VEX Tournaments 101: A Primer for Parents

Attending a VEX Robotics event is a lot of fun. But it’s even more fun if you know a little bit about what is going on. Welcome to VEX Tournaments 101!

There are two different types of VEX events depending on how old your kids are. Elementary-aged students compete in the VEX IQ Competition (VIQC) and high school students compete in the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC); middle-school-aged students can choose to participate in either VIQC or VRC. There are many similarities between the two programs during tournaments. For example, match lists are randomly generated, and each team will have many other teams as alliance partners as the day goes by. At the end of the day a winning alliance will be crowned, but most importantly your child will make some new friends and have opportunities to test their robot, figure out how their code works, and shine as an “intellectual” athlete for a day.

Be On Time

As a parent, it is important that you get your child to the event on time. If a team is not there on time, they may be cut out of the match list for the day. Because match lists are randomly generated and teams work together in alliances, it is important that all teams are there for the entire event. A missing team means their alliance partners will be left to play in matches alone. This is not fair to those teams, as VEX Robotics games are designed to be played cooperatively with an alliance partner.

VEX Robotics is Student Centered

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know as a parent is that these are student led programs. This means that you are there to cheer your child on, not to be in the team’s workspace (called a pit) or give them directions on how to run their matches. Parents are not allowed to shout out directions for what the team needs to do during the match, but are encouraged to cheer them on when they succeed with what they are trying to do! Take a look at the RECF Code of Conduct and the Student-Centered Policy to help you understand what the expectations are.

You will see a lot of different robots at an event, and each robot will evolve throughout the season. Seeing that growth as you attend events through the season with your student—and knowing that the design and evolution of each robot is decided by the students—is so impressive!  

The VEX IQ Slapshot Competition

If you are a VEX IQ parent, the game your student will participate in this season is called Slapshot. Click on the link to get the basics for scoring and game rules. Looks like fun, right? During a normal tournament day, your student’s team will play between 6-8 qualification matches. Their lowest score will automatically be dropped after each 4 matches, and an average of their score will show in the rankings. They share the score for a match with their alliance partner, so it is important for students to communicate and help each other out so that the alliance can get the highest possible score. At the end of the tournament a predetermined number of teams (at the discretion of the event organizer) will be paired into alliances based on their rankings to play in the finals . This is the first time during an event that the alliances are not randomly generated. Finals matches will start with the lowest-ranked alliance, and each alliance will play in a single match. The alliance with the highest score during these finals matches will become the Tournament Champions.

Alongside the teamwork matches described above, each team is encouraged to participate in Driver Skills matches and Programming Skills matches. Skills matches allow teams to demonstrate what their robot can do in a one-minute solo match, and the team that records the highest scores will be named the Robot Skills Champion.

The VRC Spin Up Competition

The current VRC game is called Spin Up. Click on the link to get the basics for scoring and game rules. Alliances are randomly generated and each team will play in an average of 5-8 qualification matches per tournament. Each two-team alliance opposes another two-team alliance during each match. These head-to-head matches start with a 15 second autonomous period. The alliance with the highest score at the end of the autonomous period is awarded bonus points for the match. If an alliance scores two or more discs in their high goal and has at least two rollers scored to their color, they will also receive an autonomous win point. Matches can end with either a win or a tie, and alliances earn win points based on how the match ends.

Rankings are calculated by using win points, autonomous win points, and the overall points scored in the match. Being ranked high is good in VRC, but a team’s ranking does not determine who their alliance partner will be for the final elimination matches. After the qualification matches end, the teams will line up in order of ranking for alliance selection. The top-ranked alliance will extend an invitation to the team they want as an alliance partner. That team can accept or decline the invitation. If they accept, an alliance is formed; if they decline, the #1 team will pick a different team and repeat the process until someone accepts. Then it is time for the next team in the ranking to choose. A team that denies an invitation cannot be chosen again, but they might still have an opportunity to choose an alliance partner depending on the number of teams that will progress to the elimination matches. This process continues until there are 16 alliances, or for some smaller events until only one team remains unselected. Each of these newly formed alliances stays together to play matches in a bracket system until they are eliminated. The last two alliances in the bracket play in one or more finals matches and the winning alliance will be named the Tournament Champions.

Alongside the head-to-head matches described above, each team is encouraged to participate in Driver Skills matches and Programming Skills matches. Skills matches allow teams to demonstrate what their robot can do in a one-minute solo match, and the team that records the highest scores will be named the Robot Skills Champion.

Awards

Judged awards are often presented at the end of events. Winners are selected by a team of volunteer judges who evaluate teams’ engineering notebooks and interview the teams. At some events, volunteer judges might have connections to participating teams, but those judges are not allowed to participate in award determinations for which they may have a bias. If you are near a team when the volunteer judges arrive for an interview, please step away from the area; only the students on the team should interact with the judges. You’re welcome to take all the video and pictures you want during the rest of the event, but videoing the interview is never allowed. Judges will consider the team’s engineering notebook, interview, and tournament rankings, but will also watch for teams that show high levels of sportsmanship or energy during the event.

Volunteers

Lastly, remember that each event you attend is put on by volunteers. Volunteers may be teachers, parents, local engineers, high school students, or representatives from local businesses or government. All volunteers are giving up their free time to help, and each of them is doing the best they can. If you see an unmet need or unfilled role, consider asking if you can fill the gap instead of pointing it out. Chances are the event organizers have lots of stuff going on and would love your help. Find the person in charge (called the Event Partner), offer your services, and embark on another amazing VEX journey as a volunteer. That journey might even take you all the way to VEX Worlds!