State of tournament criticism

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theMoMA
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State of tournament criticism

Post by theMoMA » Thu Feb 23, 2017 2:05 am

Discussion of Regionals was fairly lively and prompted interesting discussion of specific questions, areas of the distribution, and the set at large. Which is to say, it was fairly atypical for recent tournaments. It seems to me that, with a few exceptions, sets tend to prompt less and less meaningful discussion. For instance, aside from commentary on a few questions, the discussion in the wake of SCT was almost nonexistent.

People I've talked to suggest that this is a part of a broader trend. Tournaments are getting better, so players are less likely to take to the forums in the frothing rage that tends to provoke interesting commentary. The implication seems to be that, as the quality of quizbowl goes up, there are fewer things to say, besides "good job." Although I appreciate the sentiment, not to mention the tacit approval of the tournaments I've edited, this seems misplaced.

First, there are still smaller systematic issues, such as the underdeveloped answer lines and inattention to grammar and readability that plague most sets. Yes, few people are going to get frothing mad that the fact that no one bothered to include Norman Schwarzkopf's full name or the Russian title of "Ward No. 6" in a particular answer line. But when the broader inattention reflected in these minor sins results in a breakdown in playability for a question with a more complex answer, games will swing one way or another, and people will be upset. When this happens, and it does, it seems like people don't connect the problematic questions to the inattention to basic features of the game that they stem from, or if they have, they haven't voiced that opinion with nearly the zeal of previous generations' crusaders. Improving gameplay by performing basic editorial functions is really important, and it seems to me that the state of the game is not good enough to let it slide.

Second, the reasons that sets are good and interesting is instructive and worthy of comment. Like many posts in this forum, this may come off as some unholy combination of tooting my own horn and sour grapes, but despite Regionals and SCT meeting fairly warm receptions, you'll have to look pretty carefully to find any interesting discussion of the reasons players thought those tournaments were good. There are some good posts in that vein--Sam's post on the pros and cons of Regionals stands out as particularly thoughtful--but they're rare.

It would be nice to see players take a few minutes, perhaps after a few days' reflection, to look through the packets and pick out some themes, good or bad, that characterized a set. For one, getting feedback and commentary is a reward (and sometimes a curse) of working on a set, and withholding it because "eh, all tournaments are fine now," takes some of the shine off of editing. For another, although discussion may seem inconsequential, the game tends to progress when players are engaged with the reasons that sets succeed or fail. If players aren't discussing as much, there's a risk that things could stagnate, and we wouldn't have as good an idea what negatives we need to improve on, or what positives we could stand to emulate.
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Re: State of tournament criticism

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:36 am

Andrew makes a really good point. Among various players, it is taken as a sign that a tournament was good when there is little discussion about it, and I think this isn't a good sign about the state of quizbowl discussion. A general "good job" is nice, but appreciation about how a tournament approached answers, or even minor things that it really did well (like the formatting of ACF Nationals 2016, for example) is really great.
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Re: State of tournament criticism

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:39 am

Perhaps it might help to think of what is actionable feedback for the writer. Much of the feedback we see in tournament threads (and this is unchanged since like 2009) is stuff like "dude, you put the Battle of the Gates of Trajan way too early in that tossup about Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, it's super famous and everyone learned that in their private middle school's 7th grade Byzantine history class"

Putting aside the question of whether or not the Battle of the Gates of Trajan is indeed super famous, the problem with this feedback is that the only way it improves the writer's future work is that he'll never make that mistake again when writing a tossup on Basil the Bulgar-Slayer. But how many times is he going to write a tossup on Basil the Bulgar-Slayer again in his life? Maybe two or three times at most. I think in my entire writing career I maybe wrote two tossups on Basil II, and maybe a common link on people named Basil and a common link on "Byzantine Emperors" that both mentioned him. Meanwhile, I write literally hundreds of tossups that were not about Basil the Bulgar-Slayer.

However, suppose instead of just complaining that some clue is super famous, you identified a flaw in the way I research tossups (maybe I use some unreliable source too much) or a flaw in the way I determine difficulty of clues (maybe I totally ignore what they teach in AP World History and might benefit from being linked to a list of what people learn in that class). This kind of feedback could help improve literally dozens of my future questions, about all sorts of things, instead of just the one or two that will be about your pet subject.
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Re: State of tournament criticism

Post by John Ketzkorn » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:55 am

theMoMA wrote:The discussion in the wake of SCT was almost nonexistent.
While I can't speak for the D1 set, a lot of D2 players have expressed discontent with how much more difficult this year's D2 SCT was when compared to last year. However, none of them are really that active on the forums. The fact that a fair amount of younger quiz bowlers don't use the forums is probably contributing to the trend of less criticism.
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Re: State of tournament criticism

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:32 pm

I think this has been a problem for years now. Basically, the only evaluation you see after a set nowadays is either: (1) arguments about clues in a handful of specific questions that a certain poster was nonplussed with (usually in predictable categories like classical music or science where there's a mafia of specialists, or people with specialist opinions), and/or (2) general statements about the difficulty of the tournament (i.e. general impressions of whether the event was too hard, bonuses were too hard, lead-in clues were too hard, etc.)

Those two categories of criticism are not completely useless (and #2 is probably more useful than #1), but they really don't get at the heart of a lot of important factors that cause one set to be better or more polished than another.

A lot of people (even active posters on the forums) probably just don't want to take the time to compose the type of post you'd need to compose to address these issues. People know that they shouldn't just make gut-reaction posts, because they're going to be called out and forced to cite specific examples - and it requires a good deal of effort to dig through the set and provide that kind of commentary.
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Re: State of tournament criticism

Post by ErikC » Wed Mar 08, 2017 7:02 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote: A lot of people (even active posters on the forums) probably just don't want to take the time to compose the type of post you'd need to compose to address these issues. People know that they shouldn't just make gut-reaction posts, because they're going to be called out and forced to cite specific examples - and it requires a good deal of effort to dig through the set and provide that kind of commentary.
As someone who just started posting in tournament discussion threads, I feel plenty of posts are not challenged (especially if you say "I feel like this had too much X) but are rarely properly addressed by other people. I've seen posts (including my own) that no one replies to. Perhaps people just want to have their complaints heard rather than I actually discuss - something fairly common on the internet, unfortunately. To be fair, sometimes only some people can contribute - when the last 10 posts in a thread have been about physics, I really can't contribute.

In contrast, the conversation of mythology recently has been really good. Perhaps we should have threads dedicated to each subject, and then people can respond to tournaments in those as well? So by the end of the year there will have been a year's worth of discussion about the major tournament's questions in each topic and what could be better, like the mythology thread from a few weeks ago.
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