Vex Worlds Qualification Fairness

Since my earlier thread about North Texas Finals Matches has turned into a great but off topic conversation about qualifying for worlds, I am creating this thread for the debate instead.

So is the current qualification system fair?

I am sure RECF is trying to invite a large sample of teams to the Worlds, while keeping it both fair and at manageable size, and it is not easy to please everyone.

From my point of view, one of the easy and obvious solutions would be to count top 50 skills scores as double qualifications. This way regions with very strong teams that make it to the top 50 will be able to qualify few more teams from their state’s skills list (similar idea was suggested earlier in the linked thread).

On the example of my state I could see a couple of really good teams that could have made it to the Worlds if this rule was applied.

We know that the official answer to that is NO. But can anyone give the reasoning behind that?

I really think California deserved 63 high school spots.


California is routinely competitive, and while I can’t say if it is better than other regions like Texas, Canada, Singapore, etc., I really do think adding more teams from California will maintain (if not increase) the standard of gameplay at Worlds. Of course, these spots must be taken out of somewhere, and so I sympathize with regions that are losing spots due to less growth.

Yes, the qualification system is fair. Beyond that, the ways to qualify are communicated completely by REFC and the process is transparent. Like I argued on the previous post, I do not necessarily agree with the premise that the Worlds selection process is geared toward getting all of the best teams at Worlds. The goal seems to be getting some great teams, some good teams, rewarding technically superior teams, and providing an international STEM experience for students. To take that further - the design awards for most states qualify Worlds. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most competitive robot. Same for the on-line challenges. If a team wins an on-line challenge, that does not necessarily mean that their robot is competitive. The third alliance partner on any winning alliance that qualifies for Worlds is probably ranked around 17th to 20th in their state tournament - clearly there are more competitive teams than that team that go to Worlds.

All this argues the point that the qualification criteria does not seek to get the most competitive teams at Worlds. If that were the goal, the criteria would be much different. And like I argued previously - would probably eliminate 3 team alliances so that 17th ranked team would not qualify. But that’s what I love about Vex. You can go to a tournament and anything could happen - you may not be the best but you may come away with a win of some sort. That makes it fun for everyone.

Now I do agree that states that have teams in the top 50 in skills should get additional spots.

Great analysis, clearly communicated. As always.

I understand good teams, even great teams, get left behind. But the emotions expressed over the process leave me…
(Okay, I’m struggling for the right words to be able to go on here, and if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know that doesn’t usually slow me down. I’m looking for something that won’t be offensive to all the people with deep emotions on this. I’m somewhere between “amused” which is offensive in this context and “confused” which doesn’t carry the feeling of comraderie I feel with those expressing their feelings. I’d say “bemused” because most people think that word captures the feeling I just described, but they’re wrong about the definition. So I’ll go with this paragraph, and a made-up word “bemazed.” There. Back to the discussion. Rewind.)
…leave me bemazed. Why do you think the selection process is trying to be fair? Why do you think it should? Most things in life are not about what’s fair. I am certain RECF is not trying to be unfair, but that’s a different thing. They are putting forth a game and a system of rewards where teams of all levels will be incentivized to participate. That’s a different goal than “fair.”

Condider: If a new team with a robot appropriate to their experience level has no chance at all of making it to Worlds, why would they attend their state competition? In some states, the per-team fee is $300, and a multi-hour drive from your home area. If they don’t intend to go to their state tournament, why would they go to a qualifying event during the season that required them to get up early and drive a couple of hours? They’d probably just go to whatever competitions were easy to get to and didn’t require significant time and resources. How would they convince their schools to get involved in a program where the only chance of reward is years down the road? If those teams don’t go to the qualifying competitions, pay their registration fees and buy concessions thereby providing funding so that the event partner can buy next year’s game sets, how does this thing sustain itself?

The game and the selection process are designed to make the VEX competition self-sustaining. There are plenty of opportunities to control your own destiny. But there are some elements to VEX that are like winning the lottery. The effect of that, whether RECF designed it this way or just stumbled into it accidentally, is to give every team, no matter their circumstances, a chance at a reward. Which means they’ll show up to play.

I think it works.

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” I totally agree with all of this. To pile on a bit, if I’m in Virginia but I know that Texas is going to take my spots, why would I even bother? And like Kypro said, if I’m only the middle of the pack and don’t have a chance in heck of making it to the top, why would I bother…? That is the genius of the 3-team alliance. On any day, anything could happen. Stuff like that is what keeps them coming! Remember Vex is a business as much as it is a sport.

It is a bit like the NCAA basketball selection process. If you win your conference, you are in no matter how weak your conference. Any team has a chance. I remember back in the day when Gonzaga was never really good, but they seemed to always make the tournament from a weak conference and would sometimes win a game. A few years ago, Butler came from no where and ended up in the championship game. Now, both schools have solid programs and Butler is in a big boys conference.

And yes, we following the NCAA up in Canada.

This is a very different sentiment than the last thread. While RECF’s goal here may not be to qualify all the best robots for worlds, what if it were?

As @Gear Geeks so eloquently stated,

If this is the final goal, is it not better to have the most competitive teams in the world all compete here rather than a riff-raff of worse teams who barely managed to qualify? Worlds isn’t just about winning a competition, but when you look at it as one, Worlds doesn’t make sense if all the best teams aren’t there. It’s simply not as good of an experience when you make it if you know that several of the best teams in the world are not present.

Dude look at the description for South Carolina vex state. Is it fair to change that the week of the event like they did yesterday?

What did they change?

I have a feeling that VEX/REC created a few worm filled cans for themselves this season, all centered around an unwillingness to publicly post ALL of the rules that they seem to be working in their own minds.

According to what I’ve heard, MS coaches complained to our RECF representative that not enough MS teams are going to Worlds (fair enough, only 2 out of like 26 teams went last year), and so the RECF mandated that 4 MS teams must go to Worlds, that any double qualifications will be given to MS teams first, until that 4 limit is reached, then HS teams second. Before this Tourney Champs, Excellence Award (MS & HS), Design Award, Tourney Semifinalists, and Robot Skills winners would all qualify. Now Semifinalists don’t, and the remainder of slots are filled with World’s Skills Standings, prioritizing MS teams. See RobotEvents for more information


I am going to start off by arguing specific some points from the other thread.

First of all, thanks for the insight! I wasn’t sure how the South got so many teams this year.

With that said, I disagree that population is a fact. Geographical boundaries are arbitrary. Here in Texas, it’s even more arbitrary with sub-regions. How do you decide if a team is from the North, South, or West? Is Austin North or South? For example, I know for a fact that some AusTIN CANs teams have come to the North state competition before. I argue that, right now, arbitrary geography lines have too much influence on whether or not a team qualifies for Worlds.

This is incorrect. Last year, North qualified 6 teams from semifinals. Even if you don’t count the one skills spot, that’s still a decrease of 6 spots.

Teams are trying to be “competitive”. But when the quarter finals and semi finals are nearly as hard as the finals, it’s hard to advance to a qualifying position.

Now, from a more general perspective, I argue that the goal of Worlds is to provide great competition with a variety of teams. The VEX Worlds page itself says that it brings “the top 1,400 student-led robotics teams from around the world”. Under-representing certain regions with tougher competition undermines this goal.

Learning STEM does not require going to Worlds. Classroom participation and local competition do this just as easily.

Getting tournament champion in region X says almost nothing about a team’s ability to compete on a Worlds level.

Excellent idea.

So, is the qualification system fair? Mostly, but it needs some improvements.

I feel like this is one of those equality vs equity debates and in so being, is just a matter of opinion. Currently the system brings teams equally per Vex population in each region. The fact that the design convergence reached the state that teams 1-8 were all pretty similarly capable is just part of the game. I don’t mean to criticize, but i think one of the points of having so few spots in such a competitive region is to motivate people advance further and try out new things to keep at the front edge. In the end, most of the best in the region complete with the rest of the bests in the rest of the world.

This has been a great discussion and it’s really interesting to see everyone’s views in the forums against the views at the things like the EP Summit and individual State Event Partner Meetings. It’s not easy for the REC or any school based organization to balance the “competitiveness” of a competition and the “educational experience” of the competition. I can promise you any time with the REC the educational experience will always come first and as a teacher that makes me happy. By saying that I do think the current system is fantastic, but everyone has an idea on how to improve things so why not add my 5 cents.

I want to start by saying most of my teams have the goal every year to try and make it to the World Championship. Some of my lesser experienced teams are just happy trying to make it to the State Championship and my extremely new teams just don’t want to get embarrassed on the field and have fun. Any of these three goals work for me because it achieves my goal as a teacher which is to get my students involved and learning. For this post I am going to stay strictly from the viewpoint of my top teams since they put in the most work by far in my program. For these guys and all the other teams I do have a list of Requirements and a list of Wishes that I feel should be in place for teams to qualify and teams that did qualify.

The first and most important Requirement that I have which I think needs to be put in place next year is that if a team qualifies for the World Championship does not submit an Engineering Notebook at the event they qualify at, then they are not eligible and lose that spot to the highest unqualified skills team with a notebook. This would be an easy addition to the Tournament Manage software as it would just be an extra checkbox on the check in tab. There are teams (mine included) that literally spend hundreds of extra hours on their notebook because it should be half of the of the robotics project (part of this is for those bashing on the Design Award also- my team ranked 30th in the division even though we got in on the design award it’s not like most of those robots are bad). I also think if/when a rule like this gets implemented then the minimum requirements of the notebook gets redone so a team that submits a loose leaf three ring binder with four pages that say Notebook are not eligible.

The second requirement I would add is that a team has to have participated in a minimum of one skills run during the event. This like the notebook shows that a team is putting in their best effort at an event, and no one say a World Qualifying Event can’t make that accommodation if they couldn’t it shouldn’t be a World Qualifying Event. My biggest argument for this is with the Excellence Calculator takes into account Skills, so why so a team that isn’t trying for Excellence be awarded a World Championship spot.

My first wish is kinda hard to quantify. I would want teams that “fail” the interview not eligible to move on as well. This one is hard to explain unless you have been a judge at one of these events, but if a team goes into a formal interview and know absolutely nothing about the machine then it speaks to them not actually building that machine. I’m not saying that they need to know each and every detail of their robots, but if the students do not know the basic gear ratios or lift/drive types then it’s skeptical.

My second wish relates to skills again. I think if a team doesn’t have at least a top 50% overall World Skills Ranking at the time of their championship then they shouldn’t be eligible to qualify. Right now that would be a minimum skills score of 14 points which most mid/top tier teams can get minimum in just programming alone. I think this would help the top 5 skills teams in each region that got knocked out by seeding luck (i.e. 4th seed being the third best skills robot might not get a Worlds Invite just because the lose a round early). This way a team has to put in some effort into skills at minimum besides “ridding coattails” of the top two teams at an event.

You could expand my second wish to allocate spots per region in skills, but that does make it a tough call. If the goal is to get as many teams involved in robotics as possible, then it makes sense to distribute Worlds Spots based on total number of teams, the problem is it hurts the sparsely populated areas that have traditions of having great machines, (Singapore, New Zealand, and Hawaii all come to mind for me immediately must be a Pacific Island Problem :P) It is super hard to grow the number of teams when you have hundreds of thousands of less students to pull from. Just as a small example Illinois has around 1.6 million high school students compared to Hawaii which has 158 thousand high school students. It’s honestly amazing how many teams some of these areas have with the lower amount of students that they serve Illinois average 1 HS team for every ~13,000 students where as Hawaii average 1 per ~3,000.

I think it is as fair as it can be, given the broad range of region sizes. Since this thread is indirectly related to the Texas qualifications, let me share what I found when I filtered robotevents map search to registered teams by region:
Caveats: 1) this is registered teams… not all ended up participating. 2) I had to make assumptions about where teams played, and arbitrarily split some areas between north and south.
The resultant split of worlds spots is still relatively close to the proportion of teams in a sub-region, with West being the only area which is dramatically off. It is a tough change that North had so many fewer spots this year, but not out of keeping with the number of teams there. (I know there is an argument for quality>raw numbers, but will leave that to the others that are putting forth their opinions.)

Since we all know that Texas is the center of all things, here are neighboring states for a quick comparison:
*oops, that last state should be Louisiana

So you would say that an improvement like @TexasVex suggested

Would not be feasible. Because, in my opinion, this seems like it could be a bit more fair of a system

Great analysis! But where did you get the “received” numbers? They don’t match the 15 S, 9 N, 5 W numbers from the events’ awards pages.

Also, I actually hope the numbers from RobotEvents weren’t used to calculate spots. As you said, there are many teams listed there that did not participate this season. Interestingly, there appear to be some “dummy” teams based in Greenville, where VEX and RECF are based: