Anti-NAQT sentiment

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Since its founding in 1996, anti-NAQT sentiment has existed against National Academic Quiz Tournaments.

While this article will feature several legitimate issues with NAQT from both past and present, it will attempt to also include the less evidence-based criticisms that have been leveled against it over the years - for a detailed discussion of just the former, see criticisms of NAQT.


NAQT has long distinguished itself from its competitors in quiz bowl with a 24 tossup/24 bonus format which incorporates a large amount of pop culture, misc, and a unique flavor that can verge into the extreme. In comparison to ACF, its questions are shorter and have powermarks, and its rounds at various levels of competition were timed. These major differences, as well as minor points like per-set rather than per-packet distributions and a propensity for mixed academic questions, have long been sticking points for those who prefer a different sort of quizbowl experience.

Some of these differences are due to NAQT positioning itself as the "good quizbowl" replacement for College Bowl, retaining some of the quirks that made CB so popular in an effort to absorb more of the audience[dubious - discuss]. Founded to represent a vision of the game which emphasized tests of knowledge over any gimmicks, ACF adopted a distribution which featured 20 tossups and 20 bonuses with no pop culture and no powermarks. The two competitions have maintained these differences since their founding, and though not everyone likes it ACF has become the standard for much of modern quizbowl: housewrites almost exclusively use the modified ACF format rather than any approximation of NAQT's, few feature pop culture, and most difficulty scales are pinned to the flagship ACF events of Fall, Regionals, and Nationals.

Despite this, NAQT is a much larger organization. The popularity of its Invitational Series and its collaborations with regional organizations like VHSL mean that majority of all quizbowl players play primarily NAQT questions, with a significant fraction not playing questions from any other provider (or even being aware of any alternatives). As another data point, as of 2021 the top ten largest tournaments ever have all been High School National Championship Tournaments run by NAQT; ACF does not run any high school events. The size of NAQT means that it is important whether or not they are doing a good job. An incremental improvement in the quality of NAQT questions would affect literally thousands of people, so it is in everyone's benefit that they are kept accountable.

Historically, there has been anti-NAQT sentiment. Some of it was fueled by criticisms of the organization that have been largely taken to heart and used to improve the organization and the tournaments that it runs. Some of it is has been fueled by simple dislike: of NAQT, of its tournaments, of the institutions it represents. Some of it has legitimacy and addresses community concerns that have yet to be resolved. This article is a summary of some of the causes and reasons for this mainstay of quizbowl discourse.


Is NAQT "good quizbowl"?


"Good quizbowl" is a catch-all term coined during the transition away from College Bowl and related formats which encompasses a number of axioms which are held to be essential to a fair and meaningful game. Core among these are that questions should abhor trivia, fairly reward knowledge, and incorporate pyramidality.

Almost every NAQT question is written to meet these standards. There exist exceptions in the form of television-format questions, which are often written as speedchecks which are not strictly pyramidal. In these situations NAQT has been limited by existing formats which prevent the use of pyramidal questions, but their work with these contracts continues to satisfy other standards of quality (e.g. an emphasis on straight-forward academic questions instead of hoses, swerves, or other banal content) and has the added benefit of forcing out other providers, which do not have similar standards.

Along with ACF, NAQT has been upholding these tenets of "good quizbowl" across the nation (and as of 2018, worldwide) since their founding.

Is NAQT pyramidal?


Setting aside the TV sets presented as an exception in the previous section, every NAQT question at every difficulty level is written to be pyramidal. This is a key observation to make: it is not possible for every question written to be perfectly pyramidal (i.e. to have every clue in strictly descending difficulty order) but having knowledge of an writer's good intentions is typically sufficient to forgive mistakes in this regard, provided they are infrequent enough to indicate good faith attempts. At this point in time, there is no reason to suspect that NAQT is systematically failing to maintain pyramidality in its questions.

A common reason for this charge to be leveled is that, with the short length of NAQT questions, even a single pair of inverted clues can produce a significant difference in how a question plays. Nevertheless, such anecdotal evidence should be carefully considered.

Does NAQT produce high quality questions?


Question quality is a subjective assessment - people can and do disagree about what constitutes a "good" question. There are some objective measures by which NAQT excels - their copy-editing, inclusion of pronunciation guides, and use of standard answerlines is well above average. Generally speaking, their feng shui is good and repeats are minimized; however, the large number of sets they produce means that there are often non-trivial repeats from tournament to tournament and occasionally round to round.

NAQT questions are, at minimum, popular. They are, additionally, open to criticism to about question quality (though historically this has not been a super productive avenue, it has gotten better in recent years). One major strength of NAQT is that anyone can apply to be a writer, and thus anyone can materially change the way that questions are written. Subject editors are replaced infrequently, but they are replaced. These may not seem worthy of praise, but consider that almost every low quality question provider (e.g. Avery Enterprises) is written by a very small set of incredibly senior writers who do not take feedback of any kind (or at least, do not take it well).

Opposite these broad-sense defenses of NAQT is the fact that there are definitely low quality NAQT questions, some particularly egregious, and that these questions have materially degraded the experience of players. As NAQT is currently the largest single question provider, it is even possible that they have (numerically) more low quality questions than anyone else. When trying to make an overall assessment of the quality of NAQT questions, it is hard to know how to weigh the subjective experience of an individual.

Are IS sets better than housewrites?

For many years, NAQT Invitational Series sets have been used to define the standard high school difficulty. They are all intended to be the same difficulty, which should be more or less appropriate for an average high school team.

Many of the players who are aware enough to compare the quality of housewrites versus IS sets are members of above average teams. It is difficult for one to meaningfully judge the quality of a set that is below one's skill level, as their only available tool is a subjective experience which will not align with the intended audience. Teams which can power the majority of questions in a packet will bristle at a single question that they fail to convert in a manner disproportionate to how an average team might; they will enjoy a rewarding first line more than a well-written giveaway. This does not invalidate their experiences, but it betrays a set of expectations that may not be an accurate gauge for "quality".

By most objective standards, teams perform similarly on housewrites and IS sets. Though some players have said that they've never met anyone who enjoys NAQT sets, there is certainly some selection bias in that statement considering there are thousands of players of IS sets every year.

Do NAQT sets have too much difficulty variation?

There are no two questions in a set which can meaningfully be called "equally hard", but they can both be put under a single umbrella of difficulty which defines their tournament; for this reason, difficulties are bell-curves and their exact dimensions are subject to vigorous debate. The best controlled housewrites are written with narrower concept of a difficulty than an IS set, meaning that there will be NAQT questions which its editors considered appropriate that a player might consider "too hard" in a vacuum - nevertheless, it may still fit under the "regular difficulty" umbrella. Poorly controlled housewrites may take a wide tack or even overshoot entirely in a way that is almost categorically impossible for IS sets.

There is an obvious reason why difficulty control is important, as a set which fails to control difficulty plays much like a train wreck between two tournaments. Nevertheless, one must consider whether questions meaningfully meet this criteria to use this argument. How many questions per round must be too hard, or too easy, and by how much? Evidence is rarely provided and when it is, it is sparse and not particularly convincing. Some sympathy must be afforded for complaints of this nature: it is not typically possible for objective measures of difficulty variation to be obtained for sets, which are often not clear for months after a given tournament. Additionally, there are often legitimate claims to made about the variation from packet to packet. Nevertheless, the fact is that the bulk of these arguments come from individuals with self-avowed biases against NAQT sets providing brief personal accounts.

Is HSNCT too expensive?

This is ultimately a question that can only be decided by individual teams. The 2021 HSNCT was held online and cost $650 per team before discounts; the 2020 HSNCT started at $695. For many teams, this is a very large number and undoubtedly there are schools which either do not attend or do not send every team they qualify because they view this as too much money.

There are few other tournaments which can purport to substitute for HSNCT in any meaningful way - these alternatives are typically at the same price point, if not more expensive. A noted exception to this was in 2021, when the NSC dipped in price to $450. Nevertheless, the NSC is roughly a quarter the size of the HSNCT and is a very different tournament experience, with 20 point powers, bouncebacks, and no negs.

HSNCT is the largest single tournament in the country every year. Hundreds of teams opt to pay the entrance fee every year because they feel the prestige and the experience of attending the premier high school national is sufficient compensation for the cost. If a player, team, or coach decides that they disagree, they can vote with their wallet and not attend; that is their choice.

Ultimately, this decision must come down to the team, because NAQT has no financial incentive to decrease tournament fees considering the popularity of their national tournaments, and even if they could it is not obvious how much they could decrease their fees anyways.

Specific examples

Arminius scandal

Main page: Arminius scandal

During the mid-2000s, standard protest procedure was woefully inadequate.

This section is incomplete.

"HSNCT and its Problems"

Main page: HSNCT and its Problems

Starting in 2018, Discord quickly outstripped the IRC in popularity as the standard quizbowl messaging client; the forums also had low adoption rates among the younger generation, but the number of active users was quickly dwarfed by the combination of the main and hsquizbowl Discords. A consequence of more players entering these centralized and informal quizbowl spaces was that in-groups were being formed faster, and inside each was every friend group's favorite activity: mutual complaining. While previous years of high schoolers had spent time on the social dynamics between "olds" and "youngs", in 2020 one of the conversations was whether housewrites were superior to NAQT IS sets.

Popular opinion within a large group of online high schoolers ultimately settled on housewrites being significantly better, a sentiment exacerbated by the fact that many were top players who would frequently promote housewrites that they were affiliated with. With COVID-19 forcing all of quizbowl online, this combination of joking and serious thoughts would be passed back and forth ad infinitum until many were willing to unironically say that NAQT was not "good quizbowl", not worth the money, and not worth playing.

In the lead-up to the 2021 HSNCT, the thread "HSNCT and its Problems"[1] was posted to highlight these sentiments, which it claimed were "not at all unique to [its poster]". Though several of its points were well-received, especially those regarding NAQT's non-existent-at-the-time online cheating policy and its strict answer timing rules (which were not changed for online play), the post was roundly criticized for its inflammatory tone and weak argumentation. In particular, many of those who disagreed (predominantly collegiate and older players) focused on its arguments for decreasing the cost of HSNCT based off the pricing of that year's NSC and ONCT, and its claims about NAQT's quality and distribution, which concluded with the statements that "it's hard to call NAQT 'pyramidal good quizbowl' anymore" and that players should consider not attending HSNCT.

The post was the first time that this recent streak of anti-NAQT sentiment entered the spheres which older members of the community frequented, but it was not its end. Even after the original poster apologized for their tone after the 2021 HSNCT (which they attended), there was no rescinding of any of the points. Excerpts of Discord conversations in the aftermath of the post revealed that many high schoolers held even more radical stances than were expressed on the forums.


  1. HSNCT and its Problems by etotheipi » Thu Mar 04, 2021 3:27 pm