Home Robotics TCEA’s Robotics Contests: All You Need to Know

TCEA’s Robotics Contests: All You Need to Know

by Peggy Reimers
TCEA Robotics Contest Image

When asked to explain the TCEA Robotics contests, I have my elevator speech memorized and ready to answer. “TCEA has two contests: Arena and Inventions. Arena comes with multiple pages of rules. The Inventions contest has only ONE page of rules and a one-page rubric. Like apples and oranges, you cannot really compare the two. They both ROCK AND ROBOT! And I must say it is a win-win to have two contests for students to choose from according to their interests.” 

However, there is much more to the contests than rules.

Mike Neal, former TCEA Area 15 Director, gets it. He says, “The contests allow students the ability to develop debating or discussion skills which become invaluable in the future. Students get a chance to do just-in-time problem solving, get up and speak in front of people, and experience failure and success in a safe learning environment. Each skill will benefit our students in the future.”

This blog post is intended to give you an overview of the two TCEA Robotics Contests. For detailed information on the Arena and Inventions competitions, please visit the TCEA Robotics website.

TCEA Area Contests

Each year, TCEA holds 21 Area contests. Twenty area contests are conducted around the Lone Star State based on our Texas Educational Service Centers. The 21st area contest is located on the island of Guam. 

Grade levels are split into two divisions:

  • Intermediate: Grades 4-8
  • Advanced:  Grades 9-12

Note: Grades 6-8 may compete in the Advanced Division in special circumstances.

The Inventions Contest

Inventions Engineering Design Process showing logbook, brainstorm, plan, build and test, and present.
EDP designed for TCEA Inventions

Each inventions team follows the engineering design process to create a robot that solves a real-world problem of their choice. Teams keep a detailed logbook and prepare a six-minute presentation for the judges. Students then showcase their research, robot design and performance, marketing strategies, and presentation skills for the judges.

Building materials in this contest are not limited to LEGO bricks. Lumber, metal, plastic, PVC pipe, dirt, frying pans, and many other items are welcome. I have witnessed commodes, canopy tents, chicken coops, greenhouses, and inflatable swimming pools hauled into the State Inventions venue. One thing to note: students must be the ones to build their invention. Adults may not aid with the construction of the invention or with making any associated components for research, design, marketing, or presentation. This is a kids-only contest!

When you think Inventions, think: open-ended, originality, making, imagination, curiosity, creativity, and innovation. The possibilities are limitless.

Top Inventions Tip

Follow an engineering design process. And pay close attention to the rubric as it clearly indicates the five components of the Inventions competition. 

The Arena Contest

Each fall, we post a problem set in the form of a 16-page game manual on our website. The challenge is always completed on the TCEA Race for Time mat. Everyday items are used for game pieces and, in the past, game kits have included LEGO bricks, PVC couplers, Dixie cups, and dice, for example. Race for Time mats and game kits can be purchased exclusively from the TCEA store

The game manual includes eight sections:

  • Overview
  • Playing Field and Game Elements 
  • Robot and Software
  • Competition
  • Finals Tournament
  • State Contest
  • FAQ’s
  • Revision History

Teams will design and build a robot to tackle a themed set of tasks, with themes and tasks changing from year to year. In the challenge, there are three qualification matches with two periods each: one 30-second period and one 90-second period. In the 30-second period, the robot must complete tasks autonomously, and in the 90-second period, the robot must complete tasks when controlled by the team’s Robot Driver. Arena teams will partner up with different teams to score points in these three qualification matches. 

The contest will wrap up with the top eight teams choosing an alliance partner to compete in the Finals Tournament. A single-elimination bracket will determine first and second place.

Top Arena Tip

After reading the game manual from beginning to end multiple times, jump into the Community and find answers if you still have questions.

Participants in an Arena Contest, Photo by TCEA

Approximate Timeline

August: Arena challenge released

November/December: Sponsors register teams online

January: Area contests held

February: Wildcard teams announced

March: Sponsors register teams advancing to state

April: State contest held in the Austin area

The Numbers

What do you need to participate?

  • One sponsor (must be a TCEA member)
  • Two students per robotics kit
  • Two to four students per team
  • Four contests: Advanced Arena, Advanced Inventions, Intermediate Arena, Intermediate Inventions
  • One awesome team name (Leave it to kids to come up with fantastic team names. How could you not root for Get Off My Lawn; Blood, Sweat and Gears; Awesome Sauce; or Ninja Tuna? Yes, these are all actual team names!)


To become a sponsor, you must be a TCEA member (a one-year membership is $49 or get a course for just $29 and it’s thrown in for free). The main responsibilities of a sponsor include:

  • Providing students with a learning space to build and program
  • Guiding students in knowledge of the rules and rubric 
  • Creating a support system 
  • Finding funding for equipment and registration fees
  • Transporting students to contests

Sponsors are generally educators who teach class, have an after-school program, or coach a robotics club; however, sponsors from a church, community organization, scouts, 4-H, or a home school are welcome to participate in the TCEA Robotics Contest.

Participants in an Inventions Contest, Photo by TCEA

Equipment/Fees for One Team

  1. Programming software (provided free by the platform)
  2. Device (Mac, PC, iPad, Android tablet, or Chromebook)
  3. Contest Registration Fee $50 ($70 for State)
  4. One robotics set 

Robotics platforms allowed: 

  • LEGO SPIKE Prime or Robot Inventor 
  • VEX IQ
  • LEGO NXT (only allowed in Inventions)

Arena Only: Additional Equipment

Students compete in an Arena Contest on the Race for Time mat. Photo by TCEA

Inventions Only: Additional Equipment

  • Logbook (can be kept electronically or physically – but must appear at the contest in a hard copy format)
  • Display poster board
  • Various items for the invention demonstration and 10’x10’ space

TCEA State Contest

The state contest is held each spring in central Texas.

Inventions: First and second place winners in each Area advance to the State Contest.

Arena: First place alliance teams in each Area advance to the State Contest.

Your TCEA Contacts


Peggy Reimers, TCEA Director of Professional Development




Katie Treat, TCEA Executive Assistant



Additionally, if you’re an educator who is interested in learning more about robotics, TCEA offers three self-paced robotics courses for just $39 each. When you enroll, you also receive a free one-year membership to TCEA, which you will need to be a sponsor for your robotics team. Not only will you learn new skills relating to robotics by enrolling in a course, but you will save $10 on a TCEA membership!

We are very excited about this year’s contests, and we can’t wait to see you there.

Featured image created by the author.

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