This page goes through the most common software options for hosting an online tournament. Most tournaments will use either Discord or Zoom. The main reason you might use something else like Google Meet is if school district policies prevent you from using these.
As of August 2020, the rest of this guide only covers hosting a tournament on Discord. We’re working on a Zoom guide. In the meantime, UKQB has a good (slightly more advanced) guide for running Zoom tournaments that you can find here.
Different school districts often have different policies around what software they allow. It’s a good idea to announce what software you’ll be using early on. Sometimes school district policies can be circumvented by asking for exceptions.
Discord is free for all users. While competing apps like Zoom and Google Meet often seem free, typically they’re tied to a person’s school or job. Those apps also have limits around numbers of participants that Discord does not have.
Discord is built around text chats. This means that it works very well for having different rooms for games, having rooms for announcements, and identifying who is on which team. Discord can be supplemented with bots which make certain tournament tasks easier.
Discord has been used in the majority of online tournaments. There’s a lot of existing knowledge to build on.
Discord is harder to use and learn than competing apps. Its concepts of servers, text chats, voice chats, roles, per-server usernames, web and desktop apps, etc. add a degree of complexity not seen in an app like Zoom.
We’ve found that Discord audio is generally a little worse than Zoom.
Discord has historically been used for gaming and online communities. As a result, some school districts consider it a “social network” and have policies discouraging or not allowing its use. This is something you should check.
Discord, like most online services, requires users to be at least 13 years old. Some other services like Zoom have exemptions for this in the case of use tied to an educational institution.
Zoom is very easy to use and most of your players, coaches and staffers will likely already be familiar with it.
We’ve found Zoom to have generally excellent audio and video quality.
Compared to Google Meet, Zoom has the advantage of breakout rooms. These allow your tournament to take place on one call (although see exceptions below) with each room happening in a separate breakout room.
Zoom has been used successfully in several online tournaments.
Zoom is tied to paid accounts. To use Zoom at the scale needed for a quizbowl tournament (generally over 100 people if you have a 20 team tournament), your school/company will need to have paid for a premium tier of Zoom.
Zoom’s text chat isn’t as good as Discord. It doesn’t log timestamps and provides less notification to moderators when someone buzzes in.
Tournament-wide announcements are harder to make on Zoom compared to Discord.
After each round, someone must reassign players to their new breakout rooms. This can be a laborious task for large tournaments and add to significant delays. In contrast, Discord has tools to make this room reassignment easier.
Google Meet Advantages:
Google Meet is the latest videoconferencing app offered by Google. It works very similar to Zoom. You can either create a new meeting or enter a code to join an existing meeting.
We suspect that Google Meet is the software least likely to be banned by district-wide policy.
Most players and coaches will already be familiar with Google software and have a Google account. Google Meet is entirely browser based (when used on a computer) so there isn’t any software to install–although this likely means that audio and video quality is worse than what you’d get with a desktop app.
Google Meet is probably the most resilient videoconferencing service. You’re less likely to experience a system-wide outage with it compared to Discord or Zoom.
Google Meet Disadvantages:
Google Meet has not been widely used for quizbowl tournaments. Tournaments held on this platform will not benefit from the experience of past online tournaments.
Google Meet lacks a concept of “rooms”. You’ll need to have separate calls for each room, with players leaving one and then joining another. It doesn’t have built-in support for communicating with everyone in the tournament so you’ll need to use some separate system (perhaps even a Discord tournament just for announcements).
By the end of September 2020, Google will be reducing what it offers in the free tier of Google Meet. Meetings created by people on the free tier can be no longer than 1 hour.
Skype has been used in the past for online tournaments. It’s functional, but has several drawbacks over other options. For instance, every player in the tournament must add all moderators as friends. The moderators must manually add all players to a call before each round. Skype’s text chat is very unreliable and is poorly suited for tracking who buzzed in first. In the past, there have been many issues of moderators calling players and not being able to connect.
As a consumer app, schools may have a policy banning the use of Skype.
Microsoft Teams is similar in many ways to Zoom and Google Meet. As of the writing of this article, Teams is more closely tied to a school/company than those other apps. Teams does not offer a “friends and family” desktop app. If the TD and many staffers already have Teams accounts you could probably make it work, but at the moment it doesn’t seem a good option for a quizbowl tournament.
In principle, any other videoconferencing software suite could work for a quizbowl tournament. However, these software packages haven’t been tested for quizbowl tournaments and may have their own quirks.