Online Tournament Guide



    This page of the online tournament guide provides an overview of how to use the Zoom videoconferencing platform to run a tournament.


    NAQT ran an extensive series of test games using Zoom, Discord, WebEx, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting. We determined that a primarily oral (spoken question/answer) format was the best for online quiz bowl. In our opinion, Zoom had the best audio quality and connection stability, which is why we are recommending it. We are not saying that the other platforms are unsuitable for quiz bowl play but, in our opinion, Zoom will offer the best tournament experience.

    Unfortunately, Zoom is not an all-around winner; it has shortcomings which will require some work to overcome.

    General Setup

    This guide assumes that the you have (or will set up) your own Zoom account to create meetings. If you are hosting on behalf of a school or other organization that already has a Zoom license, you should talk to your IT department and/or Zoom liaison to find out how you can set up the tournament. We suggest asking some form of this question:

    My extracurricular activity, quiz bowl, will require roughly a dozen simultaneous Zoom meetings that last longer than 40 minutes and [assuming this is true of your moderators] will, in some cases, be hosted by people who are not school-district employees. What do I need to do to set this up?

    Zoom’s pricing model (paid per month or per year) grants the ability to create a certain number of simultaneous Zoom meetings. That is, the ability to run one meeting continuously for 30 days costs the same as the ability to run one meeting for one hour once per month. Running two meetings during the same hour, once a month, will cost twice as much. This is not ideal for quiz bowl tournaments (which usually need a relatively large number of rooms simultaneously for just one day). In general, you will need to sign up for a Basic account, upgrade it to a Pro account for the duration of the tournament, then downgrade it after the tournament.

    As the tournament director, you will need an actual Zoom account. Each moderator will also need a Zoom account (to be able to host a game room/Zoom meeting). Players, coaches, scorekeepers, and other participants will not need to create Zoom accounts.

    Sign up for a free, Basic, personal meeting account. It’s extremely tempting to try to dodge the cost of using Zoom by using only free meetings. However, in NAQT’s experience, 40 minutes just isn’t long enough to ensure that quiz bowl matches complete. Given that, the inconvenience of having to create new meetings (and distribute the URLs) for every round, and the problems with having the game room evaporate during the final critical questions, NAQT recommends not trying to run real quiz bowl matches in free Zoom meetings.

    You can, however, use a free game room to test out audio and visual quality, to run practice sessions with moderators, and otherwise handle your short-duration videoconferencing needs.

    Pre-Tournament Setup

    Once you are less than a month from your tournament, figure out how many rooms you are going to need. Upgrade your license count to that many rooms. Rooms are approximately $17/month.

    Ask each of your moderators to make a Zoom account. Each Zoom account can only be part of one “organization,” so moderators may not be able or willing to join your Zoom “organization” with an existing account. NAQT recommends asking moderators in this situation to make a new, ad hoc email address (e.g., at Gmail) that you can invite (so as to keep the accounts separate).

    Some of your moderators may have access to Zoom from other organizations to which they belong. As long as they are able to create a non-free meeting (and they have the right to use that account in this way), there is no reason that they can’t run their game room in a Zoom meeting out of your direct control (and you thus would need to pay for one fewer room).

    You should change each of your moderators to a “License” user (rather than a “Basic” user). This will allow them to create meetings that last more than 40 minutes. The number of License users you may have is limited by the number of licenses you bought. As a consequence of this, if you will be replacing moderators during the tournament (e.g., Ari is replaced by Casey after Round 3), you may need to end the meeting, change Ari to a Basic user, change Casey to a License user, and re-create the meeting. This will be a new meeting with a new URL, which will need to be communicated to teams.

    Near the start of the tournament, go the appropriate User tab and create a meeting. Have the meeting start at the official start time of the tournament and run two hours past the official end time (just to be safe). The same meeting (and thus the same URL) will constitute that moderator’s “game room” for the entirety of the tournament. Experienced moderators can create their own meetings.

    Give each Zoom meeting the “topic” [Tournament Name] Room N. For instance, for a tournament called “Buzzfest,” use the meeting topics Buzzfest Room 1 and so on.

    Make a table of the room numbers and meeting URLs to distribute to teams. You can include other information (like the names of the game officials) if you want. This can be part of the schedule or a separate document. The key point is that coaches, players, and spectators need to be able to figure out which URL they should go to once they know their room from the schedule.

    You shouldn’t need to send Zoom meeting URLs to moderators, as they will be able to log into their Zoom account and see the meeting in their account (but it doesn’t hurt to copy them on the table of room numbers and URLs).

    During the Tournament

    You may need to set up an additional Zoom meeting to discuss a problem that has arisen (with coaches or parents) or to handle other exceptional circumstances. Make sure you have the ability/resources (e.g., credit card) to be able to do so quickly (though in most cases, this could probably be a free meeting). You could also pay for one additional license at the outset to be covered.

    Moderators should not end their meetings after each game, as they will want to maintain the same URL throughout the tournament.

    All Zoom meetings have a “waiting room” associated with them. This is not an actual videoconferencing room, just a list of participants who are waiting to join. This feature prevents unauthorized people from entering game rooms and, in particular, prevents teams from showing up for their next game while an earlier game is still being played. Before a game starts, moderators should open their Participants window and watch for players who are ready to join.

    Zoom Chat does not play a sound when a message is sent. In light of this, NAQT recommends BuzzIn.Live as a buzzer system replacement. In our trials, it was relatively common for a moderator to not notice that somebody had used Zoom Chat to buzz. In addition, BuzzIn.Live makes some attempt to correct for latency issues, and we can’t find any evidence that Zoom Chat client does. (But NAQT doesn’t assert that any online buzzer system can be as accurate as a physical one.)

    After the Tournament

    As soon as possible after the tournament, change your users back to “Basic” from “License” and drop your license count down to zero. You will probably not receive a pro-rated refund (for the unused part of the month), but you want to make sure you don’t forget about Zoom and end up paying for another month.