This past weekend, I had the opportunity to drive down to F3 expo, watch the ThunderDrone500 and Masters of Freestyle competition, as well as participate in the individual racing as a 4″ class. It was an incredible time, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, I do have some thoughts about what I did and didn’t like about the event overall.
This is a bit of a longer post, so here’s a quick table of contents:
1) Masters of Freestyle Competition
The freestyle competition at F3 Expo was incredible. While there were still some kinks to work out, it was very well put together. They had the FPV (first person view) view from the pilots live-streamed to the massive displays in the dome, the quad was ripping around right in front of the spectators, and the course layout was awesome. Pilots were encouraged to “do something we’ve never seen before” as an incentive to earn more points on the well put together rating system, which incorporated elements of: flow, originality, and course utilization. All of these elements combined made for an awesome spectacle! Between the music, FPV, intro videos, announcers, and pilot “hot seat” the extra bit of dramatization, for me, legitimized the event. Rather than just having a few guys go up in heat after heat, it made for a “show”, rather than a freefly. The show and the spectacle of the event is going to be something to be saught after as FPV grows in popularity. Here’s essentially how the competition worked:
- A massive FPV playground was constructed in the Georgia Dome. This was simply the perfect thing set up for the best pilots to showcase all of their skills and try new and exciting tricks. Verticality, holes to fly through, tigher spaces, wide open areas to escape to, and even a slide were all elements of the course.
- All pilots were given a few hours in which to practice on the course and do some flying prior to the events’ start, giving them a chance to plan out the sorts of tricks that they would do.
- On the night of the event, the 8 pilots that were chosen each had a video intro and an introduction/brief interview given to them by an announcer.
- When the announcer finished, the pilot was given the chance to set up their gear, plug their quad in, and check their signals. When they were ready, they gave the thumbs up and a countdown began. At the end of the coundown, the pilot would start their sequence.
- When the sequence started, a timer was set for 8 minutes, and the pilot was allowed to do whatever they wanted with those 8 minutes. If they crashed, they were allowed to retrieve their quad. If props were broken, they could change them. They could swap batteries. If a frame was broken, they were allowed to switch to an alternate and keep flying. All that mattered was doing it within the 8 minutes.
- At the end, each judge was given the chance to talk about the pilot and say what they did or didn’t like, much like you would see on American Idol.
This was an excellent format, and ran very well. It was extremely exciting to watch, and the extra bit of dramatization with music, intro videos, and announcer gave the event some extra “legitimization”, which I think helped build the excitement as a spectator event.
Skitzo’s Introduction to the Masters of Freestyle Event Skitzo flying the masters of FreeStyle course in warmups:
My quick run through the Masters of Freestyle course:
The ThunderDrone500 made for an incredible spectator event. While I didn’t participate with a team, I had the opportunity to sit down near the “pitting” area and watch the transitions. The ThunderDrone500 works like this:
Essentially, it’s a relay race. Each team is required to have 5 pilots, all with their own multirotors, each matching with a set of specifications. All of their machines will be tuned to the same video frequency, and will be raced around a large, un-technical course in a series of 100 laps. When a battery gets low, the team will land their machine as quickly as possible, which a pit team will unplug. That team will simultaneously plug in the next quad and it will head out on the next series of laps. This continues until the final quad completes.
ThunderDrone500 incorporated some interesting aspects of FPV that I have never seen in “traditional” FPV racing. Essentially, what became the most important part of the race was the transition area — if you could unplug your quad and plug the next one in faster than anyone else could, then you were likely to win. The team that ended up winning this competition was able to do around 2 second pit changes — sigificantly faster than the average of around 10 seconds. In the same light, teams were getting very creative about HOW they would do pit changes. Team Detroit Multirotor were crashing quads into a pop-up soccer net, and another team was attempting to “catch” quads with blankets. This allowed them to put the quads on the ground faster, and get the next one up. I believe that, if others start doing events like this, we will more and more interesting innovation around quad/electronics design for finding the best setup for ThunderDrone style races.
ThunderDrone500 also made an exciting spectator sport because of the side-by-side comparison of FPV video feeds and drama in the transition areas. Displayed for everyone to see was every FPV video feed from all of the different teams, and the announcer would call out laps as the teams raced to the finish line. By being able to experience the excitement in the pits, and watch all of the FPV feeds simultaenously, it made for a very exciting event.
This event was more of a “team” event than anything else I’ve ever seem in FPV. Rather than a bunch of individuals working together to compete in individual races, this required that all teams work together as a whole, communicate well about what needed to happen, and make fast transitions together.
ThunderDrone Live View
3) Working Together/Support
As long as I’ve been in the RC hobby (which isn’t very long, admittedly), at an event (or even on the internet), there are always an abundance of people that want to help you out. If you have something broken or you are having an issue with troubleshooting a particular problem, myriad people will step up and hand you a part, give you advice, or do a demonstration. This was taken to a new level in the FPV Freestyle event. Because each pilot was given a timelimit and not a flight, the pilot was essentially allowed the opportunity to crash: Every pilot went into the freestyle competition with two quads, a stack of props and batteries, and would go all out without the fear of loosing out in the first crash. When a pilot did crash, it was their competitors, not the pilots themselves, blitzing out to the field to grab the downed machine, and it was their competitors swapping their props while the pilot started thinking about their next moves. It was very exciting to see all of the pilots pushing each other to the limits through encouragement and technical support. I only hope that I can help contribute to the same attitdue when I’m out flying with others.
At F3 Expo, for individual racing, negativity spread like wildwire when things started to go South. There were three main problems with the racing: (1) the video signal was not optimal, and (2) there was a vast gap of skill between the best pilots and the worst pilots. I count myself among the worst pilots there — even if I flew my best time ever (14:59 seconds on this course), I was still marginally worst than the best pilot’s average lap time (12:50 seconds). This means that, in a 5 lap race, they will have finished their 5th lap by the time I start my 4th, and that’s on a bad day for the ace pilot. Finally, (3) having to modify your gear to suit the technology of the race organizers.
Now — all of these things are standard! We know that there’s always the problem of bad video signal — it’s just something we deal with in FPV. And I KNEW what I was signing up for with racing against BrainDrain, Charpu, and Steele. Lastly, we KNOW that technology isn’t uniform, and sometimes we have to make compromises. However, a few pilots decided that they didn’t want to be a part of it (which is totally fine and totally their perrogative), but then started spreading that in a negative way. “This is bull****” and “What the ****” started spreading through the pits, and before you know it, half of the celebrity pilots (who I was hoping to spend time racing against and learning from) pull out of the races, taking nearly half of all of the pilots out with them. When that negativity runs rampant, it starts to get very hard to push through and still have a good time.
I think that this negativity was symptomatic of the event — the focus of the event was definitely on the freestyle and ThunderDrone500, and the race was thrown in as extra icing on the cake. This is totally fine, and if it had been thought of in that light, it may have gone over a little smoother. However, many people came to have racing be their focus, and many people came to have freestyle be their focus, and when the racing didn’t go well (at first — but later we had all the kinks worked out, and the racing went a lot better), those that were here for racing were leftover after the freestylers walked away.
2) Metal Roofs
The FPV racing was inside with a low metal roof, and it made the FPV signal horrible because of multipathing (signals bouncing around every which way causing distortion), to the point where it was deemed “unflyable” at one point. We eventually solved the issues by setting up 4-way diversity receivers that were provided by several pilots (and not by the race organizers). This meant that instead of running 8 people simultaneously on race band, we could only run 3 at a time (because we only had 3 4-way diversity receivers).
3) Help new pilots – Even when they make mistakes
One of the most positive things for me being at the event was getting to learn from and be helped by pro/sponsored pilots. When I had trouble with my quad or when I made a mistake on the course, the other pilots would generally be very encouraging, help me fix things, and offer advice on issues. This is AWESOME! Holy cow does it feel good to have Charpu hand you a screwdriver, or have BrainDrain offer advice on how to take a corner — they know what they’re doing and they’re excited to share. Especially, being one of the least experienced and least relevant pilots there ( I believe I was one of 2 or 3 un-sponsored pilots to compete in the finals, for example), having their advice and help means so much.
On the flip side, I made a mistake one flight, got a little bit lost on the course, and slowed down significantly. While I was re-aligning and picking up speed to continue my way down the course, a pro pilot and I had a collision, knocking us out of the practice session. He said some curt words (nothing inappropriate, but along the lines of (said rudely) “I didn’t expect someone to be flying backwards down the course” to me, and later asked me not to fly with him any more. While I understood and respected his desire to remain competitive, this hurt. It hurt bad! As a new, scrub of a pilot, wanting to learn and fly from the best out there, being yelled at and punished for traveling halfway across the country to fly with them really, really sucks! It REALLY sucks! I had to leave the course for a while, grab a treat at starbucks and go for a walk — I was ready to call it a day and quit as a result of this — it was an embarrassing mistake, but that’s life for FPV — no one should be blamed — we should just have fun.
To sum up — help others. Be generous with forgiveness. Offer constructive advice and helpful criticism: not retort.
This MAY apply only to multi-day events, and moreover, it may only apply to multi-day events where the primary focus is NOT racing. However, at this event, we had a lot of communication problems around when things were starting, when things were fixed, what the current status was of the racing event was, etc. We didn’t know if we would fly indoors/outdoors, whether or not the video signal was fixed, we had very long delays on starts, etc. None of this was communicated to anyone except those that were sitting around the flight line, waiting and ready to go at all times (which meant you could be sitting there waiting and doing nothing for 5+ hours (which I did). There should be a place where announcements are constantly posted, and updates are always given so that pilots know when, where, and why to show up to things ( for example, the internet).
There were some very powerful information and video feed screens available for anyone to watch, which aided in the “legitimization” mentioned above.
5) No LEDs
In the freestyle, the celebrity pilots did not have ANY LEDs on their quads. This COMPLETELY makes sense because they are pushing their quads to the absolute weight limits so that they can squeeze out every ounce of performance from their machines. However, it makes it just about IMPOSSIBLE to track what they’re doing in the sky. While we did have the FPV feed live and available on the screen, we were totally unable to watch the quad LOS (line of sight) because of the dark back-drop of the dome. I don’t think that any of the pilots thought that it might make a better spectator sport to add a bunch of LEDs to their quad to make it more visible and more exciting to watch. Again, maybe their not interested in that because they want the performance characteristics, but they should consider that LEDs would make for a much better spectator sport.
6) Amount of People
Finally, and this may be a bit of a weird critique, but there just weren’t enough people at the event. With things like the ThunderDrone and the freestyle event, whenever a cheer would happen or there was a good chance for people to be cheering, a really pathetic “woo” would go out in the massive auditorium, and it was, simply, a little bit awkward. More people would have helped.
In the same vein, the vast majority of the attendees of the event were pro pilots and vendors. Not that many consumers (like myself) were in attendance because of distance, time, cost, etc. As such, it just gave the event a strange feel — it was hard to be part of the “in” group, because they were all there to spend time with themselves. Again — that’s completely fine, and I’m glad that they had a chance to hang out! The are a family! But there just wasn’t anyone for me to spend time with, which just made it a little bit weird — it felt like I was hanging out a party that was a friend of a friends’.
Thus, to sum up, this event is going through growing pains along with the rest of the hobby. The ThunderDrone and the Masters of Freestyle events were a huge success, and I can’t wait to see more people doing more of the same events. However, because the focus was on those two events, which took place all on the same day, and the inflexibility and negativity of some pilots, the racing had a very rough start. The lack of people in attendance hurt the vendors that were present, and the audience that was in attendance was primarily pro pilots — not hobbyists or first-timers.
I’ll be posting many YouTube videos about the event over the next few days, so if you’re interested in hearing more and seeing some content from the event, please feel free to subscribe and follow along!