9 months ago
In November 2019, Moscow played host to the 2nd edition of the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup. As the winner of last year’s event in Boston, I was lucky enough to be given a wildcard to the 2019 competition.
There wasn’t too much content shared around the cubing community about the competition in Boston, besides a couple of highlight videos, so I still feel like there’s not a clear picture of exactly what this competition was all about. After all was said and done, I felt that the event in Boston was a start to something which can hopefully continue to develop and grow as a real showpiece of competitive speedcubing. This year’s competition in Moscow certainly delivered on that front, from my perspective as both a competitor and spectator.
When the event was initially announced with the promotional video back in 2017, there was a lot of backlash from the general speedcubing community. Probably, a lot of this was due to the extremely recent lawsuit filed by Rubik’s against The Cubicle. The “World Championship” name and some of the marketing was in bad taste given the history of WCA-organised Rubik’s Cube World Championships and competitions around the world. People were concerned that hardware would be restricted (a very touchy subject in cubing). There was some shade thrown at the limited qualification system, and the fact that only 18+ year olds were able to compete in 2018.
Personally, I was very intrigued by the head to head format for speedcubing, it adds a few interesting elements of strategy, small things such as glancing at your opponents cube when you’re on PLL to decide whether or not to spam the algorithm or safety the finish, trash talking during inspection and during solves, making sure to never give up on a solve, etc. (Yes, I still gave up on solves and did not take my own advice)
It seems that many of the other issues cubers had with the event are also now resolved. From the outside, it appears that relationships between the WCA, Red Bull, Rubik’s, and The Cubicle are in much better shape than 12 months ago, with the WCA now collaborating with the qualification events for the Red Bull competition. I hope that there is some synergy achieved there, with Red Bull leveraging the organising abilities of WCA officials to host these qualifier events, whilst hopefully using their channels to promote and broadcast the world finals and raise the profile of speedcubing to draw even more people into the sport. It’s quite clear that Red Bull and WCA competitions are designed for completely different purposes, and I’d like to think that they can both have a place in the speedcubing universe. Hardware was never restricted, and remains unrestricted, the name has been changed, and the qualification age has been reduced.
Last year’s competition in Boston was exceptionally fun, completely different to any other cubing event or competition I’ve previously attended. Red Bull definitely know how to entertain, and certainly had the budget to do so. We were all put up at a nice hotel in town, with parties/dinners hosted across the weekend, and touristy activities also offered. It’s clear that they invested a fair bit into that event - I’m not quite sure how to quantify the payoff, as it appears to be part of a larger suite of Red Bull Mind Gamers activities, which also currently includes the Escape Room World Championship.
Last year I was able to have a great chat with one of the lead organisers of the event, who was very receptive to all the feedback from the cubing community, as well as my thoughts. Also encouraging was the fact that they brought a good friend, Erik Akkersdijk, on board their advisory team - Erik has seen speedcubing evolve for almost 15 years, is in tune with the speedcubing community, but also sees the enormous potential for growth and innovation in the competition space. When an organisation as large and with as much experience as Red Bull takes an interest in your sport/hobby, I think that’s something to be embraced, under the right circumstances. Of course, I say this as one of the small number of competitors who has the luxury of being flown across the world to be a part of this event, so it’s perhaps a slightly biased viewpoint.
I like the fact that they retained the same formats from 2018, to give some continuity to the event and help it to develop its own brand. The organisers also took on feedback from last year, and made the competition much more accessible to online viewers and the speedcubing audience, streaming the semi finals and finals matches on both the Red Bull Twitch and YouTube channels. From memory, there wasn’t a particularly great way for anybody to follow along from home for the Boston event, so I’m glad that there is a very well produced video still available to watch. Head to head is always an entertaining format, and these videos tend to do particularly well on YouTube. I’ve uploaded videos of my quarter final matches from 2018 (vs Kevin) and 2019 (vs Max) to my channel to see how they go, I suspect the latter will get a few more views!
The qualification system is still quite inaccessible for a lot of top cubers. This year to qualify, you either needed to win the previous event, win the WCA World Championships or CubingUSA Nationals, or travel to one of a small number of Red Bull qualifiers available around the world. I’d like to see easier access for exceptionally fast cubers such as Nahm, Tymon, Lucas, etc, if the goal is to make it as exciting and competitive as possible, but this isn’t particularly achievable with the current setup. This is one of the kinks which I would hope is ironed out for next year's edition.
Anyways, on to the actual event! After travelling for quite a while, I arrived in Moscow on Friday the 15th of November. Once again, all of the competitors were put up at a nice hotel, and we spent most of the Friday just chilling out at the hotel and the surrounding area, in preparation for what would be quite a big weekend. On Saturday whilst the Russian qualifier was taking place, the international competitors went out for a day of organised sightseeing around the city. The group wasn’t particularly accustomed to Russian-style weather, especially the group of Indian competitors, so it was always a massive relief getting back into the warm bus after stopping off at a site. Technically it’s still autumn in Moscow, and so I’m just glad we didn’t come during the winter. Gloves were a necessity for all, apart from Max who managed to cube whilst walking around the city in freezing temperatures, and somehow his hands remained warm. Further proof that he is a robot, of course. At the end of the day we visited a VR gaming studio - I’ve never experienced VR in any capacity, and so playing interactive games was a huge novelty for me, despite being destroyed in the shooting games by Sebastian ‘Counterstrike’ Weyer.
We arrived to the venue quite early on Sunday and settled in for a long day. There were already many people at the venue by the time we arrived, including organisers, judges, and spectators, it almost felt as if we were walking into a party. There was a main section of the venue with seating and tables for the first round, in front of a stage featuring a single battle station in front of a giant screen. In addition to this main area, there were so many other small spaces and rooms where people were roaming around - it was almost like a nightclub with loud music playing throughout the day.
First up we had the seeding rounds - I only managed a 7 as my best of two seeding solves, and this placed me 6th. This was quite costly in the end, as it meant that I was destined to be up against Max Park (3rd seed) in the quarter finals, should I progress to that round. Managed to pull it together for fastest hand (no inspection OH) and actually seed myself first with an 11.3, which made the path to the semi finals significantly easier.
For the round of 16 I was up against Jiayu Wang, a very accomplished speedcuber from China. I was pretty much paralysed for the first two solves, recording a 9 and a DNF, giving Jiayu a match point after those two solves. I honestly thought I’d have no chance of recovering - the next two solves were also littered with mistakes. I miraculously won solve 3 with a 7.85 to 7.86, giving myself a tiny little bit of hope. Solve 4, I incorrectly solved the cross, but again managed to somehow win with a mid 7 after fixing this mistake. My nerves had died down somewhat by the last solve, and I managed a shaky high 6. So, I was extremely fortunate to even get the opportunity to face Max.
For the round against Max, my hands and mind were back to a somewhat normal setting, I knew I needed to actually solve well to have any hope of winning the quarter final. First solve was fine, I got a 6.4 to Max’s 6.1, and then won the second solve with a 6.6 against an 8 second solve from Max. I gave myself a really nice chance to go 2-1 up on the third, but blew it on the G perm execution, and then was ultimately eliminated from the competition after Max finished with a 5.4 on the fourth solve. Still somewhat content with the solves against Max, but I only have myself to blame for the failure in the seeding round.
I was also similarly nervous for the first few rounds of fastest hand (OH with no inspection), but because of my first seeding, I was able to progress to the semi finals despite quite poor times in the early rounds. A bit of luck went my way in the semi-final against Patrick - we were tied 1-1 after the first two solves, and were very close on the third, but Patrick’s cube on the final solve was off by over 45 degrees, which meant that I progressed to the final (only to get destroyed by Max).
I joined Erik in the commentary booth for the female and mixed speedcubing semi finals and finals and quite enjoyed that experience, and was glad to see Max win in 3x3, after coming agonisingly short at Worlds this year. Cubing is definitely a game of inches, it takes a lot of mental resilience to pick yourself up after disappointing losses and go again. With so many extremely quick cubers these days and only three spots on each podium (and one gold), it is inevitable (and common) for things not to go perfectly at big competitions. You only have to look at Philipp Weyer, who placed 17th at Warm Up Sydney and missed the finals, and came back next week to win worlds; or Patrick Ponce, who missed the finals at US Nationals 2018, and won the title the following year.
I hope this was an enjoyable read, and I encourage you to check out the live stream of the finals below if you haven’t already done so!
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