Last year’s British Student Quiz Championships came as an exciting break from the pandemic regime of online quizzing, and this year has seen a mixture of online and in-person events, with the latter organised as closely as possible to pre-COVID quizbowl tournaments. Throughout this season, teams have racked up hundreds of miles on Saturdays to turn up to events, press those buzzers, show off their knowledge and have some fun. Now it is finally time for the flagship event of every year, and in less than a week we will find out whether the holders retain their crown or a new king of the castle takes the coveted BSQC trophy into their possession for a year. Before twenty-four of the country’s best teams of student quizzers do come to blows in the annual joust at Imperial College London, it is customary for the blog editor to provide their perspective on the contenders, pretenders, veterans and newcomers who will take part in the tournament. In this particular case, there are really two perspectives present, and I would like to thank Michael Kohn, our tournament supervisor, for providing valuable insight.
I would like to briefly provide some context on how teams qualified for the event this year, considering UKQB made some changes to the previous system. In addition to the traditional four spots reserved for the four best teams from 2022 (in this case Cambridge A, Edinburgh A, Oxford B and Oxford A) and the four wildcards (this year awarded to Bristol B, Sheffield B, York and Birmingham B), the remaining slots were determined through a single bonus qualifier. One packet of fifty identical sets of bonuses was read to every aspiring team, thus determining who would join the cast of the most exciting quizbowl show of the year. Now that the administrative note is over and done with, it is time to dive deeper into the teams themselves.
It makes sense to start with last year’s champions, Cambridge A, and here we can see two members of the 2022 winning team, the dynamic duo of Liam Hughes and Harrison Whitaker, returning in their courageous attempt to go back-to-back. They are joined by history specialist Abigail Tan and Oscar Despard, and will not give up their crown without a fight, although that will require them to overcome the burden of history—despite reaching seven straight finals, no Cambridge team has ever successfully retained a BSQC title. As we all know, however, any trend exists to be broken, and Cambridge A are certainly one of the major contenders. Their arch-rivals Oxford bring back two-time national champion Jacob Robertson, who anchors a strong and fresh line-up with last year’s Oxford A member Oliver Hargrave, squad captain Mehmet Tatoglu—the latest big generalist on the block—and rising star Omer Keskin. The main question for Oxford, who have an elite mix of generalists across the humanities along with one of the top science players in the country, is how this quartet will mesh in their first time playing together. Personally I don’t foresee any sufficiently large chemistry issues that would prevent me from putting them on the shortest of shortlists when we are listing the favourites.
After Oxbridge, another major favourite are the hosts Imperial College London, who come into this tournament on undoubtedly the best form of any team in the country. Having won the last three regular season tournaments, you can be sure that they will fancy their chances, sensing that the increasing parity of the circuit has created an opening which they nearly exploited last year, when the same lineup went 8–3, registering a win over Oxford A. Experienced generalist Michael Mays, biology and literature whiz Enoch Yuen, and the rising stars Adam Jones and history specialist Justin Lee will be a tough out, and undoubtedly have the potential to go all the way. The other team to watch at the very top end of the pack will be Edinburgh A, who are being picked by some in quizbowl circles to better their impressive runner-up position from 2022. The much-lauded familiar duo of Ben Russell Jones and Nicholas Winter return for yet another crack at the big apple, supported by newer players Patrick Hartley and Elian Costanje. The third of the universities that have historically challenged the Oxbridge hierarchy—Warwick—are sending an A team featuring the final BSQC appearance of Andrew Rout, who is joined by longtime ally Thomas Hart, James Coe and Matt Bliss. Despite plenty of success at regular season tournaments, Warwick A have never performed to what many would consider to be their full potential at BSQC, and there is no doubt that this year’s team will be looking to become the first to finally break into the top three.
The north of England is strongly represented among this year’s field, with the experienced Durham A and Sheffield hoping to go blow-for-blow with the traditional powerhouses. Current BSQC champion Michael Kohn will bring his accomplishments and experience to Durham A, joined by current UC participant Harry Scully, Kai Madgwick and Sam Moore, who will bring some experience of quizbowl across the pond to our very British affair. Sheffield, as has become customary in the last few years, features generalist Andrew Fisher as the first name on the team sheet, and he is joined by University Challenge winner Freddy Potts, scientist Rachael Haw and George Gowland.
The quiz society of the University of Birmingham has seen huge growth in recent years, and is still going strong despite the departure of some regulars like Michael Bartelle and John Robinson. In particular the growth has been led by society president Will Rogers, who has overseen a smooth transformation of Birmingham from a newer university into an established member of the quizbowl scene with steady membership numbers. Not only do Birmingham now send multiple teams to novice events, but they even reached the final at ACF Fall 2022, defeating the eventual winners Cambridge A earlier in the day. Rogers will be joined by Faiz Ahmed, Curtis Dunn and Will Rainbird on a team looking to make a splash. Birmingham are in a similar position to Bristol, who have also sent a strong and experienced A team led by generalist Jacob McLaughlin, alongside Anna Brian, Dan Hawkins and Ted Warner. These northern, midlands and western teams will look to knock the favourites down a peg or two, having both the experience and breadth of knowledge to pull off some upsets.
The University of York, which will host the first northern mirror of a UK tournament later this month, will make an appearance in an exciting development that shows the growth of the circuit—the appearance of the rotating team of six shows the growth of that society in the last couple of years. The final university I haven’t mentioned yet who will make an appearance are King’s College London, who have impressed at recent novice tournaments and can count on the experience of Alex Radcliffe, formerly of Durham.
Now it’s time to delve into the depth, and the B and C teams are as full of hidden gems this year as they always prove to be. Cambridge, Imperial and Warwick are sending three teams each, as is Oxford, yet to be outdone in depth by any other society. Familiar faces on these squads include University Challenge winner Richard Brooks on Imperial B, society president Luke Beresford on Warwick B and a plethora of faces known to both avid and casual viewers of the BBC2 program. The three C teams feature plenty of younger players to remind the circuit that the more experienced societies are still going strong and show no signs of slowing down the influx of new quizzers.
Among societies sending two teams, Edinburgh B are composed primarily of their University Challenge team, while the Durham second team will feature mainly younger and newer players, some of whom have made an impression at novices. Birmingham and Bristol being able to send two teams shows the great sustained growth of both societies, which has been able to occur in spite of the serious pandemic-based challenges and the limits consequently placed on in person quizbowl. The fact that we have been able to hold a relatively stable season, largely unaffected by public health challenges, is reason to be extremely happy and thankful. It is fair to say that the growth of quizbowl in this country seems to be back with a bang, and BSQC this Saturday will showcase the best of what we have to offer. If you made it to the end of this article, then thank you for your patience, and good luck to all teams!