A GUIDE TO HOSTING TOURNAMENTS
Hosting a tournament is a great way to fundraise, as well as give regional teams another opportunity to play each other. Running a smooth, enjoyable tournament is not easy, but is certainly doable. This guide will provide a brief overview on how to host a tournament; teams are also strongly encouraged to also read the excellent in-depth tournament hosting guide written by Southern California Quizbowl, as well as contact us with any questions.
Well before the tournament (ideally 3+ months)
It is ideal to decide that you want to host a tournament as early as possible, so you’ll have time to secure a date, question set, and venue.
1. Determine the date and question set you want to use: Pick a date that works for your team/venue, and does not overlap significantly with other tournaments. You’ll want to be particularly aware of when other tournaments are occurring in the region and what sets they are using- teams will announce the tournaments they are hosting on the forums and post in date claim threads, so keep an eye on those. For example, if a school in the region is already using the set you want to, you’ll probably want to change the set you’re using; you’ll also want to avoid hosting on the same date as another school in your region. Other factors to consider include standardized testing, holidays, and other unavoidable conflicts.
So how do you choose a question set? There are two main providers for pyramidal high school tournaments:
NAQT: NAQT offers two types of high-school level sets: Invitational Series (IS) sets, which are regular-difficulty, and IS A-sets, which are regular-minus (easier than regular) difficulty. The base fee to use their questions is $85 (with a $50 refund if statistics are submitted), plus $16/team. To reserve a NAQT set, fill in the form here (NAQT account required); more information about hosting a tournament with NAQT can be found here.
NAQT will also offer additional support for teams hosting, including hosting guides for new hosts and publicity through their website.
Housewrites: The term “housewrite” applies to most non-NAQT sets written for tournament use, since they are typically produced by one or more high schools or universities. Housewrites are advertised on the Quiz Bowl Resource Center forums here; fees all tend to be in the range of $9-12/team. They’re a great chance for teams to play on questions other than NAQT questions (for example, to prepare for the PACE National Scholastic Championship), but there are several important factors to consider when choosing a housewrite:
Firstly- the advertised difficulty. Housewrites range from regular-minus (easy) to college (very hard) difficulty. It’s important to note that many, but not all, housewrites are more difficult than their advertised difficulty. Secondly, the housewrite’s history (if there is one) -- some schools have written past iterations of the set, and you’ll want to read how the set was received the previous years (on the forums), as well as past iterations of the set on the packet archives.
Finally, if you decide to use a housewrite, be sure to stay in touch with the set’s editors so you’ll know when you’re receiving the questions and be aware of any issues with the set (especially if there’s any issues with the questions the day of the tournament).
A final note on scheduling- tournaments in the fall tend to use more regular-minus sets, while tournaments later in the year (especially in the run up to Nationals) tend to use more regular-plus and collegiate sets.
2. Secure a venue- complete any necessary paperwork/approval to secure rooms for the date of the tournament. In general, you’ll want a large room for teams to congregate in (during the morning/for meetings), a control room, and game rooms (located near the control room). The number of game rooms will depend on the number of teams attending.
3. Publicize- Once the set, venue, and date are secured, it’s time to announce the tournament. You’ll want to make an entry for the tournament on the Quiz Bowl Resource Center database (this is where stats will be uploaded), as well as announce the tournament on the forums here. This is the minimum you should cover in an announcement:
Date, location of venue, set used
Entry fees: fees typically range from $60-80 for a team, with discounts for additional teams, working buzzer systems, competent moderators. For example:
$80 first team, $70 subsequent teams
$5 for a working buzzer system
$10 for a competent moderator
Lunch: publicize whether there are lunch options close by to the venue, or if teams can purchase pizzas from you for lunch.
Registration: teams will either email the team email/tournament director, or fill in a Google Form. You’ll want to choose whichever one is most convenient, and easiest to organize, for you.
Field updates: edit and update this as teams register. Be sure to explicitly state any field caps the tournament has.
Be sure to put the name of the tournament, date, location, and set the tournament is using in the title of the post. An example of a tournament announcement can be found here.
In addition to the forum post, you can publicize your tournament further by emailing and inviting potential teams, as well as handing out flyers and making announcements at other regional tournaments.
In the lead up to the tournament
Besides making sure as many members of your team as possible are available to help out at the tournament, there’s several important things you, as a tournament director, need to arrange before the tournament begins.
1. Secure/train competent moderators: Incompetent or inefficient moderators can cause delays, as well as frustration for attending teams. Make sure all of your moderators have experience reading packets (for example, in practice) and can read at a reasonable speed with clear enunciation. Additionally, use your moderators efficiently: inexperienced moderators should be paired up with a scorekeeper and put in rooms close to the control room, while more experienced moderators can be alone and farther away. You may also want the more experienced moderators to read for top bracket teams in playoffs.
In the days before the tournament remind all moderators to come, and prepare contingency arrangements in case moderators don’t show for whatever reason. As a courtesy, you may want to provide lunch to the moderators, as they are volunteering their time to help your tournament.
2. Secure buzzers: check in with teams to make sure buzzers are fully functional (at least 8 working buzzers); anything that does not meet that standard (e.g. only 7 buzzers work) should not be eligible for the discount. If you need help finding buzzers for your tournament, contact us and we may be able to help you.
3. Manage registrations: Spreadsheets are a great way to keep track of which schools have registered, how many teams/buzzers/moderators they are bringing, and the total fees. Google Forms are particularly convenient, as they will automatically create a spreadsheet for responses.
A few notes: fees are usually paid the day of the tournament. If you are selling pizzas, don’t forget to work out an arrangement with a pizzeria and keep track of lunch orders. Finally, don’t forget to update the tournament field in your forum announcement.
4. Find awards: Trophies for top placing teams, and books for top scorers, are popular awards. Trophies must be ordered well ahead of time; situations in which trophies arrive late and must be shipped or otherwise transported to teams are awkward and best to be avoided.
5. Bracketing: Most tournaments (with more than 10 teams) use both preliminary and playoff round-robin brackets to ensure the best possible experience for all teams. Teams are placed into playoff and consolation brackets based on their finish in their preliminary bracket. In the final standings, teams are ranked first by playoff bracket (i.e. the teams in the championship bracket are ranked ahead of all teams in lower brackets) and then by their finish within that bracket, as opposed to by their wins and losses throughout the day.
An advantage of rebracketing between the morning and afternoon rounds is that teams play opponents of a similar level in the afternoon: The top teams get to challenge themselves against other strong teams, while the winless teams from the preliminaries have the opportunity to win some matches or at least play more competitive games. However, it is crucial that the most competitive and the least competitive teams are split between the different preliminary brackets so all teams have a fair schedule and equal opportunity to advance to the playoffs. Just as importantly, preliminary record should not affect playoff standing (with the exception of “carrying over” a game, which is explained below).
Example for 24 teams: Yale’s 2018 BHSAT used four groups of six for the preliminary rounds. Note that the top teams, as measured by points per bonus (a good indicator of team strength), are split relatively evenly between the brackets. In the afternoon, the top 2 teams from each group were placed in the top playoff bracket (1), the 3rd and 4th place teams were placed in the middle playoff bracket (2), and the 5th and 6th teams were placed in the bottom playoff bracket (3).
One wrinkle at this tournament (and common at many others), is the concept of “carrying over” a game from the earlier rounds. Since each team already played a match against one of their playoff opponents, that result is counted as one of the playoff matches and the teams do not play each other a second time (the game is included in both the preliminary and playoff stat files as well).
It is possible to also create two equally-weighted championship brackets with a crossover game. After both groups play a round robin, the winners of the two brackets face off in the final, while the two second place teams play each other, and so forth. Using the 24-team tournament as an example, the top 2 teams from each preliminary group of 6 can advance to two groups of four: Each group should contain two first-place teams and two second-place teams, all from different preliminary brackets. After the groups of four play a round-robin, the teams are ranked and play crossover matches for 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. Consolation brackets in the afternoon can be constructed in the same way.
Tiebreakers: If you need to break a tie between two teams in order to place them in different brackets, a half-packet (10 tossup/bonus cycles) is preferred. If time and the number of packets do not allow for playing a tiebreaker, ties can be broken by points per game (note that points per game should never be used to compare teams that play different schedules). If two teams play different schedules, points per bonus is a better tiebreaker since it is schedule-independent. Head-to-head should not be used as a tiebreaker because it emphasizes a singular result over the entire body of work of two teams.
Playing off multi-team tiebreakers: If 3 or 4 teams are tied for 1 or 2 spots there are several ways to run a tiebreaker on one or two half-packets. If 3 teams are tied for one spot (normally a “circle of death”), the bottom two teams by ppg (points per game) should play for the right to play the top team. The winner of the second match gets that one spot. If the 3 teams are tied for two spots, the top two teams by ppg play first, with the winner advancing. The loser then plays the third team by ppg, the winner of which also advances. If 4 teams are tied for 1 spot, play a four-team single-elimination bracket starting with 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 (by ppg). The winner of the final match advances. If the 4 teams are tied for two spots, also play 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3, but no final match is played and the winners of each match advance.
There are also some customary rules for finals matches:
If there are two separate championship brackets, the winners of each bracket should play a single-game final.
If two teams are tied for first after the playoff rounds, a single-game final should also be played.
If three or four teams are tied for first, follow the tiebreaker rules above, with the exception that full games, rather than half-games, should be played. So with three teams, the bottom two teams by points per game play for the right to play the top team in a single-game final. With four teams, a single-elimination bracket is played.
If the leader is one game ahead of second place, an advantaged final, where the second-place team needs to win two games to win but the first-place team needs to win just one, should be played.
If the leader is two games ahead of all other teams, they are said to have “cleared the field” and a final is not played.
A note on bracket size: Sometimes it is not possible to have brackets all of the same size. If this is the case, it is often customary to first see if any teams can be added to the field (typically for free) or if a “filler” team of players from multiple schools can be made (though this filler team should not be a “superteam” of the best players). If not, make sure all brackets run for the same number of rounds so that teams get out at the same time.
Creating round-robin schedules: UC Berkeley has a great guide on drawing up round-robin schedules, which can be found here.
If you are having trouble creating a schedule for your tournament, feel free to email email@example.com.
The Tournament Itself
During the days immediately before a tournament, make sure to copy packets (if paper) or password protect them (if electronic), print copies of the brackets, and confirm with teams that they are bringing the teams/buzzers/moderators they indicated in their registration. Last minute drops do happen, and often teams will forget to bring buzzers or moderators, so remember to make contingency plans ahead of time for those situations.
In addition, make sure to set up plans for where buzzers and moderators will go on the day of the tournament (for example, using spreadsheets that keep track of where buzzers and moderators are).
The Morning of the Tournament
Generally, you should aim to have Round 1 start at 9 am, with teams arriving around 8-8:45 am. Have coaches provide a cell phone number in case of any emergencies or travel issues the day of the tournament.
Registration- have team members staff a table/other clearly marked location for schools to check in. Make sure each school brings the same number of teams/working buzzers/moderators they signed up for, collect money/checks, and have coaches fill in a roster sheet that will go to the statkeeper. Once schools drop off their buzzer system, other team members should immediately set them up in the necessary rooms. Finally, don’t forget to have copies of the bracket available for teams to take.
Moderator Meeting- at around 8:45, have a separate meeting with moderators and go over the rules and rooms they will be in. It’s particularly important to clarify what timing rules you will be using, what to do in case of a protest, and what happens in case a question or packet has errors in it (such as missing or repeat questions).
After the moderator meeting, have an opening meeting with the schools attending: welcome teams to the tournament, explain the bracketing, rules being used, and other important information. Make sure to encourage teams to go to their round 1 room and get started quickly, and not to delay too much between rounds; delays can slow a bracket down, ultimately delaying the whole tournament.
The Control Room
The Control Room is the logical hub of the tournament; it is where moderators will drop off scoresheet/pick up packets (if applicable), as well as go to resolve any issues and disputes. The tournament director and statkeeper should always be in the control room- this way they can be easily found in case of an emergency or other situation, and ensure question security if paper packets are being used.
As the tournament director, you are responsible for the smooth functioning of the tournament during the day. This includes:
Making sure each bracket is moving smoothly, and dealing with moderators who are falling behind.
Setting a time for lunch- before the last preliminary/morning round, have moderators inform teams what time they will need to be back from lunch, and where they should go. Generally, an hour for lunch is optimal for teams, especially if they will be leaving to get lunch; 45 minutes is the minimum time you should give teams for lunch.
Resolving any protests which end up affecting the outcome of a game. Protests have a “swing”, which is essentially the points the protesting team would gain plus the points the other team would lose. If a protest does affect the outcome of a game, the tournament director must resolve it- do research and contact the question set’s editors if necessary.
Keeping the control room organized- if you are using paper packets, make sure no one can access them before they are played.
Resolve any unexpected situations that may occur- in the past, situations like teams playing each other before they should’ve and fire alarms going off in the middle of a tournament have occurred. The tournament director should be ready to handle those situations.
Statkeeper- the statkeeper is responsible for keeping roster sheets and scoresheets organized, as well as entering data into a statistics software such as SQBS. SQBS is a quiz bowl statistics program that automatically generates stat reports from inputted data and can be downloaded on any laptop or computer. The software is not overly complicated to use, but first time statkeepers will want to download the software ahead of time and practice entering rosters, divisions, games, etc. More information, and a link to downloading the program, can be found here.
If you ordered pizzas for schools, have team members distribute them to each school- keep close track of how many pizzas each school ordered.
As the tournament director, however, you will want to stay in the control room with the statkeeper to make (and, if necessary, print) playoff brackets and determine individual awards. Individual awards are usually awarded during a meeting after the preliminary rounds and before the beginning of the playoff rounds (only preliminary statistics are counted towards them). Rebracketing and determining individual awards should preferably be done during lunch to keep the tournament moving smoothly.
After the Last Round
Control rooms and tournaments tend to get extremely hectic after the last round of playoffs concludes. Make sure to explicitly tell teams where to go and wait once the tournament is over to pick up buzzers, awards, and question sets (if applicable). Keep in mind many teams will want to leave before finals, and their buzzers must be broken down, and their question copies organized, before then. Remember to:
Be clear about where teams should wait to pick up buzzers and sets- ideally keep them out of the control room.
Tell teams who will be in finals, and where finals will be (if applicable). Teams will want to know if they can leave; make sure to determine quickly who is in the finals, who will read for the finals, and where the finals will be. Other teams may also want to spectate, so make sure to announce this information.
Send people to break down buzzers of schools who are leaving.
Make sure teams get a copy of the set (if applicable). The control room should be kept as organized as possible, especially since used packets can easily get disorganized. Make sure to order the packets and make sure they’re ready for teams to pick up.
If necessary, give awards to top placing teams.
Once the tournament has concluded, you may want to email a tournament recap and thank you to the teams, as well as post on the forums (a message like “Congratulations to School A, who won the tournament in an advantaged final over School B. Thank you to all of the teams who attended!”).
Stats should be uploaded to the hsquizbowl database as soon as possible; this can be done by exporting a stat report on SQBS and uploading it to your database entry. If you used NAQT questions, remember to send a stat report to NAQT- you’ll get a $50 refund off of the hosting fee.
This is a list of resources which are very helpful, especially for new teams. If you need any help hosting a tournament, please feel free to contact us.
Southern California Quizbowl has a very useful, much more in-depth guide: http://www.socalquizbowl.org/tournament-hosting-guide/
Common tournament directing mistakes:
Hosting Tournaments with NAQT:
UC Berkeley’s Scheduling Guide:
For further assistance with scheduling, contact Michael Borecki at firstname.lastname@example.org.