Gettin' Picky, Part 2: Alliance Selection

One thing about declining: it’s not just a question of whether you can make a better alliance by declining, but also whether the alliance you make by declining can beat the alliance that your proposed captain will make if you decline.

So to use your first example, let’s say we’re playing DDS (and let’s ignore A and E to make things simpler). You and B are both hatch-only robots; B is a good hatch bot, but they’re low on your pick list because yours rightly prioritizes cargo bots. C is the best cargo robot at the event by far, and D is also a cargo bot but not as good. None of the other teams at the event are at the level of you, B, or C.

If you pair up with B you will be two hatch bots on an alliance, which isn’t ideal; you can put together a better alliance by pairing with D. But if you decline, B will pair with C and you’ll have a very powerful alliance to deal with. If you accept B, you may not be the strongest alliance possible but you’ll no longer have to deal with another very strong alliance.

This is an important factor to consider at events where there are a few teams at a level far above the rest of the pack.

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Attitudes like this is what leads to rules about time limits (and the various other rules that had to be written because teams exploited aspects of the tournament structure). Be ready for your pick when your time comes.

Plus it puts your alliance representative in a very uncomfortable position as they’re put on the spot as your team deliberates the correct pick. Personally, I like to avoid doing that to my students.


Obviously there’s more details needed about the rest of the captains, who would be available as a 2nd pick, etc. In that situation however, I would still be tempted to decline B, let them pair with C while we pair with D. In either situation, your alliance will not be the single strongest alliance so it will be hard to win, but I think pairing with D provides you the better chance of moving further in elims. You won’t have to face the BC alliance till finals so hopefully with your 2nd best cargo bot and yourself as the hatch bot you can make it there and somehow pull off the upset. If you paired with B as two hatch bots, you could easily just go down to a more well-rounded alliance in quarters (not considering who’s available as a 2nd round pick).

After I typed that I realized, if I was B in that situation, there’s no reason for B to pick you. If they did their scouting they know you would make two hatch bots and probably not be a good match so your pick list should account for that and plan for the most likely situation of them picking C and you getting D.

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If our strategy teams are still discussing the pick, having a field representative who knows they don’t need to rush the pick is important. Sure, I’d love to know exactly what pick we’re making instantly but sometimes there are debates and discussions occurring.

I don’t view that as exploiting the tournament structure at all, that’s just taking the time to make a good decision. Field representatives should know that there is no rule or time limit so they don’t feel rushed into making a bad pick quickly.


@Katie_UPS is 100% correct that there is no time limit for teams during alliance selections. As the emcee it is our responsibility to keep the show moving at a good pace and it can make for awkward situations but past that there’s currently no harm. Really our biggest motivation is to get to lunch earlier for all the field crew :wink: .

Honestly I think there should be some sort of draft clock of X minutes per pick (maybe 2-3) that way people know what pace to expect and it makes it make it less awkward and saves face for the person down on the field. If the draft clock were to expire they would be assigned the next highest ranked team.

(didn’t mean to reply to Kevin directly)


Even an informal draft clock may be helpful, with no real penalty, but maybe a better guideline to help reps not feel rushed. No one should ever be rushed into a bad pick.


QFT. The entire event does have at least a soft time limit (need to be out of the venue by X time or pay more), but that’s more affected by how playoffs go. The big thing is that the field crew NEED to be fed, and the earlier they can eat the better because that is their break time. Sure, food can be sent down to the field and consumed between matches–but time between matches can often be in semi-random supply depending on how the matches go.

Also: The more time you spend agonizing over a pick while you’re on the clock during selections, the less time you have to strategize with your partners before your first match!

Think about it this way: Normally, events budget about 30 minutes for the alliance selection. This is followed by 30-60 minutes for lunch (depending on event, schedule, and how behind the event is running). 30/8=<4. Assume that video, intro, and “team transit time” takes about 6 minutes (just to pick a number that coincidentally makes things nice and round) so now 24/8=3. But wait, each team has to pick twice! That means that theoretically, each team should have about 90 seconds to make their selection when their time comes up. Most teams will go within 20 seconds if they’re prepared (early first round and late second round) which does allow for other teams to deliberate a while.

Thought: If a pick clock were introduced, start it at 90 seconds and see how many teams go over–no penalty the first season it’s used.

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I have seen a fairly long discussion the last two years at champs. In both cases the emcee stayed well away and let the discussion play out. So I was under the impression that the emcees had been instructed to not rush alliance reps.

Of course there are a lot of other factors that go into making the decision. My point was just that when deciding to decline or not you need to consider not only which makes your alliance stronger, but also which gives you the best chance of defeating the other alliances.

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Completely agree with your point. Sorry i was just picking apart and delving way too far into the hypothetical. I love some good theorycrafting while I’m supposed to be working.

The 8th seed has to pick two robots consecutively. Surely they should be able to talk it over with their first pick before making the second.

“Take as much time as you need” doesn’t mean go take a shower, nap, and get back to us. The reality we’re talking about is “take a moment to breath, update your list with the last pick, and try to find agreement with your alliance partner”

Should teams be allowed 10 minutes? Probably not. Is there a difference between giving them 10 seconds and 30? To the teams involved, yes!

Adults watching cringe at the pause in children’s show (for audience participation) because we feel like the gap is too long, but its only 7 seconds. When you’re waiting, 7 seconds might as well be 30. When you’re working, 7 seconds is the snap of your fingers.


The MCs (if they’re following the script) have an explicit pause for the 8th seed captain and their 1st pick to deliberate.

Nobody is scolding over a 7 second pause. If your intention was for only a 7 second pause, it wasn’t communicated in a fashion that I received that message from it. Instead, I read it as, “there’s no rule about this, so take advantage of that to use as much time as you need.” I have strong objections to that type of attitude towards rules.

I think we can both recall (thankfully isolated) incidents of teams taking considerably longer than 7 seconds to decide a pick. There was a case of a selection this year that took two minutes to decide, was declined, and then took another 85 seconds before their next pick was made. All in all, it was 3.5 minutes between one team being picked and the next accepting.

This. Additionally, I’ve seen head scouts blame themselves for an upset because they felt solely responsible. Personally, I’ve been intensely questioned (to keep this post GP) about a pick after we were upset in quarters when I wasn’t even the field rep! After I dismissed them, they basically demanded I ask the field rep (which I did not, because I knew they were already stressed and upset as it was).

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Turing 2018. Myself and the 1533 rep had not even begun discussing and the emcee began counting down from three for our second pick, putting a lot of unneeded pressure on us. This kind of thinking is what will lead to this scenario happening over and over again.


When the manual requires a frame perimeter be no more than X inches by Y inches, no reasonable person says “let’s make our robot X-6 by Y-6 inches in case FIRST changes their rules”. Rather, they use that as much of that space as they feel will produce them the best solution. In a similar vein, teams should be prepared to use the resource of time during alliance selection in whichever permissible way they believe would produce the best result. If FIRST sees this as a problem, I’m sure they will change the rules accordingly, so let’s cross that bridge when and if we get there.

It may be an uncomfortable position to take some time to make a decision, but it’s also an incredibly uncomfortable position to be forced to make a decision when you need more time to make one you can be confident in. Alliance selection is a very stressful time that can make or break a season that students have spent 3+ months of their life on; we don’t need to twist the knife on them. I’m happy to offer up a few minutes of my life so that every rep up there can take the time to make a pick they’re happy with and not spend months/years regretting it. I felt intense regret after one competition when I was a student, where rushed, insufficient communication led to the wrong pick and it cost us any chance of making it out of quarters, and I can’t imagine I am the only person who has felt that terrible feeling.

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If a team fails to pick the right robot that is an entire team failure not entirely the field reps fault. Setting up a field rep to fail by not having them confident in selections for partners would be the cause of that failure. That list was built over days of actual team discussions as the games were played out.

The team itself needs to rank “high enough” to give their team rep better selection points in their list. So the success of any pic list starts with overall team performance.

A pick list needs to be solid as can be with no iffy partners. Of course when it gets deep in the list that is harder, here is the most important part to make or break a game with a good pick. This needs to be well documented before the field rep steps on the field.

A pen is a good tool to cross teams off the partner list as they get selected, as to avoid the odd " team #### has already been picked" that makes the field rep look totally unprepared , so cross teams off your list to avoid that.

Standing on a field with all eyes on you can be stressful, especially if you are not a public speaker. The only way out that uncomfortable situation is to be fully prepared with a reasonable list that works no matter who is left because the ordering is solid and there are some basic descriptive notes next to each potential pick on that list. Then the field rep can succeed and feel completely confident in the teams pick. Or at least have a valid discussion with the team alliance Captain looking for input on their best selection.

People that challenge the pick after, the field rep not only can defend the pick but not let it even phase them…things happen. Scouting /rep can do their job completely correctly and another part of the team/alliance fails. Every single game can be traced to a failure point, don’t let it be scouting/selection. This is the one area that can be successful in every case if the list is solid. Even if “not selected” by any alliance the field rep/scouting can feel confident they succeeded they control their own feelings on whether they succeeded in their role.

Alliance Captain strategy for the Top seeds is very complex. If you find yourself in one of these spots, Katie and Brian have some great advice in here.

Something I would add on from experience either first hand or watching from the outside is that if you are the #1 or #2 seed, its wise to step back and look at the bigger picture of alliance selections so you can make defensive picking. Let me explain.

You are at an event, qualifications are winding down, and the rankings are as follows.

  1. 1111
  2. 2222
  3. 3333
  4. 4444
  5. 5555
  6. 6666
  7. 7777
  8. 8888

Your team, 1111, has been scouting all weekend and has narrowed your first picks down to three teams who you think are the best robots at the event: 2222, 5555, & 1313 (who had a rough schedule). You see these teams as a tier above the rest of the playing field and your scouts are debating their performance to finalize the picklist.

  • Team 2222 has a climber
  • Team 5555 can score a game piece consistently in auto/Sandstorm
  • Team 1313 can output an extra 1-2 game pieces per match

Your top pick is 1313 and the alliances shake out as:

  1. 1111, 1313
  2. 2222, 5555

All appears fine because 1111 used their data and you picked the best team to make your ideal alliance, but you also allowed your biggest opponents to become allies. On top of this, they get to pick before you in the second round, sometimes grabbing a Sleeper or leaving you with one less option at a smaller event.

We often talk about Scorched Earth tactics by a top seed, but defensive picking isn’t mentioned as often as a viable strategy. The times to use it are rare and dependent on your event, rankings, performances, and how closely the top teams on your list perform together.

Taking a step back at the field to look at the bigger picture can give you a huge advantage. Here are some scenarios.

  • If I’m on 2222, I can approach 1111 and make a very strong case for why I should be their top pick. Together we can create a strong alliance and increase our success through the tournament if we can keep 5555 and 1313 apart. Both teams can agree that the combination of 1111, 2222, 5555, and 1313 in the finals is an ugly battle.

  • Say I’m on 1111 and 1313/5555 aren’t my top picks. I really want 2222 but through discussions know they are considering declining. Can I convince 2222 that its safer to accept my invite vs forming their own, many times similar alliance?

There are countless other scenarios, but these two get the point across.

From prior seasons on various teams, we’ve found ourselves in all of the positions in the example above (1111, 2222, 5555, or 1313) or similar scenarios: add 1-2 top teams, shuffle the lower rankings a bit, etc. Or we’ve been a team like 3333 watching it all go down and use that to our own advantage to focus on better third round selections.

Some years we’ve been burned by this scenario by not recognizing it sooner and in other years we’ve used it to our advantage and avoided a tougher time in eliminations.

Other times we use it to create entirely new game plans that we weren’t considering and no one saw coming. Either these pay off or we pack up early. Use at your own risk. :upside_down_face:


I am making several assumptions here like 1111 is equivalent to 2222 and 5555, and then 1313 has a slight edge. But would it still not be correct to select 1313, because if 2222 is selected now you have to rely on 3333 and 4444 to make the next logical pick. This whole system breaks down if say 3333 selects 4444 thus allowing 5555 and 1313 to pair up who have a higher scoring average/potiential?

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In most competitions the best two teams pair up say 1111 and 2222. then they need to pick 24 …that is the only negative of the first alliance (assuming a strong captain 1). Beyond that they play the least pick rich alliance led by alliance captain 8 (who could be rank 8-15 in the quals) So lots of favorable set up for alliance 1…in essence an 8 v1 upset is rare unless the ranking itself got messed up somehow. See missed cross breaches in Stronghold week 1.

So who can beat #1?.. with fairly high odds alliance captains 2-4, they all likely start with lesser fist two bots but can make up for it in picks 21-23.

If lucky the strong teams go past two. Then alliances 2-4 can start off with strong captains and solid first picks. This is not always the case. It really does matter how deep the field is. Scouting is critical as to hopefully get a good robot in picks 21-23 and hope 24 is not a good pick for alliance 1 …to even the odds. Alliances 5-6-7 and 8 have a tough road.

Be top 4…or last until round 2 at 16th selection slot to be highest rank remaining or near that to give alliance 1-4 permission to grab you in as their last pick hopefully 8-5 bypassed you …you could be lucky you are pick 23,24 and lasted to get on alliance 1 or 2

As an observer of eliminations:

In general:

Ranks 1-12 are almost certain to be in eliminations
Ranks 13-20 are at risk of not being selected, however likely to be selected
Ranks 21+ need to have explanations, friends or something special that they do best, likely not to be selected.

Now as a scout: Rank does not matter, if the last ranked team can help they may be on the list and be a pick.

You are correct.

In this hypothetical situation there is still a path for 5555 to pair with 1313 which I forgot to include in the post. You do have to weigh that risk of how valuable/known are 5555 and 1313 that one of them sticks out enough to #3 or #4. The risk could be even higher. Replace 5555 with #4 and this whole scenario hinges on the knowledge of the #3 seed. Or it could swing the other direction by dropping 5555 down a few spots.

Its incredibly risky and should not be your first strategy to use during your selection process. Its something I try to bring up if it looks like we are getting tunnel vision to make sure we are considering the What If scenarios. It leads to great discussions and overall helps us make sure we are more confident in our picks by looking at the trickle down effect after we make a selection. Forming an alliance is half the battle.