Petrobowl: Everything you Need to Know
Written By: J. Tanner Wachsman
What is PetroBowl?
PetroBowl is a fast paced, no nonsense petroleum engineering and trivia competition held annually at SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE). Students from around the world gather at ATCE to represent themselves, their team, and their schools – all in pursuit of the championship. Teams compete against each other in a bracketed system containing several of the world’s top engineering universities. Each team works to qualify for their seeded spot and may travel long distances to enter the competition. This year, ATCE14 was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands – creating an equally arduous and exciting travel experience.
In the first few rounds, teams of four face off in a winner take all, single match – where the highest scoring team advances and the lowest is eliminated. Upon reaching the quarter finals, matches extend to two continuous rounds and the team with the highest cumulative points advances. The competitions are
conducted in near silence, with contestants hanging on the moderator’s every word. The fastest team to buzz in is acknowledged by the judges and a timer begins counting down until they provide their answer to the toss-up question. As real-time and live-stream audiences watch, the judges pass a verdict to award or deduct points based on answer accuracy. Such decisions are quickly met with applause or criticism from the crowd. Upon answering a toss-up correctly, the scoring team receives a bonus question with the potential to earn points without contention from the opposing team.
Successful teams balance technical knowledge and time management. Question after question is answered, and time continues to wind down for each match. The round winners advance, culminating in the championship game where the two finalist universities compete for title and trophy – a large, golden derrick.
PetroBowl 2014 – A Truly International Competition
This year’s ATCE14 was hosted in Amsterdam, Netherlands – taking PetroBowl internationally for just the second time in the competition’s history. Texas A&M’s team was comprised of six members, four on stage and two acting as the group’s support. Our lineup consisted of two sophomores, two juniors, a senior and a graduate student – namely, Gabriel Siegel (Support—Sophomore), Kevin Wiggs (Support—Sophomore), Ritthy Son (On Stage—Junior), Tanner Wachsman (On Stage—Junior), Andrew Weldon (On Stage—Senior), and Raul Gonzalez (On Stage—Graduate Student).
Early on the morning of the competition day, we ran throughout the RAI Center (ATCE14’s venue), searched for breakfast, finalized team strategy, and then collected our composure before taking the stage in our first match against the University of Stavanger, a team from Norway. This first, eight minute match allowed our team to develop a sense for the stage presence and question style, which would prove beneficial as we won the match and advanced to our next opponent, the University of Texas.
With time to spare before the next round, we continued to hold a steady conviction to remain calm and to focus on what we had trained all year long to do – answer questions quickly and correctly. However, it soon became difficult to ignore the surrounding excitement. At this point, the entire PetroBowl audience eagerly anticipated our next match: Texas A&M vs. University of Texas – a rivalry not forgotten.
Attendees from all universities started filing in prior to the match’s start time, and then, with buzzers in hand… the match began. Back and forth, back and forth – our teams held up against one another. With time running out, U.T. correctly answered the last toss-up question, placing them only five points behind us… they then received their bonus question. A potential 15 point lead, and ultimately the match point was within their reach. No time was left for additional questions. In this situation, there was dead silence from our team as the moderator read the question and U.T. started to respond. The verdict: no points awarded. They had barely missed the beat and with no time remaining, we found ourselves advancing. It was a close call. Still jarred from the results, we stepped across the stage and congratulated our rivals on a match well fought. Our attention then shifted and our singular thought was on the third match – A&M vs. University of Tulsa.
There was a significant amount of talk about the University of Tulsa’s team and chapter. They had a good showing at the conference, and people definitely noticed their performance. In addition, our members spoke with them in depth and determined that we were facing some stiff competition. There was no time to dwell on that thought. Our team needed to focus intensely on outperforming the opposition in the next round.
We approached the stage for the third time and prepared ourselves. The timer starts. Now, we had reached the quarterfinals, which consisted of two continuous matches to determine the advancing team. After a grueling first match – we were down. The second match was soon upon us and University of Tulsa performed extremely well. They answered questions with lightning speed and gained the upper hand – which they maintained for the remainder of the round, advancing them to the semifinals.
Shock set in as an emotional response – the same response experienced by previously defeated teams in prior rounds. We found ourselves eliminated… and shaking hands with the team that would eventually go on to win this year’s championship. We had invested the time, we had come this far, and we lost – but not without a great show and multiple victories against strong, competitive teams. We were happy to have had this chance, and thankful for the experience we were able to share with one another. It was an unforgettable opportunity to be involved with SPE at that level.
Getting Involved – A&M’s PetroBowl Future
PetroBowl has come a long way since its founding in 2002 – being held in various, world-class venues across the United States and the world. Along the way, participation from the SPE student chapters has grown as well as attention from industry professionals, who recognize the competition as grounds for academic excellence. What makes it special is that it continues to evolve. The competition gains new participants and new rules each year, and of course new champions.
Texas A&M is seeking bright, young SPE members to take the lead and start preparation for future PetroBowl competitions. PetroBowl 2015 will be held in Houston, Texas and in 2016 – Dubai, UAE. As expected, cities change, but the experiences stay the same – fun, rewarding, and memorable. Students who have been previously involved in PetroBowl can attest to the competition’s ability to turn a strong team into strong friendships. Additionally, the skills and knowledge learned is relevant in industry and can help students distinguish themselves from an ever growing pool of job applicants.
If you are interested in increasing your involvement with this competition, you will put in time that ultimately provides a significant return on investment, not only for yourself, but for our university. You will gain valuable knowledge and be exposed to industry professionals at a higher level. There is more than one way to support your university, too – if desired, you can focus on technical support and logistics rather than competing.
In the Spring, we typically have our intra-school PetroBowl competition – where Texas A&M students face off in self-selected teams for great prizes (last year’s intra-school PetroBowl awarded digital tablets to the winners). And, for the first time ever, we will have a North American qualifying round held at Texas A&M’s Student Summit, this year being supported by the University of Oklahoma and held in Oklahoma City with help from Devon Energy.
Ready to get involved? I encourage you to reach out to Masoud Alfi (firstname.lastname@example.org), current coordinator and leader of Texas A&M’s PetroBowl efforts.