A Paean to Quizbowl (Why We Love The Game)

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A Paean to Quizbowl (Why We Love The Game)

Post by CPiGuy » Tue May 15, 2018 3:43 am

Hi quizbowl.

I'm just going to start this off by recognizing that, in the past few hours, people have made some extremely disturbing and extremely serious statements about others in the quizbowl community. I considered holding off on this post or not making it at all because of that, but I think that's the wrong way to go. I think what's been said today makes this post more necessary, because it is important to remember why we do quizbowl, and why we keep doing it. This is a post about why I won't allow a few terrible people to drive me, or anyone else, out of the game as long as I can help it. This is a post about why making quizbowl a safe space for everyone, and not just white men, is important. This is a post about why inclusivity and outreach are worth it, what the end goal of bringing excited new players into the game and keeping them there is. I've seen a lot of people talk about wanting to grow quizbowl, and sharing strategies both for outreach to new teams and retention for existing ones, and it seems like everyone just takes for granted why growing quizbowl is good. I am making this post because I want to justify growing quizbowl, and I want to encourage everyone else to do so as well.

So, please, tell us why you love quizbowl. Tell us why you kept playing the game after you got no tossups at your first practice, after you got obliterated by Chicago A or DCC A or Middlesex A at your first tournament, after you negged your team out of top bracket at D2 ICT or SSNCT or NSC, whatever, just what was it about this game that made you want to keep playing it. I want people to share what makes quizbowl great for them, because I think we need to be reminded of what exactly it is we're trying to protect and grow. I'll start. Pardon me if this is kind of disjointed; it's 2 in the morning, and I'm very much just streaming out everything I can remember because I don't want to forget anything.
I, in the other thread, wrote:I love quizbowl. I think it's literally the best thing that's happened to me since coming to college, and possibly ever.
This is not an exaggeration. There are perhaps one or two events in my life that I can solidly say have had a greater impact on my happiness than starting to play quizbowl. I do not know where I would be without it. It's become a big part of my life, and that's entirely a testament to the amount of enjoyment I get out of it. Well, why do I love quizbowl? If you will, let me count the ways.

I love learning new things. I love the experience of hearing a question on something that sounds really interesting, only to discover that the answerline is something I already know about. I love being exposed to great and interesting facts, from learning "stock" clues like "the fourth Crusade decided to sack Constantinople instead" for the first time, to the obscure bits, such as when a player at MSNCT told me about a Lithuanian adventurer who declared himself king of Andorra, or when I learned about a Japanese novel in which a gay man is catfished by Joan of Arc. Similarly, I love spreading these bits of knowledge to other people. Some of my favorite questions I've written were those which included things I found super interesting -- for example, the Luftwaffe bombed Kaliningrad so badly during WWII that you can now actually walk the Bridges of Königsberg (there are only five left).

I love the fact that if you write something, there will be quizbowlers around who want to play it, and if there's something you want to play, it's probably been written. I wrote a math tournament from scratch which I started after playing quizbowl for four months. At least seventy people played it across all of its sites -- and we're talking about questionably written math-only content! The HSNCT reading of Math Monstrosity continues to be one of my favorite quizbowl experiences -- after the tournament proper was over, seven or eight people waited for thirty minutes for me to do stats so that they could play the rest of the questions on a shootout, and reading those math packets to a room full of math-nerd quizbowlers was an incredibly fun time. Oh, and speaking of Math Monstrosity, I love the willingness of quizbowlers to come out and play stuff that they're monstrously bad at, just to have a good time. There was a middle school team that played MM who put up stats of 2/13/26. They might have been having the most fun of anyone in the tournament. I was disappointed I only got to read for them twice. I played Historature at ICT with a high schooler, a science player, and someone I'd never met before. We went 0-10. It was the most fun I've ever had going 0-10 at anything, ever. It didn't matter that we were losing all of our games, because it was so much fun just to be playing those questions and hanging out with fellow quizbowlers (and doing so for a good cause!)

So, one of the things that inspired this post was, I should interrupt and explain, in the MSNCT thread. Since many of you probably don't read the middle school forums, here's what Karsten Rynearson posted:
karsten7814 wrote:I would like to echo Robert's post. Shiva Oswal played incredibly well and it was a great match between us. He undoubtedly deserved that win, as anyone who watched the final match can attest. I was proud of our outcome, although there is undoubtedly a bit of the feeling of "I should have buzzed..I shouldn't have negged etc.". Despite this feeling, it has been a huge honor to have done as well as we did. As someone who had never been to MSNCT before, it is bittersweet to kiss the middle school division I have been playing in for the past two years goodbye. However, I would also like to say that these last two days have held some of my favorite memories of Quiz Bowl. I have met so many new friends, have seen so many great teams (here's to you, BASIS and Midtown), and am so thankful to NAQT, the teams we played, my family, my coach, and most of all, the fact that 987 nerds can spend two magical days in Chicago having the time of our lives.
I love quizbowl, because I get to read questions to middle schoolers who are giving up their weekend to travel to Rosemont, Illinois and answer quiz questions for an entire day. I get to watch some of those middle schoolers buzz on clues I don't know, and I get to be part of a room full of college students debating the appropriate nomenclature for the California Gold Rush of 1848-1849 (are you happy?) I love quizbowl because I get to help 987 middle schoolers (and some gratuitously large number of high schoolers) have the time of their lives being nerds. It is not a coincidence that I am making this post immediately after MSNCT; that tournament did an amazing job of reminding me about what I like about quizbowl. Every single one of the players I read for, as far as I could tell, was there to have fun, answer questions, and have fun by answering questions. When the semi-final match was decided in dramatic fashion, the team that would be playing against Shiva in the final celebrated his converting the final bonus part. The two finalist teams were chatting with each other and various other players until right before the final started. I don't think I've ever seen a happier second-place team than BASIS Silicon Valley. The Grand Ballroom on Sunday afternoon, and the entire tournament, was a celebration of quizbowl and quizbowlers to a degree that I don't think I've seen at any other level. It was wonderful and invigorating to be constantly surrounded by people who were so enthusiastic about the game, and at a level where everything was focused on deciding a national champion, but also on ensuring that everyone has a fun experience. Maybe there's a bit of recency bias, but in an ideal world, every tournament would be as laid-back and fun as MSNCT (although harder questions would be appreciated, of course).

And, I love quizbowl because I love being a nerd myself, I love quizbowl for the same reasons Karsten does. I love meeting quizbowlers. I love talking about airline routing for two hours with my randomly-assigned staffer roommate who I've never met before. I love spending an hour waiting for a bus discussing the relative merits of various Central Asian dictators. I love watching great quizbowlers play and being astounded when they buzz before any substantive clues have been read, or when they show knowledge of something that's one of my pet topics, or when they manage to pull 30 points on a bonus in a category they're usually terrible at. I love watching the tournament officials I love quizbowl, because when you lose, 95% of the time, it is because the other team is simply better than you. There is no disappointment in dropping a game to Chicago A or Ohio State for the fifth tournament in a row. And, at the same time, the feeling of beating a team you didn't expect to is fantastic. I'm sorry, Pitt, but converting art on tossup 17 against you at SCT this year to take the lead was one of my personal highlights. Art! I got an art question! I love the feeling of converting a tossup or bonus in a category you don't expect to, of hearing "this medical condition", being discouraged, and then realizing OH MY GOD IT'S THE THING FROM THE PSYCHOPATH TEST and getting fifteen points and realizing you need to forfeit the rest of the bonus to win and converting the last tossup -- on philosophy! -- and then your teammate thirties the history bonus and it's over, you've won, you were down by a hundred with 50 second on the clock and you've won, how did that happen!?

I love quizbowl because it actively rewards learning, and not just memorization but learning about real and interesting things. I love quizbowl because, while I enjoy being good at the game, there's no pressure for me to spend every waking hour flashcarding so I can become the next Eric Mukherjee or what have you. If you want to study every day for four hours and become the next ACF Nationals top scorer, you can go ahead. If you want to go to practice occasionally and tournaments sometimes and just hang out with other people you like hanging out with, go ahead. Quizbowl is what you want it to be, and it tolerates people who play it at every level of enthusiasm and interest. Quizbowl is fun even if you're not amazing at it. Some of the most fun things about quizbowl happen when you play a tournament where you don't know the answers, because you get to learn about new things and give yourself more Wikipedia binge fuel. (I can always use more Wikipedia binge fuel.) I love quizbowl because you don't have to know everything. It's totally fine if you're the kind of player who puts their buzzer down whenever they hear "this opera" or "this photographer" or "this functional group", if you're the kind of person who perks up at "this theorem" only to be sad because it's economics and not math, the kind of person who lives for that one question per round on a category they know they have locked down. Quizbowl is tolerant, and quizbowl is flexible. You can be the player you want to be. So, yes, I do like winning. I do want to get better at the game. But, I don't want to study to the point where it's not fun. I refuse to ever make myself study for quizbowl when I don't want to, because being better at the game isn't worth not having fun with it. The fact that I can have this attitude and still be a meaningful participant in the community, can still lead a second-bracket team at nationals, can still be taken seriously when giving feedback on questions, is amazing. It's not something I expected to be true originally, and it's one of the quizbowl community's greatest strengths.

Most importantly, I love quizbowl because of the people who have helped me love quizbowl. I love quizbowl because of people like Saul Hankin, who always made me feel welcome at team gatherings, made sure the "youth movement" was included in things, and is just generally an awesome person. Every team needs a Saul. I love quizbowl because of people like Auroni, who told me that no, maybe as a random freshman you should not be giving your opinion on long-running debates you know nothing about. I don't know that anyone will ever get me to shut up online, but Auroni has helped me recognize when I've been too active. I love quizbowl because of people like Kenji Shimizu, who put up with me negging him out of stuff at ACF Fall and invited me to co-write a geo tournament with him (sadly, it never came to fruition). I love quizbowl because of people like Doug Graebner, with whom I have had numerous 3AM conversations about historical linguistics, high-speed rail, and the urban planning of northern Virginia. Being able to talk about super nerdy stuff like that almost anytime, with someone or other from the Discord, is amazing. I love quizbowl because of people like Will Alston and the wacky side events they write. The world needs more tossups on Pakistani linguistics. Quizbowl is great because of people like Eric Mukherjee, who when I mentioned my flight might be cancelled, offered to pick me up from the airport and bring me to Maryland CMST, despite having met me, like, twice. (Tragically, the flight was cancelled after he left. Thanks again for the offer, Eric.) I could go on and on about all of the great people I've met, but I do need to sleep sometime in the next 24 hours. So, suffice to say: quizbowl is great, but without the people who make it happen, quizbowl is just a set of rules about tossups and bonuses. It is the people in quizbowl who produce all of the excellent questions we play. It is the people in quizbowl who make tournaments fun and have conversations with you in the control room before they start. It is the people in quizbowl who have made the norms that it's okay not to want to be the next Jordan Brownstein, and it's okay to want that as well. It is the people in quizbowl who transform it from "a fun intellectual exercise" to "an activity that occupies a major part of my life". It is all of you that make quizbowl great. I love quizbowl because of the community that surrounds it, and I so desperately want that community to continue to be amazing and vibrant and entertaining and interesting and enthusiastic and all these other positive adjectives I'm not going to be able to come up with right now.

Well, this got long. I suppose that's a good thing, though. It's easy enough to say "quizbowl is good because I like knowing things", or "quizbowl is good because you get to meet new people". I want to lay it out for everyone. I want to show people what exactly it is that makes people play the game, and keep coming back to the game. I hope I've managed to do that, and I hope it wasn't too hard to read this entire thing. I am somewhat new to the "2,500 word essay" school of forum posting. My goal is to have produced something that you can (probably with some editing) show to people who ask "why do you do quizbowl?" And, I want to know what other people think. Please, share your own reasons, your own stories of why you love quizbowl. Take a moment to celebrate whatever it is that makes quizbowl click for you. Take a moment to remind everyone, or even just yourself, why you play the game, and why you want other people to. We cannot forget why quizbowl is great, if we want to keep it that way. Thank you for reading this. I hope it was meaningful.
Conor Thompson
Bangor HS (Maine) '16
Michigan '20

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