Going to Quizbowl Tournaments: How it Works

The best way to get good at quizbowl or help jumpstart a new quizbowl team is to find some teammates and start attending tournaments. Whether you’re a teacher interested in starting a team, a coach of a current team looking to attend a new quizbowl competition, or just a student hoping to start playing quizbowl, here’s a step-by-step guide to finding tournaments, getting to a tournament, and what to expect at your first quizbowl tournament.

To register for a quizbowl tournament:

Email the Tournament Director. Quizbowl doesn’t have a centralized registration system for most tournaments outside of the national championships, so to register for a tournament you need to get in touch with the tournament director (TD) for each tournament directly. Usually, the email addresses for the tournament directors are given with the tournament announcements that may be emailed to you directly, posted on the regional schedule on GPQB, posted on the HSQB forum under the “Regular Tournament Announcements” section, or searching for tournaments registered on the HSQB database.

Sign up early! Quizbowl tournaments have field caps based on the number of staff and/or rooms available, so it’s usually a good idea to register as soon as you know you can attend. Sometimes the fields fill up 1-2 months before the tournament and the host has to start a waitlist of teams. Make sure you get confirmation from the TD that you’re in the field and registered before you make final travel plans. Good tournaments will often keep a running field of who’s already registered on the tournament announcement, so you can use that as a rough guide of how filled the field is already. It never hurts to ask and there are usually some spots that free up before tournaments.

Provide all needed information. A tournament registration email simply consists of letting the tournament director know that your school wants to attend as well as the following info:

  • How many teams you’re bringing (remember only up to 4 players can play per team at one time, though you can also bring fewer than 4 players on a team as well)
  • How many buzzer sets you’re bringing (this may be 0, but most tournaments give a discount of $5 for each buzzer set you bring, so if you have one you should bring it)
  • How many staffers you’re bringing (this may also be 0 as well; some tournaments may not need extra staffers, others may only want experienced readers and such, so check with the TD and read the tournament announcement)
  • Some tournaments may request that you provide a contact phone number so that the Tournament Director can call you if you’re running late.
  • Some tournaments may also request that you provide the names of your team members, though this is usually not absolutely necessary and doesn’t have to be exactly correct. TDs often ask for this to help facilitate scorekeeping or to verify what players are on what team, which can be useful in the seeding process.

Do not register until you are sure you can attend. While you should feel free to inquire about the details of any tournament, you shouldn’t register for the tournament until you’re sure that you’ll be able to attend. As more than one quizbowl elder has admonished, “Registering is a commitment to attend, not a note that you will probably try to show up unless you hear about something more interesting at any time between now and five minutes before the tournament starts.” Check with all the students you plan on bringing first to the tournament and get confirmation from them as early as possible before you register them and find out they have other commitments.

Keep the number of teams the same even if players drop. You can change the members of your team(s) as circumstances come up, but adding or dropping whole teams after you register is strongly discouraged outside of an emergency since tournaments have to plan for specific numbers of teams in the schedule well in advance. You should email the TD as soon as possible if you absolutely must change the number of teams–remember it’s fine to play with only 3 players on teams.

Paying for a Quizbowl Tournament

–  Calculate the cost. To figure out how much your school owes for a tournament, check the tournament announcement since those should list the costs and discounts. Most tournaments cost $60-80 per team, with discounts for bringing buzzers and/or staffers, traveling long distances, or being a new team to quizbowl. If you’re attending your school’s first-ever pyramidal quizbowl tournament, definitely ask for a discount–most tournaments should be happy to oblige. If you have major financial exigencies that may prevent your school from attending otherwise, you can also ask for some kind of arrangement with the host, though be aware that most hosts will expect at least some payment to help cover the cost of the questions.

Get payment to the host. Payment for tournaments is usually due the morning of the tournament, although occasionally some hosts will accept payment mailed beforehand.  Cash and check seem to be the major methods, though always ask who the check needs to be made out to since it may not be to the school itself. You can and often need to ask for a receipt from the host (hosts should provide receipts) if you’re using funds from a school.

Consider all your funding options. Finding sources of funding to pay for attending tournaments deserves a whole post in itself, but there are a number of options available. Some schools may have student activity funds or specifically designated funds for academic competitions. Sometimes PTAs might be a good source of funding or you could organize an academic booster club. Each school has different regulations that you should make a point to follow. It may be simplest just to ask each competing student to chip in part of the fees–for the price of a movie, you can get a full day’s worth of quizbowl education! Of course, one of the best ways to raise funds for quizbowl is to host a quizbowl tournament and we could certainly use more in Pennsylvania–feel free to ask us for advice on when might be the best time in the already filling schedule.

Getting to a Tournament:

– This can be very simple or could be very complicated, depending on your school’s policies. Sometimes you can just have the coach or an interested parent drive. Sometimes students can even drive themselves. Unfortunately, some schools like to make things complicated, so check with your school’s administration and/or other teachers to figure out the policies that apply to your situation.

– Note that most tournaments will simply require that some adult be responsible for the students from that school–you don’t always have to send the coach; it could be a parent or an alum. Again though, read the tournament announcements and check with your school to see what you need to do.

– If there is an inordinate mass of red tape that prevents you from attending tournaments, you may want to look into sending a non-affiliated team. See this post and check with the tournament director to see if that’s possible.

– If, en route to a tournament, you get lost or stuck in traffic, always let the tournament director know if possible via a phone call so that they can make the proper arrangements and know that you are still planning on coming. More communication is better than less communication here.

At the Tournament: What to Expect and Do 

Find the location of the pre-tournament meeting ASAP. Good hosts will often give you instructions, if not a map, and have signs directing you to the location, but expect to have to do a bit of walking from where you parked. Get there early, if at all possible. At the pre-tournament meeting, you’ll get the schedule for the tournament that indicates what teams you’ll be playing, at least for the first part of the tournament. This is also when you’ll pay for the tournament and drop off your buzzers if you brought them.

Take notes during games. Teams that take notes of what they missed, interesting clues they heard, things that sprang to mind, etc. are teams that are going to improve. Coaches can focus perhaps on the categories that seem to be getting missed while players can write down what they might want to study later. It’s a good idea thus to bring a notebook for each team member.

Expect to be lose some games. It is exceedingly rare for a team making its first tournament appearance to be competitive against the best teams right from the start (though it has happened a few times!). Think about it–even if you assembled a bunch of good athletes, sending them out to play a new sport for the first time against experienced teams would mean they’d probably get trounced. Quizbowl is the same way–while it’s based on factual knowledge, quickly recalling these facts and learning all of the subjects that come up in quizbowl can take work.

Stay for the whole tournament. Most good quizbowl tournaments seed teams in morning round-robin pools and then re-seed them during lunch to have competitive matches against teams with similar records in the morning. Thus, even if you lost all your games in the morning, in the afternoon you’ll play all the other teams who also lost their morning games so the matches should be competitive. The only time to even consider leaving a tournament before it ends is if the host is incompetent and the tournament is running several hours late. Otherwise, stick around the whole time since it’s a logistical nightmare for the host if teams leave early and unfair to other teams who lose out on a chance to play competitive games.

Talk to other teams and staffers. There will be downtime between games and during the pre-tournament meeting, so make use of it to talk to the other people! Ask someone (after the match ends) how they got a good buzz or just see how the other team’s doing. During matches, keep the chatting to a minimum, but afterwards feel free to be social so long as you don’t dawdle getting to the next room. Also, if it’s not clear on when you need to be back after lunch or where your next room is, always feel free to ask the other teams or a staffer.

Give feedback to the TD on how your experience went. Although during the tournament the director is probably going to be extremely busy, it’s always useful to hear from a new team how their experience was and what could be improved in the future after the tournament ends.


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