College Nationals and Its Problems

Elaborate on the merits of specific tournaments or have general theoretical discussion here.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Ciorwrong »

Hi. I've been meaning to post in this thread a while but was interrupted by finals and other life events. I more or less echo what people like Eric M. and Will Alston have said above so I don't really feel the need to rehash their points.

I would like to give an anecdote about myself which I'm usually pretty hesitant to do. Last year at MSU, we worked very hard to perform well as an undergraduate team at both ICT and ACF Nationals. Our entire year, our goal was "win UG" and I think I can speak for the entire team of last year where we were proud of what we accomplished even though we were led by one superstar player. Each of us got to develop into our own niches and roles and I think by the end of the season, we were a cohesive team. Even though we came just short of our goal at ACF Nats--finishing second in UG to a very deserving Berkeley squad--we still feel like the journey was worth it even though we got stomped by Columbia when we played them or whoever. Speaking for myself, I still feel like I should have buzzed sooner on a couple of those UG final tossups and I remember embarrassingly missing a bonus part on Inca myth.

These goals of an undergrad champion or DII ICT champion or whatever matter to a lot of teams right now. It doesn't at all follow that we should limit the opportunities of grad students when undergrad and less experienced teams already have some tangible goals they can achieve and strive for. I think the undergrad championship and numerous regional titles should be marketed and highlighted more for sure, but I don't really see the connection in the ideas of this thread. Maybe this more of an idea for a separate thread, but I think a lot of the "anti-old" posting is ridiculous and highlights a growing tension between different segments of the quizbowl-playing population.

I'm a grad student and I don't really study much anymore because of academic commitments. Are mediocre players like me really inhibiting the growth of circuits or discouraging high school superstars--many of whom are better than me while in high school--from playing? It's not realistic for even an elite player out of high school to be competitive with the Jacob Reed or Will Alstons of the world and I don't really see the issue with that. No one has yet to make a coherent argument that the difficulty of nationals itself has a muting effect on high school recruitment or whatever. When I would recruit for MSU, 99 percent of the players did not know how difficult college nats was and they wanted to join a club in college to have fun, meet people and maybe play some quizbowl. That's fine and I hope those more open-minded players continue to play quizbowl. Frankly, when I started playing quizbowl in college, I was one of these naive freshmen who didn't know who the elite grad students were and I mostly wanted a club to make friends and play quizbowl on some weekends. For me personally, I think coming in with this sort of blank slate helped me compartmentalize where I was in the game and made me rethink a lot of my old ideas about quizbowl. I wonder if it more difficult to come in naive due to the proliferation of Discord, the meme group etc. but this is again more appropriate for its own thread.

I think Nats can certainly be easier, but when tournaments like ACF Fall are getting poor fields in some regions such as my own, I would be hesitant to assign blame to the difficulty of Nats rather than the structural factors Eric points out in his post. Starting a club in college is really hard and I have enormous respect for the people who have done so. This structural hindrance seems to be monumentally more impactful on high school retention than the difficulty of a tournament only about 50 or so teams play each year.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by 1.82 »

naan/steak-holding toll wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 8:39 am It doesn't seem like a strawman to me to suggest that one vision being articulated here by a lot of the anti-grad student crowd is making every single tournament above EFT a bunch easier, kicking all the grad students out, and hoping that a bunch of stronger high school players sign on and can replicate their dominance at lower levels, without having to put in as much time for improvement. In otherwords, "shut up, take your opens, and be happy." Obviously, I resent this vision and think it will make for a less diverse community, with fewer streams of knowledge pouring into the question pool and the people best able to provide these sorts of knowledge relegated to the sidelines. It's also impossible to implement for obvious institutional reasons - the people who do the most work to support this game outside of the roles of club logistics are largely older players and their friends, and they'll obviously fight to continue their own inclusion, and when the argument boils down to "these players are too good" then frankly it does look like you don't want to lose.
If I may paraphrase an argument originally made by someone else, it's worth noting that these arguments by and large seem to come from people whose primary engagement with the quizbowl community is by being active on quizbowl Discord. Perhaps these people represent a great silent majority that has never previously felt empowered to speak out. This is, however, belied by the simple fact that field sizes don't actually reflect any of their arguments. What is more likely is that these people are formulating their opinions on the basis of what other people on quizbowl Discord have been saying to them.

When one logs onto quizbowl Discord, one immediately notices that a large proportion of volume posters are either currently in high school or else what traditionally have been referred to as "anti-quizbowl quizbowlers". This is because most members of the college quizbowl community have quite reasonably decided that the Discord discourse is inane and not worth engaging with; unfortunately, this means that there is nobody to rebut anti-quizbowl ideology. Consequently, the anti-quizbowl group, for reasons known only to its members, is responsible for spreading this ideology that quizbowl is pointless and anything harder than high school national difficulty is not worth trying, and high school students, lacking the knowledge to object, imbibe that poisonous ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps current high school students with bold ideas about what college quizbowl is like should consider why people actually in college quizbowl have not yet implemented those revolutionary ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by cwasims »

A few scattered thoughts:
At Toronto, almost none of our players played QB in high school (many played Reach for the Top, although that doesn't tend to be too helpful), and yet I don't really hear any of our players (even those who leave/reduce their involvement) complaining about the difficulty of events. We even had several first-years play ACF Regionals who had very little high school experience, but they knew what to expect difficulty-wise and had a good time. Given the time constraints most undergrads face, a lot of people are more than content to play 2 or so tournaments a semester, which tends to be about the number that are skill-appropriate for them given the current schedule of events--certainly it seems to me that competing time commitments, and not accessibility, is by far the main reason people don't participate in more QB.

That being said, I think a lot of players here take a more casual approach to the game and don't develop specific performance goals or whatnot like they might've in high school, but I really can't imagine this has anything to do with the presence of grad students in the game or any difficulty creep that might result from their presence. And it's not due to a lack of exposure - Toronto's best player is a grad student and several quite experienced alumni often come to practices.

From personal experience as someone who joined in first year, I have never felt frustrated with the existence of grad students or high-difficulty material in QB. I've always really enjoyed high difficulties (even when I was terrible at them) and have gradually gotten better at harder material without almost ever explicitly studying. Maybe I might feel differently if I were really motivated to make a title run, but I highly doubt I would.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Shahar S. »

vinteuil wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 6:04 pm
Shahar S. wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 5:58 pmOthers in this thread have used EFT as an example of a set that has a good balance between accessible and challenging content, and I would agree with that. The problem is that EFT is the only set that consistently hits that balance.
This year alone, LIT and MWT were both also at this difficulty, not to mention DII NAQT sets. It's now the norm that at least two and usually three sets will be at this difficulty (and I think that's a good thing).
Two or three more sets at EFT difficulty would be a good thing to be sure, but having played MWT I have to disagree with your judgement of its difficulty. It was decidedly harder than EFT, albeit not by as much as something like Regs. It is definitely a step in the right direction though, which I appreciate.
As for all good players getting a "head start" in high school—look at the undergraduate performances of Eric Mukherjee, John Lawrence, and Jordan Brownstein, not to mention people we've already heard from in this thread, e.g. JinAh.
Didn't these people all join Quizbowl about 8-10 years ago? Surely the effects of difficulty inflation would be much harder to overcome now than it was back then. I wasn't around back then so I wouldn't know, please correct me if I'm wrong.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Stinkweed Imp »

Shahar S. wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:18 pm Didn't these people all join Quizbowl about 8-10 years ago? Surely the effects of difficulty inflation would be much harder to overcome now than it was back then. I wasn't around back then so I wouldn't know, please correct me if I'm wrong.
If anything, there has been difficulty deflation in the past 8 years. Nationals difficulty peaked in 2011 (where eventual champion Yale got 14.63 playoff PPB), and has become much more reasonable since then. There are also now more EFT-type intermediate difficulty tournaments, not to mention the proliferation of online packet archives and study resources (and the increased quality of questions) that have made improving much easier.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by The Football War »

As a current high school senior who hopes to be able to play in college, the difficulty of college nationals isn't really a factor in whether I'll play college quizbowl or not. Sure, I've looked through some past ACF Nationals packets and found them to be quite difficult, but I don't really care about winning nationals or a title at that difficulty. The biggest factor impacting my decision to play college quizbowl is simply whether I'll end up going to a college with an active team. Though I can possibly see myself working to be competent at the (extremely small, I know) 2/2 of the distro I cover at higher difficulties, I can see how many competent high school generalists (such as the two seniors who have posted before me) could consider college nationals difficulty to be too hard - becoming a generalist or even a person who covers a few categories at that difficulty seems like a herculean task. I'll also say that I find playing with and against grad students pretty cool, and that they don't really affect my perception of how "impossible" college nationals is.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Carlos Be »

naan/steak-holding toll wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 8:39 am For me, this makes college quizbowl a lot more like the NBA, with high school quizbowl being something akin to college basketball. The NBA is much, much more challenging, and you have players with a wider range of experience. I find this to be a feature of the college game, not a bug. It's enjoyable to interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds and who bring academic and personal experience to the game that are, no offense, much deeper and wider than a lot of what you'd get in high school.
First, I reject the analogy between high school quizbowl and college basketball. Many quizbowlers first play quizbowl in high school. The average skill level of a hsqb player is much lower than a college basketball player. I think a much better analogy is high school basketball.

I appreciate the analogy of college quizbowl and the NBA. That sounds dope for the teams that can compete in it. However, there are some structural factors that differentiate college quizbowl and a professional league:

1. Teams are divided according to college admissions, which aren't strongly related to quizbowl. NBA teams can sign and draft players that fill their needs. Quizbowl teams take the players that circumstances give them. (Yes, outreach can be done, but it is difficult and has unpredictable results.)
2. Quizbowl does not have structures in place to encourage parity. There is no analog of the draft or the salary cap. Schools that get good players this year are likely to get good players again, because the lottery is weighted the same (or similar) each year.
3. Some players cannot play indefinitely. Undergraduates who do not continue on to grad school can only play for 4 or 5 years. In the NBA, this would be as if a random set of young players are barred from competing after 4 years, while others are allowed to continue.

These three factors are indicative of another vision of college quizbowl. Many people wish that college quizbowl would be a scholastic league (analogous to hsqb or college basketball) that people play for four years and then leave. This rapid turnover could engender growth. On the other hand, this vision has a major flaw— it leaves out grad students who put a lot of effort and dedication into the game. I don't believe that this vision should dominate, for many of the reasons outlined in this thread.

I don't believe that this vision should be ignored. The vision of a quasi-professional quizbowl dominates nationals and regionals and anything else that might be considered a seasonal milestone (except ICT D2, but quitting after D2 is a known phenomenon). The goto strategy of the quasi-professional theory is to deny its dominance, or to deny the validity of the rapid turnover vision, but both of these strategies are unsustainable. The rapid turnover vision is increasing popularity, particularly among younger quizbowlers. If quasi-professional theory continues to dominate, then either the next generation will not play college nationals, or they will create their own organizations with their own nationals. I may be overestimating the chance of schism, but surely the older generation is underestimating it.
naan/steak-holding toll wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 8:39 am Which brings me to ask, if we make tournaments a more appropriate difficulty, why exactly are grad students the problem other than that they are good at the game?
I imagine knowledge as a path. When a person learns, they progress further down this path. Quizbowl is a race along this path. Players enter the race at different points along the trail, corresponding to different levels of entry knowledge. They walk, jog, run, or sprint, depending on how much energy they have and how much they want to win. At nationals, we take a snapshot of the race. Teams that have progressed the furthest by that point place highly. After nationals, the race continues. Most players who finished highly continue to compete. In 2020, the frontrunners are so far along that a younger player, even one who has been called elite, cannot see the front pack. They can run or sprint with the hope that they will catch up, but the risk of over-exertion is real. With success unlikely, it's better to jog slowly and enjoy the path than try to catch up.

Partial progress can be a motivation. Maybe the leaders aren't visible, but the second bracket is. (This is why it is important that nationals distinguish lower bracket teams as well as upper bracket teams.) But this isn't really satisfactory. A goal of second bracket is fun when it's a stepping stone— make second bracket now, top bracket next year, win the year after that. When second or third bracket is the only foreseeable goal, it feels less like partial progress and more like empty progress.

Personally, I was quite discouraged this summer when the relative progress from a year's worth of studying was all but wiped out, because a bunch of old players who had already been in the race for years decided it was time to come back. Most of these players will still be in school long after I graduate (unless I also go to grad school for a long time, which is possible but unlikely— certainly not something I can rely on). Of course, this is ignoring the years of work that these players have put into improvement (and presumably several other factors), so it should not be weighted more than any other anecdote. Regardless, I think people can understand why a lot of younger players are frustrated with the structure of college nationals.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

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Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:51 pm These three factors are indicative of another vision of college quizbowl. Many people wish that college quizbowl would be a scholastic league (analogous to hsqb or college basketball) that people play for four years and then leave. This rapid turnover could engender growth. On the other hand, this vision has a major flaw— it leaves out grad students who put a lot of effort and dedication into the game. I don't believe that this vision should dominate, for many of the reasons outlined in this thread.

I don't believe that this vision should be ignored. The vision of a quasi-professional quizbowl dominates nationals and regionals and anything else that might be considered a seasonal milestone (except ICT D2, but quitting after D2 is a known phenomenon). The goto strategy of the quasi-professional theory is to deny its dominance, or to deny the validity of the rapid turnover vision, but both of these strategies are unsustainable. The rapid turnover vision is increasing popularity, particularly among younger quizbowlers. If quasi-professional theory continues to dominate, then either the next generation will not play college nationals, or they will create their own organizations with their own nationals. I may be overestimating the chance of schism, but surely the older generation is underestimating it.
You are going to have to offer some indication of how removing people from the pool of players (especially the players that tend to hold the circuits together) could in any way engender growth. Your theory is based on the (questionable at best assumption) that most quiz bowlers who quit in college do so because of difficulty. There seems to be a decent amount of evidence to suggest that is not the case and that the structural reasons Eric outlined are much more important for attrition.

In fact, it is much more likely is that circuits fall apart as the most experienced people running them step back and institutional continuity is destroyed. Furthermore, I have not seen much evidence of the "dominance" of your view that you claim exists. Pointing out that many people will not be voicing their opinion does not constitute evidence that those people would endorse your view. Finally, your class warfare/revolution analogy is growing weary and, quite frankly, I simply do not think you have done an adequate job backing up such bold claims and the "us vs them"/"we will bury you" rhetoric.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

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The Issue: Building Up More Competitive College Teams
Karthik's post really hits at the key underlying issue here, which is what happens to people who don't go to schools with strong, well-established quizbowl programs like Berkeley, Columbia, Chicago, Maryland, Michigan, Penn, Stanford, UVA, Yale, Illinois, Chicago, Minnesota, etc. Yes, a few supremely dedicated people will continue to play, but a national quizbowl circuit shouldn't be only for the most supremely dedicated and it's often very hard to build up and leave a successful new program through just one dedicated player. The problem is that the HS to College "funneling" mechanism (as Eric M. implied earlier) will generally put the most motivated HSers at the same small set of colleges and make the task of those who go to other places in building up a competitive team a lot harder. Not only is it harder to learn and get competitive if you're also trying to simply get a club up and running, but there's less motivation to stick around and put time into studying if you don't have multiple other people interested in putting in the time. There are too many college programs that just don't exist, get stuck in trivia/trash land, have poor leadership that turns off prospective players, etc.

Thinking back to my own undergraduate experience at Georgia, we were never better than a 15-20ish-rank at DI ICT, but we did have great regional rivalries with Florida State (now, sadly, seemingly dead), Alabama, and Florida that made tournaments competitive. It also helped that we had a big team with plenty of interested long-distance drivers, many people interested in helping to lead it and fund it, and a good collection of motivated-ish A-teamers who all covered key parts of the canon. Had there not been this unique confluence of people and opportunities at the right time, I doubt I'd have played more than a year. And even then this proved fragile once the original core group graduated. I do think that challenging nationals can be a good experience for teams who *also* have a strong team base and competitive regional competitions to help build them up to the challenge. Plus teams may have preferences for ICT (we certainly did--the shorter questions helped losing to Chicago A go by quickly and it felt good to nab a power rather than a 10 against a top team) or ACF Nats, which is why having both of them as options is good.

One Possible Solution: Institutional Existence/Continuity for Helping Motivate Players to Improve
This is, as others have said before, one of the reasons grad students can be vitally important to teams in keeping institutional continuity; short of there being actual coaches who are involved like at Northern Michigan, Liberty, and many of the CCs, college teams need guidance and support (I think these examples also speak to the potential that pretty much every college has to build a solid team--if only we could convince more faculty members and institutions to support this!). Sure, you will have some top players emerge on their own (or grad students who move) at various programs around the country, but those programs often won't last and it can be very difficult to build a team around one strong player when you have a bunch of other new players (which can lead to mutual frustration on a team). I don't think it's surprising that the college-only players mentioned earlier in this thread pretty much all came out of established programs where they could tap into expertise and motivation from their fellow team members.

I'd like to see more ways to be able to extend this kind of guidance and motivation to more players, especially graduating HS seniors, in the future beyond assuming that it is incumbent on individual players to commit to "getting good" on their own. Some ideas: meetups at HS Nationals (or virtually) between HSers going to the same college and current players there, more ways for organizations like NAQT and ACF (or perhaps regional orgs?) to "check-in" with prospective teams and players periodically, planning on (optional) social activities like grabbing dinner with other teams at regional events, especially new teams, holding more workshops on team-building and running a team well, etc.

Tournaments and The Distribution of Difficulty and Recognition Opportunities
The other thing is that there are a decent number of accessible-ish tournaments out there now; you can build a respectable schedule of novice-friendly events with Collegiate Novice, ACF Fall, DII SCT, and SUN/MUT. This is, however, incumbent on having enough teams in a region willing and able to host and attend these events to make them a success and not just 4 team triple-round-robins. Other proposals like converting hard HS sets into easier college sets are a good idea to make use of scarce question-writing/editing abilities and things like ACF Winter and more EFT-ish difficulty events are all solid developments too. That said, there's a huge amount of writing and editing work that is done at far "below-cost" by many current and former players who like higher-difficulty events, so it does make sense to keep their interests in mind as well and not assume tournaments will just be written and edited out of nowhere.

The key here then is to do what some previous posts in the thread have mentioned and try to figure out more opportunities for recognition and competitive play short of nationals for more players and teams. Echoing some previous comments, I think seeing Regionals and SCT as actual regional competitions and not just qualifiers for the *real tournament that matters* would be one way to help, though it'll take some experimentation to figure out ways to keep unified regions going consistently and strike a balance on the appropriate difficulty. Other things like beefing up the UG championship recognition at more events (which is easier to do if you have more teams), adding things like newcomer of the year, club admin of the year, mentor of the year, etc. for regions would help as well. Building up regional circuits will also have the salubrious effect of making these regional championships (and other tournaments on the regional circuits) more meaningful and give top HS players making the transition to college more opportunities for meaningful recognition short of the still-difficult-to-break-into national top-10.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

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Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:51 pm Partial progress can be a motivation. Maybe the leaders aren't visible, but the second bracket is. (This is why it is important that nationals distinguish lower bracket teams as well as upper bracket teams.) But this isn't really satisfactory. A goal of second bracket is fun when it's a stepping stone— make second bracket now, top bracket next year, win the year after that. When second or third bracket is the only foreseeable goal, it feels less like partial progress and more like empty progress.

Personally, I was quite discouraged this summer when the relative progress from a year's worth of studying was all but wiped out, because a bunch of old players who had already been in the race for years decided it was time to come back. Most of these players will still be in school long after I graduate (unless I also go to grad school for a long time, which is possible but unlikely— certainly not something I can rely on). Of course, this is ignoring the years of work that these players have put into improvement (and presumably several other factors), so it should not be weighted more than any other anecdote. Regardless, I think people can understand why a lot of younger players are frustrated with the structure of college nationals.
What rubs me the wrong way about this argument, and the arguments of many players who were top-tier generalists in high school, is that it seems to presuppose being a championship contender as the norm, rather than something which only a small fraction of quizbowlers get to experience. Not everyone is a former high school superstar, and the rest of us are still motivated to improve our standing within lower brackets when a championship is out of the question.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by vinteuil »

Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:51 pm Personally, I was quite discouraged this summer when the relative progress from a year's worth of studying was all but wiped out, because a bunch of old players who had already been in the race for years decided it was time to come back. Most of these players will still be in school long after I graduate (unless I also go to grad school for a long time, which is possible but unlikely— certainly not something I can rely on).
When I started playing college quizbowl, it was clear that John Lawrence, Eric Mukherjee, and Chris Ray would be playing for at least 4 years to come. It also wasn't clear that Matt Jackson wouldn't go to law school soon; and, by the end of my first year, Jordan Brownstein was way better than me and improving at an unfathomable place. (I wasn't ranked in the player poll at the end of that year; he was, after one year of exceptionally hard work, 13th.) To put it another way, I assumed that I would probably never be ranked within the top 3 college players, even in grad school.

The framing of this thread seems to entail the follow-up "So why didn't I quit?" But I hope that question sounds ridiculous. The vast, vast majority of quizbowlers just really like this game, their teammates, their local circuit, without any particular desire to improve. It's a great game! Why should we, on the forums, ever need to ask why people like to play it?

In the context of your post, Justin(e), the better follow-up is "So why did you work so hard to improve?" But your metaphor of a race should also make this question sound ridiculous. What percentage of people in a given 5K or marathon are motivated purely by the goal of finishing first? Don't people like running? Doesn't it make them feel good, improve their health, give them structure and goals, bring them closer to a community? Doesn't the competitive format provide external motivation and benchmarks to push yourself to the utmost during the race and keep improving after it?

I worked hard to get better at quizbowl because quizbowl is about learning a whole bunch of things, and I like learning a whole bunch of things. That's the attitude that college quizbowl, as currently constituted, is built to foster and celebrate. Now, some people have already learned a lot of things! That was a source of motivation for me: if they can do it, so can I—and I aspire to know the kinds of things that John, Eric, and Chris know. (Present tense.)

By my estimation, neither Will Alston nor I have reached the level of 3rd-year Matt Bollinger or Jordan Brownstein, or 4th-year Matt Jackson. Judging from the trendlines, I wouldn't even expect either of us to be there next year. There is plenty of room for a Jakob Myers-type (how does he fit into your argument?) with the right focus, drive, and attitude to "pass" both of us, and that would be very cool to see. My projects and goals for the next few years have relatively little alignment with rapidly getting better at quizbowl; I would submit that it is extremely possible for any number of undergrads, including you, Justin(e) 法国人, to be better than me at quizbowl by ACF Nationals 2022. But not with this attitude.
Last edited by vinteuil on Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Carlos Be »

1.82 wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 6:20 pm If I may paraphrase an argument originally made by someone else, it's worth noting that these arguments by and large seem to come from people whose primary engagement with the quizbowl community is by being active on quizbowl Discord. Perhaps these people represent a great silent majority that has never previously felt empowered to speak out. This is, however, belied by the simple fact that field sizes don't actually reflect any of their arguments. What is more likely is that these people are formulating their opinions on the basis of what other people on quizbowl Discord have been saying to them.

When one logs onto quizbowl Discord, one immediately notices that a large proportion of volume posters are either currently in high school or else what traditionally have been referred to as "anti-quizbowl quizbowlers". This is because most members of the college quizbowl community have quite reasonably decided that the Discord discourse is inane and not worth engaging with; unfortunately, this means that there is nobody to rebut anti-quizbowl ideology. Consequently, the anti-quizbowl group, for reasons known only to its members, is responsible for spreading this ideology that quizbowl is pointless and anything harder than high school national difficulty is not worth trying, and high school students, lacking the knowledge to object, imbibe that poisonous ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps current high school students with bold ideas about what college quizbowl is like should consider why people actually in college quizbowl have not yet implemented those revolutionary ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
This post is disgusting and barbarous. You're dismissing the opinions and feelings of many high schoolers and undergraduates and attributing them to a preposterous conspiracy. Honestly, what the fuck????

Let's think. There are loads and loads and loads of different quizbowl Discords. There are regional discords, there are discords for writing sets, there is a national high school qb discord. There are loads and loads and loads of people in these discords. Many know each other personally, many do not know each other at all. As these are quizbowl discords, these people are, on average, pretty smart. They're not going to accept an "anti-quizbowl" ideology because some supposed (read: non-existent) conspiracy has been spreading one around.

So, I ask myself, what motivation could Naveed have for believe these absurdities? Is his brain full of worms? Probably, but I think the issue runs deeper than that. I think that he knows, deep down, that the origin of the "anti-quizbowl" rhetoric is a response to his own toxicity, but he cannot bear the guilt, so he blames an invisible villain.


Separately, I have been trying to tone down my rhetoric since my first post in the thread. I underestimated the strength of my position and thought that I needed to make a stronger statement. In my past several posts, I have specifically tried to emphasize the validity of opposing arguments:
me, in ahan wrote: I want to add one last thing. The next few months are going to be tumultuous, with the recession and the plague. I don't think any of us, young or old, want to add quiz bowl strife to that list. As such, I will clarify something: despite implicit and explicit statements to the contrary, I don't want to remove graduate students from the game. The "anti-old" rhetoric that has been surfacing is, I believe, a reaction to a general feeling among the younger generation of quiz bowlers that we are not welcome. (I think this is due to, among other causes, punishing difficulty, toxic memes, and opaque membership rules for quiz bowl organizations.) Whatever the causes, making older qbers feel unwelcome cannot be a solution. I hope that we, as a community, can resolve the issues raised in this thread in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.
(Naveed's response to this one was to compare me to Catiline, which is toxic at best and dangerous at worst.)
Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:51 pm On the other hand, this vision has a major flaw— it leaves out grad students who put a lot of effort and dedication into the game. I don't believe that this vision should dominate, for many of the reasons outlined in this thread.
Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 7:51 pm Of course, this is ignoring the years of work that these players have put into improvement (and presumably several other factors), so it should not be weighted more than any other anecdote.
The class warfare rhetoric that has been alluded to a few times I think is an uncharitable reading of what I have written. I am far from the only person to recognize that there is a divide between older and younger qbers. This divide is messy, and many people fit on both sides (or neither), but it exists. You can take this thread itself as evidence. When I point out this divide, my ultimate goal is to close it. I don't want to "bury you" or anyone else. However, few older members of quiz bowl have acknowledged that the issues raised in this thread are legitimate. This thread has been repeatedly mocked and parodied. I think that these mockeries are irresponsible and can only serve to make the divide larger.

In the spirit of unity, I will conclude by praising a non-exhaustive list older players who I respect:

First, Itamar provided invaluable feedback when playtesting NASAT 2019, especially for visual arts. The set easily could have been a repeat of 2018 without his help.

Second, Will Alston gave harsh but necessary feedback on RULFO which greatly improved my later writing.

Third, Natan was great fun to play against in NorCal last year. He is also a genius.

Finally, Matt Bollinger showed a rare form of respect some months ago when he reached out to me to hear my perspective on various qb things.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by vinteuil »

Carlos Be wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:27 pm However, few older members of quiz bowl have acknowledged that the issues raised in this thread are legitimate.
You are calling for a "compromise" that entails accepting the core premises of your own position.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by A Dim-Witted Saboteur »

vinteuil wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:21 pm By my estimation, neither Will Alston nor I have reached the level of 3rd-year Matt Bollinger or Jordan Brownstein, or 4th-year Matt Jackson. Judging from the trendlines, I wouldn't even expect either of us to be there next year. There is plenty of room for a Jakob Myers-type (how does he fit into your argument?) with the right focus, drive, and attitude to "pass" both of us, and that would be very cool to see. My projects and goals for the next few years have relatively little alignment with rapidly getting better at quizbowl; I would submit that it is extremely possible for any number of undergrads, including you, Justin(e) 法国人, to be better than me at quizbowl by ACF Nationals 2022. But not with this attitude.
I'll confine my opining on this argument here to saying that I believe grad students are enrolled in colleges, so they should be able to play college tournaments, including each nationals. I was kind of irritated at having to compete with them for maybe a semester or two, then I grew up and got over myself in that regard.

Separately, Matt Bollinger has posted about this elsewhere and I can confirm it: it's very difficult to rise that far that fast without absolutely wrecking your mental health and a host of other things about your life. I don't think it's right that quiz bowl should fetishize the Stakhanovite undergrad as much as is happening in this thread given the consequences that the required single- mindedness so frequently entails.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Illinois Admin »

As long as we are using running analogies, for college club track and XC, grad students (who are in their athletic prime compared to undergrads) are fully allowed to play. Imagine being a CS major who is involved club XC who demands that grad students be excluded or have their eligibility reduced because they, as a CS major, are unlikely to ever go to grad school and thus will not be able to run in their physical prime, unlike a humanities major who is much more likely to continue being eligible till their mid 20s. They would not be taken seriously because no one is entitled to ask for their competitors to be removed or have reduced eligibility to improve the ability for a different group of players to place better.

The fact is, that the vast majority of quiz bowler do not even qualify for ACF Nats or ICT and yet continue to play. People enjoy playing the game and setting personal and team goals for improvement, as well as having fun, and forming a community. Not everyone feels that they have to be competing for a nats title to enjoy this game.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Victor Prieto »

A Dim-Witted Saboteur wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 10:07 pm Separately, Matt Bollinger has posted about this elsewhere and I can confirm it: it's very difficult to rise that far that fast without absolutely wrecking your mental health and a host of other things about your life. I don't think it's right that quiz bowl should fetishize the Stakhanovite undergrad as much as is happening in this thread given the consequences that the required single- mindedness so frequently entails.
I strongly agree with this statement. Personally speaking, this is kind of the reason why I really didn't feel motivated to continue improving at a certain point, because the amount of time and effort required to increase your scoring increases exponentially at the higher levels (diminishing returns). That's not due to competition, that's because of the difficulty of the questions. When I realized that it would require an unhealthy amount of time to measurably improve my performance on nationals-difficulty questions, I just stopped, because it wasn't worth it. I'm not making any pronouncements on courses of action here, I'm just explaining how I feel as a former player on a team outside the top 10.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by eygotem »

1.82 wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 6:20 pm If I may paraphrase an argument originally made by someone else, it's worth noting that these arguments by and large seem to come from people whose primary engagement with the quizbowl community is by being active on quizbowl Discord. Perhaps these people represent a great silent majority that has never previously felt empowered to speak out. This is, however, belied by the simple fact that field sizes don't actually reflect any of their arguments. What is more likely is that these people are formulating their opinions on the basis of what other people on quizbowl Discord have been saying to them.

When one logs onto quizbowl Discord, one immediately notices that a large proportion of volume posters are either currently in high school or else what traditionally have been referred to as "anti-quizbowl quizbowlers". This is because most members of the college quizbowl community have quite reasonably decided that the Discord discourse is inane and not worth engaging with; unfortunately, this means that there is nobody to rebut anti-quizbowl ideology. Consequently, the anti-quizbowl group, for reasons known only to its members, is responsible for spreading this ideology that quizbowl is pointless and anything harder than high school national difficulty is not worth trying, and high school students, lacking the knowledge to object, imbibe that poisonous ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps current high school students with bold ideas about what college quizbowl is like should consider why people actually in college quizbowl have not yet implemented those revolutionary ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
One could easily make the same argument about this forum - that many high school students have quite reasonably decided that forum discourse is inane and not worth engaging with, and this means that there is nobody to rebut "git gud" ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps people in college quizbowl who defend the difficulty status quo should consider why current high school students actually have these "revolutionary" ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.

(To be fair, I don't support barring grad students from playing and would still play college nationals even at its current difficulty; I just don't see why this discussion has involve belittling the legitimacy of people's opinions with ignorant consipiracy-making.)
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Illinois Admin »

eygotem wrote: Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:26 pm
1.82 wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 6:20 pm If I may paraphrase an argument originally made by someone else, it's worth noting that these arguments by and large seem to come from people whose primary engagement with the quizbowl community is by being active on quizbowl Discord. Perhaps these people represent a great silent majority that has never previously felt empowered to speak out. This is, however, belied by the simple fact that field sizes don't actually reflect any of their arguments. What is more likely is that these people are formulating their opinions on the basis of what other people on quizbowl Discord have been saying to them.

When one logs onto quizbowl Discord, one immediately notices that a large proportion of volume posters are either currently in high school or else what traditionally have been referred to as "anti-quizbowl quizbowlers". This is because most members of the college quizbowl community have quite reasonably decided that the Discord discourse is inane and not worth engaging with; unfortunately, this means that there is nobody to rebut anti-quizbowl ideology. Consequently, the anti-quizbowl group, for reasons known only to its members, is responsible for spreading this ideology that quizbowl is pointless and anything harder than high school national difficulty is not worth trying, and high school students, lacking the knowledge to object, imbibe that poisonous ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps current high school students with bold ideas about what college quizbowl is like should consider why people actually in college quizbowl have not yet implemented those revolutionary ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
One could easily make the same argument about this forum - that many high school students have quite reasonably decided that forum discourse is inane and not worth engaging with, and this means that there is nobody to rebut "git gud" ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps people in college quizbowl who defend the difficulty status quo should consider why current high school students actually have these "revolutionary" ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
Is anyone actually arguing that the difficulty should be kept the same? It seems that at least the strong majority of people in this thread and elsewhere want nats to be easier for a variety of different reasons.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Mike Bentley »

One observation: In general (but not always), the people who most appreciate lower difficulty tournaments are also a little less committed to quizbowl as a whole. I'm a little skeptical that there's a big number of people committed enough to play an entire Saturday's worth of quizbowl many times per semester who aren't committed enough to sometimes play harder tournaments. In other words, if quizbowl moves from having 2 intro tournaments per semester to 5, I'm not sure you're going to get all too many players already playing 1 or 2 tournaments suddenly playing 5. It's just too big of a time commitment for most people.

It is also interesting to consider how your environment shapes perceptions of difficulty, how good a normal team should be, etc. In the Pacific Northwest, there are only a few college teams and these teams are rarely in the Top 40 nationally. Even still, I've observed newer players feeling crushed or "I'll never get that good" when playing some of the best teams in the region (i.e. someone like Daniel Hothem playing solo). Would playing in a region with much larger fields and much better teams change how these people perceive college quizbowl? Probably.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by t-bar »

I think it's fair to say that at any given time, there are perhaps two dozen college-graduate quizbowlers whose educational choices have a large impact on the top bracket of ICT and ACF Nationals. Some of these quizbowlers are currently enrolled in graduate or professional schools and playing on elite teams. Some are leading second-tier teams, but could launch into the elite with one or two strong teammates. Some are enrolled in school but not playing. And some are not in school but could enroll in the near future. From year to year, elite graduate quizbowlers move between these categories—in particular, a decent fraction of them enrolled at new schools in September 2019. As a result, both the representation of undergrads among the elite and the expected ceiling of the best all-undergrad teams fluctuates between eras for reasons outside of the control of any undergrad. I think it's fair to acknowledge that this may be frustrating for undergrads who are singularly motivated by the prospect of winning in the near-to-medium term.

However, I don't believe that any of the preceding has much effect on the modal reasons why most undergrads participate in or enjoy quizbowl. Of the two thousand-ish people who play at least one college quizbowl tournament each year, I'd guess that no more than a hundred (and I think that's generous) are motivated by the prospect of contending for a championship at any point in their career. Yet the rest seem to get something out of the experience. I can only speak from my personal experience, and I'm obviously well removed from being an undergrad. But I've never found the prospect of winning to be an effective motivator for either participating in or improving at quizbowl. Instead, I enjoy learning new things, and I especially enjoy the thrill of being rewarded for learning things. Other people are less motivated to improve at quizbowl for its own sake, but still get a kick out of showing off what they've learned from their classes or personal interests. I think Jacob expressed how I feel really effectively here:
vinteuil wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:21 pmWhat percentage of people in a given 5K or marathon are motivated purely by the goal of finishing first? Don't people like running? Doesn't it make them feel good, improve their health, give them structure and goals, bring them closer to a community? Doesn't the competitive format provide external motivation and benchmarks to push yourself to the utmost during the race and keep improving after it?

I don't think any of the above invalidates the idea that our hardest tournaments could stand to be less punishing, or that we can do more to make sure that we have an active and vibrant ecosystem of widely-mirrored "●●-difficulty" tournaments. (To the first point, I strongly agree with Alston's claim that softening up middle parts can have a large effect on a tournament's subjective difficulty.) However, we should be clear-headed about which reasons for playing quizbowl we aim to cater to with such changes. I believe that ●●-quizbowl can deliver repeatedly on most reasons to play or care about quizbowl, but it will never win you a title (other than DII ICT). If that's so unpalatable to you that it erases the other benefits of quizbowl, I can't fault your own personal preferences, but please consider whether they may be just that—personal preferences.

Having said all that, I agree with Jakob and Victor that we shouldn't romanticize herculean but unhealthy single-minded efforts at rapid improvement. Quizbowl is way more fun when you don't feel like you have to kill yourself to achieve your goal.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Stinkweed Imp »

eygotem wrote: Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:26 pm One could easily make the same argument about this forum - that many high school students have quite reasonably decided that forum discourse is inane and not worth engaging with, and this means that there is nobody to rebut "git gud" ideology.

I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps people in college quizbowl who defend the difficulty status quo should consider why current high school students actually have these "revolutionary" ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
I think Naveed's point is that "anti-quizbowl" opinions come from a place outside college quizbowl, and therefore are unable to have experienced the reasons why things are the way that they are. Though it may appear so, quizbowl is not spitefully entrenched in its traditions, and many improvements have been made, and continue to be made. I implore anyone who is thinks quizbowl refuses to change, or is getting worse, to read about some tournaments from the early 2010s and the in-hindsight ridiculous things they were able to get away with in questions (both difficulty and quality), logistics, and forums discourse.

I find it telling that most of the people in this thread attacking the current state of college quizbowl are in high school, and most of the people defending it are in college. Obviously there is a good deal of survivorship bias clouding this, but there is a degree to which college quizbowl must be experienced to be understood. It does not provide the same experience as high school quizbowl, and it is not meant to, and no amount of trying to wrangle its difficulty into something easy for everyone will change that. However, the experience that college quizbowl provides has its own virtues: it emphasizes deep study and engagement over rote memorization of every stock clue, it gives people a space for their own pet topics to actually come up, and it is generally (though not exclusively) less competitive. Many people (myself included) prefer college quizbowl because of these characteristics, and any major changes would significantly reduce its appeal.

I wouldn't necessarily say that the discord has poisoned people with anti-quizbowl ideology, but I definitely think that the discourse around quizbowl has taken on a new, much more fatalistic, tone recently that has tricked people into not liking college quizbowl before they have even tried it. When high school players condemn quizbowl as being too difficult to play and impossible to improve at, they have poisoned only their own minds, and have denied themselves the experiences that college quizbowl can provide without ever giving themselves a chance to enjoy it
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

Eric Yin wrote:I don't actually have any solution, but perhaps people in college quizbowl who defend the difficulty status quo should consider why current high school students actually have these "revolutionary" ideas. Perhaps everyone would be better served by logging off.
To put it mildly, this is an uncharitable dismissal of the considerable efforts that have been devoted by very experienced people in this very thread to dissecting and understanding people's perspectives here. Furthermore, I'd suggest that myself (and other partisans of the "pro-grad student crowd," for lack of a better term) have put forth much better understanding of who the key stakeholders / "user profiles" are in the college quizbowl ecosystem, beyond the nebulously defined category "frustrated high schoolers" who overwhelmingly seem to fit into a profile of "players on top national teams." The current ecosystem is not perfect for everybody's interest at all, but it strikes a balance between a very large number of different needs. Meanwhile, the "frustrated high schoolers" seem to, unfortunately, have fallen into the trap of revolutionary thinkers who fail to articulate an effective vision of what their alternative is and how it would balance these varying interests - instead the approach appears to be "ignore these interests and figure out what we'd like the most." If you can effect a full seizure of power within quizbowl then that might work, but I am inclined to suspect that this is not really what anybody is seeking to achieve here.

In the absence of such a vision or absolute power, it is thus useful to put forth ways in which the current college quizbowl ecosystem could potentially help high school players adapt better, and in particular the suggestion of ways of more effectively controlling tournament difficulty and additional beneficial aspects of the high school ecosystem that could be feasibly incorporated. There has already been a productive proposal to turn Regionals into Regional Championships - a small branding change that nonetheless can have a very big impact on perceptions. Another question to turn to might be why Regionals has increased in difficulty, and why Nats had a real difficulty spike last year, and if there is potentially a disconnect between what the players are generally asking for (somewhat easier Nats-level events) and what is being put out.

Can we find more of these?

EDIT: As an addendum, I would like to note that there have been genuine attempts to analyze problems with the college game, but the "vision" for what the future looks like - given the constraints in place with college admissions, etc. - still seems lacking in terms of actually considering all of the parties involved, beyond simply articulating the pain points of one particular consumer profile.
Last edited by naan/steak-holding toll on Mon Mar 23, 2020 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Cheynem »

I'd be very interested in seeing what the introduction of ACF Winter (sorry, re-introduction) will do for the college game.

I'd also note that this upcoming college season, assuming, er, there is one, will likely be kind of messy and chaotic since at the very least there's going to be disruptions.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by theMoMA »

As we careen toward a fourth page of this riveting discussion, and yet more sports analogies are thrown into the mix, I would like to throw out a few words of caution when drawing such comparisons. I think some sports invocations are meant to bolster a case for tightened quizbowl eligibility, because in college sports, the "normal" amount of eligibility is roughly four years.

In college quizbowl, however, the "normal" amount of eligibility is, and has always been, "as long as the person is in school." This is not some sort of weird innovation; it's my understanding that, for as long as college quizbowl has existed independent of College Bowl, eligibility has been tied to being in school and not limited to a period of years or by undergraduate status. In fact, eligibility has, in the past, been much looser, allowing people with tenuous claims of being "in grad school" to continue playing with little scrutiny, a practice that is no longer allowed.

Consequently, no one has any real idea what limiting grad students' eligibility would do to the college quizbowl community, because the community has never existed in a world where grad students weren't eligible.

Regarding eligibility, college quizbowl is also not completely abnormal; others have pointed out that chess, for instance, has eligibility rules much more similar to college quizbowl's than college athletics'. It wouldn't surprise me if activities like chess, where having college freshmen compete with people in their mid-20s does not present issues of physical safety like it does in many sports, often see grad students compete with undergrads. Much like quizbowl, I suspect that such activities have different awards and divisions meant to allow for stratified competition and recognition despite varying ages and skill levels.

Of course, just because something's always been done one way doesn't mean it can't be done another. But anyone making the argument for limiting grad student eligibility will have to concede that it would represent a major departure from college quizbowl's norm, which has existed since the game began, and which has shaped all of its major institutions.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Mike Bentley »

theMoMA wrote: Mon Mar 23, 2020 3:04 pmRegarding eligibility, college quizbowl is also not completely abnormal; others have pointed out that chess, for instance, has eligibility rules much more similar to college quizbowl's than college athletics'. It wouldn't surprise me if activities like chess, where having college freshmen compete with people in their mid-20s does not present issues of physical safety like it does in many sports, often see grad students compete with undergrads. Much like quizbowl, I suspect that such activities have different awards and divisions meant to allow for stratified competition and recognition despite varying ages and skill levels.
My impression is that chess has a much richer open environment than quizbowl does. You can more or less play as many chess tournaments as you have the time/money for. Quizbowl is less like this, although the rise of Discord tournaments has changed the equation a bit. I suspect there would be a bit less enthusiasm for forever eligibility if the cost of making grad students ineligible for college tournaments was lower. As it is today, you go from being able to play maybe 10 in-person tournaments in the school year to 2 (although again now you have more options with Discord, but this still don't cover the two most desirable to play tournaments for elite grad students, ICT and ACF Nationals).

I've long been an advocate of a more rigorous open circuit for quizbowl. I don't think quizbowl has fully shaken the perception that there's something unseemly about continuing to want to play tournaments and get better at the game once you've graduated from college.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

A Dim-Witted Saboteur wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 10:07 pm
vinteuil wrote: Sun Mar 22, 2020 9:21 pm By my estimation, neither Will Alston nor I have reached the level of 3rd-year Matt Bollinger or Jordan Brownstein, or 4th-year Matt Jackson. Judging from the trendlines, I wouldn't even expect either of us to be there next year. There is plenty of room for a Jakob Myers-type (how does he fit into your argument?) with the right focus, drive, and attitude to "pass" both of us, and that would be very cool to see. My projects and goals for the next few years have relatively little alignment with rapidly getting better at quizbowl; I would submit that it is extremely possible for any number of undergrads, including you, Justin(e) 法国人, to be better than me at quizbowl by ACF Nationals 2022. But not with this attitude.
I'll confine my opining on this argument here to saying that I believe grad students are enrolled in colleges, so they should be able to play college tournaments, including each nationals. I was kind of irritated at having to compete with them for maybe a semester or two, then I grew up and got over myself in that regard.

Separately, Matt Bollinger has posted about this elsewhere and I can confirm it: it's very difficult to rise that far that fast without absolutely wrecking your mental health and a host of other things about your life. I don't think it's right that quiz bowl should fetishize the Stakhanovite undergrad as much as is happening in this thread given the consequences that the required single- mindedness so frequently entails.
I guess I feel I should add here, just speaking personally: improving rapidly to the point where you're the #1 in quizbowl is stressful, but becoming a top 10 player in quizbowl, over the course of your undergraduate career, is achievable with less effort than you might think.

On the subject of Nationals: I definitely remember how hard Nats felt when I was a college freshman, so I can understand the idea that it feels too hard. I do still think that, as others have already argued, a lot of the rhetoric around Nats difficulty that's been coming up lately has been overblown. If you're an underclassman or high school player who sincerely shares these concerns about Nationals difficulty, I guess I'd ask you to take a look at this packet I chose randomly from the editors' rounds of ACF Nationals 2019. By my count, 14 out of the 20 answers here, with the giveaways as clues, could be easy or middle parts at NSC or HSNCT. Four of the other six, I think, would be typical third parts. Nizam al-Mulk and Three Musicians are certainly tough, but they're the only two tossup answers in the packet that I think would be too hard to be asked in a high school nationals bonus. We've made a concerted effort over the past ten years to get to precisely this point, where, even if you think the clue gradient is steeper than it should be, the large majority of the answers are a pretty moderate step up from the "two-dot" difficulty canon. I would suggest then that if you're a good high school player, you're not far from the point where you can compete on Nationals questions.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by kitakule »

I've got some scattered thoughts that I thought were worth posting here. Feel free to yell at me if you don't agree:


As others have said on here, and like I said on the discord, survivorship bias heavily affects discussions like these. There seems to be a bit of "See?? We all agree!!!" attitude in the pro-grad student faction, and I think it's a bit unwarranted given that I suspect most people who do agree with Dylan are afraid to post and get clubbed by the game's luminaries. But I'll also add that I agree with Harris' (? I think it was you) statement that most of the people who'd be scared away by the grad students would have some other reason(s) to leave regardless.


Now, as for my personal opinions on the two debates in this thread. I'll start with Nats difficulty: College quizbowl is hard. Honestly, that's part of what makes it so fun. I think it's better than high school quizbowl at rewarding deep academic studying and curiosity. I've always presented myself as more of a literature and Bible player, but I'll be honest - I was never happier answering questions than when I finally started getting points off the courses in my biology major. Carding and packet studying is a killer method at the high school level, and is still very effective at the college level - but in a sense, getting points from those methods is more expected. It's a more mechanical approach to the game. Sure, it can be fun to flashcard your way to glory. But in my humble opinion, there's nothing better than snagging early buzzes on the things you've read/studied that you never expected to come up in your wildest dreams. As someone who is fiercely competitive and loves to win, I understand the frustration that some HS players feel when they look at the college game and realise how much work is needed to be exceptional, or even competent. I do. But as long as you don't wreck your mental health in the process, you'll find that your improvement at the college game will be much more rewarding.


To be honest, the major problem with Nationals for me is not so much the difficulty, but the length of the tournament. I'm not sure I like NAQT questions much more than ACF's, but ICT was always much more fun for me because it finished up within a reasonable time frame. I'm aware that other two day nationals (HSNCT, NSC) exist. But college is a different ball-game. The question difficulty and tournament length are a bit of a one-two punch combo; the difficulty makes the length feel more oppressive and vice-versa. If there's no way to make the tournament shorter, difficulty needs to go down.


Grad students:

I'll be forthright and say that I take a more middle ground position on this issue. Grad students are extremely helpful (and in some cases, vital) when it comes to the growth and stability of quizbowl programs. I've personally seen this in action - I can't imagine how my year as YSAC president would have gone had I not had Jacob Reed and Stephen Eltinge there for advice on how to run things. And playing with them at a high level was even more comforting - it was nice to have super-experienced teammates who knew the terrain (it'd be interesting to see a study on players' cortisol levels playing with vs. without a grad student, haha). While that may seem small, their presence greatly calmed my nerves and (even though I didn't score many points) I played much better than I would've had Adam and I been the most senior players on the team.

That said, not every school can benefit from that. Liberal arts colleges can't rely on 10-year veteran John Longevity or 3-degree-holder Sam Stickaround. I can't help but think that's a little unfair. And to be honest, it's a little weird that I can play people who've been in the game since I was in elementary school. I'm currently taking two gap years, and if I come back to quizbowl during med school, some of those people will still be playing! I'm not a huge fan of people playing collegiate quizbowl for 8+ years. However, I don't think the solution is to immediately ban all grad students to level the playing field. In the past, my idea was to limit eligibility to those who are currently taking classes - but then I realised that there'd be no way to apply this effectively and fairly across the various graduate programs. I can't really think of any good solutions to this issue. I guess in an ideal world there'd be an almost entirely separate graduate circuit - in which particularly hungry and competitive undergrads could participate - but quizbowl isn't big enough to implement this, and I'm not sure it'll ever be.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook »

It's interesting that a lot of the issues people have pointed to here are ones that we also have in the UK, and that solutions like trying to provide more prestige to regional championships are things we in the UK have seriously pointed to. This is very much still the case in an ecosystem without for the most past HS QB players. As a region of the bigger QB world ourselves, people certainly care about winning the British Student Quiz Championships and the field sizes show that the name can have a lot of power in terms of attracting people, even if they don't have any chance of competing for the title, so this is a tool that hopefully people use. This has its downsides but successful promotion can be a powerful tool.

One thing that hasn't really been drawn upon is that the experience of difficulty differs quite a lot by subject. Sciences draw on what you've learnt as a freshman as the basis for later courses a lot more than say history or literature. Having read Chaucer or studied the English Civil War may help enhance your study of the Congress Party or Toni Morrison on an academic level, but there isn't the same relationship in QB terms. The trajectories of depth and breadth in these terms are quite different and probably have a big impact on how you can play a really hard tournament depending on your subject areas as a first year collegiate player.

I think the difficulty at an absolute level can turn people off for sure, but its partly also about contextualising that difficulty in terms of outcomes. If you are playing Yale at Nats and you lose not having heard of a lot of the answerlines of 0-ing bonuses it might not being annoying because you've never heard of yangbangs or Grazia Deledda but because it seems implausible that you could have beaten them playing optimally or by expanding your knowledge. If the core difficulty of your tournament is really hard, I'm sure many teams feel as though they lack even the foundations to win or compete. I think making the gameplay exciting for people, either by adding more subsidiary titles or setting clearer goals, helps to add adrenaline to these situations which in turn helps people to get hooked. If people are really engaged in the outcome then I think it can help to make sitting through a too hard tu a bit more manageable- if it feels like you are only there for the questions then its harder to be forgiving. For good reasons, quiz-bowl discourse has made the game less unpredictable or random over time in terms of the questions; I think if you take that stability as a given, the onus lies on all of us to add a little of the March Madness spirit to the rest of these national tournaments in the way we frame them, sell them and promote them. You can have a great time as a UMBC at ACF Nats and the emphasis lies on people in charge and the community to help make that the case. Having genuinely interesting facts certainly goes a long way in my experience but the human aspects are even more important and much harder for QB people to fix.

Finally, one of the sort of philosophical characteristics of quizbowl discourse is that things change and are moulded by past experience. Its right in this vein both that people who have stuck around for a long time explain how the status quo has been shaped by the wind and waves of the past and that new players look at the battered cliffs of quizbowl and ask why they look the way they do. It's clearly better for everyone if people can treat these naturally differing perspectives as natural forces rather than seeing healthy differences as a revolt of the zoomers or bizarre gerontocracy. Let's be a little kinder folks.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Illinois Admin »

A few notes on the "weirdness" that people have referenced. I want to point out that this is a fairly ageist concept, as it seems to imply one of:
  • It is "weird" for someone to pursue a competitive activity that they enjoy beyond the age of ~23. I don't think that should be the case and I cannot understand why it would be.
  • It is "weird" for people to be undergraduate students when they are not the more common age group of 18-23. I want to point out that there are a wide range of people across all age brackets pursuing undergraduate degrees and to imply it would be weird for them to play quiz bowl is unhelpful.
  • It is "weird" to interact with people more than ~4 years older than you. This is college and we are all adults. Students will interact with people from all age groups, all the time. In my research group, our ages ranged from 19 to 26 among the students and over 30 including the professors. In the classes I am in right now, our ages range from 22 to 65. Throughout undergrad I was in classes with people in their 40s and 50s. When my wife graduated at UIUC, she did so with a 60 year old woman who was also a grandmother.
Is it "weird" that these things take place? I want to strongly say no! There is a wide variety of people who pursue college degrees and implying that they are "weird" for it due to their age is simply untrue, unhelpful, and quite possibly stigmatizing to people who do not fit the common view of a prototypical college student.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Cheynem »

The only solution I could see potentially having merit is something like "you are allowed to play so many years of ACF Nationals or ICT" (so if you didn't start playing until your senior year as an UG, you would have so many years as a grad student). I can see some benefits of this, but also some negatives--you'd hate to see people making awkward decisions in order to preserve maximal eligibility (i.e., I know I'm going to grad school and want to play Nats all through that, so I won't play this year as an UG).

I generally agree with whoever posted way back upthread that grad students may technically get to play more, but it is rare that someone truly "peaks" in grad school the longer they go on. By the end of their graduate school run, many grad students are very busy with other things on their plate and may not play as much (my final two years as a student I think I played SCT once, ICT twice, and College History Bowl). So I'm not sure if giving someone a 6-year or 7-year window to play Nats/ICT would change things THAT much.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by ahuff »

I think we should be careful before assuming how newer college players feel about graduate students playing without directly asking them. At the risk of appearing myopic, I will use myself as an example. I was a nationally competitive player in high school, who has had an undistinguished college career as an okay history player. My freshman year of college, I had a negative enough experience playing quizbowl that I quit for a while and really didn't think I was ever going to play another tournament.

It would have been easy looking at me then to conclude that what made me want to quit was that the games were getting harder, my competition getting better, and I was upset that I couldn't compete anymore. In this thread, people who dislike the presence of graduate students seem to be going so far as to take this for granted. In reality it was the opposite for me. Playing easier tournaments and easier questions stressed me out and made me feel pressure to win, and getting rewarded for packet study made me feel like what I was doing was pointless. In contrast playing against harder opponents and on harder questions made my buzzes feel like they meant something, and made me legitimately excited even when I lost to top teams by 400. My favorite buzz I ever got came in a game where Chicago A beat me by 400 because it felt great beating such a good music team to a jazz question off a record in my collection. Similarly, I got a lot outside of the game from players older and better than me. Listening to John Lawrence and Alston Boyd talk about philosophy and music made me read a lot of books and listen to a lot of pieces I wouldn't have otherwise. Even this year after I had fully returned to quizbowl, having a teammate in John Marvin I liked talking to so much made me come to a couple tournaments I otherwise might have skipped.

Are my experiences universal? Of course not. But I also highly doubt I'm a particularly anomalous outlier. People quit the game for all kinds of reasons, and I would be hesitant to make any sort of sweeping change to the game unless we had overwhelming proof that the existence of graduate students was a major factor in pushing people away, especially since many graduate student players currently have such an important roll in basic quizbowl functions like question writing and tournament direction.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by kingblanke »

I’m a freshman out of the high school circuit, and I have no plans to win any nationals this year or any year in the future. I still play because I enjoy the company of my teammates, I like meeting people from other schools, and of course, the intellectual aspect of the game, the thrill of buzzing in on something that I’ve learned naturally, learning about important people I wouldn’t have known.

That’s good. But where I think Justin’s coming at, and maybe high schoolers (though I don’t use the Discord much) is that: well, these high schoolers are nationally competitive; and coming into college, they’re picturing the idea of contending for a championship only to realize that it’s extremely, extremely hard to do so. Sure—they think, initially, that in 4 years of studying, they’ll eventually be able to contend for a championship. But then there are the graduate students who just seem like this insurmountable barrier. If you picture this from a highly-driven, championship-aspiring undergraduate’s perspective, it’s easy to see why this is demoralizing.

So what can we do about this? Like many have said already, I think it’s really important to emphasize quiz bowl at the college level, with its richness and depth of topics, has very little to do with winning a national championship and much more to do with just the experience of learning new things and having fun with other people. Still, it feels good to have a goal to work towards, something like that culmination to the season that Dylan mentioned. The current state of college nationals is not particularly conducive towards that.
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Re: College Nationals and Its Problems

Post by Subotai the Valiant, Final Dog of War »

I've been thinking about this post for a while, so it's a bit long. Sorry in advance.

I think I have a relatively unique perspective on this matter as someone who, before going to college, was forced for multiple years, as a pretty good player within my level of school, to compete consistently with teams a school level above my own. I have already experienced the equivalent of being a college freshman being supposedly daunted by grad students.

At Hunter back in the mid 2010s (so long ago...), pretty much all MSers had to play HS all the time, in practice and in tournament; Hunter is a 7-12 school, so we tended to have a good number of MSers. In my 7th grade year, we played only one MS tournament and the team went to MSNCT (I did not attend). In 8th grade, we played none. In my first year of MS quiz bowl, I had to play HS tournaments and practice against very good HS players if I wanted to play anything at all and proceeded to get destroyed by the best players in one of the best regions in the country, some of whom, just like me, are still playing today (Jack Mehr and David Song come to mind). I wasn't in touch with the MS quizbowl circuit at all, but I think my stats in 2013-2015 on what I did play demonstrate that I certainly would have been a very good MS player had I been playing. In both of these MS seasons, I played PACE, which, for a MSer, is at least comparable to the difficulty of ACF Nats for an incoming college freshman.

So, I was basically in the same spot as most of these current HS seniors/college freshmen making these posts, only one school earlier. I don't think that the elimination of grad students is a desirable or realistic event, so something perhaps more productive at the moment would be to address the concerns of the concerned and see what can be done, whether mentally or physically, to alleviate them. I will now speak from what experience I have had both as a MSer and now as a college freshman; these thoughts of course may not apply to all others.

When you do badly, take solace in the fact that your opponents are indeed older than you. When they seem so much better than you, remind yourself that you have plenty of time to catch up, and that even if you "don't improve at all," you'll end up in their place over time as people older than you leave the college game, however long that might take (this mindset perhaps applies most to those elite HS players). And find pleasure in what you do get! Get your frauds in. Remember that one buzz against a team much better than you in a game you lose terribly, where you get your niche topic (I to this day remember proudly first-lining lit off of a book I read against Jack in 7th grade, for example). Cherish the intensity of that one close game where you defy all odds and upset a team on average three or four years older than you. Feel all the adrenaline of a playoff run in the run to attempt making playoffs. Enjoy the cool clues you that you and the writers both love. And so much more!

Just play the game for the game, play the game for those little thrills, those little triumphs, those little team bonding moments. If you're only gunning to win nats, consider that, in all likelihood, you're not winning nats in HS either. This is a bit blunt, but only one or two teams win nats every year. Whoever is reading this, by the laws of probability, that team is almost definitely not yours!

So what do people actually seek? To be competitive on their own terms, which for many top HS teams is "being championship competitive." Still, most fail at this too; only a few teams every year are seriously considered for winning. Yet most still play. What do they seek? The chain keeps going down. Do some soul-searching: How much of the time you have spent was to actually win nats? For how much of your career did you really see that as a possibility? I played my freshman and sophomore years on Hunter B while Hunter was busy winning two HSNCTs, due to distribution overlap. Why did I take the sacrifice and yet keep playing? Because the game is great, and we can still set goals of our own, independent of winning it all. It can often be by not thinking about winning too much that one makes the greatest improvements that lead to winning without self-destruction in the process.

All of this advice applies fully to ACF Nats and college tournaments, perhaps even more so than it did for PACE and HS sets for me; for example, ACF Nats is so deep that the niche questions you get truly are niches, whereas there is still a relatively large component of stock comparatively in HS.

Structurally, you're in a better position than I was! You have tournaments with relatively few older students/top players playing that aren't much harder than HS; I had only IS sets that everyone played. Grad students are low in number at even the toughest tournaments; HS seniors are decidedly not low in number at HS tournaments. Take advantage of the structures you have that help you, and, if you can, help the community uphold those structures (follow the many undergrads and grad students alike who have posted here about that).

As it happens, prior to starting college, I was planning to play D2, try ACF Nats, and decide whether I wanted to keep going based on how much I enjoyed playing hard sets. I've been considering somewhat retiring to spend time on other things. And indeed, I probably will decrease my overall involvement. But the game and the community proved too much to leave behind when I was considering it. We are here because we love the game, If you are here because you like winning and working towards a win, consider whether quiz bowl is, or should be, the best means to that end.

Apologies for the rambling.

EDIT: Not to mention, trial by fire is really good for your improvement. So if you're competitive, even if you don't become a top grad student level player, playing against them will make you a better player than you otherwise might have been. It really helped me.
Daniel, Hunter College High School '19, Yale '23
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