BSQC–2024: preview

BSQC–2024: preview

The first Saturday of March is fast approaching and with it, the UK’s largest student quizbowl tournament. 24 teams will play over 130 matches in 11 rounds, with just one of them being handed the trophy at the end of it all, along with all the clout that comes with being the 2024 British Student Quiz Champions. In this preview I’ll be navigating the field of teams and players, picking out favourites to win and rising stars to watch out for.

The state of the student quizbowl circuit today is quite unprecedented. Ten years ago, BSQC was a simpler affair: a bunch of teams signed up, played a few rounds, and at the end, Oxford would win—usually with Oxford B in second place. When Cambridge achieved their historic win in 2018, things briefly settled into a classic Oxford–Cambridge rivalry, trading the trophy each year—despite the best efforts of Evan Lynch in his Southampton years. In the past few years, there were signs of change, with Oxford being pushed out of the final on two occasions. Imperial’s win last year has proved that the balance of power has shifted away from Oxbridge, and this season’s tournaments have only reinforced that claim. Imperial, Durham and Edinburgh have each won one of the three regular-difficulty tournaments played so far this academic year, while Oxford and Cambridge have only won one tournament between them since the start of 2023. Now, with BSQC 2024 approaching, five potential champions have appeared: Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial and Oxford.

Let’s start with a look at the defending champions, Imperial A, and their now-classic lineup consisting—for the third year in a row—of PhD candidates Michael Mays and Enoch Yuen, and undergraduates (and current University Challenge semi-finalists) Justin Lee and Adam Jones. With Michael and Enoch’s combined specialism on literature, science and fine arts, Justin’s deep history knowledge and Adam’s broad coverage of the humanities, they dominated the quizbowl circuit for much of 2023. They did demonstrate their fallibility when they placed third in this year’s ACF Regionals, but they certainly remain among the favourites to win this year. The main uncertainty now is how they’ll fare with the increased emphasis on popular culture and British miscellany, having mostly excelled on tournaments with a more conventional subject distribution.

Oxford A, despite an unfortunate run of luck in the past year of tournaments, remain a strong contender to win. They field the same four that brought them to a nail-biting final against Durham A back in January: Jacob Robertson, Omer Keskin, Paige Crawley and Oliver Hargrave. In addition to his potentially unparalleled science specialism, Jacob brings a ludicrous amount of quizbowl experience, having played on Oxford A at every BSQC since 2018. Other Oxford A regulars Omer and Oliver will no doubt be raking in the points on arts, literature, history and philosophy, while classics student Paige Crawley could see them through more of the miscellaneous and unpredictable topics that NAQT sets bring to light. If they keep a cool head throughout, they’ll be in with a good chance of finally ending their dry run of tournaments.

Their classic rivals, Cambridge, will be hoping to continue their recent tradition of winning on even-numbered years, after narrowly missing out on last year’s final. Film PhD student Harrison Whitaker will be making his last bid for a second win, joined this time by philosophy undergraduate Sam Foo, maths PhD student Agnijo Banerjee and natural sciences student Oscar Despard. Harrison is the only member of the 2022 team to return, but his extensive quizbowl experience and literature specialisms will be indispensable. Sam will likely excel on the classical music, with Oscar supplying the team with plenty of buzzes on science. Agnijo has recently been impressing BBC Two audiences with his generalist knowledge. The biggest hazard for the team could be BSQC’s enlarged pop culture distribution, although their top-bracket opponents probably won’t be too eager about it either.

Edinburgh A are the only one of the pre-qualified teams fielding no previous champions, but nothing can be ruled out when Ben Russell Jones is involved. He might no longer have Nicholas Winter to count on, but this didn’t stop him in leading efforts to win ACF Winter for the first time back in November, twice beating one of tomorrow’s other favourites in the process. This time around, he’ll be joined by Frances Hadley, Parth Jagtap, and 2022 teammate Niall Karunaratne. With Frances’ solid classical music specialism, Niall’s physics background and Parth’s knowledge in religion and history, they’re left with very few weaknesses. If they don’t make the final this year, I’d expect them to still humble one of the teams that do.

Durham A won an overdue first tournament title with their tight win over Oxford A in the final of this year’s ACF Regionals, and can therefore go into this tournament knowing that they can win even when every other university sends their best. Kai Madgwick, Sam Moore and Isaiah Silvers will join current UKQB president and 2022 champion Michael Kohn in a bid to place Durham in the BSQC final for the first time ever—and thereby surpass Durham’s current record of third place, which was set in… 1998. Michael and Isaiah will be particularly difficult to beat on fine arts, Kai augments their physics background with a solid knowledge of history, while Sam complements the team on the sciences—natural and social. All in all, they are currently a team on top form, and few could doubt that they have what it takes to win the trophy this year.

Outside of the pre-qualified teams, there are several who, if they don’t have the trophy in their sights, can still hope for an upset victory or two. Warwick A could certainly do so—Thomas Hart, Conrad Freidson, Dillon Patel and Robert Crawley form a quartet of maths undergraduates who together have a particular knack for modern history, religion, mythology and the fine arts. Meanwhile, 2023 finalist and noted history specialist Mehmet Tatoğlu has come out of retirement to join Alexander Baker, Elliot Cosnett and Ella Warde in Oxford B. The quizzing circuit may have progressed from the days of Oxford derbies in the final, but their opponents will need to have their wits about them if they want to win. Cambridge B have a strong lineup as usual, with former Minnesota quizbowler Maxwell Ye, standout newcomer Brendan Bethlehem as well as recent regulars Andrei Hui and Linus Luu. However, they’ll also have the formidable duo of Andrew Fisher and Freddy Potts in the Sheffield team to contend with in the prelims, who are supported by Lyndsey Hepworth and Jenny Cole. The wholly postgraduate Imperial B will also be eyeing up the top bracket, with experienced players Rahim Dina and Owen Iredale joined this time by Nilai Sarda and Jaime Salamanca Camacho, the latter two having made impressive debuts at ARCADIA last December.

There’s plenty to be excited about in the remaining B and C teams, as well as those representing the less regular quizbowl institutions. This will be the first BSQC in ten years to feature a team from the London School of Economics, thanks in large part to the efforts of Singaporean quizbowler Albert Nyang in assembling the team. Having recently missed out on BSQC for the first time ever, Manchester will return this year, fielding their current University Challenge captain Hiru Senehedheera. Meanwhile, former series champions and Gilbert Jackson and Alex Radcliffe will be among the five representing King’s College London this year. Southampton, who recently reformed under the leadership of Jamie Burchett, will be sending players who have excelled at recent novice and intermediate tournaments. Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh and Warwick have managed to send two teams apiece, all with some fresh faces to BSQC, showcasing the continued growth of student quiz in their societies, while Cambridge have impressively managed to qualify four teams directly. These teams are awash with new players who performed impressively at other events this year—there’s Teddy Fogel of Birmingham, Eileen Peng on Oxford C, Ben LaFond on Cambridge C, Lewys Jenkins on Bristol A, Benjamin Watson on Warwick B, to name but a few. One year’s newcomers could be the next year’s champions, and it’s at BSQC that we really get to see the players shine.

I could go on for a very long time trawling through the teams and the stats and past tournaments, but this has to wrap up somewhere. The growth of the quizzing community over the past six months has been a delight to witness, and BSQC will bring it together. Soon, the matches will have been played, the trophy presented, the stats posted, the memes shared and the teams’ bingo sheets crossed through, with thoughts already turning to who might win next year. But in the meantime…

…please look forward to it!

UK Quizbowl

Student buzzer quiz tournaments in the UK.