Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

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Mike Bentley
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Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Mike Bentley »

I've been thinking recently about the purpose of bonuses in quizbowl tournaments. Mainly that they slow the game down and generally have very little effect on the final outcome of the match. While I'm not necessarily calling for an abolition of bonuses, I think it's worth considering whether it's time to reform them from the 3-part, no bounceback standard that has developed in the last 15 years or so.

In tournaments without bouncebacks (i.e. every college tournaments and a vast majority of high school tournaments), bonuses mean that about 25% of an evenly matched game just ends up being dead space for a team because it consists of bonuses being read to the other team. Yes, you can listen to the other bonuses and play along by yourself, but I've certainly seen many quizbowlers zone out during these, check their phone, etc. (I've done so myself).

Some side events have explored the 1 or 2 part bonus. I think it's worth considering a few more mainstream tournaments adopting such a style combined with bouncebacks. This has the benefit of increasing engagement on bonuses while hopefully keeping the overall length of matches the same (a downside of bouncebacks is they add several seconds to each bonus part).

--

I like that bonuses offer a chance for teamwork. That's something that goes missing from tossup-only events. And as a writer I like that bonuses offer a way to ask about certain topics that can be difficult in tossup form because you can't make them pyramidal or you want to ask about an answer line too hard for a tossup. There's also an argument that easy parts on bonuses make a tournament seem easier than it actually is--if you eliminated them it likely wouldn't affect the outcome of the game but it is fewer overall correct answers that the weaker teams in a tournament will be able to give.

I think I've raised this idea in the past, but I'll raise it again: I think there's room for at least some tournaments to allow conferring on tossups. This would inject teamwork into the more important and interesting part of the game. Yes, people talking as the moderator is reading is distracting. This can be alleviated by only allowing conferring after a buzz.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by vinteuil »

I agree that bonuses (the teamwork part of the game!) should be more impactful. Has anybody worked out the implications of changing to 15 points per bonus part? or 4-part bonuses?
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by benmillerbenmiller »

Another dimension to consider here is how challenging it is to write bonuses that conform to the conversion expectations we have for them. A few months back I looked at the advanced stats from several regular difficulty sets and was struck by how few bonuses actually have an appropriate easy part (85%+ conversion), medium part (35-65% conversion), and hard part (8-20% conversion). Of the four sets I looked at (Penn Bowl 18, Penn Bowl 19, Sun God, Regs 2019), none had more than 20% of their bonuses* conforming to those three standards. While in aggregate the bonus conversion marks are within appropriate boundaries, the fact that even the experienced writing teams who produced those four sets can't hit them more than 20% of the time is worrisome.

I certainly think there are ways to improve the play and conversion of three-part bonuses without disrupting their basic format. For instance, a centralized database of college conversion data (à la Ginseng) could certainly help writers build on past evidence to decide what is and isn't difficulty-appropriate. However, I think Mike and Jacob are absolutely right in that we should also consider alternatives to the format, espcially if different structures would lend themselves better to creating consistent difficulty levels.

(*I only included bonuses that were played in almost every room to negate the effects of those appearing late in packets/sets only being heard by better teams)
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Personally I'm always in favor of bouncebacks. If bonus and tossup length can be consistently limited well then I think they work well at most tournaments.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Everything in the Whole Wide World »

As someone that works a lot with inexperienced high school teams that might not represent themselves on the forum, I think at least for easier high school sets, reducing the amount of bonus content is worth exploring. I think people have a lot of trouble with the stamina of a long day of quizbowl, and trimming bonuses to two or even one part would speed up games and keep match momentum going more than is currently the norm. We in PA have seen a better retention rate for new teams that show up at shorter tournaments than ones that run well into the late afternoon. Another consideration for more advanced sets, where players will be used to a full day of quizbowl, is that the shorter matches created by less bonus time would mean you could potentially fit more matches into a day of quizbowl, increasing the number of teams that can play each other.

I agree with others that this sounds like a worthy thing to experiment with.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I grew up with bouncebacks in high school and think they're just fine and worth experimenting with. One clear consequence that's going to have is fewer upsets. There's something fun about beating a superior team to a tossup, and then watching them squirm and facepalm as you get 0-10 points on a bonus that they would have 30'ed. That's probably not so good from a TD's perspective, as you want your tournament to correctly sort teams from top to bottom. Or maybe its good from a TD's perspective because you want the not-so-good-teams to have fun and come back to your next event.

That said, if in my playing days you would have told me that third bonus parts are going away, as a specialist I would have reacted in a manner similar to how the Castilian Comuneros reacted to Adrian of Utrecht (two answer lines that, in my day, were largely relegated to third bonus parts). That would have destroyed a lot of my enjoyment of the game and made me less valuable to my team.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Mike Bentley »

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:
Mon Jan 13, 2020 10:23 am
I grew up with bouncebacks in high school and think they're just fine and worth experimenting with. One clear consequence that's going to have is fewer upsets. There's something fun about beating a superior team to a tossup, and then watching them squirm and facepalm as you get 0-10 points on a bonus that they would have 30'ed. That's probably not so good from a TD's perspective, as you want your tournament to correctly sort teams from top to bottom. Or maybe its good from a TD's perspective because you want the not-so-good-teams to have fun and come back to your next event.
Yes, that's a potential downside of bouncebacks. My impression is that most games won't be affected, but on the margins upsets will probably be come less frequent.
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:
Mon Jan 13, 2020 10:23 am
That said, if in my playing days you would have told me that third bonus parts are going away, as a specialist I would have reacted in a manner similar to how the Castilian Comuneros reacted to Adrian of Utrecht (two answer lines that, in my day, were largely relegated to third bonus parts). That would have destroyed a lot of my enjoyment of the game and made me less valuable to my team.
Well, most side events that have done the 2-part bonus structure have kept the hard part. It's the easy or middle part which went away.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Wei la la. After this it gets deep. »

Our high school league (IHSA) used bouncebacks and I fully believe them to be superior. Besides the continuous engagement argument already mentioned, I think they also actually help less experienced players have more fun playing. At least from my experience with my high school team, one of the largest barriers between academically interested students and quizbowl is that those students generally have a few things that they are extremely interested in, but do not have the breadth of knowledge to consistently get points. In my first year of quizbowl, before I started studying specifically with quizbowl, I would contribute perhaps something around 80 points including bonuses across an entire tournament. Nevertheless, the games were still enjoyable, because very occasionally getting an early buzz or bouncing back a hard part, especially when we were facing a much better team, was a great feeling. We might not be able to beat them, but at least I've read more Austen than them; they're not totally better than us at everything.

Conversely, one of the worst feelings in quizbowl is knowing something but being unable to get points for it. At the hard tournaments I've tried to play recently I have reverted to contributing a very small amount of points across an entire tournament, but very occasionally getting a good buzz or bonus conversion. It's somewhat less fun without bouncebacks, though, since if your team isn't getting many of the tossups, even if you randomly have your once-per-tournament deep knowledge of the thing the bonus asks about, it's probably not your bonus either. I specifically remember the Mad Girl's Love Song hard part at MUSES with "I think I made you up inside my head" as the answerline because that poem slaps and we were getting crushed that game and I don't think I converted a hard part that entire tournament and it would have been really nice to get points for the one time I actually knew something.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Would people be interested in having CO with bouncebacks? If we stick to our planned length caps then I think it will be feasible.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by ryanrosenberg »

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
Mon Jan 13, 2020 4:00 pm
Would people be interested in having CO with bouncebacks? If we stick to our planned length caps then I think it will be feasible.
I'm intrigued, but I think this would realistically only work if there's two-part bonuses.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Cheynem »

I would not particularly care for that at CO.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by cwasims »

A somewhat more unorthodox response to this concern might be to not give any points for getting a tossup right and have the only benefit of buzzing correctly being the chance at answering the bonus. While this might exacerbate concerns about variability in bonus difficulty, I think this would significantly increase the importance of bonuses in gameplay as converting medium and hard parts would become highly important to winning a game. It would also give teams more of an incentive to try and become well-rounded in many different categories, which is probably not a bad thing. This system would probably decrease upsets at the margin, since worse teams would need to get more tossups to overcome their (presumed) PPB deficit. If you wanted to, you could keep powers and negs, and you would presumably convert PPG into some sort of "gets per game".
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Stained Diviner »

I think that Mike raises a real concern here. The solutions offered by Jacob and Chris are good ways to address it. The other suggestions have serious problems.

The easy parts of bonuses do differentiate between the bottom teams in the field. They are also the only thing between weak teams getting some bonus parts and weak teams not getting any bonus parts, and it is a good thing that weak teams get some bonus parts. It would be horrible for tournaments that are supposed to be at regular difficulty or below to get rid of them. If people want some vanity tournaments with 1 or 2 part bonuses, it's absolutely fine for vanity tournaments to play by their own rules. However, it would be a huge mistake for ACF Fall to get rid of easy parts of bonuses, and I don't think I'm saying something controversial here.

As far as bouncebacks are concerned, if you don't have them you should thank your God or lack thereof every day that you do not have them. They destroy tournaments. Matches take too long, and stats take too long. NSC flies in top moderators and stats people from all over the country and has two staffers in each room, and bouncebacks are still difficult: It is common for morning pools to last too long and for stats errors to show up after the tournament. If you have some normal tournament where the moderators are anybody you could get to show up, then there is going to be some room where bouncebacks cause the matches to last 50 minutes each. If you want bouncebacks at your tournament with the current format, then shave two rounds off your schedule. If you want bouncebacks with two part bonuses, it might take the same amount of time as the correct bonus format with three parts, but it means that everybody hears 200 or so fewer bonus parts over the course of the day, which I do not think makes up for that odd time that somebody knows a bonus part that the team demolishing them does not know.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by Cheynem »

Like Mike, I think bonuses represent a great chance for teamwork and also for players who are not as aggressive at buzzing in to make important contributions. I remember some times when I've played on great teams, and the great feeling I had when I got a bonus in a topic I knew a lot about--those are huge confidence builders. I want to see that aspect of bonuses retained in quizbowl.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by meebles127 »

As an individual who has a lot of experience playing the VHSL format I much prefer 3 part bonuses. It creates a nice break between tossups and gives you a minute to ground yourself instead of just going from tossup to tossup.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by theMoMA »

I agree with David about bouncebacks; they are tricky and take a long time, and I wouldn't like to see them as the norm. There was a college open with bouncebacks after NSC several years ago, and I didn't think the bouncebacks added very much competitive intrigue. I also think bouncebacks muddle the competitive aspect of gameplay. When there are no bouncebacks, scoring points is tied to converting tossups. With bouncebacks, teams have to navigate a complex series of tossup and bonus defenses. In essence, bouncebacks create two parallel inputs to scoring, the second of which (the bounceback) doesn't neatly line up with desert the same way that getting bonus points after a tossup does.

Someone above pointed to the fact that three-part bonuses frequently do not hit conversion goals. I have a feeling that reducing the number of parts would exacerbate inconsistency. In the short term, unless the directive was simply to cut the easy part, editors would have to calibrate parts to new difficulty thresholds. (For instance, if there were two-part bonuses, the directive might be to have one bonus part somewhere in between current "easy and medium" and another somewhere between "medium and hard.") Even if editors and writers recalibrated successfully over time, eliminating a bonus part would ultimately lower the resolving power of bonuses for one set of teams or another. For instance, eliminating easy parts, or moving to an "easy-medium" part, would make it harder for a bonus to distinguish between teams at the lower end of the skill spectrum; the reciprocal issue would arise if hard parts were eliminated, or if there were a "medium-hard" part. Reducing the number of parts would, if parts were still worth 10 points, also lessen the relative importance of bonuses to tossups. Finally, although individual bonuses often fall outside of the strict conversion windows that editors shoot for, the amount of bonus inconsistency tends to even out as the number of bonuses increases. Reducing the number of parts could reduce this smoothing effect by cutting down on the number of conversion opportunities that teams have.

Increasing the number of bonus parts would, of course, increase the relative importance of bonus conversion and increase the resolving power of bonuses. It would also be a pain to edit, require finding lots of new question content for each bonus, take significantly longer to read, and have the same recalibration problem as above.

I hate to be the quizbowl philosopher who says that we live in the best of all possible worlds, but I do think that the three-part bonus, without bouncebacks, hits the sweet spot of being relatively short to edit and read but still meaty enough to appreciate as a player, fairly easy to conceptualize in terms of easy/medium/hard targets, and flexible enough to accommodate most subjects and themes. I don't think adding bouncebacks to the equation would add that much. I'm happy to try new types of bonuses at various side events and the occasional open set, as people think of interesting new forms, but I'd prefer the traditional bonus structure at most full-distribution quizbowl tournaments, and certainly at the ones that matter.

On the specific question of bouncebacks at CO: the event is already long and grueling, and I don't relish the thought of making it longer and more grueling, nor do I think that making hundreds of bonus points available in each game to a team that did not get the tossup is a particularly coherent gameplay decision.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by silverscreentest »

I agree that sometimes the losing team becomes disinterested during the other team's bonus. Also, teams that are overmatched shouldn't be embarassed by a score like 700-0 when they may have some knowledge, but not speed. So here's my suggestion that should not take any more time or require changes to the writing process:

Give the middle bonus part to the team that lost the toss-up.

It gives the lesser team a chance for some points without competition. They'd be paying attention because bonuses frequently have a connected flow. The team that got the toss-up still has the advantage of two bonus parts to one.

I think this "Split Bonus" format would work better for the aforementioned disparate strength of teams. The standard format should still be better for competitive championship level events. This shouldn't lengthen games the way bouncebacks would.

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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by CaseyB »

silverscreentest wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 6:22 pm
Give the middle bonus part to the team that lost the toss-up.
I really don't like this idea. Putting aside the idea that the packet would now have to explicitly state which bonus part is the middle part, this means the team that converted the tossup would only get two bonus parts and, more importantly, these two parts would be of disparate difficulty. The team converting the tossup gets an easy bonus part and a much more difficult one. Ideally, most teams convert the easy part, while only a few teams convert the hard part on a given bonus; the middle part is the most helpful when distinguishing teams across a tournament. Returning to the point that the packet must now indicate which bonus part is the middle part, reading the middle part to the team that did not convert the tossup indirectly also conveys the information as to which part is the easy part and which part is the hard part (or at least makes it much easier to deduce which is which). If you are the team that did not convert the tossup, and especially in the situation alluded to in the given example, where this team is likely to be less experienced at quizbowl, this knowledge can make the situation more disheartening. To clarify, I find it likely that it such a blowout, the team that did not convert the tossup, and thus hearing the middle part of the bonus only, is more likely to be unable to convert the easy part of the bonus, let alone the middle part. It is disheartening enough to zero a bonus when hearing all three parts, but to zero a bonus with the explicit knowledge that you were unable to answer the bonus part considered by the writers to be the easy part would be even more so.

It occurs to me after writing the portion above that you may have meant the middle part of the bonus in the order the parts appear on the page. If this is the case, then I also disagree with this approach but for a different reason: there is no set order in which the easy, middle, and hard parts of the bonus will be read. As a result, the part of the bonus read to the team that did not convert the tossup would vary in difficulty across a packet. I view this inconsistency as a problem. If the second bonus on the page is the easy part, the team that converted the tossup feels cheated; if it is the hard part, the team that did not convert the tossup feels cheated (not to mention the fact that the bonus part they're getting out of pity is the most difficult of the three). Such an inconsistency could only be remedied by forcing all bonuses to have a set order of difficulty, which in turn does affect how one writes a bonus.

If you want to keep both teams engaged in a bonus, then the best way to do that is with bouncebacks. If, understandably, you are worried about bouncebacks lengthening the tournament, then you should stick with the standard 3-part bonus model currently in wide use.
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Re: Should quizbowl reform the three-part bonus?

Post by CaseyB »

Speaking to the discussion as a whole, I agree with the main points that Andrew makes in support of the current 3-part bonus system. While bouncebacks are more engaging as a player, from a competitive standpoint, rewarding the team converting the tossup by giving the bonus only to that team makes more sense. Meanwhile, having a 3 part bonus ranging in difficulty is enjoyable to the player while also distinguishing teams better than a 2 part bonus would. (A 4 part bonus would, in my opinion, unnecessarily lengthen both a tournament as a whole and the time between tossups.)
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