Friday, May 8, 2015

FIRST Championships 2015 -- FTC

Let me begin by saying my son and I have been attending the FIRST championships since they arrived in St. Louis in 2011.  Each year we’ve made a brief stop to watch the FTC competitions (usually because the FRC matches had paused for lunch), but the scale of the game field was so much smaller and we had to sit so much farther back in the stands (because they were squeezing all the FTC fans into the space of 1 FRC field) that we never really “connected” with that division. This year the championships were so big that the FTC and JFLL divisions had to be moved to a whole new venue—Union Station. I think both the competition and the landmark location both benefited from the change.

Trains no longer run to the station (although I’m old enough to remember boarding trains there).  In the Eighties the building was renovated to include a hotel and specialty shops—and I’m pleased to say the place where you can watch them make and sample fudge is still there.  The grand ballroom was just big enough to hold four FTC fields and some grandstands (although the stands were very crowded by the elimination matches and then and only then were kids allowed to sit on the floor).

There was a free shuttle to travel between the convention center and Union Station.  One of the perks was this iconic view of the Arch and the Old Courthouse beneath it of the trip back to the convention center.  We used the shuttle Friday because we weren’t aware of the venue situation, but Saturday we purchased an all day pass for Metrolink which has stops at both buildings.

My chief interest in FTC this year was the chance to meet a fellow member of the Review Crew in person as her kids were competing.  This is their “pit” – a place to work on their robot and hang out between matches.

The Blue Crew, Too was competing in the Franklin division and we could see Edison across the way.  I followed the team’s progress on Facebook and Friday evening we knew they were ranked high enough that they’d be able to select an alliance for the elimination rounds so Saturday morning we got off Metrolink at Union Station.

The is a lot of pomp and ceremony to the selection process with seeded teams respectfully requesting teams to join them and those teams in turn graciously accepting (no one respectfully declined because they could not be chosen by another team).  Although only two teams play on the field per side the alliances still consisted of three teams.  The seeded “captain” teams always competed and the partner teams alternated playing.

During the lull while alliances formed strategies we were treated to a parade and dance party by the various team mascots.  Some teams seem to put as much time into these costumes as their robots.

The competition was fierce—both semifinals and finals of the Franklin division went to the third match to determine the winner (best 2 out of 3).  Unfortunately for the Blue Crew,Two they lost in the finals so we didn’t stay to see the Franklin champs take on the Edison champs (but learned later that Franklin won).

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