The Clash of the Snakes
BattleSnake 2016 was last week, and there is still excitement throughout Victoria about what an amazing event it was! With one hundred more people than expected showing up, BattleSnake turned out to be a 350 person event. That’s three times the number of participants as last year! We took over the entire Engineering and Computer Science Building all day, only to fill up Felicita’s campus pub afterward. Click to watch the Advanced Division Finals!
Of course, BattleSnake could never happen without our awesome sponsors. BattleSnake’s game servers were powered by Heroku, the main sponsor of the event, and without their help, the event would not have been possible. We also had over a dozen local Victoria companies pitch in to help make the day amazing, both through sponsorship and by providing volunteers.
So What Is This ‘BattleSnake’?
BattleSnake is an annual AI programming competition held in Victoria. It is a multiplayer version of that classic arcade game Snake, where you eat pixelated apples and avoid running into your own tail and walls. BattleSnake makes things even more challenging by adding 5-12 snakes on a grid and watching the mayhem that ensues.
Sendwithus created the platform and demo snakes to give everyone a running start. The sample snakes contain very basic REST API clients in a particular language, like Python, NodeJS, Ruby, Go, and a few others. Each participating team needs to use AI logic to write code that controls their snake on the board. They do this by deploying their code from Github onto their Heroku servers.
So What Is The Point Of This?
BattleSnake was created to encourage community engagement and help students learn how to deploy code onto web servers, something that is commonly seen in the workplace. A challenge a lot of students find when trying to find jobs is that they have a lot of knowledge of the theory of Computer Science, yet not a lot of experience using it in a real-world setting. BattleSnake helps students acquaint themselves with professional-style development, with help from locals working in the field.
In addition to the coding challenge, Battlesnake also provides experience in cooperative development, which is extremely important both in and out of school. The event opens with tutorials on using Github for version control and Cloud9 for a collaborative development environment. Having people around that use these tools every day makes these complicated tools a lot less intimidating for the more inexperienced students.
The BattleSnake Challenge
Most people are hesitant when they hear that BattleSnake a full day event – on a Saturday no less. What might surprise you is that you really only have 6 hours to code, time that runs out fast. After checking in, competitors had an opening ceremony and some educational sessions on how everything works, then they were set loose. There was no downtime between lunch, dinner, coffee breaks, and time in the code review corner. Before they knew it, participants were staring down an endless stream of pizza while furiously trying to make last-minute code tweaks before the deadline – much like a real professional environment.
There was also a room dedicated to technical assistance, aptly named Code Review Corner. This room was fully stocked with local developer volunteers available to help teams debug any tough roadblocks they encountered. The rest of the volunteer developers floated throughout the building to help students who were too “in the zone” to get up and go downstairs if they got stuck.
The Best Part… The Battle
This was commonly mentioned as the highlight of the competition. It was standing room only in the lecture hall for the final showdown. Speaker system set up, 2 commentators casting, music blasting, and everyone cheering as snakes went head to head! The energy was contagious! The most rewarding part was having the entire crowd cheer for a single snake. The crowd went wild when a snake trapped itself within its own body!
So Who Won?
One would expect that with students and local developers entering the competition, the professional developers would walk out victorious. Turns out, for the third year in a row, students won across the board! Two UVic teams were crowned champions. Team “TR-8R SnEK” won the Advanced Division, worth $1000, and team “nebuchadnezzar” (Neo Snake) claiming the Classic Division for $300. In total, we gave out over $2,500 in cashprizes to teams who placed. An additional $2,500+ in prizes were also given away (gift cards, Xbox Ones, swag, Scholarships, Rasberry Pi’s, Arduino’s, Patagonia Yerba Backpacks, MoleSkins, and Mobile Battery Packs)!
BattleSnake 2016 was a huge hit, thanks to everyone who came out and everyone who sponsored the event! We’re already planning on how to make next year even bigger and better!
Props to all of the amazing sponsors below: