The articles in this series are intended to give families and spectators a general understanding of the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) so they can better appreciate watching their students at competitions. Be sure to check out Part 1 of this series, "The Big Picture—Structure & Season."
Activities at a VRC Tournament
Schedule and Layout
Most VRC tournaments—including local, championship, Signature, and Worlds—include the same set of basic activities. Here’s a sample schedule that would be typical for a large, local qualifying VRC event. We’ll dig a little deeper into some of these activities later in this article.
All VRC tournaments designate areas for team pits, competition fields, one or more skills fields, and spectator seating. Here’s a sample event layout.
Depending on the size of a team, its members will take part in a wide range of activities during a tournament. This illustration identifies some common team activities at events.
At most tournaments, each team competes in 4-6 qualification matches. Each match includes four teams—two that form a red alliance and two that form a blue alliance—in a 2v2 match. Teams are randomly assigned to matches by the tournament software. Each VRC qualification match lasts two minutes; the first 15 seconds are called the autonomous period and robots are controlled by code with no human interaction, and the remainder of the match is driver-controlled. Many VRC games include an “Endgame” period during which robots are challenged to complete a final task with modified game rules.
Alliances compete to outscore each other during autonomous and driver-controlled periods, and to earn Win Points (WP) for the match. Alliances can earn up to 3 WPs in each match:
- 1 WP for completing a specific set of tasks during the autonomous period (can be earned by both alliances in the match)
- 2 WP for winning the match
- 1 WP to each alliance for a tied score
The team with the highest score at the end of the autonomous period also earns Autonomous Bonus Points (AP) that are added to their final score.
Here’s a sample of qualifying match results from a VRC tournament. The scores for each alliance in each match are presented, and the winning alliance is highlighted in their color.
Each team competes in the same number of matches during the event, then results from qualification matches are used to determine teams’ ranks for Alliance Selection. Here’s a segment of the ranking list from the same VRC tournament. Rankings are determined by a team’s earned WPs, and ties are broken by APs then a calculation of the strength of each team’s tournament schedule (SPs).
Robot Skills Matches
At most tournaments, teams compete in two Robot Skills Challenges: Driver Skills, and Programming Skills. Teams compete to earn the highest combined Driver & Programming scores, and each team can make up to three attempts at each challenge. A team’s best Skills result from the season is used to rank them in the World Skills Standings.
Teams are not usually assigned specific times for their Skills runs, and run them on a first-come first-served basis as their schedule allows. At some tournaments, the Skills field(s) will remain open during the lunch break. The Skills field generally closes before Alliance Selection begins.
The game manual often identifies minor modifications to the game rules that only apply to Skills Matches. These are defined in an appendix of the game manual.
Here’s an example of ranked Skills results from a VRC tournament.
Teams form alliances for the Elimination Bracket through the Alliance Selection process. Based on the size of the event, up to 32 teams will join alliances to compete for the title of Tournament Champions.
The 1st-ranked team gets to pick their alliance partner, and the process continues down the ranked team list until all alliances have been filled. If a team declines an alliance invitation, they cannot be selected by any other teams; depending on their rank, they may have an opportunity to invite a lower-ranked team to join their own alliance.
Teams consider qualification rankings when selecting alliance partners, but also use information they’ve gathered about teams through scouting and watching matches.
Alliances formed during alliance selection compete in an Elimination Bracket of matches to identify the 2-team alliance that will be named Tournament Champions. Here’s how a 32-team bracket progresses.
At tournaments that don’t qualify teams to the VEX World Championship, all matches are single elimination. For tournaments that do qualify teams to VEX Worlds, the Champions are identified during a set of “Best of 3” Finals matches.
Volunteer judges evaluate teams’ submitted engineering notebooks, interview teams in their assigned pits, and observe teams’ behavior during the event. Judges work in groups of 2-3, and meet before the Elimination Bracket begins to determine the winners of the event’s judged awards. Teams will not receive feedback from the event judges.
Tournaments give out performance awards based on the activities held at the event. A team may earn multiple performance awards at an event. Some performance awards will qualify teams to the next level of competition.
- Tournament Champions - Awarded to the 2 teams in the alliance that wins the Final in the Elimination Bracket; Usually qualifies the winners to the next level of competition
- Robot Skills Champion - Awarded to the team that scores the highest combined Driver & Programming scores at the event
- Tournament Finalists - Awarded to the teams in the alliance that places 2nd in the Elimination Bracket
Judged awards can also qualify teams to the next level of competition. A team cannot earn multiple judged awards at an event.
- Excellence Award - The highest award in VRC, given to a team that excels in everything (notebook, interview, qualification matches, skills matches, & conduct); Usually qualifies the winner to the next level of competition
- Design Award - Awarded to a team with a strong notebook, interview, and understanding of the engineering design process
- Judges Award - Awarded to a team that the judges feel deserve special recognition, perhaps for something that doesn’t correspond to other judged awards
- Other Awards (Innovate, Think, Amaze, Build, Create, Inspire, Energy, & Sportsmanship) - Awarded to teams that excel in a specific area of the competition, such as mechanical design, construction, or coding; these awards are less common at local events, but may be awarded at championships, Signature events, and VEX Worlds
VRC tournaments are volunteer-driven events, with a wide variety of roles. Most roles require little prior experience or knowledge, but a few have specific training requirements/suggestions.
- Event Partner (EP) - Responsible for running the event; optional certification course
- Head Referee - Enforces rules during the tournament; required certification course
- Judge Advisor - Oversees and coordinates the judging process; required certification course
- Scorekeeper Referee - Assists the Head Referee and calculates & enters match scores
- Judge - Interviews teams, reviews notebooks, observes teams, and helps identify award recipients
- Emcee - Serves as the voice of the event and engages the audience with match play-by-play commentary
- Computer Operator - Runs the VEX Tournament Manager software and coordinates field control, tournament displays, and score entry
- Inspector - Checks robots against a list of specifications for the game
- Check-in - Welcomes teams and/or volunteers to the event, and collects/shares information
- Queuer - Ensures that the correct teams are present and ready for upcoming matches
For more information on the volunteer roles available at VRC events, visit this article.
Apps for Spectators
The VRC Hub app is the ideal competition companion for teams, spectators, and event planners involved in the VEX Robotics Competition!
- A searchable, easy-to-use official game manual
- Ensure you always have the latest rules with in-app alerts
- Keep score at home with an intuitive calculator for the current game
- Use the included timer to run your own practice matches (featuring official sounds!)
VEX via allows you to follow the progress and results of VEX Robotics Competition, VEX U, and VEX IQ Competition events. Team lists, match schedules, match results, rankings, and skills challenge results are easy to access and can be sorted by event or by team. Result updates can be downloaded as the events unfold, and you can also register to receive instant score alerts for your favorite teams.
Much of the information in this article comes from a 2022 presentation by Lovejoy High School Robotics 1082 titled “Introduction to VEX Robotics Competitions,” and is used with their permission.