Tomorrow, I'm flying to Atlanta for the annual High School National Championship Tournament, or as those of us in the know call it, HSNCT. I'm not playing; I graduated high school a while ago, and I never actually played HSNCT when I was. [My high school quizbowl team was essentially me and whichever friends I could convince to come with me, and I didn't feel like paying a bunch of money to fly to Chicago and play this thing alone.] Instead, I get a comped flight and hotel room just to read questions for a couple days in scenic Atlanta, which is a pretty sweet deal.
HSNCT is a big deal in quizbowl; in fact, it's essentially the biggest deal. An absurd 256 teams of high schoolers are signed up to play this year, from states ranging from Texas to New Hampshire. [I think a couple states aren't represented amongst the high school teams, but there's no way I'm going to go through and count.] This is a lot of high schoolers in one place, and the organization that runs the tournament, NAQT, has to rent out a hotel for all the teams to stay at. Also, all the games are played in the hotel— some in conference rooms, some in just converted hotel rooms. I read at a similar event for college teams last year, and I remember my desk was directly next to a bed.
Big as the event is, it can't quite take over an entire hotel, so HSNCT often shares hotels with other conventions and events. The most memorable came in 2011, where HSNCT occurred in the Hyatt Regency in Chicago alongside a convention for darts players [who were uniformly surly, drunk, middle-aged men] and another convention called Shibaricon, which is for... rope enthusiasts. Shockingly, the co-mingling of nerdy high schoolers and deves was not a total disaster, and in fact, the darts players caused more trouble.
Organizing a tournament of 256 teams playing games concurrently is no small feat, and NAQT uses a card system to keep track of how teams are doing. Teams will start with a number [say, 140] and play teams with cards with other numbers. The team that wins gets the lower number, so eventually the good teams will be at numbers around 10 or so. This has proven to be the best way to run a tournament that is just fucking huge. Also, all games are timed, which is something not normally done in quizbowl, to make sure everything runs on time. Each game is exactly 20 minutes, and if you don't make it through all the questions in a packet, tough shit. What does this look like in action? Here is an example. It's blazing fast and very, very hard for an outsider to follow.
As an amusing sidenote, a while ago, a company tried to make a gripping documentary about the 2007 HSNCT. Only the trailer remains, and it's amusing, because it really has no idea where it wants to fall on the "LOOK AT THE NERDS" spectrum. It can't decide if it's mocking the kid who calls himself "G-Unit" or portraying him sympathetically. Still, it's worth a watch.
If anything interesting happens in Atlanta, I'll post about it, but if you have to follow the drama of the HSNCT [Will Bellarmine pull it off this year? Will it be St. John's from Texas? LADUE?!] then there'll be a liveblog. [Again, this a big deal. It's like... the national spelling bee of quizbowl? I still haven't come up with a good metaphor.] In short, there's this really big thing that is super important to a bunch of people that you didn't know existed. Welcome to the Internet!