FRC Blogged - What Do You Think? The ‘Invite to Decline’ Strategy

What Do You Think? The ‘Invite to Decline’ Strategy

**Blog Date: **Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 15:16

I’ve been thinking about the Invite to Decline (also known as the ‘Scorched Earth’) strategy that teams sometimes employ during alliance selection.

For those unaware of this strategy, I’ll outline it. Imagine the alliance selection process at an event is getting started. The #1 ranked team is interested in preventing some of the other top eight ranked teams from working together, because they could form powerful alliances that would be hard to beat in the elimination rounds. Our rules state that once a team declines an invitation to join an alliance, they may never be picked again at that event (‘no second chance’) – if the team that declines is an alliance captain they still can still do the picking, but they can’t be picked themselves. So, to break up other potential alliances, the #1 ranked team sequentially invites other teams from the top eight to join their alliance, even though they may have no interest in actually working with them. They expect these teams to decline, and when they do, they can’t be picked by any other teams. The #1 team can keep giving invitations until they get a ‘yes’, as there are no rules limiting the number of times a team’s invitations can get declined. In theory, other teams who are alliance captains may use this same strategy later during the selection process with lower-ranked alliance captains during the first round of picks – if there are still teams left who have not yet declined an invitation.

I understand the no second chance rule was put in place to prevent teams from essentially assembling any alliance they wanted to by being able to decline an unlimited number of sincere invitations until they got invited by the team they wanted to work with. I may be mistaken, but I believe this rule led unintentionally to the Invite to Decline strategy.

There’s no question in my mind that this strategy is within the rules. I see no gray area here – the rules are clear. Teams employing this approach are thinking carefully and strategically – something we encourage - to give themselves the greatest chance of winning the event within the rules of competition as they’ve been presented to them.

Still, something feels not completely right to me about this. Maybe it’s because teams using this strategy are giving the appearance of wanting to have a team join their alliance, when that’s not their actual objective. (Ever been invited to a party when you know the host doesn’t really want you there?) Maybe it’s because this strategy gives an individual team great power in being able to break up several other potential alliances. Maybe it’s just because the community often calls this strategy ‘Scorched Earth’, which sounds, at the very least, unfriendly.

But maybe this is OK. What do you think? In this situation, does legal = right? Please put your comments below.

I’ll blog again soon.


P.S. There will be no Frank Answers Fridays feature this week. Enjoy the rest of July and we’ll start back up next week.

Two things:

  1. I like the serpentine draft, but 1-8,1-8 is going to reduce the number of declines if that’s the desired outcome.

  2. More qualification matches is going to reduce the likelihood that the top seeded team is somebody that other teams would decline.

I left a comment there (guess it’s still in queue), but I’ll say it again:

#1 seed earns the privilege, and they do run a risk of being stuck with a team they’re trying to scorch. (If you’re trying to scorch 3-6 to land #2, what happens when 6 accepts out of the blue? Hope you were okay with your new plan!)

Scorched-earth doesn’t even seem to happen all that often at events I wind up at (does anyone have statistics on declines?). Until someone shows me a better way*, I say this needs to stay as-is.

*No, “no picking among captains” is not a better way unless you enjoy teams taking Saturday morning dives to remain pickable.

I’m not sure I understand your #1 - The toughest part to deal with in the “Scorched Earth” strategy is in the initial 1-8 selection. I think if they allowed you to decline and be picked, and teams did that in the second round of selections (1-8 or 8-1 doesn’t matter) a lot of teams would hurt themselves by wanting to be picked by a different team, and declining an alliance, and then possibly not being picked by the captain they wanted to be picked by. So the only time a decline and be picked really helps anyone is if you are in the top 8 and already guaranteed a spot, get picked by say #2, but want to work with #4.

I personally have zero problems with the alliance selection today. Even the “scorched earth” strategy. I think in 99% of the cases, scorched earth is unfortunately caused/used by teams who managed to make it into the top 8 and its perceived that maybe they shouldnt have (had a lucky schedule, caught some lucky ref calls, etc…). Its not usually a powerhouse team who just wants to break up other power house alliances.

Plus I feel like if they allowed declines, say a cardboard box on wheels managed to make it into seed 3. Say that almost no one in the 45 teams at an event wants to work with this team because they know it means sure loosing. The box on wheels makes a pick list (mostly based on rank) and starts picking… it takes them 30 teams before someone says yes… do YOU want to sit through those alliance selections?? Ugh they take long enough as it is!! I don’t want it to suck up the entire lunch and then some! But if they made some weird rule like a team could only be declined 5 times… then that 6th team gets “stuck” just like anyone above or below them would.

I think one of the things I’ve always liked about the current alliance selections - both the “zero declines” and the “1-8, 8-1” is it does help even out the alliances in most of the regionals. I understand the argument of the #1 seed “earning the right to select first”, but I think they get that by having the first pick. The biggest problem is that there is such a wide variety of FIRST teams currently. I think as we proceed to more and more district championships, Super regionals, and IRI type events where 90% of the teams are amazing… I think then it may be time to relook at the alliance selection. If you give me events with 30+ awesome robots, then Im ok with 1-8, 1-8. But if we allowed teams to build powerhouse alliances no matter what rank they were, I think it would be unfair to the teams that seeded high, and we’d just be setting ourselves up for some incredibly boring finals where we see a lot of 80-5 scores and certain alliances just get completely trounced. I personally like when the eliminations are exciting and its anyone’s game. I think changing the declines or the serpentine in standard events would make it boring and make it easy to build powerhouse alliances.

I’m glad that FIRST/Frank are kicking around ideas on how to change/improve the program, but this is one I think they should leave just as it is for now.

As long as the qualification system remains the way it was this year where teams are ranked by wins (not including coopertition points) and the first tie breaker is based on that teams performance (such as AP, CP, TP), not something based on the performance of the teams they are playing against (such as Qualification Score), then the likelihood of a team that somebody would decline seeding high is very low. This is especially true at events with a reasonable amount of qualification matches to help filter out the undesirable teams from seeding high.

When teams do implement the “scorch the earth” strategy, they are trying to keep strong alliances from forming, therefore they are picking strong teams and aren’t really getting stuck with anyone, they just might be getting their number 2 or 3 choice rather than their number 1 choice.

I agree that teams earn the privilege to implement this strategy. However, as long as there are enough matches at each event and the ranking system lends itself to ranking the stronger teams high, I don’t think we will see this strategy implemented very often. I would guess that the “scorch the earth” strategy was used much less this year that it has for the past several years.

The FRC rulebook is just as much about what is stated versus what is not stated. I, personally, find no issue with it, mainly due to the fact that, as Billfred pointed out, your own “Scorched Earth” can burn you too. The only way this would become an issue if there was no possible downside to the strategy, and therefore, no reason NOT to do this.

Nemo is saying that there is an added incentive to accept the number 1 selection from a less desirable partner in this case because in doing so, you also get the first choice for the second round of selection. In 2009, the Thunder Chickens rejected an early selection at Championships simply because they reasoned they could form a more potent alliance from a lower seed.

I believe scorched earth strategies are acceptable. That team earned their high rank, they should be able to select their alliance in a manner that maximizes their chance at winning the event. If other teams decide it is best to reject that team in favor of other partners or strategies, then so be it, they have that right too because they earned an alliance captain spot. Sure other teams may be more deserving, but we can’t play an endless number of qualification matches to figure that out. If teams are employing a scorched earth strategy strictly aiming to maximize their chances of winning an event, then that is professionalism. It would be a disservice to their eventual partners not to employ this strategy. If teams are employing a scorched earth strategy with malicious intent, then it is unGP. I think this is extremely rare though.

At one of our events this year, we saw the 6th best team (according to our scouting; and based on subjective observation I agree) get rejected multiple times from the 3rd seed. As a member of the #1 seeded alliance, we were glad to see this from a competitive stand point because it broke up the best teams on the 3-8 alliances. However, I have to scratch my head looking back. The team’s strategy was very compatible with all of the remaining robots, and they were a pleasure to work with in qualifications. I guess teams were either uninformed of this team’s performance or they have different criterion for alliance selection aside from maximizing their chances of winning the event, such as playing with friends or teams they are used to. Or they may have made a judgement call that they could form a better alliance from a lower seed.

I have no problem with the rules as is. What I find interesting about the analogy of being invited to a party you know the host doesn’t want you at is exactly the opposite in the scorched earth strategy. Its not that the host doesn’t want you, its that the party goer doesn’t want the invitation.

I think we rarely see the scorched earth strategy played out like we think it is. Most of the time it is genuinely a team that has seeded high and they are just going down their pick list of top teams until they get a yes. That is them doing their job. Anyone in their shoes would do the exact same thing, pick the top teams.

In the cases where it really is scorched earth, it is still playing smart. FIRST will never come up with a ranking system that is completely fair and ranks teams properly. More qualification matches or grading different metrics will fix that. Until then there will still be teams who sneak into the top 8 or powerful teams who don’t perform on their game and seed low.

I see a lot of talk about so-called “scorched earth” strategies.

I’ve never really seen one in practice.

About the closest I’ve seen was 1815’s selections at GTREast 2012. Due to the coop bridge, and some lucky scheduling, 1815 ended up ranked significantly higher than their robot performance should have put them, but they were still not #1. They were declined by 4 or 5 teams before someone agreed to play with them. Their initial strategy had they seeded #1 was to break up 1114/2056/610/188.

I’ve never heard of this being called a “scorched earth” strategy. Maybe it’s an east coast thing? I’ve just heard it as “splitting the powerhouses” or something similar.

I’ve seen this happen, and remember at least one time on the receiving end of a definite strategic play.

The easiest solution is to try to make the rankings accurately affect how good a team actually is. So if a, say, #2 team tries to pick #4, #2 is actually better than #4 and #4 will just accept.

The easiest way is to do that play more qualification matches so the randomness of random partners (on both sides) has less effect on the rankings, and keep the primary sorting based on metrics that actually reflect how good a team is (win/loss/tie does this, auton points is a good secondary, the coopertition bonus from 2012 was really bad for this).

My reply on the blog post is pasted below.

“Scorched Earth” is much more a side effect than it is a strategy that teams pursue. Assuming the top ranked team only ever attempts to pick the best robot available for them, there is no possible outcome that is inherently ‘bad’ for them. Either they get the best team available, or the best team available declines and becomes less likely to pose a threat by nature of being a lower seed and not being able to accept later. I see nothing wrong with the top seeded team wanting to pick the best team available, though doing so may sometimes result in a Scorched Earth.

See Curie 2013.

Post 142 You are correct that we had planned for those teams to decline us in order to break up the power team alliances that would have otherwise been formed.

Post 145 We gamed out the draft with the “power” teams declining

It’s a part of the game, and I have no yearning for it change. What I do hope for is a seeding system and enough qualification matches to allow the top robots to be the top seeds.

Newton in 2006 also comes to mind as a true scorching. I do not disagree with the practice at all. A team has earned the right to invite what ever team they want as a potential alliance partner. It does make the alliance selections fell “awkward” when teams do start declining, but it is a two way street. I expected it to happen on curie this year and was surprised when 1717 or 1310 didn’t accept just because they were in the middle of the picks.(At that point it’s better to decline from a lower position due to two close picks and a higher position due to the immediate picks IMO). I talked to Micheal a bit on it after they had made the picks and he said that they felt confident playing with any of the declined teams had they actually accepted their offer.

As for the co-op bridge in 2012…Let’s just say that I think it caused more anti-GP that promoting GP, which is unfortunately very sad.:frowning:

Even if you accept the notion that the “scorced earth” draft is a negative thing, I feel it’s clearly the lesser of two evils. While it certainly happens, it happens only a couple times per season. It’s a rare occurance that may be unavoidable in particular situations unless you want teams to jump down their picklist to the first team who will accept them and leave everyone else on the table. It’s definitely the better option than allowing declines, in my mind.

I like it as-is.

More matches will help sort out the rankings.

Teams that employ this strategy only to break up other alliances run the risk of someone saying “yes” when they don’t expect it, so if you start doing this, you should actually want to play with the team you are inviting.

I don’t like the idea of being able to decline and later say yes. If we go that way, allinaces could just be formed in the pits and you could go tell the scoring table who your partners are.

I also think sometimes a team will decline not because they don’t want to play with the #1 or #2 team, but because they can put together a more balanced and competetive alliance by having an earlier pick in Round 2 if the overall field is not deep. Some events having pick 8 & 9 or 7 & 10 is way better than pick 1 & 16.

About the only way you could stop the Scorched Earth strategy is to not allow the top 8 team to pick any of the other top 8 teams :ahh:
Now that would make some interesting alliances.

But then you would have teams “fighting” for 9th place.

I really think it’s the opposite. I’ve seen a lot of scorched earth in my day, and it seems to usually happen because the top teams don’t want to be with the higher seeded team. They’ve gone to the top teams and they’ve said they’ll decline if invited. So they work their way down to a lower seeded team that will accept. Imagine hosting a party where everyone says that they don’t want to come… because you’ll be there :frowning: . I understand that sometimes high seeded teams make a deal with a lower seeded team to do scorched earth to give their alliance a better chance at winning, but I think that’s perfectly fine. Every team that decides to decline is taking a risk, and the team inviting is taking a risk… I think scorched earth is a perfectly legitimate strategy that requires teams to use better strategy and scouting in order to win rather than relying simply on the strength of their top two robots.

This is what the offseason event in Kansas City does. It makes for an interesting alliance selection in that teams pick based on knowing who they have to play. This year it might be neat with the cttd having two division finalists and another frc top 25 team competing.