Sherburn-In-Elmet, 21st - 23rd Aug 2019

FRA Feathereight Championships 2019

Welcome to my event log of the FRA Featherweight Championships 2019, which was hosted by Robodojo and held in Sherburn-in-Elmet from 21/09/19 to 23/09/19! 

I participated with my then new machine, Venator V3, which I had just finished the night prior to my trip down south. I'll start off right where my build diary finished: the robot's drive had just been tested but the chassis was still in bits and I wasn't packed at all. 

As a result, the following morning was a frantic dash to not only fully assemble Venator, but to also pack my tiny car as tightly as possible, with as many tools, controllers and spare parts as I could. It was so tight, in fact, that Venator V3 had to sit in the passenger seat next to me. After a very sweaty, a/c deprived 7 hour trip south, I arrived at the arena, in an industrial estate outside the small village of Sherburn-in-Elmet. 

I chose a pit table and set up camp; my base of operations for the next 3 days. I shared this space with Crabsolutely Clawful, Impact, FryCook, TRAC, Pushability-Tilly and their respective builders. With technical and safety checks passed, I wandered around the pits to check out the other metal munching monsters, especially the 5 machines in my heat. I'd have to fight each one individually, being awarded points for a win, judges decision or loss, with the top 2 robots from each heat going through to the Top 16 bracket. 

My first match was against hammer-bot, Galaga. It was my only opponent that I was completely unfamiliar with, and one major concern immediately stuck out to me upon first seeing the robot. Galaga's front scoop was this really hefty chunk of hardox, and the 2 drive wheels are situated at the very rear of the machine. As a result most of the robot's weight would be resting on this scoop, and it would be very difficult to get underneath. The trade-off, however, is less speed than a 4-wheel drive system like Venator's, so I'd have to utilise my manoeuvrability to get around to the sides of Galaga.

Loading into the arena, Venator V3 thankfully powered up nicely, and felt nice to control - remember this is the first time I'd ever driven the machine! My opponent was also ready and looking deadly, testing out its menacing hammer by crashing it onto the arena floor. With everyone in position it was time for Venator V3's first battle to begin!

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So right on "ACTIVATE", I full the throttle to head straight at my opponent. Testing the front wedge of Galaga was a priority, as I needed to determine if I would be able to get underneath. Unfortunately Venator V3 had other ideas, ignored my inputs and decided to turn into the rear wall, which allowed Galaga to take a shot right off the bat. This was an issue throughout this entire fight - the drive kept consistently cutting out on one side.

A few exchanges and rams from Venator, and my drive started malfunctioning again in the arena corner. Galaga took full advantage, and really laid the smack down on my thin top lid, impressively scoring 8 big shots with its hammer. Luckily there was no significant damage taken, and I managed to squirm Venator out of danger so the fight could continue. At this moment, I took the opportunity to attack from the side, sending Galaga into the wall and activating the pit at the same time. 

I managed to edge Galaga closer and closer towards the open pit - my ticket for an early KO. However, Galaga escaped with some nice defensive driving, and as the fight wore on, I got increasingly concerned about losing a judges' decision, especially after the incident in the corner. I had to make something big happen, and fast. I tried to be as aggressive and quick as possible, and finally I thought I had Galaga lined up perfectly with the pit. One big push now could send Galaga down and out! Unfortunately I misjudged this final attack, missed Galaga completely, and actually drove Venator right into the pit! I could say that my drive issues caused my mistake here, but I'll be honest - it was just a horrid piece of robot control! D'OH!

Was definitely a bit deflated to start the weekend with a loss, especially on a match that I could have won. At least I had 4 more still to go! In the pits I attempted to investigate the drive problem, and indeed, one side was cutting out when in the high throttle range. Some fellow roboteers helped diagnose this as an ESC problem, which couldn't really be fixed on site. So in order to reduce the effect, I had to tone down Venator V3's max speed. A bit of a shame, but it could make the robot more controllable overall. So despite that, and some nicks taken out of the lid by Galaga, V3 was ready to roll into it's next fight!

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I'll be honest about this match, it was probably one of the least interesting fights I've been in, so I'll keep this brief. Unfortunately, after fixing the last drive issue, another immediately appeared right off the bat in this fight. Venator must've had quite the bash as I crashed into the pit earlier, because the right front wheel had loosened off the gearbox, and was now rubbing against the side armour. So I was basically on three wheels this entire round. It looks like Tilly Pecker was also having drive problems of its own, but it at least has an active weapon to score hits with. Venator's core strength is in it's agility, and without a fully functioning drive system, I lost this second fight to a split judges decision. Close but no cigar!

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Out of all the machines at this year's Championships, Captain Jack Spinnah was probably the one I was most afraid of. The vertical disc weapon packs a serious punch, and the large wheeled design means that it's difficult to get a hold of. With very little robot to get underneath and push around, it was obvious Venator V3 wouldn't stand a chance without some kind of creativity...

And so the Anti-Jack device was born! The idea was to stop the disc from making contact with Venator by attaching these goal-post looking things to the top. Armed with my specially designed device, I entered Venator into the Arena, which was now completely free from it's drive issues. It was all down to my own driving, and I'd have to control a perfect match in order to win this one.

Well that didn't go to plan!

So I missed my initial box rush, and you can see straight away how awkward Captain Jack is to fight. If you aren't dead on with your push, Jack just bounces off damage-free. To make matters worse I got caught up on his wheel, which allowed Jack's spinnah to get up to full power. So, with my initial strategy down the drain, it was time to use the Anti-Jack Device, which actually worked pretty well! You can see that the two goal posts made contact with Jack's chassis, which not only prevented his weapon hitting my robot, but also gave me the surface area to deliver a solid ram into the arena wall. Unfortunately they were completely obliterated by the spinnah on impact, which left poor Venator completely defenceless in the arena. I attempted to get in round the side, but Jack just wobbled right over my wedge, and delivered an absolutely brutal shot to the top lid, ripping it clean off in one swoop. 

This has got to be one of the best hits I've seen - the lid is just eviscerated and Venator is left aimlessly wandering about with all its guts hanging out. I love how everyone in the audience visibly tenses as it happens.

I didn't even know that tapping out was an option, but thanks to the spectators who started calling out, I realised it was for the best. Usually I'm all for total destruction in my fights, but with a dangerously exposed LiPo and over 150 quid's worth of electronics just sitting there in the open, I decided to tap out.

And so clearly I lost this round, but the full extent of the damage done in this single hit is something to behold. A split gearbox, a cracked wheel, the lid was torn up, and the list goes on. Most impressively of all, is that the barrel nuts, which I use to secure the lid in place, were ripped out of chassis the with the bolts still attached and flung across the arena. Venator V3 never fully recovered from this hit , and it's only now, months later as I repair the machine, that I realise how badly warped the robot is. Jack Spinnah deservedly came 4th overall, and it's certainly one of the best designs I've fought against. Luckily I had time to make the most necessary repairs, but it was a tough job and I needed a hand from a few other robot builders to help. This left Venator with 3 losses and no wins, which sadly meant that my chances at making the top 16 were toast, regardless of how well I did in my next fights. 

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My next fight was against my pit buddy, Frycook. We'd been sharing our pit table over the course of the weekend (which was a bit tricky because Frycook is such a big robot!), and so we had both been involved in repairing each other's machines. As a result we were both very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our robots. Frycook had unfortunately been drawn against big spinner Telekenesis early on and been torn apart, and Venator wasn't exactly in peak condition after the last fight either. However both robots were working well enough; Venator's drive was repaired and Frycook's flipping spatulas were ready to go. 

As activate was sounded I knew I had the manoeuvrability advantage, so my strategy was to be as aggressive as possible for the first 30 seconds, and then go for the pit release. Unfortunately there was one big issue I'd not considered: FryCook's spatulas! They'd been mounted so they had a nice amount of flex to them, which meant they perfectly scraped the ground and completely negated my wedge! Nightmare! This made Frycook surprisingly difficult to fight, even though I was able to easily dodge its slow lifter. After some good slams into the arena wall though, it was clear this was my fight to win. So I opened the pit for the big push, and guess what happened..?

THAT'S RIGHT! I DROVE STRAIGHT IN AGAIN! I tried my best to wiggle Venator out of the pit, but it just wasn't happening, and Frycook was awarded the 3 points for a KO. This was a really fun fight though, and having the opportunity to be in the arena with one of my mates was great. I think Frycook surprised everyone, and went on to have a hilarious round against Jack Spinnah which I'll link here. 

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Now this was it; my final fight and my last chance to get a win in the championships. I was up against Telekinesis, a beautifully engineered machine with one of the scariest weapons at the competition. Having lost all my previous fights, I was certainly the underdog, but I was actually really looking forward to this battle. Mean horizontal spinners like Telekinesis are exactly what Venator is designed to fight, and this was the perfect chance to not only test my robot's durability, but also my driving strategies as well.

My plan in this round was to stay on top of Telekinesis as much as possible, which would stop the weapon from getting up to full speed. And for the most part it really worked! The first 20 seconds went exactly according to plan, but unfortunately I narrowly missed one of my charges which allowed my opponent to get spinning. Telekinesis got a huge hit on the front, which took a big bite out of the hardox scoop, and crashed Venator into the arena wall. My robot continued to drive well though, and after a few dodges I noticed a breakaway opportunity to go for the pit tyre. The timing was perfect! Telekinesis appeared to be having traction issues when inverted, and got beached right over the pit as it was opening! All it took was one slight, carefully calculated nudge, and Telekinesis was dropped gently down and out! Venator V3 had finally won its first fight!

You can see my manic reaction as the battle unfolded. To finally win at the championships for the first time in two years, and for the robot to perform exactly as intended against a vicious foe, was simply the best feeling in the world. The crowded audience of roboteers knew how much I wanted this win, and their reaction, combined with the huge hits from my opponent make this one of my favourite fights. Telekinesis is a beautiful machine and I'm sure it will have its year sooner rather than later!

So my participation at the 2019 championships definitely ended with a high note. I later competed in the gladiator, BBB rumble, and annihilator, during which Venator lasted until the 3rd round, but it was clear the machine was hurting at this point. The drive was cutting out, the wedge was beat up, and the chassis was all kinds of twisted. 

Nonetheless I had a brilliant time and met some amazing friends.

 

This tournament really helped me see another side to robot combat. Last year's championships was all about building the best and most advanced machine to qualify for this big high stakes competition. It was definitely a very high pressure environment in contrast to this event, which was much more relaxed and felt like a fun weekend with friends. Overall I loved it, and I hope future events follow a similar format where appropriate. Big thanks to Robodojo and to my fellow pit crew who accepted me into their wonderful group. A further thank you goes to Team Bad Timing Robotics for uploading all the video you've been watching. A congratulations also goes Bad Timing Robotics who won the competition with, X-303. I was lucky I didn't have to fight that one!

That's all for this event log - thanks for reading! Here's hoping the 2020 championships will be just a great!

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