Looking Forward 2017 Week Six – Engine Roaring
As each week passes, the level of success required to earn a banner in STEAMworks rises slightly higher. While the rate of playoff fourth rotor activations stayed relatively flat between weeks four (15.07%) and five (15.62%), the pressure achieved bonus rate more than tripled from 2.81% to 8.56%. 40kPa-capable machines are still a rarity among the total FRC populace (and it shouldn’t be viewed as coincidence that these rates spike the same weekends as 254, 971, 1986, and 195 compete), these exceptional performers often can set the tone for the events they’re playing at. Very seldom are alliances outside of the top seed capable of hitting 40kPa, and never beneath the second or third seed (with Auburn’s third seed winners being a rare collaborative scoring effort between 2046 and 4918). Overall, a split dynamic has developed between events. Only five events this past weekend featured winning alliances that did not hit either the 40kPa or four rotor mark during the playoffs, with a roughly even split among the remainder of winners between the two bonus point options. Only in Silicon Valley and Hartford were alliances capable of hitting both thresholds assembled. In the rare cases where both methods face off, the quad-rotor has emerged victorious (with the exception of Finals 1 in Idaho). While teams used fuel to climb to the top of the qualification rankings, the knowledge of the power of the final rotor clearly dictated alliance selection strategy in places like Tel-Aviv and San Jose.
Week six will bring district championship events in full force. Six districts will be holding their championship events this weekend, and will bring plenty of four rotor matches with them. The North Carolina State Championship already saw a district that had only hit the four rotor mark seven times in regular season play reach that same mark twenty-seven times in their DCMP. And if the fourth rotor rates parallel the capture rates we saw last year, that should be just a taste. Indiana and New England saw capture rates around 60% in qualifications, while PNW and MAR weren’t far behind at 48.05% and 47.92% respectively. New England hit a mind numbing 71.88% in the playoffs, a number barely shy of Einstein (72.22%). When compared to the aggregate 2016 capture rates of 13% (quals) and 29.28% (playoffs), or even the 13.15%/31.88% figures of 2016 week five events, it becomes clear how significant an impact is achieved when you fill an event with teams with at least two events of experience that earned their spots based on on-field merit. While the fourth rotor qualification numbers aren’t likely to be quite as gaudy in DCMP play as capture rates in 2016, we should see very significant spikes once more.
In elimination play at these DCMPs, it may be all but impossible to stop some alliances from hitting that final rotor. While “Three and D” strategies have proven effective at many events so far, in part because blockading penalties have been little more than urban legends, the additional refinement and experience of teams makes it increasingly hard to completely obstruct traffic at a championship level. Drivers have more experience maneuvering in the blind spots of the field, robots will have fewer flaws at the loading station, and even the lifts are now more resilient to dropping gears. And at many of these district championship events, there will be little issue in filling out alliance with teams capable of scoring four or five gears in a match individually at the back end of the draft.
It may have been the second season of the Chesapeake district, but it featured a lot of “firsts.” Long-time contenders and highly awarded culture changing teams 612, 1111, and 1885 each picked up their first banners for an event victory, while established veterans 1389, 1793, 4242, and 4472 picked up their first banner of any kind at all. Meanwhile first year competitors 6334 couldn’t quite come away with a banner from any of their previous events, but their zippy gear cycler ranked in captain territory in all three and could do so once again. But these first timers are heading into a deep event, chock full of long established contenders. ILITE shouldn’t have much trouble standing out, with their quick and consistent hang and effective ground intake of gears that propelled them to a pair of district qualifier victories. Similarly Fresh TECH and The Body Electric can both snag gears off the carpet, and stand a very solid chance of playing past lunch on Saturday.
Standing in between some of the first timers are some traditional Chesapeake favorites, like 2363, 836, and 384. Last year the RoboBees picked up three winners banners in Chesapeake (including the district championship) via wicked fast low goal running. They did have a short lived experiment with shooting high at DCMP last year, and we may see a similar repeat of them attempting to score more up high this year as well. The RoboBees have yet to snag a victory in 2017, but their speedy gear cycling has them in the conversation and their rapid fire fuel launching could help them distinguish themselves further. Triple Helix also boasts a side peg and shoot routine, and if they can increase the quantity of balls that move between the hoppers and the high goal, they will be on the short list to be on the top alliance. Sparky has been among the most successful of all the teams in Chesapeake this year, trailing only their Central Virginia alliance partners ILITE in the CHS standings. Their relatively simple, gear-focused design spurred them towards a pair of victories and playoff scores that consistently met or bested the 305 point plateau. Their neighbors and fraternal twins 1080 haven’t found the same level of success, but along with another similarly designed robot from Maryland (4638) stand a very realistic chance of hearing their names called during alliance selection.
The Chesapeake district has been dominated by gear play for most of the season, and even most of the teams with high goal aspirations have focused primarily on gear running thus far. While it’s hybrid scorers like Triple Helix, the RoboBees, 1262, and 1731 will be among the most likely to use some fuel to break ties, it was 346 who made the only 40kPa match in CHS happen this season. When allowed to camp in front of the boiler, the RoboHawks can utilize their dual flywheel shooters and sizeable hopper to make fuel rain into the high efficiency boiler. While reaching 40kPa with any frequency will remain elusive if the RoboHawks don’t add more autonomous scoring, they still stand a chance at being a difference maker on the right alliance.
Athens, GA will play host to the Peacthree District State Championship, which brings together fortyfive of the finest robots from across the state of Georgia. So far, the game has largely revolved around gears, which makes sense considering that the field is littered with gearing robots. However, where most alliances were able to 3-rotor, 3-climb their way to the top, that combo may not even be enough to guarantee a win in some qualification matches.
2415 and 4188, the gearing elite, are betting that gears will continue to be the main factor and will both be sporting floor gear intakes in their quest for a banner. However there’s a deep field of competent, consistent gearing robots at the PCH DCMP, and teams like 4468, 6705, and 4941 are out to show that you don’t need a fancy intake to get the job done.
On the flip side, there are plenty of teams who can handle gears but are looking at fuel to be their savior. 1746 and 2974 have dominated the district with their gearing abilities, but both machines showed some serious potential to handle fuel in their later events. They’re joined by teams like 1648 and 4910 who have average gear capabilities, but are looking to prove themselves as reliable shooters. Finally we can’t forget the trusty low goal, where rookie sensations 6340 have shined, delivering fuel with their consistent autonomous mode.
In the end, the Georgia state championship will come down to consistency. It doesn’t matter if you have the two best robots on your alliance, it will take contributions from all three robots for an alliance to hoist the banners at the end.
STEAMworks has brought a long season filled with upsets to the Mid-Atlantic. Bridgewater was the only event in which a top seed claimed victory, and even then the alliance captain actually hailed from New England. The #1 seeded alliances just barely out performed their 8th seeded rivals in district qualifier play, with the 8th seeded underdogs winning the quarterfinal match-up in three of the seven events. While the depth of the field was seldom the driving cause of the top seeds’ defeat, we’ll see how this interaction plays in Lehigh this weekend, where virtually every team is a solid gear scoring robot and a solid bet to climb. There are going to be some really good teams left on the outside of the elimination bracket, but that should also mean the top seeds get a very high quality pick at the end of the serpentine. While we saw a handful of alliances hit the four rotor mark in Seneca, it was in Montgomery where the 4th rotor really started to shine (and the first instance of a winning alliance using it as their game plan, including the fantastic buzzer beating fourth rotor in finals match 3). Expect fully spinning airships to become far more common, both in qualifications and eliminations.
The depth of the field could mean good things for the handful of MAR teams that prioritized fuel over gear scoring. If they can construct a 4-rotor alliance that allows them to predominantly focus on racking up high boiler shots, it could be hard to stop. 225 is the only MAR team to touch the 40kPa mark this season (albeit inconsistently), earning them the top seed at Chestnut Hill and making them the first pick at Montgomery. However, they were swiftly ousted in the quarterfinals at both events by stronger gear running alliances. 5895 has also demonstrated hopper loading autonomous shooting, but Peddie School has yet to cross that 40kPa threshold. 5895’s lack of ability to load fuel from the ground opens up opportunities for counterplay from the opposing alliance, however Peddie School’s gear game was much more consistent in Seneca than Hatboro-Horsham and they also are more than willing to switch to defense when the situation merits it. 5401 is rapidly building their presence within the district. Their expanding hopper and quick rate of fire help make up for their spray-and-pray launcher, and helped them earn their first trip beyond the quarter-finals in team history when they reached the finals at Seneca. 747 hit the brand reset button this year, after changing team numbers when they separated from their school before the start of the year. But the Flight Crew almost found new highs this year, reaching the finals at both events (and staying within a failed climb margin in all four finals matches). Neither are a direct match for TechFire or Peddie School, but both could be x-factors with the right partners.
Much more frequent than the fuel specialists in MAR are the hybrid teams, capable of both substantial gear scoring and some points up high. 303 has picked up more hardware than any other team in MAR this season, via a combination of efficient gear cycling and the ability to score fuel both in autonomous and tele-op. It’s not a fluke that they were on the first or second seeded alliance at each of their four events this year, and their consistent play and versatility should earn them a high seed once more in Lehigh. 365 was the top selection in both Westtown and Seneca (although they declined the latter) due to their effective gear game and the ability to contribute fuel points in autonomous. So far MOE has opted for more 3-and-D strategies, but their machine is capable of scoring fuel or gunning for that final rotor when the situation merits it. 219 couldn’t quite break through for their first blue banner in team history, but Team Impact captained two different alliances to the finals this year, and their ability to run a center peg autonomous mode that still fires at the high goal will likely be coveted in Lehigh. 708 and 2590 should both figure prominently into alliance selection, as teams with quick firing wide shooters and the ability to contribute to quad-rotor alliances thanks to their gear pick-up mechanisms. 341 and 1640 are still working to dial in their shooting mechanisms, but with five previous MAR Championships between them, it would be unwise to count either out (even if they end up playing a gear-focused or complementary role in the playoffs).
For teams without credible fuel scoring potential, it may be hard to distinguish themselves in this crowded field of gear scoring teams. Many Pennsylvanian teams opted for swerve to help set them apart this year, and for 103 in particular it worked out well. The Cybersonics slippery drive propelled them to a pair of wins. 272 also featured articulated drive modules, but couldn’t get past MOE at either of their events. When the defensive pressure is turned up in the eliminations, a well executed swerve drive could prove handy both offensively and defensively. For many other teams, it will be sheer gear volume and consistency they rely on. 11, 25, 56, 75, 222, 293, 834, 1257, 3929, and 4342 are some of the best gear scorers in the region, and at least a few should seed high enough to be captains, while the rest will hope that scouts were impressed by their gear and climb totals. While not quite as consistent as the aforementioned teams, it’s hard to ignore the winning pedigrees of 1923 or 2607, and their reputations as reliable playoff performers could help them secure a spot on an elimination alliance.
With the expansion of Michigan State Championship, New England is now (barely) the most selective of all districts in terms of DCMP qualification, with only the top 33% of teams receiving invitations. That exclusive level of play and the large pool of veteran teams it can draw from help set the event in Durham apart from its peers. The lofty standards that teams must meet to participate in the event will likely lead to an event that plays fast and furious on the field. Four rotors should be common in both playoffs and qualification matches, and earning extra ranking points will be key to crucial your destiny during alliance selection.
Reaching 40kPa has been the most effective path towards guaranteeing a top seed, and two teams stand apart from the rest in terms of their likelihood to reach that benchmark regularly. 195 and 125 have clearly been the top gunners in New England (and two of the best in the world), but that high goal prowess hasn’t automatically meant the levels of success these teams are used to, with only one win in seven events between them. The CyberKnights have shown more ability to combine both fuel and gear play, which can be key not only for hitting the fourth rotor in eliminations, but also emerging from qualifications with a record that keeps them in contention for the top seed. Even with a plethora of pressure points, the NUtrons’ 8-4, 8-4, and 6-6 records in Boston, Rhode Island, and Pine Tree kept them out of the top seed. Instead, at Pine Tree, it was 2648’s autonomous shooting and superior record that secured the top seed. 2168 paired up with 125 and 195 to win NEDCMP last year, and used their autonomous shooting and strong gear play to captain three alliances to victory already this season. The Aluminum Falcons will be strong contenders this weekend, but could try to mix in more fuel to their gameplan to help stay on par with dual threats 133 and 1519 or shooters like 230 and 1991.
Just like everywhere else in FRC, rotor points are still the backbone of success in New England. Back in week one, 5687 helped demonstrate the power of the fourth rotor, securing it in their final three qualification matches and all six of their playoff wins in Granite State. While the Outliers haven’t been back to the winners circle since, their nimble machine remains among the best pure cyclers on the planet. 558 didn’t have nearly as smooth of a trip to the gear scoring elite, as they practically rebuilt their robot from scratch. But once assembled, the Elm City Robo Squad definitively earned the top overall selection at Hartford, with their swift gear cycles helping their alliance average 444.8 points per playoff match en route to gold. 95 ditched their shooter after GSD, opting instead of a ground acquisition device for gears, and it helped them upgrade from silver to gold in their finals rematch against 5687 at Boston. It took a couple events for 78 to fully find their stride, but they found it at Rhode Island where they hit the four rotor mark seven times (six of them with 2168) as they claimed double banners. Scouts will have to pay close attention, and perhaps make some judgement calls, to separate the top gear scorers from the rest of the strong field. 2084, 3623, 1058, 1153, 177, 181 and rookie stars 6763 will be among those the scouts shouldn’t have to strain too hard to notice as they battle for high rankings.
There was a bit of a slow start in the PNW this year with a game that has serious capacity to level the playing field, and an unusual amount of inclimate weather. Perennial contenders have taken some serious time to hit their stride. On the positive side, this difficulty getting going means that the winning strategy at the DCMP has not yet been fully decided, and it will be a serious battle to see who comes out on top.
On the gear side of things, the region has final began to show it teeth. With the last two weeks of events all featuring four rotor matches in the quals and playoffs, there is a high likelihood of strong teams picking up a few extra ranking points from the all rotors turning bonus. Schedule permitting of course, this has a strong possibility to put the best gear running robot into the number one slot. The Cyborg Ferrets, team 3238 will be pushing for this version of events with a finalist and winning performance at their two district events, and a solid gear pickup, they are looking strong moving forward. 5803 and 1595 are also likely looking to take this path to the top, (unless they debut a hopper auto at the event) given their two event wins each, with strong gear manipulating capability. 1425 will also be competing for an alliance captaincy, with their greatly improved gear pickup and rock solid climb as well. Naturally, plenty of other capable gear scoring teams will be aiming for a high seed and guaranteed playoff spot, including 492, 2930, 3674, 948, 1294, 997, 5970, 4911, 2990, 2550, 3024, and 4125.
Although the PNW has not been a center for high fuel scoring this season so far, fuel bots have just begun to make their mark on the competitions. With last week being the first time that the pressure threshold was reached in the region, there will be several teams trying to make it their norm at the championship. Despite the fact that it has been much less common than the four rotors in the district so far, the 40kPa is much more achievable by a single robot, and so if any fuel robots can figure it out, they stand a strong chance of seeding first controlling their own destiny. Last minute add, Team XBot 488 and their dialed-in single location double shooter, was the only team to reach the achievement on their own. By comparison, Spartronics 4915 was an early shooting standout in the PNW, using fuel as a primary tele-op strategy in their week one event, and captaining their alliance to a win. Team 4918, The Roboctopi, was another team that showed their stripes last week, with a hopper collecting autonomous. They managed the 40kPa threshold a number of times with the help of a second shooting robot. As these robots seem to be close to their limit in teleoperated scoring, the primary differentiating factor will be how many shots they can drain under autonomous operations.
There is also a group of players at the event that will try to split the middle between these options. Attempting to achieve both of the ranking point bonuses when possible might lead them to a high seed. The two main robots competing with this strategy will be Bear Metal 2046, and Team Mean Machine 2471. Both of these robots have solid ground pickups for fuel and gears, as well as a strong capability to score fuel in teleoperated. So in order for either of them to pick up some extra ranking points, they will need to activate the fourth rotor or show up with a working hopper auto. Team 4488 Shockwave may look to join these ranks as well, especially with the addition of a gear ground pickup. Although they have not shown as much ability to score fuel in teleoperated, they will be playing hard to show the world they are back on top, after not making it to the finals last year. Even if these robots do not take the top seeds, they stand to be chosen early due to their rarity and versatility.
In the playoff rounds, any number of strategies could emerge. But due to the depth of the field, there will almost definitely be a multitude of alliances that can achieve the four rotors with time left on the clock. This primarily gear centered metagame doesn’t necessarily mean that fuel only bots are out of the running. When two powerful four rotor alliances come face to face, it is likely that the one with stronger autonomous will come out on top, with auto rotors acting as the first tiebreaker, and fuel being the second.
The ticket to success in the Hoosier state this season so far has been all about the Airships and less about the Boilers. At the Perry Meridian District Event during week four, the number of times that four rotors were spinning on the airship was staggeringly high, reaching over 19% of opportunities in quals, and nearly 53% in the playoffs. This was much higher than the 3% and 15% (quals and playoffs, respective) averages for week four. Additionally, the climb success rate of ~72% in qualification matches also bested the weekly success rate of nearly 56%, further cementing the focus on the airship. The type of defense that has been played during Indiana events this season has been less ‘in your face’ and more ‘bump and run’ types of plays, likely contributing to the high success rate of rotor scores.
There is no question about Cyber Blue’s success this season. Team 234 has earned themselves blue banners at both the Tippecanoe and Perry Meridian District Events so far this season. They built a low efficiency boiler capable robot, and they’ve spent the season focusing on optimizing their gear cycle times, but they’ve mixed in plenty of on-the-run defense too. Their alliance partners at Perry, team 1501 can easily match Cyber Blue gear-for-gear. Team THRUST focused early on gears much like many teams, but never lost sight of fuel shooting. Scoring 10/10 in the high efficiency goal of the boiler during autonomous in several matches at Perry, they were able to break ties in matches where the airships were equally prepared for takeoff. Right behind them with a strong gear game and autonomous shooting is team 1720. The PhyXTGears have continuously improved this season, earning themselves a spot on the #1 alliance at the Perry Meridian District. They appeared to be on the alliance to beat, successfully starting four rotors in five of their eight playoff matches, partly thanks to the PhyXTGears’ new ground-capable gear mechanism allowing them to steal gears to run even faster cycle times. While the field of gear-capable robots is deep for the Indiana State Championship, Team 1018 still stands out as among the fastest cyclers. Earning their first ever event win at the Tippecanoe District since 2003, they take full advantage of a speedy mecanum drive, and a very effective gear placing mechanism to keep their cycle times down. In addition to these great robots, other teams who are in the 5+ cycle club include 135, 829, 1024, 1529, 4272, 5188, and rookie team 6721.
Fuel robots on the other hand, are few and far between in Indiana. So far this season, the 40kPa barrier has not been broken yet, with the closest being 37 kPa built during QF 4-1 at the St. Joseph District Event. In that match, the leading fuel scorer was team 3940 CyberTooth, which is what they have focused on all season long, noted by their 200+ total pressure score at Perry Meridian. While their teleoperated period fuel scoring game is strong, accompanied by a consistent climb rate, they have yet to score enough fuel to earn that bonus ranking point. Their path to victory will require them to get their long-awaited hopper autonomous routine tuned in to break that pressure threshold. Much like CyberTooth, team 1747 also has a very capable fuel scoring machine, but Harrison Boiler Robotics spent much of their season scoring gears while they refined their fuel delivery systems. Some upgrades have been made to the Harrison machine allowing it to fire an estimated 4 balls per second, which should pair well with their hopper autonomous as well. Team 461 also created a fuel scoring machine this season, but much like HBR, spends teleop on gears. With a season full of continuous improvement, will some upgrades to the WBI machine be enough to break their silver-medal curse on the big stage of the Indiana State Championship?
It takes something exceptional for a regional to stand out in a week filled with district championships, but the Las Vegas regional does just that. The mix of world renowned teams and some very respectable depth helps set LVR apart. While the top shooters at this event are very favored to rank the highest due to the kPa bonus, the rotor bonus could be achieved quite a bit by many of the upper mid-tier teams. With Las Vegas being a medium sized event, it is very possible that a robot with no fuel ability will get the kPa ranking point several times in qualifications. In eliminations, four rotors could end up being the standard but shooting alliances may instead opt for a more defensive strategy. If certain alliances face off in the finals though, even getting 40 kPa and four rotors may not be entirely enough to secure the win.
Leading the pack in fuel scoring is none other than the Robonauts. After their week one tumbles, Team 118 had a dominant rebound in Lone Star Central and was able to achieve the kPa bonus in all but one match. However, fuel shooting alone might not be enough to win this event. They may have to improve their gear game to open up the option to activate four rotors when necessary. Right behind them is the dual shooter/gear bot, 1678. Citrus Circuits demonstrated their autonomous prowess early on in the season and although they haven’t been done yet, the two-gear autonomous could end up being an ace up their sleeve during the elimination rounds. They are also the only team at the event with two regional wins already this season. After an extensive redesign, team 148 started to hit their stride at Lone Star North. The Robowranglers gear intake is one of the best in the world and were able to hit four rotors for most of eliminations, and their shooting game is trending towards elite levels (a big improvement considering they spent Dallas topless). 987 are probably the most balanced of the top four. The Highrollers’ gear intake, shooter, and climb are all exceptional. Although they are currently the weakest of the four at shooting, they have had four solid weeks to improve upon that since their week two win in Utah.
As strong as the big four are, winning is anything but a guarantee. Plenty of teams will be stepping up their game and many robot’s strengths will be highlighted at this event. From California, the tiny, fast, and rank 1 team of San Diego, 3647, can sneak its way past the defense as a primary gear scorer while their first pick 1538 will want to try and get their shooting game going and break into the top. Former world champions 5012 will be continuing their constant improvement to hopefully be a gear powerhouse while gearbots 2637 and 5677 will want to improve upon their previous finalist performances from this season. Meanwhile, 2485 will be trying to recapture their dominance of previous years. From Arizona, team 60 has been a finalist 6 times in the last 5 seasons including this year and will likely start off the event very strong. Glimpses of their shooting capability could be seen at AZ North but 842 will need to step up their gear game to remain competitive. From Colorado, 4499 has been very consistent at gear scoring but their shooter still needs a bit of work to make themselves a strong contender. Even a couple international teams should be in the mix. Germany’s zippy swerving team 3011 and China’s 5823 (who ranked 1st at the Shenzhen Regional) could both find themselves on strong alliances.
Rookies – 18/50
Nations Represented – Seven
Inter-continental Contenders – 4774, 5515
Hit 40kPa in 14/18 Matches Last Week – 2122
Local Favorites Gunning for Fourth Win in Five Years – 4334
California Favorites – 330, 696
Race to the Top – 991,1492, 1726, 2403, 3255, 6314
Hot Arizona Debuts – 698, 3853, 3944
Battled for the Double DECCer – 2052, 2509
Seeking CMP Invites in their Second Event – 3184, 4536, 5172
Looking for their First Taste of the 2017 Playoffs – 48/63 teams
Stepping Up their On-field Game After Week 1 – 1816, 2502, 4607
Super Accurate Shooting – 3277
Out of State Contenders – 1710, 1806, 3928
Medal Worthy Gear Runners – 2169, 3130
Trying to Punch their CMP Tickets – 2175, 2883, 3883
Three Silvers so Far – 3847
Already Earned Houston Spots on the Field – 4063, 4206, 4587
One Last Chance for a CMP Ticket – 231, 3103
Tech Valley Champs – 333, 2791
Impressive Showings at HVR – 369, 1155, 3419
Aiming for their Fifth Banner of 2017 – 4613
Contenders – 694, 2383
Still Need to Secure MSC Invites – 314, 5050, 5523, 6053
Rookies or Sophomores – 14/41 Teams
Seeking Banners – 503, 548, 2832
Tuning Up for MSC – 68, 1189, 1701
Haven’t Won A District Event since 2011 – 217
Locking in MSC Invites – 1684, 2075, 3534, 6020
5000 or Higher – 29/40 Teams
Clashed in Troy Finals – 910, 2337
On the MSC Bubble – 74, 107, 2771, 5066
6K and Above – 14/40 Teams
Taken A Banner Home from TC the Past Three Years – 1711
Five Weeks to Improve on Kettering Win – 5086
Promising Starts at Gaylord – 3618, 4983, 5230
Strong Showings in Escanaba – 4391, 6075
Missing Elims – Just One Team
Trying to Turn Silver in Gold – 865, 4678
Third Players – 1075, 1305, 2013, 4946
Working on a New Streak – 2056
Rising Star – 4976
High Level Gear Machines – 4039, 4939, 5406
Trying to Use Autonomous Shooting to Keep Pace – 188, 1310
Black Magic Powered Gear Device – 2200