Qblitz Blog

The Case for Quizbowl
#QuizbowlTheory
Oct 14, 2020
Anyone who has been around quizbowl long enough has undoubtedly gotten the question, from a friend or relative, "What is quizbowl?" Many quizbowlers have found that the quickest, easiest response is that it's like Jeopardy, but with teams. That answer is usually enough to satisfy the asker -- it tells that quizbowl is a question-and-answer game, that questions come from a variety of topics, and that it uses buzzers to determine who gets to answer. But the similarities pretty much stop there. What's more, the analogy doesn't touch the most important part, the essence of quizbowl.

It's been said trivia is about knowing who the 29th president is, but quizbowl is about knowing what the 29th president did. A trivia question might simply ask "Who was the 29th president?" or "Which president won the election of 1920?", and a player would get points for knowing it's Warren G. Harding. But to get a quizbowl question on Warren G. Harding, players may need to know about his administration's Teapot Dome scandal, his controversial affair with Nan Britton, or how his early death led to the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

I think of the difference between trivia and quizbowl like the difference between HORSE and basketball. Both HORSE and basketball use a 10-foot hoop and an orange ball. But despite the similar equipment, the games focus on different skills. HORSE isolates shooting prowess and rewards precision and creativity. Basketball, on the other hand, incorporates more offensive and defensive strategy and rewards athleticism. Do basketball players like playing HORSE, and vice-versa? Absolutely! I'd venture that most people who have tried one have tried the other, and that they'll regularly switch between the games depending on their mood that day. Indeed, many successful trivia players are also decorated quizbowlers who play both styles.

However, while the difference between trivia and quizbowl is not exactly a chasm, it is worth understanding and appreciating. To draw on our Harding example again, a trivia question rewards the knowledge of isolated facts. Indeed, each of the sample questions only contained one fact (29th, 1920) that the player would either know or not. However, quizbowl questions reward the understanding of context, like that the Harding's administration was so shockingly brief and sordid that America needed a strongly unremarkable president like Coolidge to recover from it.

And for quizbowlers, that context is the draw. We quizbowlers are the type of people who would read a biography about Warren Harding for pleasure, and playing quizbowl rewards us for that effort. Quizbowlers want to dive deep into the subjects we're studying, and the game helps motivate us and structure our path.


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