FIRST World Championship 2016

May 1ST 2016

After seven years of FIRST, we still are having a little trouble believing that we are writing this particular blog entry. About a month ago, we earned an invite to the famous FIRST World Championship. This past week has been filled with unforgettable memories, incredible people, and, of course, a whole lot of robots.

Our team chose to drive down to the tournament which means about 8-9 hours of (pretty much) nonstop driving. If you are Grant’s family however, nonstop is quite literal in that case! Everyone’s cars were loaded, especially the one toting the robot. Steve was packed away carefully in his box and all of the tools we could possibly ever need were tucked in beside him. We’ve learned that packing for the humans of the trip is much easier than for the robot. Basically, if the clothing item is not orange, it probably doesn’t need to go!

Eight hours later, we arrived at our hotel. Excitement had grown exponentially as we approached city and noticed the billboards welcoming FIRST teams and the restaurants with signs that read “We LOVE robots!” It felt like the whole city was hosting the tournament. It was a completely different feel than any other tournament host city we have experienced. But that’s part of what made it so fun. Pretty much anyone that was out and about in St. Louis during that week was someone you could talk robots with.

The tournament venue was the next place we went. The pits were incredible with decorations far beyond anything we have ever seen including Toronto, Carlsbad, and North Supers. We set up our huge orange pit the night that we arrived in St. Louis. With the unexpected orange curtain side rails, it was like James and the Giant Peach had become HD and the Giant Orange. We were happy with our location though; next to the stairs, some old and new friends, and the queuing line!

We started to see the other MN teams coming in to the pits before we headed off to dinner at Hard Rock Café. After a nice meal, it was time for bed. Not sure how we slept when we were so excited but somehow we did. We woke up early the next morning to practice our judging session. Judging sessions happened that morning in a room full of curtained off areas. Each curtained area had three judges, all of whom have been around FIRST for a long time. This was a bittersweet judging session for our high school senior, Katie, since it was her last one ever as a team member. But, the session went as planned and soon it was over as the tournament day rushed by.

Next up were the robot inspections. We began to meet new teams and see other teams that we have enjoyed interacting with on Twitter all season. We met some new volunteers, game designers, and teams from across the globe. But it was also fun to meet up with some old friends like volunteers from MN, all of the FIRST teams from MN, alumni, GoFIRST members, and more. It felt like our state was really supportive of all the MN teams even just during the first parts of the tournament!

We managed to pass inspections with only one small issue. We had a light on our robot that was deemed illegal. We were not upset by this at all as it was a very small issue to fix. Also, it gave us a chance to get to know Michael Coleman, one of the nicest inspectors we have ever encountered and also one of the game designers!

One of the best things about the tournaments was the lunch options. FIRST brought in food trucks each day to feed the teams lunch. It was so nice to get a chance to sit outside during the day. Normally, on tournament days, our team is used to only seeing darkness outside (early in the morning before the tournament and late at night afterwards)! Also, the food was incredible and there was an awesome variety each day! It was a perfect meal for all the hardworking team members and the people there to support them!

The next few days were robot runs. We had the chance to ally and run against some pretty incredible teams. We would like to thank all of the teams that ever competed on a field with us. At that point, it wasn’t about winning, all of you gave us an incredible experience – so thank you for that! Some of the highlights of the robot runs were:

  1. Our team and Zip Tie Fighters were allied for one match. We are the two CAT sponsored FTC teams and it was really special to have a CAT alliance!
  2. Woodie Flowers watched our robot during one match!
  3. We were paired with quite a few of the international teams. It’s not every day that you get to run with someone from across the World!
  4. Some of our favorite MN volunteers were with us all the time on the field, making us feel at home!
  5. Some of the MN teams were in our division and we actually got to cheer ALL of the MN teams on!
  6. We got the chance to talk to some world famous FTC teams (no pun intended?) about their strategies and things they have learned over the years!
  7. The eliminations matches were the most insane matches we have ever experienced in person. The intensity of those matches was beyond anything we have ever witnessed even though we watched the livestream last year! Those teams’ hard work and dedication have inspired us!

The opening ceremony was the next major event for all the FIRST teams competing that week. We entered the enormous stadium at close to the top level and felt like we were at a huge concert/convention/party/etc. It truly was a World Festival at that point. The Dean’s List winners were announced at that point and we enjoyed rooting for the MN finalists! This event happened during one of our nights. The others were filled with other things such as eating dinner with our mentee FLL team, The Diamonds, trying different St. Louis restaurants, attending a Cardinals game, and more.

The FTC awards ceremony happened in a very fancy building down the street from the tournament venue, Union Station. We are extremely proud to announce that Minnesota had a fantastic showing as Robot Squad was nominated for PTC Design, Iron Maidens won 1st place Connect, and Lazybotts and The Q is Silqent were Inspire finalists! At this closing ceremony, we truly learned how special MN’s FTC program is because as each MN team received recognition, all the other MN teams gave a standing ovation in support. It was an incredible moment to see the teams in their excitement as they won and look around to see the rest of the MN teams standing above the crowd with smiles just as big! We think it’s fair to say we truly showed the world what Minnesota is all about. Congrats again to the teams we are blessed to call our friends!

Not only did FTC have a fantastic showing for Minnesota, but FRC and FLL did too! The Diamonds won a presentation award for their incredible performance in Project Judging. Also, the Knightkrawlers from our school district’s Irondale high school was very competitive in robot runs alongside many other MN FRC teams. We would like to say great job across all the programs!

The final event was the closing ceremony. This was the biggest robotics celebration event that our team has ever been to. It was amazing to watch the top teams from around the world win the FLL Champion’s award, the FTC Inspire award, and the FRC Chairman’s award. We were also very impressed by the enormous crowd that represented less than 3% of all of the FIRST community around the world. It was a humbling and enjoyable end to the World Championship.

And with that, our dream season has come to a close. We set a huge goal at the beginning and with a lot of hard work, we got to be a part of one of the greatest robotics competitions in the entire world. We couldn’t have done it without all of the support from our coaches, mentors, sponsors, friends, and family. Thank you to everyone that has encouraged, challenged, and inspired us over the past seven years. We cannot wait for next year and we already have big plans so until then, we wish everyone a restful and enjoyable summer!