FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Kickoff Fields Go Virtual

Aug 03, 2018 Written by Frank Merrick.




For 2019, we are focusing on providing virtual fields to all teams and for all kickoffs. Virtual fields have been available in the past, but we are inviting sponsors to provide a greater range of resources; from simple ‘google cardboard’-like experiences that can be used on common smart phones to a full-on virtual experience that use high end headsets.


The resources will be available immediately after the kickoff broadcast, and we’ll be notifying teams and kickoffs of what they can expect in the coming months.


We are making this push toward virtual fields for two reasons. First, virtual fields are a more practical tool for a growing number of teams. We are very excited about the opportunities virtual fields can provide teams in developing their game strategies. Second, there is a serious problem with the current field builder program.


As many of you probably know, for years we’ve had a field builder program under which FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoffs can receive plans to the “team versions” (the wooden versions) of the fields in advance of the official kickoff. This gave these field builders time to build the fields before kickoff so they could be ready for the teams to review.


However, there has been a persistent issue with the system: game leaks. While the field builders and their assistants don’t get access to the game manual ahead of time, anyone seeing the drawings or components of the game in advance can make a pretty good guess as to what the game entails (and, sometimes just as importantly, what it doesn’t entail) and what the teams may be asked to deal with. And while the great majority of field builders and their assistants keep what they see confidential, it only takes a few to break the secrecy of the game for all.


So, for the coming season, the field builder program is being replaced by the expanded availability of virtual fields (“team versions” will still be published with the rest of the game documentation at Kickoff).


For some, this is not a significant change. 45% of kickoffs, including some of our largest (with over 50 teams attending), did not have field builders for the 2018 season. For others used to seeing the team version of fields at kickoff, this will be significant. I recognize this change will not be popular with everyone, but I believe the move toward virtual kickoff fields is a natural evolution and enhancement of our program and is necessary to help preserve the integrity of the season.


I want to thank our field builders for all the work they’ve put into that program over the years. They’ve helped enhance the team experience at many kickoffs, and the great majority had the personal integrity necessary to not share confidential game information.




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Will there still be an official field at the kickoff event in NH?


I understand completely why FIRST is implementing the change to virtual fields for all teams and all kickoffs.  Fairness.  Now every team has access to the same information about the field at the start of the season.  I'm anxious to find out how well the virtual field satisfies my need to understand the scale and scope of the field every year.  As a recently retired Kickoff Field Builder, seeing the drawings and laying out the cutting diagrams never gave me a good picture of the field elements.  Only after building the field elements could I truly appreciate the size and scale of everything.

Also, in the name of fairness, I presume that this new policy also applies to the kickoff in Manchester where it has been FIRST's practice to erect the whole field.  The blog does say "..providing virtual fields to all teams and for all kickoffs." Teams attending previous Manchester kickoffs, unlike all the other kickoffs, got the opportunity to see the "real" field elements and not just the wooden versions. 


Paul George

FRC Team 1038 Team Leader and ex Kickoff Field Builder

Thank you for your comments. Paul. Teams will still be able to build their own field elements with the drawings we provide. There will still be a real field at the Manchester, NH Kickoff. It is going to be integrated in the Kickoff broadcast. This does give a slight advantage to teams able to attend the Manchester Kickoff, but there simply are geographic advantages to living near FIRST HQ (such as being able to attend Founder’s reception).   

How will teams, and more importantly, their robots interact with the virtual fields?  Will teams be able to tell if their robots can move field elements when needed?  I remember Rebound Rumble where robots had to push down on the balanced bridge in order to go over it.  Even the plywood version of that field did not respond like the competition field's bridge. Also, will FIRST be publishing plans for either the Team Built, or the actual competition field elements after Kick-Off? 



We’re working on figuring out what tools with what features will be available, and we will post more detail later this fall. Yes, FRC will still publish the team drawings (and official field drawings) at Kickoff.   

Will there be a material list provided a few days before kickoff. Just a number of sheets of plywood and 2x4s.


Mr. Mike


Mr. Mike, yes, we’ll be providing a materials list (number of sheets of plywood, for example, as you suggest) for the team versions before Kickoff, but the exact date is yet to be determined.

I really hope they create some test fields of maybe Power Up so teams with very little to no vr experience can try it out before the crazy of kickoff. I hate to see a large group not able to experience the vr because their hardware is not compatible.

Thank you for sharing this suggestion! 

Maybe sell the sample VR fields with a game hint. An empty field with one lonely widget mid field to interact with. Or may the CANNED robots that are always used in the game animations each year. Put earth hanging from mid field as if we are thousands of miles away looking back to our home. 

I’m writing to you today to express my strong opposition to the replacement of the actual playing field elements at kickoffs with virtual versions of the field.   My opposition is based on two points:

1.        Because of this change, I believe fewer teams will attend kickoffs year.  One of the reasons teams attend a kickoff is to see, touch, playing around with and talk about the field elements and game pieces.  This change will give teams one more reason not to attend a kickoff, but rather watch it at home.  As I’m sure you are aware, attending a kickoff is an integral part of learning the ethos of FIRST and building a cohesive team.  Rookie teams and rookie members are first exposed FIRST experience and to the concepts of Gracious Professionalism and  Coopertition by attending a kickoff and standing around the field elements and talking with others about game strategy, robot design, game rules, etc.   Friendships are renewed between veterans and the important link between veteran and rookie teams is made at kickoffs.  The excitement and exposure to the FRC community at the kickoff helps carry teams through the difficult and sometime lonely build period to their first competition.

2.        For teams who do attend a kickoff this year, a “virtual” image of the field is a poor substitute for seeing, touching and playing around with the actual elements.  One of the strong and unique aspects of FRC is that it is NOT virtual – it involves real things, real problems and real people leading to real experiences and real learning.


For these reasons, I believe the change to virtual field elements will deteriorate the overall effectiveness and reach of the FRC program.


I recommend that FRC take a couple of actions this year:

1.        Record the teams actually attending a kickoff program (as opposed to just picking up the KOP) and compare to previous year’s attendance.

2.        Develop a new “hook” to encourage teams to attend a kickoff to replace the field element reveal.


I’d be happy to discuss this issue further with any members of the FRC.



Ken Snodgrass

Detroit Kickoff Coordinator

MEZ senior mentor

I completely agree with everything you've said. Additionally, some teams barely have the funds to attend events, let alone purchase VR hardware. If a kickoff event supplied the hardware, then it would be even more difficult for all attendees to see the field pieces due to long lines and high demand. This is a horrible and discouraging fix for a very simple problem.

Clearly one big reason they're stopping the built fields, are the leaks of game information. If you're going to suggest they keep doing the fields, you need to propose another solution to the leaking.

A good reason to go to the virtual field is the expense of building the field elements. Last year my Mentor Son's team hosted kick-off and it cost them nearly $1000.00 to build the field elements. That was money they really didn't have. This year my team is hosting that kick-off. We are in a low income area and we barely come up with the registration fees, so spending a lot of money to build it is something not in our budget. As a teacher I have about 12 VR headsets that I can use at kick-off. VR headsets have come way down, less than $10.00 (I actually got mine for $8.00 a piece) and since every kid has a cell phone it is easy to get a feel for the field. 

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