Hosting a tournament

By hosting a tournament, a team will receive money to better its program while at the same time allowing local teams to compete against each other. Running a tournament correctly may at first seem easy, but there are so many components to running a tournament that having one small flaw in organization could ruin the smoothness of the day. By following this guide, teams should have a good idea about what to look out for when hosting a tournament, as well as issues to look out for.


3-4 months before the tournament

1. Choose a date for the tournament. By selecting a date so far in advance, other teams have a good amount of time to register and plan for the tournament. In addition, selecting a tournament date so far in advance means that it most likely will not be on the same day as another tournament in the area (the list of date claims is found on this thread on the forums). Coordinate with other schools as well with regards to dates, since some schools may have a set weekend every year that it hosts a tournament. Something else to look out for is if a tournament in the area is using a particular set (i.e. IS-177), try to select a different set to mirror as to avoid conflict. Also, take note of SAT/ACT test dates and dates of religious holidays since less teams will compete if the tournament interferes with either.


2. Choose a packet. Once a tournament date is confirmed with the team, research available packets and select one. Typically, easier packets are played in the fall and harder packets are played in the spring as to prepare teams for Nationals. There are two types of sets that can be mirrored at a host site: NAQT sets and "housewrites."


NAQT sets are either Invitational Series (IS) sets or IS A-sets, A sets being considerably easier (regular-minus) than regular IS sets. To use NAQT questions, the base fee is $85 with a $50 refund if statistics are submitted with an additional fee of $16 per team on IS sets and $13 per team on IS A-sets. This form must be filled out to request to use NAQT sets. NAQT strongly encourages the host to supply each competing team with a printed set of questions following the tournament. See NAQT's guide to hosting a tournament.


Housewrites include all non-NAQT sets written for tournaments, typically written and edited by a high school or college. To use any of these packets, the fee typically ranges from $10-15 per team attending. These sets typically have a rigid subject distribution (see sample distribution from a housewrite called CAST) and best prepare competitors for PACE NSC. However, do take caution with housewrites since the advertised difficulty for them may be inaccurate, many being harder than advertised. Past iterations of certain sets are found on to best gauge the difficulty. Also, do check in with the set's editors frequently to know when questions will be received (or if there are any issues with the set for the day of the tournament). Here is a list of current available housewrites.


3. Secure the location. Work with the administration of the school to get approval for rooms for the tournament date; large room for teams to congregate in and 15 or so game rooms (depends fully on the number of registered teams) located around a central control room. Ideally, these rooms should not be too spread out or in different buildings.


4. Let other teams know about the tournament. The easiest way to publicize the tournament is to make a forum post on this thread as well as add an entry to the Quizbowl Resource Center Database. In the post, include basic information like the set being used, location, date, and entry fees (about $60-$80 per team with discounts for additional teams [-$10], competent moderators [-$10], and working buzzer systems [-$5]). Do note on the post whether cash or check is an acceptable payment method. Title the forum post with the tournament name, location, and date. Include information about parking and lunch (is the host site close to restaurants, are there pizza orders in advance, etc.), as well as a Google Form for registration of an email account for teams to send information to. On one of these forms, include all of the following information and ask for contact information of a coach and the team captain. Make frequent field updates on the forum post to alert teams if they will be placed on a waitlist or not, and clearly write a field cap (ex. 32 teams). Emailing coaches directly and printing fliers also helps to attract interest.


5. Start to look for experienced staffers. About two months before the tournament, start training team members by having members read and keep score in practices on official scoresheets. Moderators should be able to read loudly and clearly, rarely stumbling on unfamiliar words, and should be knowledgeable about all quiz bowl rules like dealing with protests or accepting or denying certain answers. Moderators should also be comfortable finishing a round in around half an hour. This guide from PACE is extremely helpful for newer moderators. Ideally, each room should have its own moderator and scorekeeper, as well as two or so people entering stats in the control room. If there is a shortage of moderators, look to the community for help; many experiences players and moderators may be able to give up their Saturday to help read if they are given enough time to plan ahead. A common act to show appreciation for moderators is to supply them with a free lunch like pizza for their hard work.


One Month Before

6. Secure the buzzer systems. Email all teams to ensure that they are bringing buzzer systems that have eight working buzzers. Anything substandard should not be acceptable for the discount. The NYQBA should be able to help out any site in need of buzzers with fair warning (two weeks).


7. Figure out awards for top-scoring individuals and top-scoring teams. Typically, tournaments have a tradition of awarding book prizes to the top 10 scorers based on points per game (PPG). Collecting at least 10 books for winners (classic novels, art books, etc.) should be sufficient. Trophies for tournaments should be ordered well in advance, since late trophies must be shipped to the school, resulting in more anxiety once the tournament has concluded. Crown Awards has some very reasonably-priced trophies.


8. Manage registration information and keep track of new and dropped teams. Creating a spreadsheet with all essential information on it (usually done automatically on Google Forms) will ensure that there are 1. enough teams for the tournament to not have awkward bracketing and 2. enough equipment and moderators. Being short staffed at a tournament is one of the worst things that can happen at a tournament, so constantly being on top of registration will prevent that from happening. Sending out reminders to teams a few weeks in advance will help the tournament directors significantly since these emails may remind competing teams to add or drop a team with enough time to adjust to these changes.


1-2 Weeks Before

9. Confirm the set and the rules. Most tournaments at the high-school level use standard ACF Rules which most teams are familiar with. Occasionally, a tournament may opt for standard NAQT Rules which may require timers and new modifications for the amount of time players can give their answer (3 seconds). With the rules chosen, then confirm that the set will be used on the tournament date. For NAQT questions, some alterations may need to be recorded (removing comp-math tossups and bonuses or only reading 20/24 tossups and bonuses). For housewrites, make sure that the head writers have an exact date in which tossups will be sent to the tournament director.


10. Send out a final logistical email and institute a potential drop fee (dropping two days before the tournament will result in a $30 penalty). 


11. Prepare brackets. This step is crucial for the success of the tournament since poor bracketing will lead to rather inaccurate outcomes (i.e. certain teams making playoffs over other more qualified teams, etc.). Most tournaments with 12 or more teams use preliminary and playoff round-robin brackets that ensure that each team plays at least nine games. Based on how a team finishes in their preliminary bracket, that team is then placed into either a championship or consolation bracket, all teams in the championship bracket finishing with a higher placement than the top team in consolation. Most tournament directors know the strengths of many of the teams attending and can thus make somewhat equal preliminary brackets, each with one extremely strong team to balance out the brackets such that all teams have a fair schedule. By having championship and consolation playoff matches, top teams get to play very competitive and close matches to try to win the tournament while winless teams have the opportunity to win games against similarly-ranked opponents. Make sure that brackets are printed out and properly formatted before the tournament begins so that each team can easily see what room to go to and who their opponent is. 


For a 24-team tournament, there are typically 4 even brackets of 6 teams for preliminary rounds. The top 2 teams per bracket based on record (5-0, 4-1) advance to a top bracket of 8 teams, the 3rd and 4th teams advance to Consolation 1, and the 5th and 6th teams advance to Consolation 2. If there are ties in record (ex. two teams go 3-2), the tie is broken either by points per bonus (PPB) or average points per game. Crossovers exist when a game carries over from the preliminary rounds (when the 1 team played the 2 team) because two teams from the same preliminary bracket are in the Championship bracket. Since the teams do not play each other a second time, that game carries over. 


Prison Bowl XI 2018 featured a different bracket system since there were 36 teams instead of 24. For the preliminary rounds, the tournament was set up the same way but with 6 brackets instead of 4, each bracket having 6 teams. The top 2 moved on to the Championship brackets , but instead of having one bracket with crossover matches included, there were two championship brackets of equal strength in which no two teams had played each other prior. After the five playoff matches, all 12 teams then play crossover matches (i.e. the 3rd place team in Championship A plays the 3rd place team in Championship B to determine who gets 5th and 6th). For the remainder of the teams, the 3rd place, 4th place, 5th place, and 6th place teams from the preliminary brackets go into their own respective 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place brackets. 


If a tournament has an awkward number of teams competing, for example 23 teams, tournament directors should try to see if any team is willing to be split up such that there are now 24 teams. If this cannot be accomplished, bye rounds will have to be included in the brackets that are not full (ex. the bracket with 5 teams instead of 6 teams). All brackets should hear 5 games, but the bye round does not count towards stats.


Breaking tiebreakers is a common part of tournaments since very frequently teams share the same record and cannot be placed immediately into a particular bracket. Typically, these ties are broken by PPB since PPB is not dependent on the strength of the other teams and is thus bracket-independent. PPG can be used to break ties as well. If there is additional time and extra tiebreaker packets, the two teams can play a half packet of 10 tossups and 10 bonuses, the winner advancing to the higher bracket. If three teams are tied and there is only one spot available, the team with the highest PPB has a bye while the two teams with the lower PPBs compete on a half packet for the chance to then play the team with the bye on another half packet. If there are two spots available, have the two teams with the higher PPBs compete on a half packet, the winner moving on while the loser plays the team with the lowest PPB for the final spot. 


With regards to finals, a team that has won two more games than the next best time wins outright and have "cleared the field." If the leading team has only a one-game lead over the second-place team, the first-place team plays an advantaged final against the second-place team in which the first-place teams only has to win one game to win the tournament while the second-place team has to win both games. If three teams are tied for first, follow the above protocol but with full packets. If four teams are tied, do single elimination format in which 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 play and the two winners play each other in the finals. A one-game final occurs when two teams are tied for first or when the top team in both championship brackets have a tied record.


Some tournaments run on rather unconventional system called a card system in which teams are matched against a certain card and the winner of the match takes the lower-numbered card (if it's 6 v 17 and 17 wins, 17 gets the 6 card). This system is ineffective for smaller tournaments, but for tournaments with 36+ teams, the card system with single elimination playoffs may work.



See UC Berkeley's guide for bracketing teams. 



12. Make sure everything is in order the day before the tournament. Make sure that the packets are printed out (if using laptops to read, make sure every moderator has access to one).  Make sure there are extra copies of brackets just in case a team loses them as well as scoresheets for at least 10 rounds per moderator. Printing signs showing general directions for bathrooms and the central meeting point is helpful, and printing a few maps of the school will help all teams navigate. Although a bit time consuming, also prepare a few backup schedules in the case that teams drop or miraculously show up without registering so that the situation can be handled quickly. In addition, constantly check emails, pick up trophies if ordered from a store, and send out a text or email to all staffers asking them to confirm that they are definitely coming for the day. Keeping stats is also a very significant part of a tournament, so make sure that you have an SQBS or Neg5 account to record them and to update them frequently. 


The Day of the Tournament

13. Set up rooms and headquarters. Arrive at the tournament site two hours early and unlock all rooms being used for the day. Locate a printer that can be used for playoff brackets or bring a wireless one to the site. Set up the headquarters by sorting questions out, setting up all technology needed for the day, and keeping spare scoresheets. Also, set up the main meeting area by writing schedule assignments on the board and noting any room changes. 


14. Registration. Assign roles to the host team such as a treasurer who collects money, someone who keeps track of buzzer systems and sets them up before the opening meeting (and tracking any deficiencies in them), and registration person who gives teams rosters and signs teams in, and "gophers" who help set up rooms with the person in charge of buzzers. Make sure that each school has come with the correct number of teams, buzzer systems, and moderators, and hand all teams a schedule upon arrival. If a team has not arrived by the opening meeting, call their cell phone contact and if they respond, let them know exactly what room to go to. If no response, assign that team a first-round bye, or if the bracket already has a bye, then swap that team with a team from another bracket that originally didn't have a bye. If multiple teams don't show up, switch teams around to avoid two byes in one bracket. If a moderator is missing, the director should take over reading responsibilities, and if a buzzer system is missing and there are no replacements, teams may have to play "slapbowl" in which players hit the table to buzz in.


15. Moderator/opening meeting. Around 15-20 minutes before the intended start time of the tournament (usually 9:00 AM), host a short meeting with all moderators to go over room assignments and general rules (ACF timing Rules, protest procedures, dealing with factual inaccuracies in questions, etc.). After this meeting, have an opening meeting with all participating teams in which the staff welcome teams, go over the rules of the tournament, explain the bracketing format, and further plans for the day. Encourage all teams to head straight to their Round 1 room so that all matches can begin on time, avoiding unnecessary delays. 


16. Complete all control room responsibilities. The control room is where all the logistics occur. The tournament director and statkeeper should always stay in the control room in case of some emergency requiring immediate attention. As someone protecting question security, the director must stay in the room to resolve protests and collect scoresheets and completed packets. The statkeeper is responsible for organizing all roster sheets and scoresheets and enter them into SQBS, a statistics program that generates important statistics posted to the quiz bowl database. The program is easily downloadable on a computer/laptop and is fairly easy to use after a bit of practice. 


The tournament director must be on top of everything from resolving protests to talking briefly with moderators to dealing with unexpected issues. As director, you must ensure that each bracket is progressing smoothly, and to make sure that happens, the director must pinpoint which moderators are reading too slowly and falling behind and let them know to speed up or switch roles with the scorekeeper. To keep games on time, protests must also be resolved quickly through quick research or by contacting the set's head editor; protests that can "swing" the game (the points under protest could put the losing team in the lead) must be resolved before either team can move rooms. Tournament directors are also responsible for keeping the control room clean and in order, letting moderators know what time teams should return from lunch (ideally an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch), and resolving any issues like fire alarms or power outages to the best of your ability. 


17. Plan out the rest of the tournament during lunch. The tournament director and the statkeeper are strongly advised to stay in the control room during lunch to keep the tournament running smoothly. During lunch, get a fellow staff member to pick up lunch for you so that you can create playoff brackets and determine individual scoring awards. If any ties have to be broken via half packets, do that before any other games begin once teams return from lunch. Also, assign other staff to distribute pizzas if pizza orders have been taken prior. Prior to playoff rounds, have each team pick up an updated bracket and hold a quick meeting to distribute book prizes and to run through the rest of the day's schedule.


18. Continue to add stats to SQBS and fulfill tournament director duties. Follow proper protocols once the last round has concluded. The playoff rounds are almost identical to the preliminary rounds in terms of responsibilities that the tournament director and statkeeper have. Once the last playoff round has concluded, however, the headquarters tend to become hectic since all teams want to pick up buzzer systems and get prizes as soon as the tournament has concluded. Make sure that all teams know exactly where to pick up buzzer systems and question sets if applicable. If a round has ended early, get moderators and other staff to disassemble buzzer systems so that teams can leave immediately. In order to protect question security, only have teams that are leaving before finals pick up the packets since teams tend to leave before the finals are actually played. With regards to finals, alert teams in the finals of where to meet and whether the finals are advantaged or not. Coordinate with moderators to see who will read the finals game. Once the tournament has concluded, reward teams with their trophies or medals quickly so that all teams can leave at a reasonable hour.


19. Create a "Thank you" post on the forums and finalize statistics. After departing from the tournament site (and after cleaning all the rooms and putting all items back where they belong), make a congratulatory forum post or email thanking all teams for attending and congratulating winners and high scoring individuals. Also, include on the post which teams qualified for NAQT or PACE (top 15% for NAQT and top 20-25% for PACE). Finalize stats and have them uploaded to the database by exporting a stat report on SQBS and uploading it to the database entry. NAQT will give you a $50 refund for supplying them with a full stat report as well. If any trophies or awards still need to be sent to teams, get mailing addresses and send them quickly.

COMMON ERRORS TO LOOK OUT FOR ARE not training moderators and scorekeepers properly beforehand, having too large a field, being unclear about the rules, not anticipating timing issues, forgetting to get all contact information, giving too little time for lunch, having overly lengthy protest resolutions, and not switching around moderators who are ready too slowly or inconsistently.



Southern California's in-depth guide to hosting a tournament.

UC Berkeley Scheduling Guide.

NAQT's Guide to Hosting Tournaments

SQBS Logistics and Download Information