What, Why, When, How?
Scouting is a very important part of an FTC competition that can seem daunting and somewhat impossible. What is it, where do you start, how do you gather all this information, and what do you do with it once you’ve got it?
Scouting is where you basically watch each match and record what happens in greater or lesser detail (that depends on the team and what they need). Scouting can go as far as recording everything that happens for all four teams in a match for every match or as relaxed as simply jotting down general thoughts on how the match went and how each team did.
Regardless of to what degree of detail your team decides to scout, some information is decidedly better than no information. But what do you do with this information? We use the information our scouting team gathers to give our drivers a better sense of what each team they will be partnered with and playing against can do and what their general on-field behavior has been. For example, in the 2017-18 Relic Recovery season, it is often useful to know if your alliance partner generally goes for the relic and how often they succeed at that. Or maybe because of the scouting data you’ve gathered, your drivers now know that one particular team that they’re facing this match has a glyph intake mechanism that tends to push the glyph pile which can block someone from deploying a relic successfully and now your drivers know to watch for that and can be prepared to address is .Ssome of this information can be gathered by talking to your alliance partners, but as we all know, teams can tend to be very positive on the merits of their respective robots and often it is useful to have the hard data.
The second thing we use our scouting data for is picking alliance partners if we are a captain. Yes, you can look at the rankings, but it is often crucial to have a record of how those perspective alliance partners got to the top ranks. Did team #1234 get to rank five by filling a cryptobox in a cypher, or by having a consistent autonomous and sending out two relics in the end-game? If your robot specializes in relics, and is only secondarily a glyph-hauler, then you would want to pick a team that is very good at glyphs even if they can’t do relics and vice-versa.
How Error 404 Does Scouting
This season, we recorded our data on paper. There’s nothing wrong with doing it electronically, we just have a system we like with paper. Before competition we lay out a single sheet for each team at that competition (with a few spares in case there are some extra teams….there are almost always are). Each team page will hold that team’s match records.
This is the template that we’ve designed and used for the 2017-18 Relic Recovery season and we find that it works pretty well. We print one double-sided sheet for each team (total of eight matches per team) and record away.
The number of team members we have fluctuates year to year, but we generally keep two to three team members in the stands scouting. One of the scouters has a binder with one scouting sheet for every team at the event (previously labeled and tagged). That person is responsible for keeping track of what teams need to be scouted when and distributes the sheets. Then the other scouter/s just jot down what they observe and turn in their sheets to the scouter with the binder after the match.
When to do What?
For small competitions (league meets and the league championship), we often just scout as many teams as we can. Doing this can be intensive as that's four teams needing to be real-time scouted per match, but as there are often only twenty or so teams there, it is good to have an idea of what each and every team can do. Especially if you are likely to be in the elimination rounds, either as an alliance captain or a selected parter. If your team can't sustain scouting all the teams, then prioritize your alliance partners and your opponents. If you are ranking high, then also prioritize other high-ranked teams.
Regionals on Up
At the larger competitions (regionals on up), we usually only scout our alliance partners until about mid-day when we look at how we are doing and decide if we have a good chance of being an alliance captain. If we decide that there is a chance that we might be a captain or a candidate for being picked by an alliance captain, we begin scouting both our alliance partners and the top ten or so high ranking teams. If we decide that we definitely won’t be an alliance captain or even close, then we usually only scout our alliance partners.