Online quizbowl is the practice of playing quizbowl over a computer, as opposed to attending the school, college, or convention center hosting the event.
Though online quiz competitions like Quiznet have occurred as far back as 1995, the online good quizbowl scene only emerged in the early 2010s with practices and tournaments held on Skype. The concept was generally treated as a novelty and was largely reserved for scrimmages, playtesting, and informal open events. Around 2018, online quizbowl largely abandoned Skype in favor of Discord, driven by Discord's superior quality and the rise of quizbowl Discord servers.
In 2020–21, the COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in a huge uptick in online scrimmages and tournaments as a substitute for in-person competition. This period saw the first online tournaments held on Zoom and Google Meets, as hosts experimented with various platforms.
Due to the versatility of quizbowl, there have been various interpretations and variations on how the game is played on an online format. Since an actual buzzer set is inconvenient and impractical, 'buzzing' is often done using a site named buzzin.live, which is designed to mimic a lockout buzzer system by converting either a phone or computer into a buzzer. Another common practice is simply typing 'buzz,' however its use is limited outside of Discord scrimmages due to difficulties with moderators recognizing the buzz on-time.
Since there is no online platform dedicated solely to quizbowl, there is also much variation in terms of the platform being used for a tournament. The aforementioned Discord has been frequently used for tournaments due to its ability to combine a control room, announcements, discussion, and video calls into a single platform. Discord can be seen as 'unprofessional,' however, especially for teams competing from their school who would have to convince their administrators to unban the chat client. Zoom is another popular platform for quizbowl, and has become used for a majority of tournaments nationwide. Some school preferences for Zoom and Google Meet, however, have caused a divide, leading to some tournaments to compromise and and hold a division on each platform.
Other adjustments have also been made to accommodate the online format. For instance, bouncebacks have received decreased use due to the increased length and congestion that has come from technical difficulties and confusion, among other reasons. Most larger tournaments also require players to use a webcam in order to prevent the use of a phone/computer to simply look up answers, with some requiring more elaborate standards such as hands being visible at all times.
Pros and Cons to Online Quizbowl
Playing online has created a completely new way to play quizbowl with several new challenges as well. On one hand, online tournaments have generally experienced increased diversity when it comes to field size, allowing teams to play more with other teams outside their area as well as reducing the time and money long trips generally require. Geographically isolated teams like Kirksville have been able to compete with less difficulty and exhaustion that would otherwise arise from a 3-hour bus ride to St. Louis. In an extreme example, LIST, a tournament hosted from St. Louis, has attracted the attention of Phillips Academy, a school nearly 1,200 miles away. A team traveling this far for a non-national tournament was nearly unheard of for in-person tournaments. Lodging fees at national tournaments have similarly become a non-issue, as teams can enjoy nationals from the comfort of their home without having to spend nights in cities potentially several states away.
Of course, an online tournament comes with disadvantages as well. While internet has expanded exponentially in the past decade, many rural areas still struggle with obtaining playable internet, which can make outreach to rural areas or underdeveloped states even more difficult than before. Online tournaments have also been marred with cheating due to how much easier it is to mask, with players and teams even as prestigious as Eric Mukherjee and Princeton confessing to or being heavily accused of cheating in some online tournaments. Issues like these have resulted in some teams outright refusing to play online formats, such as Hallsville, a small school powerhouse, having few plans to attend SSNCT for the third year in a row. In more extreme scenarios, high-school sports associations like ASCA and MSHSAA have considered dropping NAQT questions in order to stay in-person, with both even contemplating the use of Academic Hallmarks at their district and state championships.
Considerations When Hosting Online Quizbowl Events
- Staffers need to be extensively trained on the tournament platform that is being used
- Ideally, each moderator will have gone through at least a partial simulated game so they understand how the online platform works and you can resolve questions before the tournament begins. Staffers need to be aware of what could go wrong and what the best procedure is to do in the many new scenarios that online quizbowl offers, such as a player disconnecting, major lag issues, video problems, audio problems, etc. Any commands that are being used or procedures for moving teams from room to room need to be clearly explicated. The same consideration applies to scorekeeping as well, though there are a number of useful spreadsheet systems available now to help facilitate that (but still, readers/scorekeepers need to be trained on them).
- Teams need to be familiar with online platforms and procedures
- Ideally each player should have tested out their video and audio extensively beforehand, with potential backup procedures in place. They need to be able to listen to the audio stream while maintaining a video stream and access to the buzzer that's being used. This may require some testing opportunities before the event as well as clear guides and videos.
- Everything takes longer online
- Reading questions takes longer, resolving issues takes longer, getting the attention of the TD when needed takes longer, responding to inquiries from teams takes longer... basically everything will take a little bit longer. Quizbowl also seems to be a bit more exhausting when it's done online compared to in-person. Tournament directors may want to try modifications such as tossup-only prelim rounds and shortened schedules to account for this.
- Know your audience
- If you are running an event with many schools that are trying online quizbowl for the first time, you should be very aware of the challenges that they might face; this is less of a concern if all of your teams have some online quizbowl experience, but even then keep in mind that tournaments run on Zoom are very different than those run on Discord (and even within those there are many different types of tournament setups). Also, it is very easy if you advertise a tournament online to get a lot of sign-ups from teams that you might not be familiar with. Keep in mind the relative experience of the teams that usually attend events in your area.