Anasthasia Shilov, Illustrations Editor

This Saturday, members of the Yale quiz bowl team participated in the annual Academic Competition Federation Fall quiz bowl tournament. Although this year’s tournament was hosted by Harvard University, this year’s tournament took place not in Cambridge but over Discord due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Yale teams — a total of 14 students — attended the competition. Since ACF Fall is traditionally a novice tournament, the teams were mainly composed of first years or those new to quiz bowl. Going up against 18 teams from six different schools in the Northeast region, Yale’s C team won 5th place, with Yale’s A, B and D teams placing ninth, 11th and 13th, respectively. Jordan Davidsen ’24 from Yale’s A team placed third in the tournament’s individual standings.

“I could not have been happier,” Davidsen said. “This is my seventh year playing quiz bowl and this tournament was the best I’ve ever done in terms of points per game and single game scoring. I was on the fence about even playing quiz bowl in college since it’s so competitive, so being able to get out there and perform well on a college-level set validated a lot about if I can hold my own at the college level.”

Quiz bowl can be most simply explained as “academic trivia,” though its actual form and rules are more complicated. While quiz bowl adapts better than some other pursuits to an online setting, Daniel Sheinberg ’23 noted that there are a few technical difficulties that can arise.

As a staffer for the tournament, Sheinberg’s main responsibilities were to read questions and keep score, but several factors made his job this year more difficult. Due to the tournament’s virtual format, Sheinberg had to distinguish when a player is conferring with a teammate as opposed to directing an answer to the moderator. The usual buzzer system was replaced with a Discord chat, which Sheinberg said can create disagreement over who buzzed first and has the right to answer the question.

According to Sheinberg, these obstacles are relatively easy to fix compared to one of the largest challenges for online tournaments: cheating.

“We can try to monitor for suspicious behavior, like a player typing too much or moving their eyes as if reading another tab,” Sheinberg wrote in an email to the News. “Odd buzzing patterns, such as a player consistently buzzing right after easily searchable terms and then pausing (possibly to Google!) before answering, also raise suspicion. Lastly, a player with a large and unexplained jump in skill between online and offline quizbowl is going to be carefully scrutinized.”

Still, Sheinberg added  “at the end of the day, we’ll never be able to know for sure that a player didn’t open Google in a new tab or look up an answer on their phone.”

He related one incident during ACF Fall, when a player accused the other team of cheating during a match that Sheinberg had moderated. Since Sheinberg himself did not notice the cheating, he chose to warn the team and move on. He noted that although it is possible that the team had been cheating, the lack of evidence made it impractical for him to escalate the situation.

For Sheinberg, however, the worst part of quizbowl during the pandemic is not these technical complications, but rather the feeling of social removal. He described the feeling of community that can come with being in a room of other people who share your love of academic knowledge. Hasna Karim ’21, one of Yale’s quiz bowl presidents, agreed.

“I think the overall ‘social experience’ of quiz bowl — sitting in a room with a bunch of other people, laughing at bad questions, high-fiving about good buzzes, going to get food at 11 p.m. after practice, waking up at 5 a.m. to drive to Boston or take MetroNorth to NYC, etc. — has been the biggest casualty of the pandemic as far as quizbowl is concerned,” Karim said.

Before Yale’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the team was still able to continue some of these traditions by holding one of their bi-weekly meetings in person — with frequent sanitizing of the buzzer sets. According to Sebastian Li ’24, the team leaders did well in their attempts to preserve the tradition of food and games after in-person practices, saying it “helped new players, like me, fit in pretty quickly.”

Still, the University updated its COVID-19 alert level from green to yellow following an outbreak last week on the men’s hockey team. As a result, the quiz bowl team will return to conducting both of their weekly meetings online.

Despite this, Karim remains positive.

“I’m proud of everyone for adapting to this new, weird world we’re living in and trying out this new, less-than-ideal format, and especially happy that a number of the people who played this past Saturday had never played quizbowl before!” she wrote to the News.

Yale will host the Northeast branch of this year’s ACF Winter tournament, which will take place on Nov. 7.

Isabelle Qian |

Isabelle Qian covers Yale's graduate and professional schools. She is a sophomore in Pierson College and comes from Seattle, WA.