The Politics of Alliance Selection and Conflicts of Interest

This past weekend at the Tech Valley Robot Rumble, I was put into an awkward situation. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I mentor both Teams 20 and 5254. This weekend I was drive coaching for 5254. I became involved with 5254 due to their close friendship with 20 during the 2015 season, so many of the students on the two teams are friends, and really wanted to win this event together.

5254 was the #1 seed, and was realistically going to win the event regardless of which of the other top robots we selected (barring us choking really hard- which we have done before). 5254 was consistently making 2.5 to 3 stacks using the staging zone cans, leaving our picks to use cans from the middle or not use cans at all.

There were 3 to 4 robots who fit this bill- 20, 1124, 3044, and 5099. Additionally, 263 was at the event, who was building 2 stacks from the feeder station during the season, but due to using new drivers was rarely building even 1 stack. Of those teams, 5099 was the most inconsistent, and wasn’t very good at grabbing cans off the step, and could only do so during teleoperated mode. 3044’s can grabber was inconsistent, and if it missed during autonomous, they weren’t likely to be able to get a can and build a stack in the same match. 263 remained inconsistent at best. This left 20 and 1124.

Both teams were capable on paper of grabbing both cans from the middle of the field, building 1-2 stacks of 4 and capping one of them. 1124 was byfar the more consistent of the two machines during qualifications, but grabbed cans only during teleoperated, and they broke in their last match. 20 was less consistent, but grabbed cans during autonomous, and had a very impressive human player who could sometimes place noodles where he wanted to on the other side of the field (including inside opposing robots).

Additionally, the seeding was as follows:

If we selected 1124, 20 was then going to select 263. If we picked 20, 3044 was going to pick 1124.
Which of those alliances is more of a threat to us in finals? Which alliance do we not want to go against?

20 and 263 were very good machines during the season, capable of making 2 stacks of 5 and 2.5 stacks of 6 respectively. That threat coupled with 20’s noodle throwing and can grabbing made them a seemingly formidable threat.

But even then, 20’s inconsistency left much to be desired, whereas 1124 was doing their thing all day, despite new and rotating drivers.

What determined the pick in the end was two things.

  1. What could mess us up? A well-placed noodle. A well placed noodle could ruin our day if it landed on our ramp or in our elevator.
  2. Familiarity. This might be the most controversial part of this post, but I know 20. I know exactly what the new drivers on 20 are going to do. I know exactly who is in charge and the kind of attitude that the team has. I know that behind the glass, I can expect 20 to play for the team, and not for the individual glory.

This is not to take anything away from any team at that event, especially 1124. I talked quite a bit with 1124’s drive coach about the pick before I had decided, and in both our matches with 1124, they were phenomenal to work with behind the glass.

(In fact, I was utterly impressed with the professionalism of the teams at the Tech Valley Robot Rumble. Every single team from top to bottom was a standout in my mind for their courtesy and professionalism. I’ve worked with selfish teams and jerk teams that are more concerned with acting like hot shots than being gracious professionals, but none of those teams were at the Rumble. The Tech Valley sets a standard for professionalism in my opinion, and I’m very proud of our region for that.)

But being able to work with professionals is different than the kind of relationship you can have with a team you’ve worked with intimately. 20 and 5254 are friends, and I know the students behind the glass for each team. 20 also had a similar relationship with other teams in the past, like 195, 2791, and 4265, who we’ve come to know as our good friends in FRC.

And I think this factor is not a negligible factor. It’s definitely not the first sort for selection, but it can definitely be a tiebreaker.

Have you ever wondered why 1114 will work with Team XXXX, who is on paper equally good as 2056, and score 150, and then work with 2056 and score 200 points? I think it’s because of that relationship. 624 and 118 have it. 971 and 846 have it. 1114 and 148 have it. It’s that difference between playing with a group of professionals and playing with your best friends.

In the end, 5254-20-716 faced 3044-1124-839 in finals. Everyone on the field was friendly and professional toward one another. There were no hurt feelings or anger, just a knowledge that either way, everyone was getting some experience, some fun, and some inspiration.

Thanks to 716 for joining 5254 and 20 on our alliance and for being (once again) absolute professionals behind the glass. I value teams that know what they’re capable of and execute it to the best of their ability almost every time- and that was every team at this event.

As a side note: 5254 debuted our new name this weekend: H.Y.P.E. (or HYPE, we’re not sure which we prefer yet), which stands for “Helping Youth Pursue Excellence”. We tried out some fun new drive team cheers and generally had a great time with it.

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