Unfairness in the 2018 Ringmaster Challenge for Advancing to State Competition

We had an unusual situation occur at our local (southern California - Orange County) competition just this weekend regarding the scoring system that was a bit discouraging. Apparently the rules have changed for qualifying for the state competition this year compared to last year. This year there were only 3 teams who could advance to the state competition, which is understandable as the field of competition has gotten quite large in the past few years. We had over 40 elementary schools participate in our local event (great showing indeed!) and our school had 4 teams, all 5th graders except one team of 4th graders.

However, we had three teams from our elementary school which had made it to the finals (8 teams total competed). However, the new rules do not consider all of the combined scores that each team has accumulated throughout the course of the day in order to advance to state competition. Rather, the top 8 teams compete against each other in a “sudden death” competition whereby only one match determines who moves on. As it turns out the top four teams from the day’s events all did not score well enough to move on.

I thought that this was an unusual way to determine state qualifiers as well as some other parents. I did not say much so as to discourage the students. However, several elementary kids came to me later saying "what was the point of working so hard in all the matches " (team driver, solo driver and autonomous events) if it came down to one match for everyone to possibly advance? Our kids were the first place team (ahead by over 80 points from second) but didn’t score high enough to compete in state. So they won the local competition but didn’t get to advance to state. Why is this?

I really hope this scoring system is changed for future years as it doesn’t make much sense.

The rules for the Finals are very unforgiving. The reason I have my teams practice driving so much is because they only get that one shot in the finals. I prepare them for two things, first having an plan so they know what to do assuming everything goes right. Second is a plan for what they can do if something goes wrong, like their claw breaks off 10 seconds into the match. This is the best thing I have done to prepare them for Finals. I don’t think it is likely there will major changes to the Finals process.

The current system of qualifying and Finals is has been the same for at least four years. I ran the Indiana IQ State Championships from 2014-2016 and these are the same rules that were in place then. Having the highest total at the end of qualifying does not mean that a team won the competition, only that they are in a good position to do well in the Finals. Whichever team scores highest in the Finals wins the competition.

1 Like

This is the way tournaments are run world-wide so I wouldn’t call it unfair. It is also not new; VEX IQ has been this way for at least the last 4 years.

Being the number 1 seed does not necessarily mean you are the top team at an event due to random match-ups during qualifying - to truly be “fair” every team would have to run with every other team which would be an impossibly long event! The point of qualifying is to try and put the most consistent teams in the finals and see how they do with other consistent teams if that makes sense. In my experience more often then not the 1 and 2 seed do not win.

Skills runs are a separate part of the challenge (what you call solo driver and autonomous) and can result in teams moving on to States and even Worlds if they are high enough without winning a qualifying spot via Teamwork/Excellence or whatever awards qualify for the next level in your region.

I agree the rules for the finals is unforgiving. There have been lots of cases where the third seed team (5 & 6th overall) have won. Quarkmine is correct, to make it work out better would require a super long day for a team to play against all of the other teams.

Over the weekend I ran an event with 29 teams in it. After the first finals run, the top three teams (6 robots) were tied. So sometimes it’s a case of a team making an extra one point score (or having a ring get dumped, bounce off a robot and into the low goal area to create the win.

Sorry they didn’t make it to States. I try to remind people that “It’s not about the robot”. What did your roboteers learn about mechanics, physics, programming, fabrication, design iteration, communications, teamwork, etc. across the last year?

Good luck next season!

Oh, I totally agree that it’s not about winning but more importantly about what the kids learn from it all. But it’s a bit difficult to answer when kids come to you and say “what’s the point of working so hard all day when it comes down to just one match?” Remember, you don’t just make it to the Super Bowl or World Series by winning one game, but rather consistently good playing.

There are so many ways of making this competition more “fair” for the kids. Why not take your top two teams and then have a “wild card sudden death” for the third place? It teaches kids that being consistently good is more importantly than just one, potentially flukey win.

Also, I argue that it was not the same for us last year. Last year they took 8 teams to state competition, but this year there were only three. Not to mention we had 48 schools compete. The competition was greater and the wining spots were less this year. Next year, due to our local school size, they are splitting it into two events and having outside schools compete within our area. Should be interesting yet again.

Quarkmine - what do you mean by …
“Skills runs are a separate part of the challenge (what you call solo driver and autonomous) and can result in teams moving on to States and even Worlds if they are high enough without winning a qualifying spot via Teamwork/Excellence or whatever awards qualify for the next level in your region.”

We had a solo driver and autonomous match as well, but due to the size of our competition, they first told us we would have 3 attempts at autonomous (not sure about solo driver) and then we only got one chance. Not well planned out I think. You’ve got to stick to the rules. Many kids came away with discouragement in how the competition was run.

I don’t understand what you mean by “solo” driver. There are driver skills and autonomous skills.

As stated above, this is how it’s been for many years, certainly since we started. Definitely it has randomness associated with it. Given that, it’s best to attend as many tournaments as you can. We were fortunate to win 5 tournaments our first season, only being ranked 1st after quals at one of them, the rest came from 3 through 6 place. The next thing to do is keep your teams consistent and practice driving. Also, due to this randomness, this year we have focused mostly on skills. This takes the variation out of the judges awards and the randomness out of the qualifiers matches. What you do at home is pretty close to what you can do at a tournament in skills and your state probably pulls from the skills list to fill out the State tournament.

If you have other concerns then you may want to find out who your RECF rep is and email them. No, the tournament format is not perfect by any means, but there are ways to work around the system here and there.

I think I’m not being clear so I’ll try and clarify. You mention the top two teams and wild card sudden death - what I was getting at is that “the top 2 teams” are not necessarily the top 2 teams due to random match-ups in qualifying. Some tournaments you have good alliances, some you have challenging alliances - there is a large degree of randomness in the seeding process and therefore it is not a good indicator of top teams as far as specific spots, simply a good indicator of consistent teams. That is why to achieve truly fair seeding in the finals all teams would have to be paired with every team. However, that is unrealistic due to the amount of time it would take - for instance in a ~36 team event with 6 runs teams will be paired up with only 1/6 of the other teams.

As far as skills, all skills scores go into the global ranking. Many regions have spots that go on to the next level of competition based on their skills scores. The top 25 ES and MS teams in skills will go directly to the World Championship. That being said, skills scores have nothing to do with qualifying matches (the teamwork challenge.) This is just like the STEM Presentation and Design Notebook have nothing to do with qualifying matches - they are all different aspects of VEX IQ.

All in all I like the sudden death finals of IQ. It is not forgiving but I think it generally gives a good variety of robots a shot at showing how well they do as part of a team that includes another robot that is not their own - this is the point of IQ. Once students move on to VRC there is a different sort of finals that works well when robots are not cooperating.

I totally get this!!! I think getting paired with every team in an event is too much. I really enjoy finishing the qualifying rounds no later than 2:00pm. :slight_smile:

One suggestion for a fix would be to have the finalist teams that made it out of qualifying rounds do three (or whatever number works) more qualifying rounds before the final sudden death match-ups! That way the better teams can then further average out who should be on top. What has happened to one of my teams in three separate events is they were consistantly NOT paired with the better teams and thus end up very low on the finals match ups. I track the stats at the end of the tournaments and that team one time had an equivalent average to another team from our school that wasn’t as good in their qualifying rounds. This was because that other team was “carried” by two other teams they paired with. I can see by the numbers and by experience that luck is a big factor in qualifying, if you aren’t a very high scoring team or very consistant - the only way to control your fate.

mgianzero - I hope you can see my point above that the highest average is not always a testament to the best team. That’s why the finals round is necessary. You also can’t just go off of qualifying average rounds either (i.e. have every team play every team)!!! I can’t imagine elementary/middle school teams doing this, but they could ambush certain teams by “throwing” matches in coordination.

It may not be perfect as-is, but it’s what we have!

From our state this year the top 4 teamwork parings will go to worlds.

We could do this at local competitions but you have to consider the state tournament as well. You have a limited amount of space there. If the number of qualifying events double and the number of spots at the state tournament stay the same, then the number from each tournament that qualifies will have to be reduced. If you have a bigger state tournament, or more state tournaments, then each event will have more qualifying spots.

I appreciate all the discussion about this. It shows that there are a lot of engaged coaches and parents here.

The “solo driver” event I was referring to is a “driver skills” event they had at our meet. It’s only one driver who shows their driver skills by scoring points. Just like the “autonomous mode” these are varied events from the team competition which shows different skills from each robotics team.

Another approach to the competition is to weigh all three events equally and the top scores in each (or total) decides who advances to state. One of our teams had spent way more time programming their robot to do all sorts of things with sensors, etc when few other teams even attempted to do this. No emphasis on coding at this level which I think should be encouraged and rewarded more than it is currently.

They are all weighed in, along with a couple of other things, with the Excellence award. I am sure that if two top teams were basically equal, and one did a lot of coding more than the other, then the judges would take that into consideration.

That’s not how Driver Skills should be played (and that’s why people here questioned the term “solo”). For driver skills, you still need 2 drivers and they still switch between 25-35s into the match. It’s just a single team, single robot, but the drivers are still two.

There is actually quite some emphasis on programming - Programming skills used to be an independent discipline years ago and very few teams participated.
Nowadays, Robot Skills uses combined score from your best driver skills attempt and your programming skills attempt, so if no team does programming and your team does, they have a significant advantage. As long as they can score at least those 20 points.
And as explained, judges consider the results from the skills disciplines as one of the inputs for Excellence Award, which is, by the way, the primary way to get state nomination (even the smallest, 16 team events still get a qualification slot for the Excellence winner).

Edit: formatting

There is no such thing as “solo driver” format. Driver Skills must be played with 2 drivers switching between 25 and 35 seconds.

IMHO, the rule is rule. If everybody’s playing with this rule then there is only “bad luck” instead of “unfairness”.

Now, talking about a real unfair game… My local state has a school that has very strong tradition with VEX IQ robotics. It has 5 teams enlisted this year, and 2 of them were already qualified for the state before a recent tournament. In the tournament, 2 teams from this school made to the final. Let’s say team A and team B. A was already qualified, B was not. Team B played the final table, while team A played the one before the last. During the team A match, they were scoring very well – they have a better robot design IMO. Then they scored enough points to beat all the previous tables, and there were still about 8 seconds left. The first player in team A literally snatched the controller from the second player, and put it on the floor. Then the second player gave back this “oh yeah, I almost forgot” kind of look.

In the end, team B got teamwork champion and qualified for state.

Those 8 seconds probably didn’t make any difference, team B’s partner was a very strong team and they scored a whole lot more. But that final scene was kind of scary. It’s definitely not fair to team A’s partner. And I know for sure I will not trust those teams as partners in future tournaments.

I agree that this is a problem. I had a pair of teams that both had qualified for states that got paired together for the finals. They ended up willing by a couple of points, and they immediately came to me and asked if I could remove their score so that come other team could qualify for states. If they had to do again, I’m sure they would not have done as well.

However, without alliance selections, how can this be prevented? Should IQ go to an alliance selection system? Should teams qualified for states be asked to not participate in the finals? Or at least given the option?

Whoever is the regional support manager for your region should have designed the qualification system so that some teams will qualify for the state championship with awards and by winning events, and others can qualify through skills. Having high skills qualify is the best way to fill up the state championship with teams that have proven they have the abilities to compete at that level. Teams that score high by themselves can certainly do just fine with a partner, even if they may have missed the mark in execution.

I like that there is no alliance selection. At these ages, teams are not scouting, so they will pick their friends or whoever they are told to - the level of strategy that goes into the 3 team alliance selection of VRC simply doesn’t exist in this game format.

Going to an alliance selection for IQ won’t help with teams that are already qualified winning again. If anything it will make it worse because teams can pick other teams that complement them the best instead of getting paired with a team that is just like them. I would actually be for an alliance selection for IQ (2 teams, not 3 since it isn’t best two out of three matches) for just this reason. I think the current system of filling open state spots from the season long skills list works pretty well and encourages teams to participate in all aspects of the competition. I am absolutely against anything that would ask a team not to do their best and try to win the competition.

I wish that the finals weren’t such a ‘one-and-done’ thing. I had a team this year that was definitely one of the best in the state. Before finals in the state tournament, they were scoring fairly well with the team that they were paired with. Then, in finals, their partner failed miserably. My team did EXACTLY what they had practiced. In the end, they didn’t qualify for Worlds, partly because of their teammates’ fault. They understand, and they are okay with the decision, but it’s still sad. I wish that they had a ‘do-over’. Maybe three runs with their team, and either take the highest or the average. Or four runs, and drop the bottom. I understand that will make the tournaments longer, but it would help teams feel they had a fair chance.

I’d like to see finals be the same team setup, but be the best out of two runs. With our events of the top 10 alliances (20 teams) it’s ~20 mins to run the finals (4 fields), so it would take about 45 mins to run two batches. I’d most likely run from Alliance 10 to 1 and then repeat, rather than running the alliances back to back (that way they can do repairs).

Sports like luge, bobsled, snowboarding / skiing give you two runs in case of a disaster.

Adding into this: Best score of the two tries, in the case of a tie on the best score, then drop to the next best score to break the tie. If that score also ties then higher seed wins.

(Adding details from a GDC question I posted)