The 2nd Team

Datum: Feb 6th, 2013
Category: Debattieren in der Öffentlichkeit, International, Presseschau

The Vienna debaters from Debattierklub Wien (Stefan Zweiker, Rosie Halmi, Andreas Prischl, Jakob Reiter, Melanie Sindelar, Anna Nessmann and Andreas Villareal) release a case for overthinking the new reg reform which was discussed at this year’s WUDC council. You can read their thoughts now exclusively on Achte Minute.

Stances odebattierklub wien dkn the WUDC Reg Reform from an evolving society: How preferring societies in WUDC registration on basis of a break legacy puts back the debaters that train the hardest

Executive summary

The Reg Reform drives a painful thorn into the flesh of those debating societies who are working hard to reach their first break at WUDC (herein ‘evolving societies’). The Reg Reform that was discussed in this year’s WUDC council would make registration for evolving societies worse than it is under a random system, since it substantially diminishes the probability of getting a second team for a society that does not have a legacy of breaks. Yet, those are the societies with the most severe need for a second team. While it is clear that some sort of reform for registration is necessary, this can barely be the fair way the Council was aiming for. To solve this problem the authors suggest abandoning the arbitrary criterion of breaks in the current Reg Reform proposal. Instead the distribution of slots should reward achievements on the tab rather than breaks, to give a chance to those societies who have been steadily working their way up.

Basis of Argument

The Registration Reform (hereinafter Reg Reform) confers to a proposal by Tom Jackson (IONA) which basically contained the following three mechanisms:

1- All institutions receive a first team when they register for WUDC before a second team slot is handed out to any institution

2- No third team-slot is allocated before each institution that requested two slots receives these two slots

3- The slots are allocated according to a ranking that is calculated on the basis of the break history of each institution at WUDC. Teams that do not have a break history are allocated randomly among those who never broke.

We want to make clear that we do agree with the necessity of a registration reform, and with the mechanisms 1 and 2 above. We also concede that a performance based criterion might be superior to an arbitrary criterion like the time of registration. However, we fundamentally disagree with basing the allocation of slots on the break history of a society. Indeed we believe it forcefully drives a stake into the heart of aspiring societies aiming for their first break. As a consequence we are going to describe in detail how these debating societies are harmed and then propose an alternative criterion to make the Reg Reform fairer to all sides.


Aspiring debating societies which are aiming for the break and do not have a long history of breaking teams (hereinafter ‘evolving societies’) are the losers of the Reg Reform as it was proposed in this year’s WUDC Council. Their interests were not heard. This is not surprising, given that the interests of established societies are already more dominantly represented in the WUDC Council. Hence, resolutions favouring them have always been more likely to pass. The Reg Reform proposed in the 2013 WUDC council perfectly represents this rift. It allocates second slots solely on the basis of the institution’s break history. In principle it gives established societies a 100% default advantage to preserve their position by preferring them in the allocation of team slots. We think this is vastly unnecessary given that established societies already benefit from their experience in training their teams for WUDC, but not only that. The Reg Reform has more specific drawbacks that fundamentally disenfranchise debating societies aiming at their first break:

We will first outline why we believe that evolving societies deserve equal treatment to established societies (A). We would even say that they sometimes work harder for their break than anyone else. Subsequently we will go into the reasons why the Reg Reform is exceptionally harsh to these evolving societies. The Reg Reform makes the first break systematically harder for an evolving debating society. Achievements in gathering points at prior Worlds are systematically ignored, which puts them in the same position for getting a second team as societies that show up at worlds for the first time. Societies aiming to achieve a break are less likely to receive a second team slot, although the break criterion is already biased against them. As a consequence the Reg Reform inherently locks them below the break level (B). Moreover, young evolving societies are dependent on sending at least two teams in order to keep their members motivated and train BP Debating effectively. The Reg Reform systematically prevents them from pushing a team beyond break level in the first place. (C). As a result, the policy promotes institution split which we perceive as both highly unfair and a wrong incentive for a functioning debating community (D). Accordingly, we will propose measures to change the present proposal for a Reg Reform towards a fairer treatment of evolving debating societies (E).

  • A. The Long Way to the Top

We believe the debating community should have an interest in allowing new societies to make it up to the top. As the example of Belgrade shows, there are young societies out there who work hard to promote debating in their region. They enrich the traditional field of teams at Worlds and give back to the community by organising tournaments that are carried by their ambitious spirit. However, ambition alone does not amount to much. Competitive debating is about winning debates and the incentive to invest time and effort into debating is contingent on the chance to achieve a break at WUDC. As a consequence, evolving societies work towards breaking a team at WUDC. Reaching the team break at WUDC is a vital learning experience for the entire society and more importantly it creates a basis of good debaters that pass on their experience to future generations.

Yet, for an evolving society this is an exceedingly hard task. Young societies without a legacy of breaking teams do not have break-experienced debaters to coach their teams. Instead WUDC teams of an evolving debating society need to pull up the internal level of the society before they can have a decent training debate. The only way for them to improve is to invest in tremendous amounts of training. This is an expensive method since it entails sending teams to numerous tournaments to expose them to better teams. In Vienna we have been training hard. Yet, having three meetings a week and attending 75 tournaments in two years did not bring any of our teams over the break level at WUDC.

We believe the fact that young societies lack experience does already make the break hard enough for them. We think the debating community should encourage young societies to work up to their first break given that it is so crucial to their development.

  • B. The First Break Problem

The problem is that the Reg Reform will make it even harder to ever reach the first break. The most active societies get treated as if they had never participated at WUDC, when a legacy of breaks is the only thing that could pull it ahead at registration. For an evolving society the likelihood to get a second team slot becomes considerably lower compared to a random registration procedure, where their chances are at least equal to established teams. At the same time an evolving society is in the most urgent need for a second slot in order to reach the break at the competition itself. First, WUDC embraces a certain degree of randomness. This is even worse if the lack of an established institution name means that severe judging biases stand against the team as soon as the draw appears. As a result, aiming at the first break with just one team and without an established institution name is a desperate endeavour. It is simply too likely that the team gets torn down by bad luck, bad judging, and a common bias. A second team is vital to at least slightly mitigate this effect. Second, WUDC is a long and tiresome tournament. Having a second team entails the psychological benefit to have mates building each other up after a defeat – which is, again, crucial for success.

As a result, evolving societies are hit hard by the Reg Reform, because the low probability of receiving a second team slot gets them systematically stuck in their position below break level. This is not only unfair, we even think that there is an interest in welcoming these societies at WUDC as they spice up the field with their sedulous ambition to reach the break.

  • C. The Motivational Problem

Second, being able to send at least two teams is vital for an aspiring society’s training circumstances. Debaters are more likely to train hard if they have the chance to show off at WUDC. The proposal pushes societies to allocate their resources into one team, whereupon either of two things happens:

1) As the stakes become higher for that one team, the society will need to accommodate for a problematic preparation period: Constantly requiring teams to show up while being excluded from the chances to compete at WUDC. This harms the society on two grounds. One, the WUDC team is less able to prepare properly – making the break and a future second slot at WUDC even less likely again. In an evolving society, if the single team wanted to have a decent debate to train for WUDC it needed six other debaters that put at least a comparable amount of effort into preparation, even though there was no WUDC slot for them. It is clear that one motivated team alone is rarely willed to invest that much effort to get the rest of the society into this project. A second WUDC team would at least mitigate this effect, since two teams can at least guarantee a decent half of a debate. Two, the society as such is not going to improve its internal level if there is no sufficient motivation for training. We can tell from our experience that the outlook of a successful WUDC participation is a crucial incentive for debaters in a young society to invest their time and resources into debating. With the Reg Reform, the outlook to participate in the first place is diminished by half in societies with no break legacy. Moreover, as pointed out above, the assumption that such participation would be successful (i.e. worth training for) would be plainly hopeless at best.

2) The society neglects WUDC. It is understandable if debaters seize spending their money on the expensive flights to WUDC if there is nothing they can achieve there. However, societies that do not participate at WUDC are excluded from the international debating community. WUDC is the tournament that sets the standards for BP debating. Besides, it is the only chance for debaters to establish themselves beyond their region. One example is that the debating community puts strong emphasis on the WUDC break when assessing judges. Debaters from a society that disengages from WUDC will not be chosen as CAs for tournaments, simply because they are robbed of the chance to build up their reputation at the only truly international tournament.

In sum, young debating societies are so dependent on a second team at WUDC that attempts to train a young debating society towards WUDC perish in the cradle, if the Reg Reform is pushed through as proposed.

  • D. The Institution Split Problem

Third, as a consequence, we believe the Reg Reform incentivises institution split. If a society that is new in its region does not want to suffer the harms of what is outlined above it may split into branches, representing different universities and faculties. Vienna is currently representing five Universities and surely another ten schools and semi-independent faculties (360,495 students enrolled in winter 11/12). Hence, it would be perfectly legitimate under WUDC rules to split up. Yet we have three thoughts on this issue: One, splitting up a society harms debating in the region, as the separate societies are less able to promote debating than if they were unified. While we welcome the idea of having multiple societies in a region and we acknowledge there might be good reasons for a society to consider a split, we believe that a formal split merely for the WUDC participation is problematic. A WUDC caused split is not representative of the systemic needs a society has. Organisation becomes more costly if things are kept separate. We believe it is no coincidence that EUDC 2012 and WUDC 2013 were hosted by organisations that were active on multiple universities. It is hard to see why they should be forced to split formally. Two, pulling off projects like tournaments will become increasingly difficult if the local debating scene is split into many. Three, it is an undue disadvantage to those students who are not lucky enough to be able to easily enrol in multiple universities – in many countries, this is possible and facilitated by state universities with low tuition fees. We want to raise the question whether the debating community really has an interest in having more ‘empty’ debating societies around, simply because this is the only chance for them to send enough local debaters to WUDC to keep the training up. Given the scarcity of places at WUDC this just perpetuates the problem.

  • E. So How Can These Problems Be Solved?

We do acknowledge that there is no easy way out, since the slots will always be limited in some way. Therefore we second Tom’s idea in not giving out a second team slot before all the firsts are allocated, and respectively assign the third slots not before each requested second slot was allocated. We are aware this will make a third team slot very unlikely for anyone, which is something that needs to happen to avoid the overcrowding of WUDC. However, we have a proposal for the way the slots shall be distributed:

Breaks are the wrong criterion, they are far too arbitrary. We believe ambitious societies should be rewarded by taking the average position of their teams in their bracket into account. We propose using percentages in this regard as they adapt for the size of the bracket. An ESL society whose average team position is in the top 20% of the ESL tab should be equally ranked as a native society which average team position is in the top 20% of the main bracket. This will ensure the language brackets keep their size and at the same time it incentivises sending two good teams. There are three major benefits arising from this change in the proposal, without any drawback for the quality of the competition. We concede that the mechanism will lead to fewer completely new societies that get two slots (as the randomising worked in favour of them), but we think it is worth giving these slots preferably to societies who have worked their way up in light of the benefits:

1- If positions in the relevant bracket are counted instead of breaks, hard work also pays off even if it did not lead to a break yet.

2- The incentive to each society ensures that teams will still give their best in the very last round, even if they did enough back tabbing to know that they did not break. We think that makes the competition fairer for ESL teams who might face a native team screwing up the debate in the ESL break room, where that native team does not see any chances for itself.

3- Indeed there is slight advantage for a society that sends one exceeding team to get a second slot in the year after – which we think is fair.

In the long run we believe the Council needs to think about setting qualification criteria for WUDC team slot allocation which takes performance at regional championships (EUDC, Australs) into account as well. It will help those teams who show a steady good performance but not reached the break yet and it will as well allow for enough diversity, if the brackets are arranged wisely. However, we think the solution brought forward above could substantially improve the situation that needs to be dealt with under the status quo.

For all these reasons we would like to submit the request to revise the Reg Reform towards a fairer treatment of evolving debating societies. We would suggest abandoning the criterion of breaks and propose to instead take into account the relative position a society’s teams reached at the prior two WUDC’s. In terms of institution split we suggest to monitor the problem to a degree that it is at least not exploited unfairly in the light of scarce slots.

Published for public discussion by the Vienna Debaters

Stefan Zweiker, Rosie Halmi, Andreas Prischl, Jakob Reiter, Melanie Sindelar, Anna Nessmann, Andreas Villareal

Vienna, 5th of February 2013

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