This post continues our “How To Host MiniFRC series.” In Part 1 we talked about how to start planning a MiniFRC event, from conception to game selection to advertising, and provide a collection of resources to help you get started. In Part 2, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Kickoff, Build Season, and Planning for Competition Day.
A word about timing: The “Planning for Competition Day” section comes at the end, not because you have to wait until after Kickoff to start planning, but because a lot of it can wait, and it will still work out. We speak from experience.
A note about communication: Good communication is key to holding a successful MiniFRC, not just ahead of time but throughout the whole thing. It continues from Pre-Kickoff throughout Competition Day (and beyond). Communicate early and often!
Even if you have to improvise for everything else, we highly recommend holding an in-person Kickoff event with all the pomp and ceremony of an actual FRC Kickoff (probably with less Dean Kaman interviews, although that part is entirely up to you). Be sure to announce this date well ahead of time and communicate it widely and frequently.
Kickoff is your chance to build enthusiasm and get your participants psyched. You’ve done nothing but think about MiniFRC for at least a month now, far more than anyone else in the room. Now it’s time to convince everyone who’s signed up that they’re in for a great time. (They are absolutely in for a great time—you just need to make them believe it!)
To plan for a great kickoff:
- Know your audience
- Build HYPE!
- Have Kits of Parts (KoPs)
- Be ready to release the game manual/field design
Know your audience
Your participants will likely fall into one of the following categories:
Your team’s members
Pro: They know you, they love you, they’re friendly faces.
Con: They might just be there out of loyalty.
Other team’s members
Pro: They drove farther to get here, so they’re probably invested.
Con: They might just be trying to check out the secret to your team’s success.
High school students, from your school or others
Pro: The whole mission of FIRST is to spread STEM education.
Con: Not really a con, but if they have no robotics experience they might need help getting started.
Pro: They have lots of skills and knowledge, and will have much to share with others
Con: They have lots of skills and knowledge, and will be almost impossible to beat
Pro: They can finally do something other than stand back and advise!
Con: I mean, there’s really no downside. (Speaking as a mentor.)
Parents of any or all of the above.
Pro: Inter-generational teams are highly encouraged.
Con: Not being as immersed in the concept of “gracious professionalism,” you might need to remind them that winning isn’t everything!
For an FRC student, there’s nothing like that feeling on the first Saturday in January, right before the game reveal. You’re as well rested as you’re going to get and you have nothing but excitement for what’s coming next. Then they finally show you the game, and it’s not at all like anything you’ve done before, but gadnagit you’re a robotics student and you are up for any challenge. You’re full of great ideas, boundless potential, just enough anxiety to propel creativity, and a youthful determination to survive without sleep.
This is the feeling you want to re-create.
Be ready to give a speech. It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a very long one. Tell your audience why you’re doing this and don’t be afraid to get personal, especially if you have a great story about how at your first MiniFRC competition you spent the whole day finishing your robot only to have it fall apart on the field, but you still had a great time. Feel free to exaggerate the drama—it’s for a good cause.
You’ll probably want to show a video!
- Here’s a cool time-lapse recap video of the first MiniFRC.
- Here’s a match from the 2022 Stronghold game.
- Here’s a file with more great resources
The best way to get people excited is a robot demo. It’s one thing to hear “quarter-scale FRC blah blah blah” and another to see a cute little bot made of cardboard and zip ties zooming around the floor, actually scoring cargo. Hopefully someone will have participated in MiniFRC before, and will have a working bot to show off. But if you need a demo, let us know!
Show some field elements. Unless we’re lending you a field (and we’re happy to do that if we have one lying around), you’ve probably already started thinking about building your own, and you’ve wisely decided not to leave that entirely for the last minute, so you probably at least have some component available to show off. Everyone will appreciate this. Very few teams, in our experience, will build their own practice field (but if they do, send them our way—we can use that kind of enthusiasm).
Be ready with KoPs and more
This is next level—remember, you can do MiniFRC with any table-top driving bot. But if you want to make it feel more like MegaFRC (they don’t know it, but that’s their new name), Kits of Parts (KoPs) are a good investment. You might be able to buy bulk and get discounts, or get donations from a sponsor company. Even at full price, some participants will be grateful to have everything in one place. Let Alfredo Systems know early if you want to place a bulk order.
It’s a good idea to have N20 motors with various gear ratios and lots of servos available for sale.
Reveal Game Manual and Field CAD
It’s hard to keep a MiniFRC game a secret, since—if your team is like ours—many of the people participating in it will also be designing it. But there’s a certain element of mystique that comes from calling anything a “reveal.” Kickoff is when you want to make your game manual and field CAD widely available.
Generating quarter-scale field CAD is not a trivial task, so start early to make sure its ready for Kickoff. See Part 1 for Game Manuals and Field CAD. Here’s our build guide for “Charged Up.”
A MiniFRC build season is usually between 1 – 4 weeks, depending on what time of year you’re holding it. (We tend to do shorter build seasons when students are on breaks.) A minimum of 2 weeks is usually required to reduce panic levels and accommodate the fact that most people have lives beyond building robots. Beyond 4 weeks you risk losing momentum and excitement.
Now that you’re in build season, be ready to support your participants as they start making their robots.
Open build days
If you have the space, consider holding “open build days” for participants to come together and collaborate. Open build days can either be entirely unstructured, or you could offer specific workshops for beginners, e.g. “How to build a basic drive train.” (Don’t forget to have all participants sign a waiver, because schools and other hosting entities are quite particular about that, and for good reason.)
In the beginning, most MiniFRC participants were FRC students. But as we’ve held more of these, we see more beginners signing up, because who doesn’t want to build a robot? Lowering barriers to competitive robotics is the mission of MiniFRC. To better support those new to robotics, it’s great to have a vehicle for Q&A. The TerrorBytes’ MiniFRC Discord server is a well-established resource that is monitored by generations of prior MiniFRC participants.
Planning the competition day
Now’s the time to start finalizing preparations for Competition Day. Things to think about:
- Coordinate your planning team
- Finalize your competition day schedule
- Finalize your competition day strategy
- Decide if you’re using FMS
- Finalize your event space
- Recruit competition day volunteers
Coordinate your planning team
You’ll need a lot of people to pull this off, but let’s start with the most important one:
If you’re reading this, this is probably you. The event organizer is the primary point of contact, the ultimate decision maker, the captain of the ship. You’re who everyone looks to when they have a question. Relish the authority, glory in the responsibility, drink from the well of power (but drink responsibly).
You’re the one who gets to decide how you’re going to do things. If it’s your first event, you might calculate alliances for qualification matches in Excel, score by hand, and tell everyone to pack a lunch, and that’s okay as long as people get to build a robot and have fun. Or maybe you want to go all out and run a Field Management System (FMS) and cater a buffet. Make these decisions early and stick by them, and if people don’t like it tough, you’re the captain of this ship.
Now start recruiting your crew. And apologize to the ones who mutinied because of your brief but regrettable foray into dictatorship. Seriously, this is gonna take all hands on deck.
You’ll have your hands full, so you may want to delegate this role to someone else. The volunteer organizer will need to recruit and manage lots of help for the Competition Day, and then stay on top of all those volunteers, train them, and make sure things get done.
Although it adds to the complexity, and you might have to remind people to eat, you are morally obligated to provide access to food during a 10-hour robotics event, lest you run afoul of basic humanitarian laws. Plus there’s nothing like the wafting scent of a dozen pizzas to boost morale. (There’s also nothing like the cry of despair when a teenager realizes they missed all the pizza because they were hot-gluing a motor back on to their robot.)
Next-level: We offered concessions one year, and may or may not do it again. Once the finals started, very few people wandered off to get a granola bar. But having some kind of snack stand open during the qualification matches could be a fundraising opportunity. Pro tip: Locate the snack stand near the field.
Super pro tip: Order more pizza than you think you need.
Just like MegaFRC, half the fun of MiniFRC is the chance to win awards. You might not go all out for your first event, but we believe awards are important. They are a chance to celebrate the values of FIRST, whether that’s teamwork, enthusiasm, engineering prowess, stunning design, or all the other great things bundled into the trademarked concepts of “cooperation” and “gracious professionalism.”
At a minimum, you’ll probably want:
- 3 winner banners (quarter-sized)
- 3 finalist banners (quarter-sized)
- A ChairMemes trophy. What is ChairMemes? We’re so glad you asked! Based on the now-historical “Chairman’s Award”, the ChairMemes award celebrates the team with the goofiest or awesomest branding. We consider it a pillar of MiniFRC, and would love to see it spread to the robotics world at large.
- Inspired awards +/- trophies of your choosing, either selected ahead of time or improvised. Here’s the “Siege Machine” award (for best climber) from Stronghold 2022:
Fabrication LeadYou will need a quarter-scale field and all the elements, game pieces, etc. This is a great job to delegate to someone else. At the very least, you’ll want some help with this task, and giving your partner a fancy title like “Fabrication Lead” might just be the trick. You’ll need the field CAD at a minimum; having build instructions is really helpful if you’re going to outsource this task to someone else. The field technically doesn’t have to be done until Competition Day, but if you can have it set up somewhere ahead of time, you could offer “practice time” (this is next-next-level).
Finalize your competition day schedule
Your Competition Day schedule depends on how many teams you have, how hard you want to flog them, and how early you can get in your space. Hopefully you can set up the field, pit tables and audio/visual equipment the day before. For events with 14-20 teams, we usually try to set up by 7:30, open pits at 8, start quals at 10 (ideally), break for lunch at noon (ideally), and finish by 6 (ideally).
Finalize your competition day strategy
You’ll need a plan for qualification matches: how many to run, how to assign alliances, and how to score. Prior experience suggests that you’ll need at least 15 minutes per match, although if most of your participants are familiar with FRC you could get that down to 10. If you have 24 teams, with each competing once every 4 rounds, you can probably squeeze in at least 16 qualification matches in 4 hours, with teams competing on average once an hour.
Finals can either be like the NCAA (with quarterfinals, semifinals, finals) or double elimination (with winners and losers brackets, which takes less matches). You can have any number of alliances, but probably something between 4 – 8. (If you have enough teams for 8 alliances in the finals, congratulations—you’re well on your way to being the biggest MiniFRC ever held.) More realistically, say you want 6 alliances competing in double elimination finals, which means 11 matches are needed (no magic here—I just googled “double elimination brackets”). Say 3 hours for finals, because you’ll want to sprinkle in some awards as you go.
That’s an ideal day. Things rarely go according to plan. Be prepared to improvise.
Decide if you’re using FMS
No matter how you organize the matches, you will need some kind of timer and a way to generate the match schedule. If you’re running a game we’ve run before (a good strategy for your first event), we likely have a Field Management System (FMS) you can use. But you don’t need an FMS. You can run MiniFRC off a phone timer.
To take it to the next level, with just a bit of code you could put together a more complex timer that has programmed sounds for match start, teleop start, and match end.
Finally, you could program your own FMS, which will generate your qualification match schedule and broadcast scores and rankings live. (Or, again, you could use one of ours.) Having an FMS makes your job easier and makes Competition Day a lot more fun for spectators. It really puts the “FRC” in “MiniFRC.” But don’t let not having one hold you back.
Finalize your event space
Where will the field go (6’ x 12 ‘)? You’ll need a judges station, drive stations, and queuing stations—usually these are just tables. How about spectators? Where are the pits? Most importantly, where are the bathrooms?
For pits, each team will need their own space (again, usually a table), so be realistic when you calculate how many you can squeeze into your venue. Make sure there’s electrical access for all, because hot glue guns and battery chargers will be in high demand. (Pit real estate may determine the cap on teams.)We highly recommend doing a walk-through long before the actual competition day with all these things in mind. <
Recruit Competition Day volunteers
Many, if not all, volunteer roles can be filled by students. Typical roles are:
- Master of Ceremonies
- Head Referee
- Reception Table Volunteer
- Pit Admin
Descriptions of volunteer roles from Stronghold 2022 are here.