Referee at an Aerial Drone Competition

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This guide has been prepared for use by Aerial Drone Competition Head Referees and Scorekeeper Referees. This guide does not replace the Competition Manual but rather assists Referees in finding those resources and learning best practices. Refereeing is one of our most challenging and rewarding volunteer positions. Thank you for your willingness to make the Aerial Drone Competition a success by volunteering as a Referee.

Position Summary

There are two different types of Referees: Head Referees and Scorekeeper Referees.

  • Each event should have 1 Head Referee.
    • If the event has multiple divisions, then each division should have it's own Head Referee.
  • Each Teamwork Mission field should have 1 Scorekeeper Referee.
  • Each Skills field (for Autonomous Flight Skills and Piloting Skills) should have 1 Scorekeeper Referee.

Each Scorekeeper Referee stays at their assigned field, and the Head Referee rotates to each of the Teamwork Mission competition fields so that they can observe every match. 

Referees observe matches, identify rule violations, and enforce the Aerial Drone Competition Competition Manual as written. They keep track of all game objects scored and drone flight path.  These results are written on a score sheet or typed into a scoring tablet. Referees also keep track of the match time and ensure that matches are running in a timely fashion.

Refereeing at an Aerial Drone Competition is different from a traditional sporting event, in that Aerial Drone Competition Referees actually help the competitors avoid breaking rules. For example, we like to caution Pilots when they are getting close to an infraction, rather than watching passively until a violation has occurred. When a team has been cautioned, that is for their own sake and is not considered a penalty as no violation has yet occurred.

Key Attributes

Referees interact directly with teams and other event staff and need to have the following skills:

  1. Thorough knowledge of the current game and rules of play.
  2. Effective decision making.
  3. Attention to detail.
  4. Ability to work effectively as a member of a team.
  5. Ability to be confident and assertive when necessary.
  6. Strong communication and diplomacy skills.

Referee Qualifications


Head Referees Must

  1. Be at least 18 years of age and not a high school student.
  2. Be approved by the Event Partner.
  3. Completed the Aerial Drone Competition referee training- reach out us at for dates/times
  4. Possess all the attributes in the Referee Key Attributes section found above.

Scorekeeper Referees Must

  1. Be at least 16 years of age.
  2. Be approved by the Event Partner.
  3. Possess attributes 1-5 in the Referee Key Attributes section found above.

Referee Key Responsibilities

The Head Referee and Scorekeeper Referees work together, but each have specific roles and duties.

Head Referee

The Head Referee has the following responsibilities at a Aerial Drone Competition:

  1. Trains Scorekeeper Referees, ensuring they are fully versed in key game rules.
  2. Acts as the liaison between the teams and the Scorekeeper Referees.
  3. Works with other Event Staff to ensure that matches are proceeding on time.
  4. Works with the Lead Inspector to ensure that all drones are safe and rule-compliant.
  5. Makes all final scoring decisions and rulings.
  6. Discusses any rules or ruling questions with teams.
  7. Makes the final check that the field and teams are properly set before the start of the match.

Scorekeeper Referee

The Scorekeeper Referee has the following responsibilities at a Aerial Drone Competition:

  1. Records the numbers of scored objects or field elements and communicates those to teams.
  2. Communicates with the teams and event staff when the field is ready to be reset.
  3. Ensures that the field gets reset properly and that the robots are positioned correctly before the Head Referee’s final check.
  4. Brings possible rule violations to the attention of the Head Referee.
  5. Discusses possible rule violations with the Head Referee after the match.
  6. If serving as a Scorekeeper Referee for a Skills Match, communicates final scoring decisions and rulings to teams. If there is a dispute of the score or ruling, the Head Referee will be asked to make the final scoring decision and ruling.

Referee Task List

Referees are responsible for the following major tasks during each match cycle.


  1. Check to make sure game objects are in the correct places after the last field reset.
  2. Ensure that all team members are within the Pilot Station or Visual Observer Station and that no more than 3 students are present for each team.
  3. Verify all drones are turned on and the controllers have connection to the drone
  4. Verify all drones are in a legal starting position.
  5. Verify that no spectators are in the competition area.
  6. The Head Referee or Emcee should ask if the teams are ready before starting the match.
    • If they are not ready, look at the scheduled start time and then decide how much time you can give them before you must start the match without them. Try to give as much time as possible without running behind schedule. Waiting 5 seconds for a drone to connect is better than having that team sit out a match. But waiting 3 minutes for a team to fix a broken drone is probably too much time to wait.
    • If a team is not present, wait until the scheduled start time, then start without them. If you see them approaching the field, use your best judgment on whether you can wait or have to keep things moving.

During the Match

  1. Communicate with the event Emcee to begin the Match.
  2. Watch for any instances of Flight Team Members breaking the plane of the field. Keep them back, and keep them safe.
  3. Watch for any rules violations, verbally cautioning the team when you see a drone come close to a violation. This is not a violation, as minor violations can become DQs if there are many. Give out cautions all day long. If a rules violation calls for a disablement, call that immediately. If a rules violation calls for a DQ, wait until the end of the match (see Post-Match).


  1. Discuss any possible rules violations with all Referees from the match. Refer to the Aerial Drone Competition game manual to determine the appropriate criteria and consequences for the specific violation. The Head Referee MUST talk to the Pilot about any violations. In most cases, the Head Referee will need to know the final score to determine whether a specific violation is score affecting or not. When this happens, go through the process of scoring the match to determine whether the violation was score affecting and use this information when discussing the match outcome with the teams.
    • If giving a Warning or Minor Violation, the Head Referee should add all details to the Head Referee Match Anomaly Log.
    • If giving a DQ, the Head Referee MUST tell the Flight Team Members the exact rule and number that was violated. If the Head Referee cannot find the rule, then the team cannot be DQ'd. Use the other Referees or Event Staff to help look up a rule if needed. There is no fixed time limit on this. Tell the team that you need to find the rule and will determine if the rule was violated before they play their next match. Record the DQ on the Head Referee Match Anomaly Log and on the Score Sheet or tablet.
  2. The Head Referee should survey the field and make any scoring calls that are close.
  3. Head Referee should move on to the next field to start the next match while the Scorekeeper Referees record the score of the match.
    • When scoring the match, count out loud so that all teams hear what is being scored.
    • After the match is recorded, but before saving, show all teams the score sheet or tablet to confirm.
  4. If there are unanswered questions or disputes, the Scorekeeper Referees will get the Head Referee to come back and resolve any dispute or answer any questions from the Flight Team Members as soon as the Head Referee is able. This might be after the next match.
    • Rule <T3> explains that pilot and co-pilot must stay in their pilot station if they want to appeal a decision.
    • When the Head Referee comes to talk with the Flight Team Members, the Head Referee can either settle the dispute immediately, or can ask that the Flight Team Members to come back at a specific agreed upon time, giving the Head Referee time to gather all of the facts and look up the exact verbiage of rules.
  5. Once the score has been confirmed, signal the field reset crew to reset the field and have the next teams prepare their robots for the next match. Note: Do not reset the field if Flight Team Members are standing in the Pilot Station waiting to appeal a ruling!
  6. Indicate to the Queue Managers that you're ready for the next match to come to the newly reset field.

Referee Best Practices

Other than scoring, a referee’s primary role is to watch for violations and “call” them. Because the most common penalty in the Aerial Drone Competition is a Disqualification for that Match, please help to caution and guide teams before they violate the rules.

The teams have put a lot of time and effort into the competition; it is the philosophy of the Aerial Drone Competition to be helpful rather than punitive when it comes to refereeing.

Waiting just a few seconds for a team to be ready will have a compounding effect on the match schedule. Instead, help the teams get set up and prepared for the match so that when the start time approaches, the teams are already in place and ready to compete. If the Scorekeeper Referees can have everything set up by the time the Head Referee gets to the field, the event will run on time and at a more relaxed pace for the staff and competitors.

Scorekeeper Referees must be careful to not answer rule questions to the teams. The Head Referee does this and needs to be consistent in the answers given to all teams. If there is disagreement between the Head Referee and the Scorekeeper Referees, look up the rule. If you cannot find it, then it might not exist. Don’t make up rules based on how you think the game “should be” played. Games are designed without one strategy in mind, so teams will play the games very differently from each other.  This can look like rule violations to the untrained eye.

Referee Tips

  1. Caution teams if they are close to being penalized.
  2. Make the necessary calls, even if violations happen unintentionally.
  3. Be fair and consistent to all teams.
  4. Be friendly and positive.
  5. Remember that a Referee’s job is to enforce the rules as written, not as a Referee thinks they should be written. Global consistency is key in ensuring the integrity of competition.
    • Do not invent, modify, or ignore rules.
    • Do not penalize teams who are not playing in a way that a Referee “feels” is right.
  6. If a team violates a rule that calls for them to be disabled, the easiest way to disable them is to have the pilots ground their drone and place their controller on the ground.
  7. Be very vocal and visual when making calls. This way the audience and the teams will be aware of what is happening.
  8. Direct all team questions to the Head Referee. The Head Referee should be the only person discussing rulings with the teams. When multiple Referees are explaining rulings to the teams, inconsistencies in verbiage can easily arise.
  9. The Head Referee (and only the Head Referee) should explain all controversial rulings and close calls to the teams. This level of communication is a positive experience for the teams.
  10. When it comes to issues such as Disqualifications, often Referees will want to rule leniently to avoid being too harsh. Unfortunately, by not punishing a team for a rules violation, you directly punish the other teams in competition. As unpleasant as it is, if a team violates a rule that is punishable by Disqualification, the team must be Disqualified. It is the only fair thing to do.
  11. If possible, attend some practice rounds to get the feeling for a typical gameplay and start establishing a match flow system between all Referees and other event staff.