|2021 AQBL ONCT|
|Edited by||Aidan Leahy, Govind Prabhakar, Arjun Nageswaran, Katherine Lei, Dylan Bowman, Ethan Strombeck, William Groger, and Ethan Ashbrook|
|Runner-up||Detroit Country Day|
|High scorer||Aiden Dartley, "Billy Joel A"|
The 2021 ONCT took place on June 26–27. The tournament was held online though Discord. "Scalene Triangle" (Joel Miles and Brendan Fuller) cleared the field, defeating Detroit Country Day 280–260 in the first game of an advantaged final. St. Mark's and Ladue finished 3rd and 4th, respectively.
The tournament, the inaugural national of the newly-created AQBL, was almost exclusively promoted through e-mails to qualified teams and on the high school quizbowl Discord; it had little presence on hsquizbowl.org. A major selling point was its lower cost compared to the 2021 HSNCT and NSC. 64 teams registered from across the US, making it the smallest high school national tournament of the year; additionally, the field was considered weaker, due to fewer teams with high placements on GrogerRanks than the two major nationals.
Instead of producing their own questions for the tournament, AQBL mirrored the Southeast-Midwest Housewrite. This was the only high school mirror of the set, as AQBL had bought exclusive rights for that market; however, SMH was run at a large number of college tournaments. Though this was the first time that a set used for a high school national had been played before the date of the competition (HSNCT routinely has a Canadian mirror several months later), question security remained uncompromised (to anyone's knowledge) due to quizbowl's strong community standards.
Issues and criticism
Senior members of the community criticized AQBL's plans for the ONCT as soon as it was announced, due to the relative inexperience of AQBL's members (who were mostly high schoolers at the time of announcement). Many doubted that AQBL would be able to handle the logistics of even a modestly-sized national tournament. These concerns largely subsided once AQBL proved that they could run successful tournaments during the regular season.
Unknowingly, AQBL and IQBT had both initially scheduled their nationals for the same weekend (June 26–27). Once this conflict was discovered and the two organizations had discussed it, NASAT was moved forward a week to June 19–20, while ONCT retained the initial date.
The week of ONCT, there was a schedule change which was only communicated in the tournament Discord, rather than via email or on the forums. As a result, many teams learned on Saturday morning that they had to play 9 rounds that day instead of 7, the number announced in pre-tournament emails.
The tournament went on to experience delays. Some were attributed to the choice of Discord video as a platform, which was considered more lag-prone than Zoom (which was used by both the HSNCT and NSC that year), while others to staffer inexperience. The schedule was changed again on Saturday evening, with the last 2 Saturday rounds being moved back to Sunday. Similar changes had happened earlier at NSC and NASAT.
By the end of prelims, several low-placing teams had dropped out of the tournament, leading to forfeits in multiple brackets. Additionally, several teams' wins were vacated after players were found to have cheated. The tight staffing situation meant that many readers did not have separate scorekeepers and there were none of the circulating integrity checkers which were seen at HSNCT, NASAT, and the NSC.
Other critiques have included the use of half-packet tiebreaker games for two-way ties (in accordance with AQBL's tiebreaker policy) rather than the full-packet tiebreakers used at other nationals, as well as the use of an advantaged final when the top two teams played in separate brackets during the superplayoffs with no common opponents (which would usually result in a one-game final).