A GUIDE TO NATIONAL TOURNAMENTS
Nationals are a great experience for quiz bowl teams- the opportunity to play the best teams from around the country, as well as travel together to new and interesting locales, is memorable and unrivalled. However, with multiple national championship tournaments and numerous acronyms, learning about and choosing a national tournament attend can be confusing. The following are the best pyramidal quiz bowl championship tournaments for teams to attend.
1. NAQT High School National Championship Tournament (HSNCT)
Sponsor: National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT)
Date: Tends to be Memorial Day weekend. The 2018 HSNCT is May 25th-27th.
Registration Fees: The base fee is $675/team. Buzzer and moderator discounts are available. More details can be found here, under “Registration and Fees.”
Location: Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta, GA. Discount rooms are available through NAQT.
Qualification: The top 15% of the field of a tournament using NAQT questions qualifies (this “rounds up”: for example, 3 teams will qualify out of a 15-team tournament, not just two). A school must qualify all of its teams at one tournament (see “Multiple Team Qualification” below). NAQT also accepts wildcards for berths in the tournament (see “Wildcards” below).
Field Size: The field for the 2018 HSNCT is currently capped at 336 teams; the field size for the 2017 HSNCT was 304 teams. HSNCT is traditionally the largest national tournament and is growing every year, and could potentially grow much larger with changes in tournament format.
Round Format: The HSNCT uses two timed 10-minute halves. Packets are 24 questions long, and moderators read through as many questions as possible during a round.
Tournament Format: NAQT has modified the tournament format to accommodate field size expansions. Teams will play seven preliminary rounds during two sessions on Saturday (one morning, one afternoon). The preliminary rounds will be finished on Sunday morning; teams should expect to play a total of ten preliminary rounds (with some byes). Any team with a winning record (6-4 or above) will qualify for playoffs on Sunday afternoon/evening, which is double elimination (however, 6-4 teams enter playoffs with one loss, meaning they can only lose once before being eliminated). Teams who do not make playoffs can play consolation matches and mini-tournaments.
Questions: The HSNCT question set is written by NAQT; it is harder than regular-difficulty question sets. The distribution can be found here.
The Announcement Page can be found here. Past Results can be found here.
Comments: With a large field, fast-paced timed rounds, and shorter questions, the HSNCT is exciting to play and spectate. The tournament provides many opportunities for close matches; preliminary rounds are power matched, meaning teams will play other teams close to their abilities during later rounds. There are also opportunities for teams to play on Friday evening (scrimmage matches) and if they don’t make the double elimination playoffs (mini-tournaments and matches). The question set features more history, current events, and pop culture, and will favor teams that are strong in those areas. The HSNCT may be the most accessible national tournament, and it’s a good match for teams who enjoy shorter questions and fast-paced play, as well as teams who are new to nationals.
2. PACE National Scholastic Championships (NSC; commonly referred to by “PACE”)
Sponsor: PACE (Partinership for Academic Competition Excellence).
Date: Traditionally the week or two after HSNCT. 2018 dates are June 2nd-3rd.
Registration Fees: The base fee is $695/team, with additional discounts available for bringing buzzers or moderators, or hosting tournaments. (The full fee structure can be found here). A $100 deposit (which is part of the base fee) must be placed to reserve a spot in the field.
Location: The Hyatt Regency Reston, Reston, VA.
Qualification: Teams may qualify for the NSC at tournaments PACE recognizes as qualifiers (guidelines can be found here); the number of teams to qualify at a tournament depends on the “certification” the tournament is awarded (ranging from 10% for “gold” certification to 25% for “platinum” certification). Nearly all quiz bowl tournaments will be certified; 20-25% of the field will qualify from most tournaments. PACE also accepts wildcards for berths in the tournament (see “Wildcards” below).
Field Size: The NSC has traditionally capped its field at 96 teams, and does not expand.
Round Format: Two untimed halves, each with 10 questions; all 20 questions in a packet will be read during a round. The NSC also features “bouncebacks,” meaning the other team will have the chance to answer bonus parts that were answered incorrectly by a team, as well as 20-point powers.
Tournament Format: The NSC uses a round robin structure. Teams are seeded in preliminary pools and play a round robin; they are then rebracketed for playoffs, superplayoffs, and final placement. Thus, each rebracketing will place teams in a group that is closer to their skill level, resulting in a final placing. Teams will play around 18 rounds over the two days.
Questions: Questions are more difficult than regular-difficulty questions. The distribution can be found here. Past PACE NSC sets can be found on the Quiz Bowl Packet Archives.
The Announcement Page can be found here. Past Results can be found on the Quiz Bowl Resource Center database by searching for the “PACE NSC” on the searchbar to the right.
Comments: The PACE NSC features a small, elite field and longer questions that favor more literature and fine arts, with no pop culture. While this may result in lower overall placings as a result, the tournament does provide teams the most opportunities for competitive playing time. Teams are guaranteed to play every round (or nearly every round) due to the round-robin/rebracketing format and do not usually have byes, and bouncebacks keep players invested during bonuses. The NSC is a good match for more advanced teams, teams who favor literature/fine arts, and teams seeking a lot of high-quality match play.
3. NAQT Small School National Championship Tournament (SSNCT)
Date: April 28th-30th, 2018
Registration Fees: $635/team, with additional discounts available for buzzers and moderators (details here, under “Registration”)
Location: The Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Rosemont, Illinois (this is a suburb of Chicago, about an hour out from the city)
Eligibility: The SSNCT has two divisions. The first is a Traditional Public School division, for nonselective public/charter schools enrolling less than 500 students. The second is an Open division for schools that do not meet the Public School criteria and enroll less than 350 students. Full guidelines can be found here.
Qualification: Teams may automatically qualify for the SSNCT in three ways. First, finishing in the top 30% of the field of a tournament using NAQT questions. Secondly, to quote from NAQT, “Being the highest-placing team from an eligible school in any class or division of an official state championship with rules and questions similar to those of NAQT.” Finally, a small school qualifying for the HSNCT will automatically qualify for the SSNCT. (Full guidelines can be found here). NAQT also accepts wildcards for berths in the tournament (see “Wildcards” below).
Field Size: The Traditional Public Division field is currently capped at 96 teams, while the Open division is currently capped at 64 teams.
Round Format: The same as the HSNCT; two timed halves of 10 questions each, with 24 questions total in a packet.
Tournament Format: Both divisions will operate separately. There will be a total of 14 preliminary rounds for both divisions; teams will play 10 rounds and have 4 byes. In addition to the champions, the champion “Very Small School” (less than 300 students enrolled in the top 3 grades) will be determined via additional matches.
Questions: SSNCT questions are regular-plus difficulty, but easier than the HSNCT set. Additionally, the SSNCT set shares the same distribution as the HSNCT set (distribution found here).
The Announcement Page is here. Past Results can be found here.
Comments: The SSNCT has more forgiving qualification guidelines than the HSNCT, and is a great opportunity for teams from smaller schools who may not be able to compete/qualify to compete at the HSNCT to compete with similar teams from across the country. The SSNCT and HSNCT use separate question sets, giving small schools the chance to compete in both tournaments as well.
4. International Quiz Bowl Tournaments National All-Star Academic Tournament (NASAT)
Sponsor: International Quiz Bowl Tournaments (IQBT)
Date: June 16th-17th, 2018
Registration Fees: $600/team, with additional discounts here.
Location: University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Qualification: States often organize/hold tryouts for their own teams. An application must be submitted with rosters.
Field Size: Dependent on registration; 25 teams from 15 states competed in 2017.
Round Format: Two untimed halves of ten questions each.
Tournament Format: Dependent on registration; last year four seeded round robin pools were then rebracketed into a top and bottom bracket.
Questions: The NASAT set will be written by IQBT, and is approximately college regular difficulty. NASAT is traditionally harder than the rest of the national tournaments.
The Announcement Page can be found here. Past Results can be found by searching “NASAT Main Site” on the Quiz Bowl Resource Center Database.
Comments: The tournament is intended for all-star teams within a state rather than single teams from schools looking for a national tournament. Connecticut has never fielded a team for NASAT; however, with a strong circuit forming and lots of new talent, we hope that CT will be able to field a team soon.
Multiple Team Qualification: Generally, for HSNCT, PACE, and SSNCT, schools must qualify multiple teams at a single tournament. For example, if School A and School B both place in the top 15% of the field of a NAQT tournament, they both qualify for the HSNCT. However, if School A qualifies at one tournament, and School B qualifies at another, the school only has qualified one team for HSNCT. However, NSC also allows schools to qualify teams at different tournaments if those teams have unique rosters (i.e. if Chloe, Brian, Abishrant, and Galad qualify at one tournament and Daniel, Sam, Asher, and Rachel qualify at another, Hunter qualifies two teams for NSC). Additionally, because schools qualify teams and not individual players, the roster of the team who qualifies for nationals can be different than the roster of the team who eventually attends.
Finally, when a certain percentage of the field qualifies, the qualifications round “up.” For example, in a 15 team field, 3 teams will qualify rather than 2 (as 15% of 15 is 2.25, which will “round up” to 3).
Wildcards: Both NAQT and PACE offer wildcard qualification for their tournaments starting around January or February (NAQT wildcard applications open February 1st; NSC applications open January 1st). In order to get a wildcard qualification, you’ll have to indicate a prospective roster and a strong reason why the wildcard is necessary on an application- for instance, not having the opportunity to attend many tournaments, or playing tournaments with many strong teams that prevent you from qualifying. For more information or to apply for a wildcard, see this website for HSNCT/SSNCT or this website for NSC (under the header “Wild Card Bids”).
Why should I attend a national tournament?
Nationals are a great opportunity to compete against teams from all around the country beyond local circuits and regular season tournaments and league play. National tournaments are very well run and feature the best moderators reading well-written and challenging questions, giving players an unrivalled chance to test their playing abilities.
Beyond just tournament play, national tournaments are great opportunities for teams to bond -- the experience of travelling together, playing together, and touring around together as a team is invaluable. As many players will attest to, there’s something especially memorable about the chance to travel to interesting locations with your closest friends and teammates, and spend a weekend surrounded by thousands of other enthusiastic, smart quiz bowl players.
When should I begin planning a trip to a national tournament?
Once you’ve qualified for a tournament and decided which tournament you will attend, it’s best to register as soon as possible as fields tend to fill quickly (usually by the end of February or in March). This will also give you ample time to work out transportation, fundraising, and other logistical details with your team.
How do I know if I qualified for a national tournament?
You’ll receive an email from NAQT or PACE if you’ve qualified for a national tournament. Any stat reports listed on naqt.com will highlight the teams that qualified for the HSNCT, and teams that qualified for the SSNCT are also denoted. A full list of teams that have qualified for the NSC can be found here.
Which national tournament should I attend?
The first thing to consider when choosing a national tournament to attend is which dates are feasible for your team, and whether you have any barriers in terms of location. The advantage to having multiple national tournaments is that teams can choose whichever is most convenient for them date and location wise, especially if school vacations, graduations, or other events conflict with one of the tournaments.
Besides those considerations, the main differences between HSNCT and PACE lie in round format and speed, tournament format, field sizes, and question styles as outlined above. Teams that prefer shorter, fast-paced rounds in a larger field should consider HSNCT, while teams who prefer longer questions and lots of guaranteed round-robin matchplay should consider NSC. Small schools that meet NAQT’s Small School eligibility guidelines should absolutely consider going to that event in addition to (or in lieu of) attending HSNCT or PACE. Connecticut traditionally has not fielded a NASAT team, though with the emergence of new talent and a budding circuit, there are hopes one will be formed and fielded soon.
Teams are absolutely allowed to attend multiple national tournaments, but it’s also important to note that the tournaments are expensive, and as such many teams choose one or the other.
How should I prepare for a national tournament?
The best way to prepare is to begin practicing on past questions. NAQT sells old HSNCT/SSNCT packets on its website; PACE and NASAT questions are available for free on the Quiz Bowl Packet Archives. In addition, regular-plus/college novice difficulty question sets that resemble the difficulty of national tournaments are good practice material. Practicing on these questions will give you a sense of the difficulty of national tournaments, and will help you improve to that level.
Additionally, teams should practice together and attend tournaments throughout the season. Many schools also host pre-Nationals tournaments on harder sets comparable to Nationals difficulty (for example, East Brunswick’s Pre-National Tournament on April 21st). This not only helps improve playing ability, but also team bonding and chemistry.
How can I raise money to attend a national tournament?
Between entry fees, transportation, and hotel costs, national tournaments are undoubtedly very expensive to attend. A great way to raise money is to host a tournament (our guide to hosting tournaments can be found here; please feel free to contact us if you need guidance hosting). In addition, letters can be sent to local businesses asking for donations or other financial support through a sponsorship.
Other fundraising ideas include a local trivia night run on student-written questions, bake sales at sports games or theatre shows, and using a GoFundMe or related fundraising page. And finally, check to see if your school has any grants or funding available to cover the cost of adviser travel or entry fees.
Note: Much of this advice and guide was inspired by Greater Pennsylvania Quiz Bowl (GPQB)’s article “Quizbowl National Championships: A Guide,” which can be found here.