How do we manage more events?

Blake posted this in another thread, I though it was worthwhile as another thread to talk about.

Also see

Ohhh I got snagged by the “Did you search the archives?” I hate it when that happens :eek:

But since that boat has already left the barn I’ll continue on.

One of the thing that we do is hold our events in either school gyms or cafeterias. In the case of the cafeterias there are tables for pits, for gyms the schools often have tables and chairs.

STEMRobotics supplies two fields and three field controls for events, our partner schools (DC Knights, Chichester, Christopher Dock, Souderton, Driven Robotics, etc.) bring fields to make up the difference. So there is lots of help/share the work on events. Having the time displays (the other thread) will help keep the cost down.

Depending on the school the cost for the facility can range from free to $1500 (rental, custodial, insurance, etc.) If you rent tables ($7.20 each) and chairs ($1.20 each) and have them delivered (10%) that can add another $1500 to a midsized event. Paper, printer ink, other consumables and replacement of broken stuff adds another $100 or so. Bigger events at big places cost more. Once you start doing bigger AV the costs start to skyrocket.

But the biggest expense is people to work the event. Most are volunteers, but their time is valuable, so they are not going to work much more than a few events a year. Our teams will go to 8 local events and I think that will pretty much define the limits of their effort. When it takes about 20 people to run a small event and much more for a larger event you go through people quickly

So the biggest limitation is people to run the events. I don’t know how to fix that or solve that problem.


And, to carry the conversation forward from the other thread, removing the need to have a person separate from a field referee involved in starting and stopping matches is a way to eliminate both people and computers.

Replacing a general-purpose computer’s “clock” with an inexpensive appliance clock is another way to eliminate the obvious purchase and maintenance expenses of the computer/display, shorten the human chain of command during a match, and reduce the amount of my time being taken up planning for an event and hauling equipment to/from the event.

Making each field independent from all others and from any general-purpose computers and LANs makes planning easier, makes expanding or contracting a tournament’s size easier, and makes adapting to problems on the day of the event easier.

These sound like win-win methods for directly affecting the Volunteer Time (planners and day-of-the-event) aspect of tournaments. Especially when the current methods will still be just as available as they are today, for anyone who wants to use them at an event.

PS: Boat left the Barn? :confused: :slight_smile:

Did you see this post? There are more than 3,000 VRC teams as of today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3,300+ by the end of the season. That would be about 1,000 teams added in each of the last two years, and puts us on track for 5,000+ teams by the 2012-2013 season. This discussion is timely. If a partnership happened either with some large STEM program or governmental organization, I can see VRC more than doubling over that period. This is a timely discussion, let the clever ideas flow.

I wasn’t getting the detached from the scoring system fields until I thought it out some. Let me write up where I think you are going.

250 teams show up for the 2015 Richmond Regional. As they walk into the door they are given a schedule of their matches, and which of the 25 fields they will compete on.

When they load into the first match of the day, the ref sets them up, yells “Ready Set GO!” and presses a button on the hand held control. Numbers spring to life at the end of the field. Once the count goes to zero the scoring team leaps onto the field with their clipboards. Once they are done and the ref initials the results, the paper is taken (one at a time or in batches) to the central scoring system where it entered into the system.

A few minutes after the last qualification match the scores are ready…

In theory I could run an event for 100’s of teams given space for pits and fields. Because scoring is done on paper I don’t need to link into the score system. I loose match times in a real time display but with posted paper sheets teams can figure out where to be.

In theory a Ref, a score person and a queue manager could run a pair of fields with two field reset people (or a game that has less than 50 scoring items)

Fields can be anywhere, I’m not constrained by locations of computer scoring.

Ok, I’m in for a start/stop button on a lanyard! I’m also in for a local field control setup.

Only downside is the thought of events with 250+ teams being common. We had 42 at our last event and that was a ton of excitement.

Rick TYler has a good point, we are starting to out strip the grass roots support for more and more events. Hope someone with deep pockets shows up to help out.

I assume thats 12 pairs of competition fields, and one practice field?

Don’t forget to also provide the following:

  • Vexnet (or its successory) only
  • toilets for 1000 students (at average of 4 students per team), plus others
  • 60 volunteers in groups of 5(qm/ref/score/reset1/reset2) for 12 field pairs
  • contest staff for entering score data for one match every 20 seconds, plus runners to bring them the data.
  • Parking for 40 buses (4 teams per bus, at some percentage of bussed teams)
  • Parking for parents, volunteers, spectators.
  • Charging outlets with current for 500 battery chargers (two per team minimum)
  • Minimum 15,000 sq feet of field space (12x12 + 4 foot around + 10 foot aisle)
    • thats 100x150, or maybe 4 High-school basketball courts
  • spectator space, maybe not a problem if using basketball courts.
  • Pit space >> 10,000 sq feet? (3-4 more basketball courts)
  • Flip-number chart on a pole at every field pair showing the current match number, either standard, or custom printed and includes team numbers for this field pair.
  • Lunch: (how many boxes of pizza does each team want to order?)

Pit-space, pit equipment, and charging outlets are less of a problem if each team has one self-contained 2x3’ rolling cart, with a car battery for running the laptop and vex chargers (no outlets needed), slide-out shelf for laptop, work surface on top, and drawers for vex parts and tools, and a whiteboard on one side to list your matches and boast about your past scores. Thats probably only enough work area for 4 students (one on each side).

The paper tracking, etc, is pushing toward one edge of the envelope.

  • An opposite edge idea is to register a cell-phone number for every team, and have the software text them all with previous score & rank updates, and next two match times and places. No projector screens needed until finals.
    Maybe number of volunteers be reduced by 1 in this case.
  • Mark-sense score cards. Scorer marks it up with a fat pen, and takes a photo with his cell phone to send it in. Receiver autoscans it. Or other more dedicated iPad or cell phone apps. No runners needed, near real time update.

If we have 250 teams at regional events I think the answer is to run multiple discrete divisions (four in this case) with a playoff like Worlds. No way would I recommend a single-pool event with 250 teams and six field pools, if for no other reason that scouting would be nearly impossible.

VRC is modular – no need to scale up. I would suggest keeping the competition “blocs” to 25-30 teams and starting new venues and dates when local events are too large. I think PYRS in BC was on the right track last year when they played two completely separate tournaments on the same day in the same venue. The “A” tournament was an invitational for teams that had already qualified for Worlds at earlier events, and the “B” tournament was for everyone else. The 24-team “A” event was a preview of Worlds, with big scores, great strategy and effective robots. The 30-team “B” event was for everyone else and was another big success.

There are lots of unanswered questions when there are 6,000 VRC teams, but it’s going to be fun to figure out the answers. :slight_smile:

We did a November event, two events under 1 roof, a middle school and a high school qualifier.

But I like changing that for the March (last chance) event that we hold. 18 top teams coming to for one last practice match before they go meet the Mouse and 24 teams digging for the final 6 invites of 2011.

Can’t wait until there are 6,000 teams. Maybe instead of going to ESPN, they will come to us!

Lets cut to the meat of this.

Vex, WILL NOT do this. EVER.

Why? Money.

So the real question is, who next?


Who cares less about profits and more about actual growth. Who will embrace the idea of STEM, not to make business deals but to change lives.

Is it FIRST?

NO - They’ve sold out already, to LEGO.

Is it VEX?

Read between the lines. Is it?

You tell me…

How is this scenario fundamentally different from the World Championship last year (400 teams, 13 competition fields)? What you describe is pretty darn close to what happens already at the WC. The only difference is that on “GO”, the ref has to press a button, whereas at the WC the scorekeeper hears that word and clicks a button with a mouse. The scorekeeper, however, spends the majority of their time entering scores (not starting matches), so by moving the “start match” functionality to the ref you haven’t really reduced the headcount requirements.

Once you get into the rhythm, it takes a scorekeeper about 20-30 seconds to enter the scores from the referee’s paper scoresheets into the system and doublecheck the results before saving. So, while large events typically have one scorekeeper for every 2 or 3 fields, I suppose you could push it to one SK for every 4 fields, though they’d be typing for most of the day without much of a break. Is this really that much of an advantage over the current system? You still need one computer for every 4 fields to enter the scores, so it’s not like you can reduce the whole competition down to a single laptop. I guess you’ve eliminated the need for some LCDs to display the field time, but you’ve replaced that need with a custom-built product that is somewhat single-purpose, and not really that much cheaper ($50-$100 for a custom timer display vs. $400 for laptop that could have all kinds of other uses outside of the competition). That difference seems small to me compared to the cost of the fields, foam tiles, the game-specific pieces, etc.

Hey Cody, Are you on the same thread as the rest of us, or are your nouns holding out to be free-agents?

What is the “this” of which you speak? Managing more events?


Here is a rather simple question (I hope): What value is added to an event by having the action that starts auton and then teleop, occur at a table near the field by someone who has multiple duties, instead of having it occur right at the field (by the referee)?

In one sense this is down in the weeds (a bit) of the topic(s) of running more or larger events, but in another sense it is exactly on target. You eat an elephant one bite at a time.


In a really large event, I suggest considering a process flow that has teams very briefly queue at a central point and then fan out from there to the first field (of several) that becomes open. The fields in that pool do need to conduct matches at some average pace, but the current practice of putting a specific match on a specific field at a specific time seems to overly constrain the process for very little benefit.

I do understand that scouts would need to adapt by watching a indicator that shows which fields will host the matches containing teams they want to observe; but that seem do-able. The indicator might seeing where the contestants go when they emerge from the single short queue.

You could even dabble in letting any given match start as soon a field opens up after all 4 of its contestants check in at the queue, even if that is a little early.

You could close the entrance to the queue to any single contestant some short time before their match is scheduled to occur (the schedule shows “no-later-than” enter-the-queue times).

Combining this with the idea that refs might be able to start and end matches without needing to involve anyone else in the process and I think you will see a reduction in the number of people needed. I’ll bet a nice dinner on it. :wink:

This is essentially how many services are supplied when the server and the client don’t need to share a connection/history other than being associated for the brief period when the service is supplied (teams are clients, field+ref is the server, the match is the service).


Now that I have written a post about large events, let me do a 180 degree turn.

a) In a future when there are 2000 or so teams spread across MD, N. VA, and DC in a pattern that roughly matches the population, I wouldn’t expect to see 500 team tournaments any more often than I currently see 50-school swim meets or 128-team basketball tournaments.

b) The barriers to growth are the barriers that get in the way of start-ups. If a first team, their leader(s) and a few friends (other teams) can’t (or feel that they can’t) get together to start something, then you don’t need to worry about what to do later. If the process never starts, then it never grows.

It’s the little bitty tournaments (or the lack thereof) that need our attention the most. How do we make them as easy as falling off of a log?

If a start-up is told that they have to borrow several hundreds or thousands of dollars of capital and have to recruit a dozen or more of those very precious volunteers for a full day (see Foster’s earlier message), and invest many hours of a few people’s time in training, so that they can start up an “easy” STEM robotics program and hold just 1 tournament; then I am not optimistic about growth.

Those numbers need to get cut dramatically, and stay cut; and the start-up customer needs to be told that they will have a return of 3-4 tournaments for that lower investment. Then you have a fighting chance at cracking the tough “growth” nuts.

I understand that right now the program is growing like a weed. I also understand that right now the total World Wide program’s population is only modest fraction of the size it should be if we were trying to fully cover just a large chunk of the US Eastern Seaboard. Never mind the rest of the US and the rest of the world.

If you want to truly penetrate a large fraction of the US market (or any other) you aren’t even at the end of the beginning. You are at the beginning of the beginning.

I’m not saying things are screwed up. I am saying that we need to avoid thinking that the current low-hanging fruit can be extrapolated into the far future, or that recent experience is the complete model that takes us into the next phase of growth.


Perhaps I am in a different “thread.”

Free-Agent, now THAT is a fitting term, more than you know.

Are we really talking about cramming as many students into a given facility as possible or are we talking about creating a robotics program that is self-sufficient and holds core values? Is it x many more teams each worth $y in parts and registration or is it z number of scholarships and an untold impact?

I’ll spill, I have next to nothing to lose.

[INDENT]Should an event manager’s main job be figuratively whipping field personnel into pushing the tournaments schedule a few minutes ahead so that they can get out and go home early?

When something goes wrong, should everyone freak out because their jobs might be on the line? Or should we loosen up and dance it off, having some fun while the problem is properly sorted out.

Should tournament critical equipment, like AV equipment be improvised at the international level? Should they make do with $250 or bunker down and buy the real thing? Even if it costs $5,000? Who decides that? Paul? Jason?

When a team brings a cosmetically perfect VEXnet key to the field personnel telling them that it’s been acting funny and that a borrowed one seemed to fix the problem, is the right answer to tell that team that they should RMA the key if they can? Is it right to tell them this, knowing that YOU are going to answer the RMA hotline and deny the request?

Does a piece of bread, a slice of cheese and a warm coke justify eight hours of a volunteers time? Really? At the end of that day, is it right to gather all of those volunteers and tell them essentially what they’ve been doing wrong?

What about the Cortex? It has issues! Trust me, big issues. Is it JVN’s fault? I think not. It’s a prototype that was rushed out to meet a deadline. Us college teams were suppose to be the BETA testers, not the ALPHA. [/INDENT]

So, I’ll ask the question again. Are we discussing how to cram as many students as possible into a competition as fast as possible, or are we asking how can we sustain such growth without compromising the quality of the program?

The next question, can VEX do that? If they can, WILL THEY?

I type my name at the end of every post I write, not to tell the world who I am (it’s in the sig, trust me people see that) but to make it clear that I stand behind what I say, my opinions. Am I always right? No! Do I change my mind? Of course, but I always stand behind my statements and when I’m wrong, I’ll admit it and stand behind that too.

Read between the lines, look beyond the obvious, listen, and connect the dots. It’s obvious. How can greed be the facilitator of knowledge?



Hear this loud and clear: VEX Robotics Incorporated is BARELY profitable. If we were a public company our share holders would sell, sell, sell! Our two sister companies are profitable and fund VEX Robotics. Tony Norman and Bob Mimlitch are dedicated to changing how the world looks at Education and will continue to support VEX Robotics. Every single engineer (including me) that works for VEX Robotics could make Innovation First International A lOT more money if we worked for Innovation First Labs (Hexbug) or Rack Solutions, but we are dedicated to changing our broken education system. I personally moved my entire family from Michigan because I believe in what we are doing and want to make a difference. I take offense to your unfounded accusations and statements of facts and I really just have no time for you any longer. Your credibility with me has just moved to less than zero.

As far as the Cortex, you are just plain wrong. We delayed the release over 18 months because things were not quite right. Did we find other items after we released the product? Yep. Did we fix them? Yep. Others have claimed that everyone is having problems. Here is a fact: there are more than 5,000 Cortex units in the field. We have a less than 1% return rate to date. This is a fact based on RMAs. Speaking of RMAs, we take back every RMA for Cortex, Joystick, and WiFi keys and thoroughly test every return. Where you got your information on RMAs baffles me.

For the rest of you participating in the productive part of this discussion I say this: we listen to everything you say … everything. Please look at the options for TSA. We have low hurdle, medium hurdle, and regular hurdle event options for them. I have personally been part of a tournament where 1 person ran 1 field alone. We used paper, pencil, a stopwatch, and a loud voice. The excitement was great and students didn’t care that there wasn’t a display, etc. We are using TSA as a test bed for more scalable options and we do realize that some type of tiered qualification program in VRC.

I will let Jason speak for RECF, but those guys volunteer so much of their time it is ridiculous.

One other thing. Competition is only half of the equation. In my opinion, the bigger impact is inside the classroom, but that is a discussion for another day.


Nice damage control Paul, that is your what you do…



I know your comments are colored by the confidence of youth; but even with that in mind, this is a slow motion train wreck.

Do yourself a favor and invest your energy in something positive, like focusing on earning admission into that highly selective school you hope to attend.

This thread needs to get back on topic.


Completely re-phrased topics selected from above:

  • 400 team mega events have a different flavor and operational considerations than local, low cost 12 team events. Experimenting with new event formats may show that some event formats should not be repeated, or have different costs or organizational requirements to be successful. “Let a 1000 flowers bloom”, but realize that lots of them may wither and die.

  • Groups of all kinds struggle to hold their core values as they grow larger, or just older. Splinters from FIRST have spawned VexRC/BEST/GEAR, each with their own values and modes of operation.

  • Robotics programs led by vendors will always have suspicions of profit over education. Thats just the way it is.

  • Conversely, Robotics programs done at grass roots (rather than by vendors) will always struggle with balance of vendors, or finding support for their own hardware designed by volunteers.

  • Provision of spares at tournaments needs to be planned in advance. This is a common issue for BEST; so far, hubs that send volunteers sometimes remember to bring spares for the teams from their hubs, and other teams get lower priority.
    – When Vex provides “instant RMAs” at tournaments where they have a presence, it saves everyone shipping costs, and its greatly appreciated. It also helps Vex see the conditions that sourced the problems ‘in the field’.

  • Support/compensation for volunteers: Most places, volunteers are ‘paid’ in food and t-shirts. Food/shirts/goody-bags for volunteers can be a significant expense, and it can be hard to find a balance. Volunteers range from bored family members with ‘gluten-free’ dietary restrictions who would be there anyway, to hungry college students promised extra-credit.
    – Organizing issues for volunteers:
    — pre-signup volunteers, and also those who just show up
    — pre-training, on-the-spot training, simpler procedures that need less training
    — Contact list with email and cell-phone
    — post-mort survey of volunteer experiences: did you have enough training? what would you change? of $x volunteer compensation budget, whats your ranked preference list: food, t-shirt, pen, messenger bag, etc.

  • Training for volunteers: also a constant struggle in a growing program, and a good topic for this ‘managing more events’ thread. What methods reduce the training requirements for volunteers?
    – Simple technology: paper, pencil, well-organized forms.
    – Appropriate WEB2.0 tech: Everyone has a cell phone nowdays, (texted QM)
    – Integrated Tournament manager as an Iphone App? or sub-applets. What other (non-robotics) events need the same/similar apps?