Open Letter to VEX & the REC Foundation from a former GDC Member

An Open Letter:
To my former colleagues on the GDC and to all the thought leaders at VEX and the REC Foundation…

I believe the change recently made to the tournament structure is incredibly important for the long-term health of the competition, and ultimately will help better achieve the underlying goals of the program. Obviously none of us know if this change will be successful, but I personally believe it is in the right direction.
I know parts of this change are very unpopular: this is one reason WHY it is so important and impressive that it was implemented.

I applaud Dan, Paul, the GDC and everyone who ultimately made this decision knowing it would be unpopular.
People are naturally resistant to change. It is never easy to make hard decisions for the greater good.

Thank you for continuing to focus on the underlying mission. Thank you for your willingness to challenge the status quo in pursuit of larger goals.

Admiringly and with Greatest Respect,
John V-Neun
Former VEX Staff & GDC Member

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@JVN, I was intrigued when you mentioned “underlying goals” of the program. When I try to think about a detailed requirements map in the form “Behavior X shall be incentivized by award Y or tournament constraint Z” I couldn’t do that because I couldn’t find a document outlining mission or goals of the VRC program. Its sister programs like CREATE or BEST have one-pagers that are more like what I am looking for - but not VRC. There are plenty of declarative statements but they are hard to map to specific requirements.

I think a lot of recent heated discussions come from the gap in understanding of those goals between GDC and the community. I have my own opinion of what the VRC program goals might or should be, but it is not very useful if we don’t know what the “official” goals are.

That’s why it would be great if you could share those underlying goals since you both have the internal knowledge and more freedom to express your personal opinion because you are no longer member of GDC.

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I did some homework in searching for the official program goals and here are the relevant quotes that I was able to find:

From the Game Manual: ( https://www.vexrobotics.com/vexedr/competition/vrc-current-game )

https://www.robotevents.com/

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Splitting into multiple posts because of the size limit.

http://www.create-found.org/Mission.php

BEST, Program Overview , Why It Matters?

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I’d like for the GDC to consider that maybe everyone hates BO1 (best of 1) for a good reason?

Are we just resisting change because we just don’t like it? No. Most people I’ve talked to, in fact, like the change from 3 team alliances to 2. But can anyone show me any serious sport under two minutes in length where you don’t get multiple chances in the event? Imagine if the Olympics only had 1 heat for every sport, like with 1 discus throw, 1 javelin shot, and one 1 weightlift attempt.

Imagine if you were only given one shot at the Winter Olympics. Let’s say you’ve been training for 4 years for this, just like everyone else. You don’t really think you’re going to win gold, but you want to try your best regardless. So you start the run, everything’s going fine, and then all of a sudden you hit a random chunk of ice that’s sticking out of the snow. It wasn’t your fault, but now your time drops by a fraction of a second, edging you out of medal ranking standings. Is this fair? Sure, stuff happens, but that’s why sports have second chances. That’s why there are multiple sets in tennis, to compensate for when your shoes slip or your racquet breaks, or anything like that.

If VEX can guarantee an environment in which nothing out of our hands can go wrong like disconnects in the Vexnets or motor brush failures, (allegedly with v5) then most might be a little more open to the idea. But with an unreliable electronics system, how can VEX expect for us students to be content with “one-match elims” where any disconnect or motor failure can be the end of an entire season of hard work?

tldr: Vex electronics not consistent enough yet for students to be able to trust it won’t fail during a crucial moment in a BO1 match, and mistakes happen, which is why every other sport gives its competitors buffer room with BO3.

In alpine skiing, Downhill & Super-G are both one run down the mountain. Fastest time wins. Miss a gate and you’re done. Or put in the run of your life and you can win Olympic gold (Ester Ledecká)

And in Olympic swimming you get one chance to get to the semis, then one chance to get to the finals. This is no different.

I’m sure Michael Phelps would have loved two out of three when the kid from Singapore bet him in the 100 fly finals.

As much as I see emphasizing consistency and repeatability by making it that if you glitch you lose, doesn’t it make more sense that a team who is truly more consistent should be able to beat the opponent twice in a best of 3 instead of getting lucky in a best of 1?

I’m sure that this is all stuff that the GDC thought of when making the decision, but I, and definitely the rest of the vex community, would like a bit more detail on the rationale that lead to the decision to beta test this system at the biggest and most expensive tournament of the year.

@bid.p on one hand we want you to learn how it is in the real world where failures could be catastrophic and there are no second chances.

On the other hand, I understand that most of the students are simply not ready for such harsh environment and it will negatively impact the learning process.

Teams that I interact with, usually, roll their eyes when I start talking about probabilities of component failures, redundancy, sensor error covariance, and such. As much as I would, secretly, enjoy new tournament format forcing my son to study those subjects and taking more than 10% of my advice, I understand that many of the students are simply not ready for those subjects. Most of them haven’t even taken Algebra II, let alone Introduction to the Probability Theory.

And, also, it is unnatural for the teenagers to seek advice because they are wired to learn how to do things independently at that age.

So who will benefit with the changes that emphasize pure luck and demand super reliability over second chances?

First of all, senior HS teams who all have more experience, have taken more math classes, and want to win so much that they will study advanced theory and be able override their teenage mindset to seek advice from mentors. Those teams will always do good.

Second, the teams where robots are designed and build mostly by professionals who studied this stuff in college and students are merely drivers who are expected to practice ad infinitum since they don’t have to spend time designing the robots.

Everybody else will be at disadvantage, at least, in the beginning. However, I am not sure if average student is ready for the challenge presented by the new format.

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Yet in Alpine Skiing, your skiis don’t mysteriously come undone and stop working. I doubt Michael Phelps’ arms have ever unplugged during a swim either.

Vexnets, on the other hand…

Thanks a lot for understanding.

I would also like to point out that in many Olympic skiing and snowboarding events athletes get 3 attempts. There are multiple occasions where there’s an equipment failure in one run and they bounce back from it.

Agreed. And sure, some Olympic events only give you one shot. But those events come with a guarantee that the equipment you’re given to compete with work all the time.

I don’t think these will be issues in the near future with the release of V5. Problems during matches will significantly decrease due to better radios, and better connectors.

Mr. Copioli and Mr. V-Neun,

I think the issue that the community has with the new elimination system is twofold. First of all, as @bid.p and others have mentioned, the unreliability of the current control system leads to an uncontrollable error for participants. There is nothing that can be legally done to make the system more reliable, consequently leading to issues where a team with a better robot may lose because of a simple disconnect or broken motor. This is the main reason why a comparison to athletics runs into issues: athleticists have control over most of the variables in the competition since the main piece that is critical to their success is themselves. In contrast, the critical piece of VRC is the control system, which is beyond the control of the participants.

Another important point to note, however, is that this new system is essentially being beta tested at Vex Worlds 2018. Many teams have spent 1000+ dollars to travel and attend the event, and in the very real possibility that some are eliminated due to electrical faults that are uncontrollable by themselves without illegal actions, their experience, season, and expense would be wasted.

I’m sure that people would be fine with testing this new format once v5 (which is reputedly more reliable) is released and if it is tested on a local level where the stakes and the cost of attendance are drastically smaller.

Right, but the issue here is that Best Of One matches will be played with the current not-too-reliable v4 system at worlds, and that this was announced literally three weeks before Worlds.

I agree with waiting until V5 is released, but I still think that testing this at Worlds is the best decision.

This is the biggest issue for us, and why we skipped World’s this year. We had a great VRC time last year, but horrible IQ, so we were not going to spend the money to have more component failures like the ones that caused us IQ trouble just to be told to basically suck it up.

Even though some of our best moments were as a 3rd team early in our VRC history, I like the 2-team format. I don’t mind single elimination either as long as teams are given a fair time between matches and true VEX errors do not cause a loss.

As others have mentioned, even though the GDC made the comment “it is a no-brainer” to test this at World’s due to percentages of teams it affects, I believe it is the worst time to test due to all of the money the teams have spent to get there. Rather, test it out next season for a few tournaments, or months, when the per tournament cost is small for the teams. Changing rules and expectations a couple weeks before the actual event does not seem to be the most thoughtful approach.

Additionally, as far as helping out sandbagging, I’m not sure it changes much. What would help, however, is to drop the two lowest match scores like they do in IQ.

Worlds isn’t supposed to be somewhere to “test something”. Many people that I know have spent their entire season preparing for this competition, and for many, this is their last Worlds. Why would anyone want to spend the biggest competition of the year on testing a theory, especially when it could negatively impact so many teams? I’d prefer for VEX to host local competitions or scrimmages with this format to see how it goes, instead of testing at Worlds.

I think this isn’t the best idea, because if you try this out on a few tournaments, it would be either an unfair advantage to those playing the current system or to those playing the new system (depending on the perspective). When it comes to regional and state tournaments, everything should stay consistent throughout the season. I think Worlds is the best place to test it because it is only ONE tournament that is big enough to get a good idea of how the new system works and makes it equally fair for everyone currently competing in the season. For the benefits that the new system will bring, the trade-offs I believe would be worth it.