, 4060, 5295

Six Straight Four Rotor Matches to Win Glacier Peak – 492

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