Each FTC team should attend at least two qualifying competitions each year (see Season). Competitions are usually on a Saturday, although last year there were two Sunday competitions in Northern Virginia. Competition day is long! We arrive around 7:00 am and do not leave until after closing ceremonies around 6:00 pm. If the competition is far away (like Charlottesville or Northern Virginia), then adding drive time can turn it into a 15 hour day!
This is the schedule from a recent qualifying competition:
|7:00 AM||Team Check-In|
|8:00 AM – 10:00 AM||Inspection, Practice Matches, Judging Sessions|
|10:00 AM||Driver’s Meeting|
|10:30 AM||Opening Ceremonies|
|10:45 AM||Qualification Matches|
|12:30 PM – 1:00 PM||Lunch Break|
|1:00 PM – 4:00 PM||Qualification Matches|
|4:10 PM||Alliance Selection|
|4:30 PM – 5:45 PM||Elimination Tournament|
|5:45 PM||Closing Ceremonies|
|6:30 PM||Pits Close|
Here is what that all means:
7:00 AM Team Check-In: Teams can begin arriving as early as 7:00. Once we arrive, we have to unload our gear and transport it to our pit area (usually a 8′ x 8′ space that includes a table).
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM Inspection, Practice Matches, Judging Sessions: Several things will be going on during this time.
Judging: every team will be assigned a 20 minute time slot to meet with judges. The team will give a short presentation where they share the story of their season and hopefully make a strong case for each of the awards. Then the judges will ask questions to cover any topics they feel was omitted, or to get more specific information. All told, this lasts about 10 minutes, which gives the judges an additional 10 minutes to review the team’s notebook and make notes.
Inspection: The team’s robot must be reviewed by 2 sets of inspectors to ensure that all competition criteria is met.
Pit Scouting: A few team members from each team will go around and visit all the other teams at the competition. The goal is to learn the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of each team. During the matches, some of these teams will be our alliance partners and other will be on the opposing alliance. At this point, we do not know the match schedule and are scouting all teams.
Practice: Each venue will have at least one practice field set up. Teams can test their autonomous programs and check robot performance during driver operation.
10:00 AM Driver’s Meeting: Sometime before 10:00, we will receive the match schedule. Two drivers from each team will attend a meeting where the field referees make sure everyone is aware of all match rules.
10:30 AM Opening Ceremonies: Everyone leaves the pit areas and fills up the stands. The only exception is the drive teams for any team that is scheduled in the first two matches. They take their robot and proceed to the field to get ready for their matches. The opening ceremonies are moderated by the emcee for the event, and usually consists of remarks by key FIRST personnel, remarks from a distinguished guest, watching the season’s game video, and singing of the national anthem.
10:45 AM Qualification Matches: Again, a lot is going on.
Matches: As scheduled, drive teams will make their way to the competition fields for their matches. In each match, two teams will form a Red Alliance, and two teams will form a Blue Alliance. The match is scored as Red vs. Blue. Throughout the day, teams are ranked according to the results of the matches, receiving 2 “Ranking Points” when their alliance wins, and 0 for a loss. Teams are additionally ranked using “Qualifying Points” which is the score that the opposing alliance achieved in each match. In this way, winning over an alliance that scores 250 points is better than winning over an alliance that scores 100 points. A leader board is available for teams to keep track of the standings during the day.
Judge visits: During this time, judges will begin to circulate among the teams. They will observe matches and also visit the pits to ask additional questions to get to know each team and determine which team should receive each award. Teams will need to ensure that at least one team member is present in the pit at all times for this purpose.
Maintenance: Teams will also spend some time on robot maintenance. Batteries must be kept fresh for each match. Broken parts will need to be replaced. At times, minor tweaks may be made to improve performance. The programmers may also make some changes to the programs, possibly to fix a problem, or maybe to change the autonomous program to work with with a specific alliance partner better.
Networking: Some team members should use this time to visit other teams, also known as “making friends”. This helps increase our team’s visibility for Alliance Selection (see 4:10 PM). It is also interesting to see how other teams worked to solve the game, this often leads to new build and programming ideas.
12:30 PM – 1:00 PM Lunch Break: 30 minutes is not long for lunch, especially if your team is expected in one of the first matches after lunch.
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM Qualification Matches: This is simply a continuation of 10:45 AM Qualification Matches.
4:10 PM Alliance Selection: The top 4 teams from the qualifying matches now choose other teams to join them, and the result is four 3-team alliances that will compete in the elimination tournament.
4:30 PM – 5:45 PM Elimination Tournament: This is a small bracket tournament with the 4 alliances. Each bracket stage is a best of 3 matches, so if one alliance wins the first 2, they advance without a need for a 3rd match. Even though 3 teams are on each alliance, the matches are still played 2 teams vs 2 teams. One team must rotate out for each match which ensures that all teams play at least once. At the end of this tournament, we have a winning alliance!
Teams that did not advance to the elimination tournament usually begin packing up as soon as alliance selection is complete. Some teams even leave the venue at this time. However, gracious professionalism dictates that we stick around to cheer on our friends, and to be at the closing ceremonies to applaud all award winners.
5:45 PM Closing Ceremonies: After the elimination tournament, there is usually a 15 minute break. During this time, the DJ will play some popular party dance songs (like Cha Cha Slide and Cotton Eye Joe) and many team members, coaches, and family members will dance.
During the closing ceremonies, the emcee will announce the winners for various awards. Since all awards have 2nd and 3rd place winners, there is a good opportunity for a team to be recognized. 1st place winners go forward to receive a trophy, and each member of the teams in the winning alliance from the elimination tournament receive a medal.
At the very end of this ceremony, they will announce what teams earned advancement to the next level of competition. Competition levels are: Qualifying → State Championship → World Championship.
6:30 PM Pits Close: Finally – the long day has come to an end. Time for the drive home, usually filled with active chatter about the events of the day.