Tournament Schedules: Delete the Match Times

I conducted an experiment at the Gladstone Winter VRC tournament in Vancouver last weekend. When I printed the match schedules I covered up the match times, leaving only the match numbers. During the opening ceremonies I explained that we would be queuing solely based upon match number, for the reasons listed below.

It was well-received by coaches, and while I didn’t directly poll students no negative feedback made it through to me. Allow me to suggest why I believe match times should not be included on VRC tournament schedules.

  1. Published match times are rarely correct. Indeed, the only way that the published match time can be correct is if the tournament is running slightly ahead of schedule and each field waits until the anointed time to begin a match. Following published match times guarantees that your tournament will never run ahead of schedule… which can be a problem should a technical glitch cause a delay.

  2. Match times slow down the tournament. The tournament director has to estimate a match cycle time when creating the tournament schedule. It is best to choose a conservative cycle time to ensure that the tournament doesn’t run late. If all goes well the actual match cycle time should be a bit faster than the predicted time. Deleting the match times allows the tournament to run at its natural speed.

  3. Publishing both times and match numbers is poor human interface design. When you give people two pieces of information they will choose which one they want to follow. Even if you tell them “ignore the match time” they will show up at queuing late for their match and saying “but it said it was supposed to start at 1:30!” If you give teams only a match number, they have to build their team schedule around the match number.

  4. Published match times are not needed. Teams members are reasonably bright. They know that if they have just competed in match 9, and are next scheduled for match 19, that they have a good chance to visit the judges or the skills field. When match 15 is playing however, it might be a better idea to start heading to queuing.

By working solely from match numbers we were able to run 10-15 minutes ahead during the morning qualifying rounds, and finished the afternoon rounds a half hour ahead of schedule. Not bad for 113 qualifying matches! Thankfully we were ahead after qualifying as an unusually slow alliance selection and a technical delay in the consolation finals* put us back on schedule.

So I’ll throw this out there for other tournament directors to consider… try covering up the match times when you print your schedules. I suspect your tournaments will run more smoothly and you’ll actually make it easier on your queuing volunteers.


  • (when possible we run a consolation final for the unpicked teams so that they have a chance to get a few more games in)

I like this idea. I’m tired of being told “we are running off schedule” at tournaments. Are the times ever correct…and if not, what is the point of them?

Just to clarify, I think the tournament managers in Minnesota have been doing an excellent job, so this isn’t to knock them. Even at a very well run competition, the times seem to be nonsense.

Actually, most of the tournaments I’ve been to in our area (Northern California) have been about on time, with a delay of at most 20 minutes. At the tournament we hosted we experienced a few delays in the beginning, but after a while, we were basically following the schedule, just with a 10 minute lag. In addition, most of the tournaments I’ve been to so far have had students sign up for a specific time slot for judging, so it’s not the type of judging where we can just show up. Sometimes we also have to sign up for the skills challenges.

Having a match schedule gives teams a rough idea of when to sign up for these things. It allows us to find the largest gap between our matches (e.g. a gap from 10:20 to 11:30) so we can sign up for a judging slot in that time period, probably around 10:50 to 11:00 to allow for some leeway. I feel like it should be up to the teams to decide whether to mind the match schedules or not. All 4 teams from our club actively check the matches to see how closely they follow the schedule, and we use this to predict when we have to queue.

Of course, at different locations the scenario could be different. I’ve also been to one or two tournaments where we just show up to judging or to skills; at these kinds of tournaments I can see why not having a match schedule might be okay. However, I still think a printed match schedule would be a good idea, and the teams themselves can decide whether they want to use it or not.

Note: in the above paragraph when I say “match schedule” I mean a schedule that includes times, not a schedule simply showing which teams are going against which teams

At our first tournament at the end of the summer, we create a very relaxed match schedule anticipating that such an early tournament will require more time for teams to make adjustments between matches.

We inform teams that we will never start a match earlier than the published time unless all teams are at the field and ready to go.

I like this. This takes away ALL guessing about what “time” to show up because you don’t have to estimate what time certain matches will be at. You simply show up when match “x” is going.

I agree that having the times is not necessary as the events usually run behind or ahead of schedule. But I still think it is a good idea to keep it, because it gives you some reference point for when matches will be, how much time you have between matches, and when breaks/lunch is. If the match times are on the list, it might make sense to list is as the approximate time and add a note and announcement that the matches will be queued by number, not by time. Sort of like it is now, but make sure everyone knows that the times are for reference only and aren’t necessarily correct.

Just to be clear, tournament officials still have access to the predicted match time list so that we know how the tournament is progressing. Normally (with published match times) if we are running “ahead” then we slow things down so that the actual match time corresponds to the published match time. So if you are going to tournaments where most of the matches are running on time, there is a good chance that things could actually be progressing faster.

The problem with slowing the matches down to match the published times is that it creates a “check valve” of sorts… you can only run on schedule or behind schedule, never ahead of schedule. If you can’t run ahead of schedule then you never have any “buffer time” should a delay occur.

We can also give the students a good estimate of how long we expect it to be between matches so they can self-schedule their judging and skills times. Admittedly, if you are pre-scheduling teams for specific judging time slots this could create some challenges, however as soon as you have unplanned delays the judging times get knocked off kilter anyway. We’ve found it easier and more efficient to say “The judges are here (pointing to a room or table). Come find them when you have a chance.”

Anyway, it was an interesting experiment. When planning the schedule I entered a match cycle time of 4:40 into tournament manager. It was a conservative estimate based on feedback from other local tournament directors. Our actual match cycle times in the morning were about 4:10 and by the afternoon we had it down to 3:46.

We did publish the times for match #1 and match #53 (the first match after lunch). I had set lunch to occur following match #52, but it was suggested by one of the refs that had I said “Lunch will be at noon.” we could have stopped at whatever match we were at right at noon, providing some certainty for pizza deliveries. That might be worth experimenting with, too.

One other thing we did… that may well be common in other VRC tournaments (it definitely is the norm in FRC) was to have the first four matches queued prior to opening ceremonies with the robots on the field and the drive teams in the queuing area. That got the tournament off to a snappy start.

Thanks for the positive feedback. If you decide to try deleting the match times, let us know how it goes.


So it sounds like you were ahead of time for most of the day.

I like this as a strategy. I’m also a fan of putting an extra round of matches into the schedule. If the event falls behind you can just announce that we are stopping at Match #108

Yes… the extra time allowed us to run a consolation final round on the second field set. (We actually ended up finishing the day about 30 minutes behind after a few delays and several tiebreaker matches during elimination.) It made things a bit tight for island teams trying to catch a ferry, but everyone made it home okay I think. :slight_smile:

I like the idea of having the time dependent “extra round” option as well, although I’m not quite sure how the software handles that when teams have the “filler” matches to make up for an odd number of teams. Mind you, I don’t quite know how Brian Yu, our tech wizard, makes the consolation rounds happen either… so just because I don’t know how to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done!

Another way for us to catch up on time is to cancel the consolation rounds and run the elimination rounds on two field sets… which, of course, is only an option when there are two field sets!


I like this idea for regular local tournaments. However, at large events that have pre-scheduled judging interviews and are webcasted (various State and National tournaments, as well as Worlds) it would be nice to hold on to match times. I run our VEX program’s facebook page, and I find it useful to be able to tell people “tune in to the webcast around 11:47AM and you can see our team compete.” Pre-scheduled judging interviews also rely on match times being arranged in a way that allows teams a window in which they can go do their interview.

This only applied to very large events, however, and such events are usually pretty good about staying on schedule. For small events I agree that match times are wholly unnecessary. When we compete I don’t even read the match times, only the numbers.

I also like the idea of consolation matches after alliance selection. I’d like to look into this for the tournament we’re hosting next year. Maybe the skills field could be repurposed for this after alliance selection is finished. It would be easy enough to run, with nothing but a competition switch, a stopwatch, and some score sheets- all materials which are already stocked at most skills fields anyway.

EDIT: Perhaps consolation matches deserve their own thread.

We ran our first event that stayed relatively close to the posted schedule. We have been 1/2 hour to 1 hour behind in the previous events we have run in the past two years.

The main variant in not running on schedule we have seen are:

  1. Network and connectivity issues in field controls and towers (lesson there: don’t depend upon any wi-fi but that makes using Vex Via impossible). Have a spare tower on hand.
  2. No show teams to the event - schedules can not be published in advance most times.
  3. Herding cats to get teams to the table. Do you hold up a match start for a kid not being there? As usual, error is additive.
  4. Newbies and inexperience of event partners and volunteers being new to running events

Previous to running our own events locally, we had the luxury of the STEM Robotics dynamic duo of Foster & Steve. The matches ran on time pretty darn well with those guys. If we could only be so

My team just attended the Minnesota State Competition. It was a very well run event. It was to the minute almost the entire two days of the event.

I posted previously that I don’t like match times because they are never right. If every event is run as well as the Minnesota State event then I say times are a good thing to post.

One thing that I think helped is that before the competition even started all teams met and were told by the event coordinator that match times WILL START ON TIME. If your not there…too bad.