ICPC should NOT be done online

Revision en9, by jonathanirvings, 2021-08-18 20:25:15

I have been thinking about this for more than a year. I think it's time to share my thoughts. Disclaimer: all opinions written in this post are purely personal and not tied with any affiliation/institution I am working with.

The global pandemic we are encountering has affected many aspects of our life. While we need to adapt to doing most of our activities online, competing in the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) -- or similar high-stakes team programming contest -- should not be one of them.

I have no objection to the following online contests: International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), Google Code Jam (GCJ) final, Facebook Hacker Cup (FBHC) final, and any similar contest final which is participated by the best ~20 competitive programmers in the world. What makes them different from ICPC is the amount of trust we have put in the contestants or their local community.

In the case of IOI, IOI has been built by the strong community we have among the delegation team leaders. We have put so much trust in them by letting them read the tasks several hours before the contest, and take a vote in important decisions regarding the competition. This fact makes it easy to just let the team leaders (or someone trusted by the team leaders) physically proctor the contestants.

In the case of GCJ, FBHC, etc. finals, the competition is participated only by the best ~20 competitive programmers in the world, usually almost all of them are Codeforces LGM. The usage of any materials written before the contest (including the internet) is usually allowed. The only prohibited action is to communicate with other people. However, these competitors are well-known and respected members of the community. At their level, they do not gain a huge (if any) advantage by communicating with most other people. Also, they are risking their huge reputation by trying to communicate with other people. It's just not worth it.

It is entirely different in ICPC. Even in the World Finals, it is competed by 100+ teams. Different from GCJ finals, they are not the best teams in the world due to the process of qualifying to the World Finals with the regionals. Without intending to disrespect these teams, usually, not many people know the teams on the bottom half of the scoreboard. Given how prestigious ICPC is, I can imagine how some teams might do what they are not supposed to do for glory. Additionally, ICPC setup is unique in having one workstation/team and the importance of hardcopy printings, which makes it more complicated to do it online.

It is not better in the regionals. The regionals are still an important and prestigious contest since it determines the teams going to the World Finals. However, it is competed by even less known teams. Some of these teams even compete with lower effort and without the support of their university, which makes it harder to enforce them to a slightly complicated online setup. It is just hard (if not impossible) to ensure that they are not using any prohibited materials. In IOI, most contestants are supported by many people (at the very least, their team leader. most are supported by their government and local community as well), which makes it easier to enforce a sophisticated VM/VPN setup to monitor the contestants' activity in their workstation as well.

Generally, I just think that online proctoring (in whatever format) just does not make much sense. Regardless of how many cameras or screen recordings are enforced, once the contestants leave the camera coverage, no one knows what happened (the contestants may talk to other people, access the internet, etc.). All competitors must be physically proctored by someone we can trust.

That is why I believe that ICPC World Finals 2020 should be postponed until it is possible to host it on-site and participated by (almost) all finalists. ICPC Regionals 2020 should not have happened -- ICPC Regionals 2020 and ICPC World Finals 2021 should have been suspended. When the ICPC is resumed, all contestants who are supposed to be eligible for ICPC Regionals 2020 can participate.

Some of you might know that I am the chief judge of the last four years of the Jakarta site. I am not happy with the decision that Jakarta was hosting ICPC Regional 2020 online and will be hosting ICPC Regional 2021 (most likely online). Jakarta was the only online site in the Asia-Pacific region last year and many teams in this region can only compete on this site. Nevertheless, I still just prefer that ICPC Regional did not happen last year. There were some issues from last year that was caused by online proctoring, such as different teams were mistakenly enforced different rules by different proctors (despite the huge effort of briefing the proctors, it still happened) and teams were getting disqualified because they were not able to gather their team members.

I will not be the chief judge of the Jakarta site this year.


  Rev. Lang. By When Δ Comment
en9 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:25:15 291
en8 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:18:32 94
en7 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:16:02 0 (published)
en6 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:13:05 7 Tiny change: ' not make any sense. Re' -> ' not make much sense. Re'
en5 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:12:45 7 Tiny change: 'the Asia-PP regional ' -> 'the Asia-Pacific regional '
en4 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:10:03 16 Tiny change: '. Without disrespecting these tea' -> '. Without intending to disrespect these tea'
en3 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:09:37 6 Tiny change: 'different from ICPC. Eve' -> 'different in ICPC. Eve'
en2 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:07:51 253
en1 English jonathanirvings 2021-08-18 20:04:26 4484 Initial revision (saved to drafts)