FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Timeout & Playoff Tournament Updates

Sep 07, 2022 Written by Fiona Hanlon, FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist




This summer, FIRST® Robotics Competition assembled a working group to explore ways to improve the playoff tournament timeout process. I am happy to share some updates on progress we have made so far.

In looking at the current timeout process, we first assessed areas for improvement and identified some things to improve with a new model:

  • Avoid unbalanced matches in playoffs (i.e. 3 robots vs. 2 robots)
  • A simpler process for all participants
  • Provide more time to teams between playoff matches
  • Improve the overall team experience (both for teams competing and teams watching)

To address these areas, the following changes will be incorporated for the 2023 season:

  • More time for teams between playoff matches. Our goal is that each alliance will have at least fifteen minutes between each of their matches. Note that this does mean removing timeouts available to alliances, as all alliances are allotted more time.
  • Backup robots are required to play in the first match after they are called and may not be called until after the alliance’s first match. After that, the alliance can choose to play any of the four teams now on their alliance.
  • Alliances can choose which driver station each team is in for each match.
  • Instead of immediate disablement for a robot being late, teams will receive a penalty for causing significant delays to the start of playoff matches before being disabled.
  • Printed copies of the backup robots list and playoff bracket will be provided to the alliance captain prior to the start of the playoff matches.
  • We are evaluating additional audience and team focused displays will help teams know exactly when their next playoff match will be and how the tournament is progressing.

The group also made a recommendation that implementing a double elimination tournament would achieve even greater improvements over the current system. The Double Elimination Tournament Overview has more detail about how this model would be implemented for FIRST Robotics Competition events. The page also shares additional advantages of this model with more detail on the other changes being implemented. Some details are still being finalized, including any potential changes to District points.

It’s important to note that changing from best-of-three to double elimination is tentative. While we would love to wave a magic wand and have this all finalized before the season, this is a large undertaking, and we had other projects on deck for our engineering team to focus on this fall (like the 2023 game). So, we are working closely with volunteer members of the community to help us execute this with the goal that we will feel confident in implementing this for the 2023 season. If we are not ready, we will make the other modifications listed above for the 2023 season.

We will update the community later this fall with confirmation of the playoff structure that will be used for the 2023 season. Please note that specific details in the overview document are subject to change. The 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition game manual will have the complete tournament ruleset.

We are excited to share that some offseason events, including Chezy Champs, are implementing a similar tournament structure as an opportunity to test the model. We plan to attend Chezy Champs to talk with teams about their experiences with the new model to see if we need to make any adjustments to our plan.

Finally, I want to give a big shout out and thank you to our working group who was mostly made up of volunteers. I also want to preemptively thank the volunteers who have agreed to help us with implementing this new playoff model. We have said it before, but I will say it again, FIRST® runs on volunteers, and we couldn’t do everything we do without all of you. Thank You!

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Could we get a sample schedule for the double elimination bracket, showing where there would be longer breaks between matches?  Some assumptions can be made for the sake of demonstration, such as the expected cycle time between matches (which is variable each year, depending on field reset time).

Some of the matches appear that they can be optimized - switching M6 with M7 and M11 with M12 could ultimately reduce the down time between matches the most, I believe.  Using an assumed 7 minute cycle time, this eliminates a total of 11 minutes of down time from the schedule!


Unfortunately, we are not ready to release a sample schedule as we are still fine tuning a few things. The final schedule will be released in the manual. As noted in the Double Elimination Tournament Overview, there will be a break between every round. We did not release the length of time breaks are as we are still finalizing the lengths. We did look very closely at multiple iterations of this schedule to fine tune the amount of time needed for the playoff structure while also ensuring that the flow of matches made the most sense and we believe to have a schedule that is optimized. 

- Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

Having alliances select which station each team stands during the playoffs will delay the Prestart process for any match in the tournament. A remedy to this situation is to require alliance captains to submit their station choices to the HR or FTA prior to the immediately preceding match beginning (i.e. Match 3 captain must turn in their choices before Match 2 begins). You can enforce this by making the consequences the same as causing a significant delay to the start of a match.


Thank you for the suggestion. We do currently have teams enter their lineups for playoffs at FIRST Championship and do not see a delay to matches. There will be a deadline to submit lineups and those rules will be released in the manual. 

- Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

I am confused about the final best 2 out of 3. In traditional double elimination tournaments, the upper bracket team only needs to win once to win the tournament, because that would be the second loss for the lower bracket team. Why the change?


Thank you for reaching out. The working group felt that we wanted to preserve the best 2 of 3 finals for both the drama and excitement for the audience. We understood that some double elimination tournaments use the method you described but others did variations. 

- Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

Yes please!  Please implement the double elimination tournament for this season.  As a consistent 10~15th ranked team we frequently get eliminated in the first round by the 1st or 2nd ranked alliance.  FIRST NC is small / new enough that 5th - 8th ranked alliances are very equally matched and the double elimination tournament will give teams like us a better chance to play deeper into the tournament.


Thank you for your feedback and support to this idea. As mentioned in the blog, we are very hopeful to have this implemented for the 2023 season and we will keep the community updated on the progress of implementing this. 

- Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

Everything mention sounds great. Love the idea. I am thinking about the audience. How to keep the stands engaged. How about exhibition matches? Maybe have teams be able to bring last year’s robot to see how it would do on this year’s challenge. Fun things! Thank you

I'd love to see the bottom ranked bots not on an alliance compete in a few matches as a full field (sum red and blue alliance scores) with scores going to a global leader board


Thank you for the suggestions, I will bring these to our group working on content for the breaks.

-Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

Last year at the Mt. Olive FMA District event, we were working on a compressed schedule due to weather and to save time they did awards between matches. I would love to see that as standard procedure!  I think it's a great way to teams' attention and it was nice to not have the dedicated Awards Ceremony block. 


Thank you for the suggestion. We have had a couple events over the years have to move awards to between matches due to weather. We are still finalizing what may occur during the breaks and any additional detail will be released in the manual. 

- Fiona Hanlon
FIRST Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist

losers style bracket with the next top scoring teams with no team selections for the other side, and maybe have the loser bracket winner go against the winners.  Just a thought.  


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