VANCOUVER -- Hundreds of high school students from across B.C. got up early on Saturday and made their way to Burnaby for a robotics competition at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

"We call this the last-chance qualifier," said Jason Brett, a BCIT instructor and one of the organizers of the competition. "The kids here today have been playing this game since September. Regional championships are coming up next weekend and you've got to qualify to get in. This is their last chance to do it."

The game involves stacking 14-centimetre cubes using semi-autonomous robots constructed and programmed without any specific instructions for how to do so.

"We get buckets and buckets of steel and aluminum and then we have to build it ourselves," said Declan Lawlor, whose team was one of 100 competing in Saturday's event.

Lawlor said this is his second year participating in a VEX Robotics competition. Last year, his team built and rebuilt its robot 17 times. He said the team's best finish in a competition was 10th place.

The winners of the regional competition will qualify for the worldwide competition, which happens in Louisville, Ky., in April.

Jacob Walter is a BCIT student and a previous winner of the regional competition. He spent his Saturday volunteering as a judge for this year's competitors.

Walter said the world competition could be described as the Super Bowl of high school robotics, complete with a packed stadium full of cheering fans. But, despite the more intense atmosphere, the game itself remains the same.

"It's like the competitions here, just a lot more teams," Walter said.

Brett said B.C. has sent a number of teams to the world competition over the years.

"British Columbia has one of the most competitive VEX Robotics competitions in the world," he said. "Our kids are just really, really good."

The competition isn't just about winning, however. Brett said the program fosters educational goals as well, largely by getting students excited about their work.

He said he remembers kids lining up outside his door when he was a high school teacher because they wanted to get into the classroom as soon as possible and continue working on their robots.

"They learn so much more when they can just go out there and drive themselves to do it," Brett said. "Passion is an amazing thing."