I love quizbowl, I've dedicated years of my life to it, but it's a pretty boring spectator sport. It's boring for me to watch people play quizbowl (unless there is a very animated player on one of the teams, then it's fun because it would be fun to watch that person do anything) and I imagine it's even more boring for people who aren't into quizbowl to watch it. If quizbowl is going to succeed as a thing that the media pays attention to, I agree it's the human story that is going to have to get told. Look at how the media talks about chess, for example: it's usually about the personalities and stories involved, not the chess moves.
I just don't buy this. Thousands of people tune in to watch other people play video games on Twitch and, increasingly, in person. People watch football games without knowing the rules at all, but rather for the experience. I think that sure, personalities are important and adding context to who is competing would be interesting and valuable, but more fundamentally the game needs to be analyzed and explained in ways that make sense to a wider audience. There are a number of specific ways to do that including:
- COMMENTARY both before and after the match to put what people are seeing and about to see in context. On a live feed this would be challenging, but of course there could be a way to make timeouts and halftimes in taped matches a bit longer to provide time for commentary. There absolutely, however, should be more post-tournament analysis of matches with commentary that put into context what went on in the match. Liveblogging worked well enough at the time it introduced, but now we need more: there needs to be a host who manages social media and information from the tournament during the competitions as well as a someone or ideally a set of people who can help analyze matches at the time and afterwards. Simply explaining the jargon and stats abbreviations would be a big contribution.
- Make national tournaments an EVENT. As Ankit points out above, generic press releases aren't going to work these days. You need a set of storylines. Even more than that, you need to generate excitement and make quizbowl nationals seem like the very exciting events that they are when you're there in person. Unfortunately, that energy is usually not translated to the way quizbowl is treated; there are more posts on Twitter about state regional Scholars Bowl competitions than there are about some quizbowl nationals. If you want funding, recognition, and support for the next generation of players, you need to care about this.
- More stats and info should appear onscreen and be available for interested parties. It would be nice to have something like Advanced Stats that tracks how well players have been doing in various categories so far in the tournament (if not over multiple tournaments over time) so that if Player X powers a Lit TU, it can be accurately described as hugely important consider that Player Y usually gets most of the Lit. You could project periodic updates of who's gotten what categories throughout the match and make this the topic of discussion. IPNCT including the by-category breakdown is a good start, but more tournaments should do more.
- Better visuals. The multi-cam approach at HSNCT last year was a good start, but the audio was distractingly out-of-sync and the lighting was terrible. I understand that not every room can be adequately prepped for taping, but why not have a featured room that the final matches are played in with good visuals and audio? Also, trying to use a projector in the room as a substitute for actual scores on the bottom of the screen (which PACE has managed to do in their videos!) has been pretty much an utter failure for XNCTs. It looks ugly when it works and often doesn't work.
Quizbowl is fully capable of being an entertaining, fun-to-follow competition that can leverage the fact we have filmable interscholastic matches (which you don't really get in a number of other academic competitions!) to grow the audience for the game and thus the amount of prestige, funding, and participation. But until there's more of a laser-like focus on this and a belief that it can be done, we'll continue to languish as the minor leagues to bar trivia and TV shows.