University of Oklahoma Wins First Hybrid PetroBowl Competition at ATCE 2022

OU takes victory followed by Colorado School of Mines as new software brings teams from all over the world to compete in SPE’s most popular student quiz.

Winning Team 3.jfif
2022 Champions: From left to right: Chinedu Joseph Nwosu, Andrea Camila Castillo Manrique, Marco Portella (Captain), Blessed Charles Amankwah Amoah, Camilo Andres Mateus Rubiano.
Mewbourne School of Petroleum and (MPGE) Geological Engineering at University of Oklahoma

The 2022 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) hosted the first-ever hybrid PetroBowl Championship, a contest unlike any other which enabled participants to compete from anywhere in the world.

The PetroBowl contest is SPE's largest student competition. SPE Chapters from around the world participate in this quick-fire quiz covering a wide range of topics relevant to the E&P industry. Through this contest, the best students display their expertise and knowledge to a global audience. The championship consists of 32 teams. These teams are selected through regional qualifiers which take place across the six PetroBowl super regions. Five teams qualify from each super region, who join the two finalist teams from the 2021 championship to determine the 32 teams. Traditionally, this was done in-person using buzzers, but during the lockdown period new software was developed by SPE members at the University of Zulia to bring the reaction speed elements to the digital contest.

PetroBowl Championship Evolution

A lot was learned during this new period of digital engagement, and the program reached a new and expanded audience. The result of this saw a greater diversity of teams reaching the final stages of the games and greater exposure of talented students worldwide. For the first time, all qualifying teams were able to participate, as players were not faced with the significant challenges of cost, VISA approval, and time away from university required to participate.

When ATCE was announced in Houston for 2022, the choice to switch back to in-person play was not straightforward. While there are some digital platforms which come close to the PetroBowl style of play, the level of engagement and excitement always struggled to match the atmosphere of an in-person event. In addition, those who do participate at ATCE get abundant and sometimes unexpected benefits of attending a large conference they may not have attended otherwise. This was something SPE wanted to encourage.

This left the Young Member Engagement Committee (YMEC) with a challenge. As the standing committee responsible for this program, a decision had to be made that would best serve those participating in the program. However, to an engineer, a challenge is not something to be avoided, but is a chance to do what they do best.

So, a new task was established, to bring together the excitement and prestige of the in-person event, while maintaining the exposure and accessibility of the digital format. Following significant research, it did not appear that anything like that had been attempted before. A fast-paced quiz where players were on other sides of the globe, competing on an even playing field, has not been attempted by big budget TV shows, let alone by volunteer led societies.

The software was key. Traditional buzzers and verbal question reading would not be viable due to the latency of internet connection, putting remote teams at a significant disadvantage to their in-person competitors. Teams had to be at a level playing field, otherwise the whole program would lose its reputation. But it also had to allow for potential failings in infrastructure at the same time.

Cassandra Dewan led the PetroBowl workgroup, and working with SPE web developer, Jerrod Quintana, redesigned the PetroBowl software, rebuilding it from the ground up, on a new web-based platform. Fundamental aspects from the University of Zulia software, such as the computer reading the questions and recording the local response time based on that, were retained to keep global accessibility. New elements were brought in such as individual question reviews, audience views, and connection monitoring were added to ensure a smooth operation on the day. The result was a new platform that allowed for reliable and accessible live play.

Setup was complicated to begin with, and when relying on external laptops and conference networks to host everything, it certainly was not straightforward. However, as the games continued it soon became clear that the software worked.

The result was a delayed but entertaining contest. Controversy has never been a stranger to the PetroBowl program, and tied games, accusations, and appeals were all in full effect. It is clear there are improvements to be made, with remote play inciting a certain level of suspicion which is near impossible to prove either way. Ultimately a balance had to be struck to avoid PetroBowl becoming a contest of who could attend, rather than a test of industry knowledge.

In the end, remote play did not give the advantage some teams feared, with all four finalists being teams who participated in-person. But there were a lot of close games in the lead up. All the teams were worthy competitors, and when the final took place between the University of Oklahoma and the Colorado School of Mines, those positions felt well earned.

The future of PetroBowl is strong, with room for improvements certainly, but the unique and previously unproven approach seems to allow the competition to achieve its main goal, to showcase the talents of students from all over the world. It will be exciting to see what future talent the industry will bring in the years to come.

For news on future PetroBowl programs, make sure to go to the SPE PetroBowl webpage.