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

Jul 25, 2013 Written by FIRST Staff

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.

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