This guide has been prepared for use by VEX Robotics Competition Head Referees and Scorekeeper Referees. This guide does not replace the Game Manual or the Head Referee Certification Course, 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 VEX Robotics Competition a success by volunteering as a Referee.
There are two different types of Referees, Head Referees and Scorekeeper Referees. Each event (or division if an event has multiple divisions) should have at least 1 Head Referee and each field should have 2 Scorekeeper Referees. All Qualification & Elimination matches must be watched by at least one certified Head Referee, and a Head Referee may only watch one match at a time. For large events, it is valuable to have multiple Head Referees to ensure that teams have the opportunity to discuss rulings and scores without negatively impacting the event schedule. Each Robot Skills Field should have 1 Scorekeeper Referee. Each Scorekeeper Referee stays at their assigned field, and the Head Referees rotate to each of the competition fields so that they can observe every match. For example, to properly staff 3 competition fields, you will need at least 1 Head Referee and 6 Scorekeeper Referees.
Referees observe matches, identify rule violations, and enforce the VRC Game Manual as written. They keep track of all game objects scored and record these results on a score sheet or scoring tablet. Referees also keep track of the match time and ensure that matches are running in a timely fashion.
Refereeing at a VRC event is different from a traditional sporting event in that VRC Referees actually help the competitors avoid breaking rules. For example, we like to caution Drive Team members when they are getting close to an infraction, rather than watching passively until a violation has occurred.
Referees interact directly with teams and other event staff and need to have the following skills:
- Thorough knowledge of the current game and rules of play.
- Effective decision making.
- Attention to detail.
- Ability to work effectively as a member of a team.
- Ability to be confident and assertive when necessary.
- Strong communication and diplomacy skills.
Head Referees Must
- Be at least 20 years of age.
- Be approved by the Event Partner.
- Possess all the attributes in the Referee Key Attributes section found above.
- Be a REC Foundation Certified Head Referee for the current season if volunteering at an event that posts official results to RobotEvents.com.
Scorekeeper Referees Must
- Be at least 15 years of age.
- Be approved by the Event Partner.
- Possess attributes 1-5 in the Referee Key Attributes section found above.
Head Referees and Scorekeeper Referees work together, but each have specific roles and duties.
Head Referees have the following responsibilities at a VRC tournament:
- Train Scorekeeper Referees, ensuring they are fully versed in key game rules.
- Act as the liaison between the teams and the Scorekeeper Referees.
- Work with other Event Staff to ensure that matches are proceeding on time.
- Work with the Lead Inspector to ensure that all robots are safe and rule-compliant.
- Make all final scoring decisions and rulings.
- Discuss any rules or ruling questions with teams.
- Make the final check that the field and teams are properly set before the start of the match.
Scorekeeper Referees have the following responsibilities at a VRC tournament:
- Bring possible rule violations to the attention of the Head Referee.
- Discuss possible rule violations with the Head Referee after the match.
- Record the numbers of scored objects or field elements and communicate those to each Alliance.
- Communicate with the teams and event staff when the field is ready to be reset.
- Ensure that the field gets reset properly and that the robots are positioned correctly with preloads before the Head Referee’s final check.
- If serving as a Scorekeeper Referee for a Robot Skills Match, communicate 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.
- Check to make sure game objects are in the correct places after the last field reset.
- Ensure that all team members are within their Alliance Station and that no more than 3 student Drive Team members are present for each team.
- Check that each team has securely connected the Field Control cable to their main controller.
- Turn the robot and controller off when coming to the field.
- Connect cable from the Field Control to the main controller of each team.
- Turn on the robot and the controller(s).
- Start program.
- Radio Antenna should turn from Red to Green. Green means that the robot is connected to the field with the correct firmware and is ready for the match to start.
- Verify all robots are turned on and the controllers have connection to the robot.
- Verify all robots are of a legal starting size, have the correct number and color of license plates, and that all robots and preloads are in legal starting positions.
- Verify that all Drive Team members are wearing appropriate safety glasses.
- Verify that no spectators are in the competition area
Are Teams Ready?
The Head Referee or Emcee asks if the Blue Alliance is ready, then asks if the Red Alliance is ready before starting.
- If they are not ready, look at the scheduled start time and then decide how much time you can give them before starting the match without them. Try to give as much time as possible without running behind schedule. Waiting 5 seconds for a robot to connect is better than having that team sit out a match. But waiting 3 minutes for a team to fix a broken robot 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 judgement on whether you can wait or have to keep things moving.
- If a team cannot get their robot into a proper configuration in a timely manner, you should remove the robot and start the match. Place their preloads as specified by the Game Manual.
- Communicate with the Emcee to begin the match.
- Watch the Drive Team members in the Alliance Stations to be sure that they are not controlling the robot, touching the robot, touching the playing field, or any field or game elements.
- Watch for movement from each robot to track teams that may be allowed to interact with their robots during the Driver Controller Period. If the robot isn’t working, they may not touch the robot during this period.
- Watch for any robot actions that are prohibited or limited during the Autonomous Period in the Game Manual; for example, crossing the autonomous line; contacting Game or Field objects on the opponent's side of the field; or contacting opponent robots.
- Quickly determine the winner of the Autonomous Bonus, and whether one or both Alliances have earned an Autonomous Win Point. Enter these results on score sheets or the scoring app, and communicate them to the Emcee and teams.
Driver Controlled Period
- Immediately start the Driver Controlled Period after the Head Referee announces who has won the Autonomous Bonus. Do not ask if the Drive team members are ready again.
- Watch for any instances of Drive Team members touching robots or breaking the plane of the field, when not explicitly allowed by the game manual.
- Watch for any rules violations, verbally cautioning the team when you see a robot come close to a violation. This is not a violation, as minor violations can become major violations and/or 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).
- Discuss any possible rules violations among the Referees. Refer to the VRC Game manual to determine the appropriate criteria and consequences for the specific violation. The Head Referee MUST talk to the Drive Team members about any violations. In most cases, the Head Referee will need to know the final score to determine whether a specific violation is match affecting or not. When this happens, go through the process of scoring the match to determine whether the violation was match affecting and use this information when discussing the match outcome with the teams.
- If giving a verbal warning (not a minor or major violation), the Head Referee should add all details to the Head Referee Match Anomaly Log.
- If giving a major or minor violation, the Head Referee MUST tell the Drive teams the exact rule and number that was violated. If the Head Referee cannot find the rule, then the team cannot be penalized. 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 violation and any DQs on the Head Referee Match Anomaly Log and on the Score Sheet or tablet.
- The Head Referee should survey the field and make any scoring calls that are close.
- Head Referee moves 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 both Alliances hear what is being scored.
- After the match is recorded, but before saving, show both Alliances the score sheet or tablet to confirm.
- 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 Drive Team members as soon as the Head Referee is able. This might be after the next match.
- The Game Manual explains that the Driver Team must stay in their Alliance Station if they want to appeal a decision.
- When the Head Referee comes to talk with the Driver Team, the Head Referee can either settle the dispute immediately, or can ask that the Driver Team 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.
- 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 a Drive Team is standing in their Alliance Station waiting to appeal a ruling!
- 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. Since the most common penalty in the VEX Robotics 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 VEX Robotics 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 back 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.
- Caution teams if they are close to being penalized.
- Make the necessary calls, even if violations happen unintentionally.
- Be fair and consistent to all teams.
- Be friendly and positive.
- 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.
- If a team violates a rule that calls for them to be disabled, the easiest way to disable them is to have the drivers turn off their controllers and place them on the ground.
- Be very vocal and visual when making calls. This way the audience and the teams will be aware of what is happening. For example, when counting a team who is trapping, make large arm gestures as you count. This way the team will know that they should back off, and the audience will be aware of the infraction.
- When counting a team for trapping or pinning, add an alliance color or the word “trapping” before each number (e.g., “Blue 1, Blue 2, Blue 3” etc.) to ensure that you're not counting too quickly.
- When deciding whether tipping, entanglement, or damage should be penalized for being intentional, pay attention to whether the 'pushing' robot backs away when their opponent begins to tip, become entangled, or risk damage or if they continue to force the other robot over or into an entanglement or damage. A team that backs away should generally *not* be penalized based on intent, and the one that continues to push probably should. Clear verbal warnings are important in this situation, to give all teams opportunities to avoid violations. For more information on these interactions, view the Head Referee training videos from the Turning Point or Change Up seasons (note that the pertinent rule number has changed since these seasons, and some of the game-specific information no longer applies).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 their opponent. 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.
- 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.
In addition to this guide, the following resources are essential in preparing you for your Referee role. If this is your first time being part of a VRC event, we recommend that you do these in the following order to help you best understand your role and the VRC Game.
Please review these essential resources:
- Official Game Video and Manual
- Head Referee Certification
- Robot Inspection Checklist
- Head Referee Match Anomaly Log
- Field Note to Judges
Reviewing the following helpful resources is recommended:
- Official Q&A Forum on RobotEvents.com.
- Mobile Apps for Volunteers, including VEX TM Mobile and the VIQC Hub App.
Head Referee Certification
Head Referees are required to be certified. The team experience is much more positive when the Head Referee is fully versed in the rules and how to manage the competition area. There is no fee or charge to become a Certified Head Referee, and the VRC Head Referee Certification Course and VEX U Head Referee Certification Course are both accessible on any device. An exception to this requirement can be made if the event takes place before the Head Referee certification is available for the season. In that case, Head Referees should ensure they have fully read the VRC Game Manual and are up to date on the Official Q&A on RobotEvents.com.