What is “Scorching the Earth”?
In order to understand the strategy first lets take a look at the rules that allow this strategy to be implemented, specifically from the 2014 Rule Book – 5.4.1 ALLIANCE Selection Process:
If the Team accepts, it becomes a member of that ALLIANCE. If an invitation from a top eight ALLIANCE to another ALLIANCE Lead is accepted, all lower ALLIANCE Leads are promoted one spot. The next highest-seeded, unselected Team moves up to become ALLIANCE Eight.
If the Team declines, that Team is not eligible to be picked again and the ALLIANCE CAPTAIN extends another invitation to a different Team. If an invitation from a top eight ALLIANCE to another ALLIANCE Lead is declined, the declining Team may still invite Teams to join their ALLIANCE; however, it cannot accept invitations from other ALLIANCES.
The lines above are “If an invitation from a top eight ALLIANCE to another ALLIANCE Lead is declined, the declining Team may still invite Teams to join their ALLIANCE; however, it cannot accept invitations from other ALLIANCES.”
Perhaps the strategy was best described by Frank on the FRC Blog back on July 25, 2013:
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.
When to implement “Scorching the Earth”
When seeding into the top eight there are some critical questions that come into play. Question number one should be; how does your actual performance reflect your position among the top eight. This is a difficult question to ask yourself, but be honest. Now if you believe that you are ranked above where you believe you should have, congrats, it’s time to play smart. Which of the teams below you would accept your invitation and which of them do you believe will decline? Which of the teams ranked below you do you not want to see pair up? Will not allowing them to pair improve your ability to win? Remember, this strategy is a risk, only ask teams that you would like to work with on the chance that they do accept. Also, keep a team outside of the top 8 in mind to fall back on just in case things do not go as planned. Now, scorch away as much as you feel needed to better your position (weakening the entire field in most cases), and good luck.
While there have been a number of instances of this strategy being employed the following two cases are likely the most well known (at least to a large number of people) and at the World Championship level.
Case #1: FRC176 – 2006 Newton Division
Newton was arguably the most stacked division in 2006 (and in many cases one of the most stacked divisions off all time). When the dust settled at the end of the qualification rounds the top were: 176, 987, 25, 254, 229, 66, 133, and 111. I will preface that a number of people believe that 176 did not deserve to rank number one, and were carried by there partners, and while there may be some truth too that, they still managed to make a mess out of the alliance selection and made it all the way to the finals. As the story goes; 176 wanted to select 111, and during discussion it was decided that the only way they would accept and have a chance to go all the way was to pick a be declined by a few of the other teams in the top eight. During alliance selection, 176 invited and was turned down by 25 and then 254, finally going on to select 111 as their partner. The #1 seed made a run of it all the way to the finals where they lost to the powerful alliance of 25, 968, and 195.
Case #2: FRC1678 – 2013 Curie Division
At the end of qualifications the top 8 were as follows: 1678, 1983, 4814, 2056, 1310, 1717, 359, and 4564. During alliance selection 1678 selected and was declined by 1717, 2056, 310, and 359. Each of these teams declining meant they could no long select or say yes to each other, effectively breaking up some of the potential “powerhouse” alliances. They went on to select 148 and then in the second round of selections they picked up 862. The number one alliance swept the quarterfinals, but was taken to three matches in both the semifinals and finals, ultimately becoming the 2013 Curie Division Champions.
Just to verify that this was in fact the intended goal, here is the statement from a mentor from FRC1678: “Thank you for the compliments! 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.” – Jake McCann, Mentor 1678.
What’s been the reaction to this strategy?
This strategy, like many things in FIRST (and even more so on the ChiefDelphi webforums) has become a controversial topic of discussion with people weighing in from all spectrums of the FRC community.
From the FRC Blog, here’s what FIRST (Frank) thinks:
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.
Article Content Gathered/Provided by: Justin Foss (FRC558 Mentor)