Debate not IRL

By Michelle Lin (’23) and Emma Aranda (’24)

Waking up at 6 am for a debate tournament was difficult. When the sky was still pitch black, us, the eager debaters, were wide awake, ready for our first-ever online debate tournament. Counting the bright stars in the sky, we arrived at school, excited about the debates but nervous about the upcoming challenges with debates taking place on Discord. 

My eyes were still sore when I arrived at school. Barely thinking straight, my partner and I set up the Discord servers, ready to go. One of the major differences for me was that I had to state the form of POI we wanted to take. However, Discord cannot handle the POIs coming all at once. Sometimes, despite how thrilled I was to say the POI, the other team concluded their speech nonetheless. 

One of the best aspects of debate was that the debaters get to share their rounds with others during breaks. When debate goes online, we lose the precious chance to communicate with fellow debaters. The interpersonal connections are not as strong when the discussions take place online. Personally, I established friendships from debate tournaments. I thoroughly enjoyed communicating with advanced debaters and hearing their thoughts on certain rounds. However, when debate becomes remote, the opportunity to interact with one another dissipates. 

Furthermore, many advanced debaters reminisced their times travelling around the world for debate tournaments. They miss learning about new cultures while debating about current events. Although I have never been to tournaments outside of Canada, I have heard that Thailand is quite a picturesque country. Seeing new places, tasting new foods, and meeting new people undoubtedly increases one’s understanding of the world. Unfortunately, new debaters don’t get the opportunity to travel around for debate this year because of COVID. 

As a first time debater, I began to think that I picked, quite possibly, the worst year to start. The tournament was barely-organized chaos as over 300 people flooded the Discord servers. It was hectic, to say the least. Judges, debaters, and spectators all crammed into one single server, nearly causing it to crash. Tournaments got delayed for hours; when the original plan was to go home at 7, many were leaving the school at 9 pm instead. 

It wasn’t stressful, though. Many were able to laugh off the nerves as their partners or the opposing teams experienced technical difficulties, whether it was their mic not working or a horrible echo that pierced everyone’s ears. Many debaters conversed with their opponents while waiting to hear the results of the debate, some even gaining a new follower on Instagram! While Discord cannot come close in efficiency compared to in-person debates, many experiences stayed and uniquely adapted to the situation of the pandemic. 

Food was the only source of comfort during this distressed and panicked time. While debaters and their partners experienced mild panic attacks at the thought of missing their debate because “nothing is working,” food was the anchor keeping everyone sane. Rice Burger and Pizza Hut had never tasted better as it provided solace for the nervous eighth-grade rookies coming out of their rooms where they previously had no experience in high school debate. The stressed grade 10s debated British Parliamentary style for the first time alongside an arsenal of cookies and juice boxes. 

Despite all the challenges we may have faced, both digitally and in-person (with some food orders not arriving!), Debate via Discord was an adventure and a half. All the teams managed to persevere, as we got ready to watch the finals, with our school represented! Everyone who participated can agree that it was ultimately a pleasantly unique experience that we will laugh about for many debate tournaments to come.

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