Signature Events were introduced this year, and I want to look at their impact to explain why I believe they’re an awesome replaced the World Skills Ranking, and what could be done to improve them even more.
The basic idea of the World Skills Ranking was that teams with exception skills scores, even if the RECF has decided to give their region 2 spots, can still qualify to Worlds. Similarly, Signature Events allow teams to go to different areas and take those qualification spots back to their own region. And while Signature Events still suffer from imperfect refs, bo1, and all the other wonderful features of every other competition, they create an opportunity to meet teams from all over the country (or world) and collaborate. I don’t think it’s fair to say they bring the Worlds experience to local teams, but they get impressively close, especially for 1-2 day events.
And something I think gets overlooked is that Signature Events create memorable matches before worlds. The same way a lot of us watch the RR at worlds in awe of just how good the teams are, I’ve found myself looking back at Signature Event streams and watching the insanity of the top teams. But unlike the RR, we then have the opportunity to go home, practice, tweak, and integrate the concepts we saw at the Signature Events into our own robot. It’s just really cool to be a part of.
The biggest critique I’ve heard of Signature Events is that they’re a “pay to win” setup. To throw my friends on 7700S under the bus (sorry guys), they had the means to fly to Columbia to compete at and win a Signature Event there. Doesn’t that prove that Signature Events just benefit rich teams? Not at all. 7700S was dominant at California states and ended up as a State Finalist, double qualifying them. And the team that qualified because of 7700S’s double qualification was 8301E, a really strong team from an underprivileged Title 1 school who’s alliance partner white screened in state elims. There were a total of 10 double qualifications from California, and 8301E had the 10th highest skills score in California among unqualified teams, so 7700S’s double qualification allowed 8301E to qualify to Worlds. If they hadn’t flown out to Columbia, they would still be going to Worlds, but 8301E would not.
Let’s look more broadly at the teams that have won Signature Events within the US. The huge majority have come from highly competitive regions such as California, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, resulting in extra double quals in those regions. And of the 7 teams from CA who qualified at Signature Events, 3 of them double qualified at their state event, and 2 triple qualified. Notably, the first seed at Google, 6627X and 6842Z was bo1ed in quarterfinals by a combo of terrible luck and amazing driving by 21S Both ended up at state champs. 6842Z also won skills at Google, 6627X won skills at states and excellence at Google, and 21S qualified as well as a state finalist after beating ex world champ 86868R. All this is to say, the teams that succeed at signature events by and large succeed at states too, so the spots largely just go back to skills. But unlike before, the process by which these spots are allocated involves some of the best matches in the world and a lot of cross-state and international collaboration. It’s really a win win.
So where do Signature Events fall short? At least as far as I’ve seen, it’s only internationally. China and Singapore have both put up utterly dominant performances at Worlds year after year, often winning over 70% of their collective matches at worlds and way over representing themselves in world eliminations and in the dome. Last season, both middle school world champions, one of the high school world champions, and the vex u world champion were all from China. Why, then, is there just one Signature Event in the entire continent of Asia? The lack of Signature Events for Chinese and Singaporean teams keeps deserving teams from these regions out of Worlds in favor of weaker American and Canadian teams. I love having 40 spots in California, but when my state gets more spots than the entire continent of Asia, something is wrong. And the solution if the RECF isn’t going to fix their allocation of Worlds spots needs to be more Signature Events in China and Singapore.
But overall, Signature Events have really made Vex better, at least from the perspective of an American team. I’ve competed at a total of 35 tournaments across the last 5 seasons (and I still have 2 big ones left!), and my experience at my only signature events is very close to the top of the list. While bo1 and v5 worry me, Signature Events are an exciting new direction for VRC.