How to Win IRI 2017 and Who to Win With

The Festival of Champions has two sets of world champions; Chezy Champs may have the best in the West; but IRI is known throughout all of FIRST to be the home to the best robots, and is heralded as the most competitive event of the year.

Since IRI is the cream of the crop in FIRST, let’s look at a few things: first, the archetypes of robots in STEAMWorks. Second, what high-level play in STEAMworks looks like, and finally, I’ll give my thoughts on some of the teams to watch for at IRI this year.



We can boil down the attendees of IRI to three basic categories:

Top Bots: These are the best robots in the world, they carry their own weight through the qualification tournament, rank well, then play the high-level playoff game. Their primary strategy is “do everything, and do it real-real good” by scoring lots of balls in auto, placing gears, and being able to guarantee the 40 kPa bonuses by themselves. This may sounds like having your cake and eating it too, but these teams are great….bakers? (definitely better at robots thanI am at metaphors).

Some teams that fall into this category are 2056, 118, and 2767, followed by 33, 195, and 1114. Note that there are a lot of shades of grey in this category, with some teams leaning more toward gears, and others leaning more toward fuel.

“I do balls, you do gears”: Some robots are capable of reaching 40+ kPa all on their own, but are not going to do a lot of work in the gear department. When pressed into service, they can be reasonable gear bots, but shooting is their specialty, and on a well balanced alliance, they will stick to this strategy.

The quintessential robots of this type this year are 2337 and 125. Fantastic at shooting and just OK at gears. 2337 won their division at MSC on a two-rotor only strategy. More on them later.

Gearbots: A.K.A. Most of the robots in FRC. These teams do gears and climb. If you’re looking for a respectable rank in the qualifications and your plan does not involve shooting balls, you will need to be able to score five or more gears solo, without question. If you’re expecting to play on Saturday afternoon, you will need to prove you can put up at least 4 a match, or have a very flexible autonomous mode and a little extra sauce on the side.

There are tons of robots that fall into this category, but I’ll point out 2168, 469 and 67 as top teams in this category. They are incredibly difficult to stop, and are capable of scoring five or six gears in a match even though concerted defense.



STEAMWorks high level play follows a fairly standard strategy that can vary in execution depending on an alliance’s makeup. At the end of a playoff match you need to satisfy the following conditions to win:

  1. Score more points that the opponent.

Goodnight everyone and thanks for reading! It’s a little more complicated than that. Just follow my patented four-step process to winning IRI!

It’s that easy! OK, not really, so let’s step through these.

First, get a gear up the airship and make sure everyone crosses that line. Every match starts this way, and missing a step here will put you in a deficit that you can only make up by scoring more balls or playing monster defense.

Next, your alliance needs to achieve four rotors and 40 kPa before attempting other objectives. There are a number of ways to do this, but on Einstein we saw that you could either send a robot to gather and score balls while the other two gear scorers finished the airship on their own, or get all hands on deck and get four rotors extremely fast. This second method is best done only after you’ve put up a lead in autonomous and will only need one good delivery of balls to break 40 kPa.

In the third step, all hell breaks loose. Whatever your shooter or shooters have left in their hoppers needs to go into the boiler as fast as possible, even if it’s a desperation (610’s shots from the gear peg) or less than ideal shot (2767 on Einstein). If your hopper is empty, get more balls and make sure your pressure is higher than the opponents at all times. If you’ve got nothing else to do, your goal is to slow down your opponent’s step two. This can include blocking robots from delivering gears, holding back shooters, dumping hoppers or pushing balls to your side of the field, or my favorite; trap your opponent behind your airship in the last 20 seconds and watch the entire audience go crazy. By the way, if you are on step two and see your opponents executing step three, start bailing because your ship may be sinking (again with the bad metaphors….)

Your final step is to get up the damn rope. The key is to know when your robot’s point of no return is for climbing, and get as close as you can to it without going over. Check out F-2 on St. Louis Einstein for a perfect example of how to execute this and how to not execute this. The blue alliance stays on the carpet and shoots, then has all three robots on the touchpads with just six seconds on the clock. Meanwhile, the red alliance has balls in their robot’s hoppers and on their side of the field, but all the shooting robots are on the touchpad with 15 seconds left. The other key is to not get stuck on the other side of the field. If your opponent has a lead with four of six robots hanging, they have no reason to do anything but keep you as far away from your rope for as long as possible.

However, if you do decide to press your luck and get stuck behind the wrong airship while at IRI, I will be so happy that we have something juicy to talk about up in the RSN booth.

So, say you find yourself in a position where you cannot form one of these power alliances. Maybe you’re the 6th seed, and all the best ball-scoring robots are taken. All hope is not lost, as I have some backup strats you can deploy in times of need.

Three-and-D / Four-and-D /  The 1114 Special:

Three-and-D, is scoring three rotors as fast as you can, attempting to maul the face off the other alliance for 45 to 70 seconds in an attempt to stop their third rotor, then dare them to out-climb you. At an event like IRI, this strategy simply will not work, so you’ve got to go to the four-and-D plan. Get four rotors as fast as possible, maul your opponents for 30 to 50 seconds, then dare them to out-climb you. It’s a strictly better version of the three-and-D most of the time. The 1114 special is an X-and-D strategy with a subtle hint of fuel thrown in for flavor. Most of the time, this fuel is scored only in autonomous, with possibly one or two more medium sized deliveries during teleop. This is also a broken-arrow strategy you can employ in the event your alliance misses some of its guaranteed autonomous points. Your mileage may vary.

Two Rotor Auto: If the stars align, you may have an alliance that can execute a two rotor auto. This can be an equalizer against alliances that score lots and lots of fuel, or as a tiebreaker in a match up of two equally capable “standard” alliances. Be warned that if you are depending on the extra 20 points to win the match and you miss your auto, you’ve got to audible to a fallback plan ASAP. What that plan looks like depends on the fuel situation between the two alliances, but generally, the best bet is to turn one of your gear scorers into a dedicated fuel scorer and hope your other two robots can do four rotors on their own. In my head, I call this YOLO Mode, or the team 190 championship winning strategy; hope your alliance executes perfect and theirs does not.

Scorched Earth or Burn Down the Airship or WILDCARD!!!

I have only seen this executed once, and it almost worked. Your alliance’s goal is to outscore the opponent in balls in autonomous, then before they understand what is going on, send two of your partners to block two of the pegs on the opposing airship. While this is happening, your third robot is grabbing hopper loads and scoring fuel like no tomorrow, ideally earning another 30-40 points in teleop on top of what they scored in auto. If your opponent is attempting to get four rotors and then go for 40 kPa, they will quickly find themselves unable to get enough gears into the airship, and down by a significant margin in balls, with few on the field. Before it’s too late, disengage from the airships and return to your side of the field to climb. The real key to this strategy is complete and total surprise. You know every move of your plan, while your opponent finds their plan impossible to execute having wasted 30 or more seconds of the match. If you’re curious how it worked out, check out SF 2-2 from the Michigan State Championship below. Blue was one hang away from forcing an incredible third match.

HOT TIP: This strategy becomes more viable at IRI, because there is no pre-populated gear in the airship, making the one-lift grind to three rotors even harder.



Now that we know how to win, let’s take a look at some of the team’s I think are going to make a splash this year at IRI.

2767: Was this team on your radar going into the St. Louis Championship (presented by Qualcomm)? If not, they certainly are now. They partnered with 254 in qualifications to put up over 100 kPa for the first and only time all season, earned the number one seed on their field, and put on an incredible showing in the divisional and Einstein playoff rounds. They are a great gear robot, and have a very capable shooter. If they have their competition driveteam at the sticks, expect them to rank high, pick another great team, and make a run for the finals.

195: Surprise, New England teams are good at offense too! 195 has risen through the ranks, and almost silently snuck into the room with the best teams in all of FIRST. They have won the New England district championship three out of the last four years, and were finalists in that single defeat. Their robot has a top notch gear game, and a 30+ kPa hopper autonomous. If their performance is as good as their season so far, there’s no way they are not one of the top four alliance captains or first picks.  If given the opportunity, I would anticipate they will pick 2168 or another excellent gear robot and do well for themselves in playoffs.

125: While their gear game leaves something to be desired, their shooter is incredible. They were plagued with camera issues early on, and normally by this point in the season, their robot is barely holding together after playing upwards of 100 matches. But, this year’s machine seems more resilient and many of their early problems have been worked out. Their event goes one of two ways; either having a below average performance and slipping onto one of the top four alliances in the second round, or doing well for themselves and ending up as a first pick for a 7th or 8th seed gear bot. They still have a chance to take home the bacon, but it will be an uphill climb (last metaphor, I promise).

1114: Simbotics is truly a curious case this year. They have a fantastic shooter, but can only collect fuel from the hopper or a loading station. They also have a good gear mechanism, but no way to pick up off the ground. My only guess is that they anticipated more balls being scored and that the balls would be recycled more. In that light, their robot makes a lot of sense and follows their design philosophy of winning at the highest level competition. Strategically, they are incredibly sound, so you will not be able to pull any fast-ones on them during eliminations. Ranking high is not certain or 1114, and where they get picked will come down to who picks whom within the top eight and how they execute during qualifications.

118: With 1986 not attending IRI this year, 118 is capable of putting the most fuel into the boiler in a given match at the event. Their gear game is also good enough to take the pressure off their teammates and ensure a relatively easy four rotor match. In many respects, they are a drop-in replacement for 254 in an alliance captained by 2767. Few number one seeds could make a case to select a robot other than 118; you would basically have to be a fuel only robot to do so. Expect to see the Robonauts in the finals.

2056: OP Robotics has won the last 4 IRIs. How do they do it? Here’s the secret: their robots are designed to win conventionally, and to rank very highly in qualifications. Their driveteam is also very consistent from year to year, and they generally come into IRI running seasoned veterans or well trained understudies.Three of the last four years, they were their alliance’s captain, the last two as number one seed. In 2014, they lost the one seed to 254’s incredible machine and got passed over for 1114. They then beat the world finalist and the world champion in the finals. 2056 will rank first or second , and will pick the best robot available, and make it all the way to the finals. I don’t think there’s a more sure bet in all of FIRST.

Darkhorse #13847: Spectrum has had a commendable season so far, putting up a couple finalists appearances in Texas against top-notch teams, and earning a seventh overall pick on Newton this year as a dependable gear bot. However, they are coming to IRI with a “reveal video ready” 40 kPa autonomous mode from their as-of-yet mostly unused shooter. If they can consistently get fuel into the hopper in autonomous, they will get picked, maybe even in the first round if they’re as good as their video says they are.

Darkhorse #2 4039: MakeShift is not just all plywood and rainbows. This year’s robot is a great gear bot that can almost sneak five to six gears in a match right under their opponent’s nose. Their shooter is functional, and they have been known to put up 15-20 kPa on their own during qualification matches. Savvy scouts will see their potential and snap them up in the second round and add a lot of power to any alliance.


With all that said, check out all the action this weekend on Twitch! Myself and RSN will be doing live analysis during alliance selection and eliminations on Saturday, so you won’t want to miss it!


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