Updated: Jun 11, 2018
By Justin Haggerty, President & CEO
The 2017 Challengers Cup Finals at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was a great finish to an already successful season. After 12 races, from Buenos Aires to Manila, the Top 32 Ranked Pilots competed for the World Championship and a $50,000 purse. Andy Marachilian "DolmaFPV," from the United States, took the World Championship. Mac Poschwald, from Poland, and Travis Ames, from Canada, finished as Runner-Up and 3rd Place respectively.
As a tournament style, single elimination, competition, the Las Vegas Finals demanded pilots to focus and perform at a high level. Although the race required the best performances on a consistent basis, there were several uncontrollable events that eliminated skilled pilots early. To create a platform that provides the best opportunity for all pilots to perform at his or her optimum level, we have designed a new format for the 2018 Challengers Cup.
Before getting too far into the blog, it is important to understand where my opinions and some of my experiences originate. I do admit my bias on race format. For nearly twenty years, my father was an assistant crew chief in professional top fuel, drag racing. Growing up around the NHRA, I have recognized many things that the organization, and other motorsports leagues, have done well and poorly at. For anyone who follows auto-racing, most organizations are having issues filling seats and connecting with younger generations. Drone Racing, as the future of motorsports, can change that.
The single elimination format was designed to facilitate the series structure and season points rankings of the 2017 Challengers Cup. Like other motorsports and professional auto-racing, we believe that the stresses of competition, crashes, and equipment issues are acceptable variables that influence the results of a race. Although these points of friction may influence a race, the structure of the series is designed to make the influences negligible on the Top 32 Pilot Rankings. At the end of the season, the Top 32 Ranked Pilots, composed of winners or the most consistent competitors, should be the best pilots in the Challengers Cup. However, we do recognize the points of friction have a much larger impact on the Finals, where there are no opportunities to compete in additional races to make-up for a bad run. As a tournament style championship, the dynamic of unpredictable eliminations is exciting for spectators and viewers. We all love to cheer for underdogs and witness history making upsets. Nevertheless, it would be best for all arguments if we could ensure that it was the underdog's performance, not an unfortunate circumstance, that directly caused the upset.
With the intent to improve our format for the 2018 Challengers Cup, we took several polls from pilots to receive direction. The preference for double elimination was loud and clear, but implementing a losers bracket is too amateur for professional drone racing as a motorsport, and is more fitting for grassroots competitions like MultiGP. Losers brackets are difficult to follow for spectators, decreasing the excitement for unpredictable eliminations and adding a great amount of probability to the nature of the race. Pilots moving to the losers bracket may experience an easier or more difficult heat than which he or she was originally eliminated from. Unfortunately, designing a format that incorporates the view of a spectator, rather than focusing on a "race for the racers" concept, remains a heavily opposed idea by many in the FPV Community. A format should cater to both parties, being most fair and enjoyable for competitors and entertaining and easy to follow for fans. We can't grow the motorsport into a sustainable profession by only expanding the pilot base.
Another proposed format is how RC Car racing and some circuit competitions build multiple tiers of Mains from qualifying times. The Challengers Cup's current format already seeds pilots according to their best 3 Lap time, placing top qualified pilots in easier heats as an early advantage in eliminations. However, this format mistakenly measures the number of laps made in a set time. As a short response to that method, competitors should qualify in a similar setting to eliminations. The major difference with RC Car format is how the Mains are seeded. Instead of spreading top qualified pilots into easier heats on both sides of the bracket to avoid early match-ups between said pilots, RC Car format seeds competitors into Mains, or "heats," according to like performance during qualifying. Competitors in lower Mains, or "heats," can "bump-up" to higher Mains by eliminating other drivers. In the RC Car community, this format is justified by ensuring the best drivers compete in the final round. However, the format is rigged to give the top qualified competitors a bye until later elimination rounds like the Semifinals or Finals. No competitor, based on perceived skill or qualifying performance, should receive a bye during a professional or semi-professional competition. A true winner can only be determined by the whole pilot pool's involvement in the entirety of eliminations.
In order to maintain the best qualities of the current format and to accept the direction provided by the pilots in the community, it is most appropriate to adopt a double elimination format that is based on points accumulated by finishing positions in multiple head-to-head races. Much of the format for the 2017 Challengers Cup will be maintained for the 2018 season. Races for qualifying and eliminations will still be 3 laps on custom track designs, allowing organizers to implement unique characteristics per race and adjust for different venues. Like in 2017, the 2018 Challengers Cup will be open class, authorizing pilots to test the limits of technology and builds, only requiring that the aircraft is battery powered, rotor propelled, and piloted via FPV. However, one specification will be enforced that all aircraft must be illuminated by LEDs to provide a more professional appearance for spectators and viewers. Qualifying will remain as a 4 round platform for pilots to register their fastest 3 lap time for the final qualifying rankings, which will seed pilots into respective heats in the first round of eliminations. The number structure between first round heats has been updated from 2017's version, as it was determined that several number sequels were on the same side of the bracket. In the new bracket for the 2018 Challengers Cup, higher qualified pilots have a stronger advantage in the first round than in 2017. Lastly, before we discuss the double elimination format, practice will transition to a more open structure that gives pilots the opportunity to run more packs.
As stated in the previous paragraph, the format for the 2018 Challengers Cup will incorporate a double elimination model that advances the top 2 pilots, per heat, who have accumulated the most points during the round. To reduce the friction points of stress, unpredictable crashes, and equipment failures, double elimination will ensure that the most deserving pilots advance throughout the race. Each heat, per elimination round, will execute 2 runs with the same scheduled pilots. There will not be any shuffling of pilots to protect each heat's established probability of advancement, elimination, and skill level that were set by the seeding from qualifying rankings and the results of the previous round. If there are any points of friction experienced during a run, that does not carry cause for a re-run, the second run of the round stands as an opportunity for pilots to redeem and make-up for the first; vice versa, if the first run redeems the second.
The points have also been measured to ensure that advancement is not unreachable for a 4th place finish. Points will be awarded, per run, as such: 1st = 3 points, 2nd = 2 points, 3rd = 1 point, 4th = 0 points. After the second run, points will be combined and the top 2 pilots will advance in each heat. If there are any ties in a race or points, qualifying position will be the tiebreaker. Another earned advantage during eliminations is channel choice. The best 4 channels will already be determined and in use for the race; however, pilots will have a chance to pick their own channels during elimination rounds. This opportunity will be available by order of performance, best 3 lap time, in the previous round; channel choice in the first elimination round will be determined by qualifying positions. With our new format, pilot match-ups, heats, and channels are no longer governed by the race director or organizer, but by the performances and choices of the competing pilots.
One of the best aspects of the new format is that the points earned in double elimination can be integrated into season point totals for all competing pilots in the 2018 Challengers Cup. Along with elimination points, qualifying points, and E.T. bonus points, the accumulated points from run positions will create a new opportunity for pilots to be rewarded for placing well on a consistent basis. There are several routes that a pilot may take to secure a position in the Top 32 Pilot Rankings of the 2018 Challengers Cup. In a 23 race series, it may be safe to state that all of the race winners will be invited to the Las Vegas Finals on November 9-10, 2018. However, it may not be the story come October. Like we witnessed in 2017, more pilots began to travel to and compete in multiple races to earn additional season points. Not only is this great for the motorsport, but it is one of the major goals of the Challengers Cup. It is a series and not a championship built on local and regional qualifiers. The Challengers Cup was made to encourage pilots to compete in more races, exposing sponsors to more communities, testing pilot skills against more competitors, and providing a platform for pilots to grow their personal brands and build a story about their performance throughout the season.
The identity of the Challengers Cup and the new format for the 2018 season add a new dynamic to the motorsport and, in my opinion, point the community in the right direction toward a self-sustained profession. The Challengers Cup is the largest semi-professional, "single pilot competition," series in the world. Through the series' 23 races, hundreds of pilots have the opportunity to test their skills, expend the reach of their personal brand, and appeal to new and better sponsors. As the Challengers Cup continues to grow, more pilots will earn the ability to travel to more races and even organize groups to compete professionally in team competitions like the 2018 Drone Racing Series. Drone Racing is still in its infancy and continues to struggle for major financial backing for events, competitors, and teams. The beneficiaries of significant investment have come from already possessed capital or by producing fake, "Reality TV" style competitions for media. Neither will experience longevity. To become a sustainable profession, Drone Racing must focus on growing the community and expanding the spectator base.
In a future blog, I will expand on the current state of the motorsport and the possible solutions that we, as an international community, can implement to move closer to reaching self-sustainability.
Please let us know if you have any questions about the new format for the 2018 Challengers Cup Finals. We look forward to kicking-off the season with Flite Factory for the Phoenix Regionals at the Phoenix Cup on February 22-25. Hope to see you at a race this year for the 2018 Challengers Cup or the 2018 Drone Racing Series, which begins on March 31st & April 1st for the Utrecht Internationals at the Dutch Comic Con.
As always; stay safe, have fun, and we'll see you at the next race!