I think right now there is an idea (which seems intuitive) that the way to build good AI's is to get something basic done and then add more and more nodes that cover all the niche cases. We work from high-to-low level.
However, its always possible that some other player comes along and decides to something different at the high level; if it works, there are massive gains in performance for that player (compared with someone tweaking low-level stuff).
For instance, its very easy to decide if a bot losses its shields it should retreat. We then add 100's of low level nodes that decide how
that bot should retreat. The problem is that as we build all these 'corner case' nodes we never end up questioning the "high-level" premise; "should the bot retreat in first place?"
maybe you decide it should retreat some of the time, so you write 100's more nodes covering the niche cases where you don't want to retreat. But this once again falls into the 'low-level' optimisation trap; we fail to question whether the general principle of "retreat some of the time" is actually correct.
Maybe this is why the game can feel a bit like magic dice at times? The new players that sail through the ranks are probably not doing huge amounts of low-level stuff. I say that because functioning AI's 100's of node deep take a long time to build and in several cases require detailed knowledge of bot stats and game mechanics.
If the new players are not diving too deep, but are, on occasion, beating/drawing top players then the obvious conclusion is that these players are innovating at a high(er)-level instead.
As an interesting experiment, can you guys build an AI with, say, less than X no. of nodes that can consistently beat your main AI's?
If you can do that but then find you cannot improve your main AI (without worsening performance in other match-ups) that would suggest the game is fundamentally rock-paper-scissors. If you can beat this simple AI without harming other match-ups then great! you have improved your main AI!
If you cannot build a simple AI to beat the main AI then that either suggests you have yet to discover a "high-level" strategy that works or that no such strategy actually exists. In either case, it seems right to try and focus attention on low-level stuff.