How to Get the Most Out of the NCL Slack Channel

Despite the name, the NCL Slack isn’t for slackers. Slack is a productivity-oriented messaging platform comparable to Discord or IRC, and it’s where you can communicate live with other NCL players and the competition organizers. During each stage of the competition, any impromptu alerts — such as challenge clarifications or updates to the wording of a question — are broadcast on the NCL Slack channels. Between competitions, players share tips and battle stories. It’s a great resource both during NCL and between events, which raises the question: why aren’t you already there?

Getting Started

Before we get into the different NCL Slack channels and the purposes they serve, let’s cover a few ground rules:

  1. NCL is an academic competition. While friendly banter is okay in designated channels, you are generally expected to behave professionally. Remember, your future employer or professor might be present.
  2. Don’t ask questions about challenges. Except during the Team Game, during which you are encouraged to talk to your team, you can’t seek assistance with challenges — this is a competition, after all. Seemingly benign questions might offer hints to other players which would give them an unfair advantage. If you think a challenge may have an issue or you need to ask for clarification, it’s usually best to do so by opening a support ticket instead.
  3. Don’t send direct messages to NCL Player Ambassadors if you can avoid it. Typically, we’re required to answer any questions publicly or avoid answering them at all, as to do otherwise would risk giving one player an unfair advantage over others.
  4. In addition to developing and running the NCL competitions, Cyber Skyline is in charge of managing the Slack channels. The channels are hosted on their Slack server, so keep in mind that not all members of the server are there for NCL; others may have joined for other competitions that Cyber Skyline runs.

Now that we’ve gotten the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get into how Slack works. When you first visit, you’ll be invited to register an account. From there, you’ll be plopped into a chat client with a lot of people and not a lot of direction, so you’ll need to join some channels. Channels are a bit like chat rooms: groups of people who are discussing a single topic. Cyber Skyline will attempt to automatically invite you to any channels that are relevant to competitions in which you’re participating, but some will need to be joined manually. To join a channel, click the “+ Add channels” button on the left sidebar on the “Channels” header. Notable channels include:

  • #ncl-spring2021 (or equivalent) is the core channel for a given NCL season. Announcements and casual NCL-oriented discussion take place here. When there isn’t an active competition, players sometimes share resources. You’ll also likely see players providing feedback on the season, although it will be vague so as to avoid giving any hints. Under no circumstances should spoilers or resources for specific challenges be posted here; there’s a separate channel for that.
  • #no-answer-only-methodologies-ncl-spring-2021 (or equivalent) is a hints channel that opens when Cyber Skyline chooses to permit discussion of the challenges. Last season, this discussion channel opened between the Preseason Game and the Individual Game. This channel remains opened for the rest of the season after that, but it is prohibited to post in this channel during actives games. This is the only place on Slack where it’s acceptable to discuss different approaches to challenges, though — as the name implies — answers and step-by-step instructions are still forbidden. This channel is opt-in: if you don’t want any hints, you don’t have to join.
  • #ask-an-ncl-ambassador is a place for you to ask the NCL Player Ambassadors questions. Ideally, you should ask your questions here rather than privately so that anyone can read the answer. If you ask a Player Ambassador a question privately, they may ask you to post your question here instead to avoid giving you an unfair advantage. We won’t be able to offer assistance with the challenges themselves, so please don’t ask about specific challenges, but we can answer questions about the competition itself, such as what to expect the first time you play.
  • #resources is a new channel for discussion of tools and resources. If you’re having trouble finding information about a particular tool or topic, this is a great place to ask as long as there isn’t a competition taking place. No asking for help during the competition! Furthermore, it’s not appropriate to ask about specific challenges here even after the competition is over; you should keep such requests to #no-answer-only-methodologies-* instead.
  • #ncl-team-search is a great place to find teammates for the Team Game. It’s typically most active immediately after the Individual Game concludes and before the Team Game starts.
  • #pets is a casual channel for all your anxiety-reducing needs.
  • #random is another casual channel, but with no set topic.

Maximizing Your Slack Experience

Mistakes happen; nothing is ever perfect, and NCL is no exception. During the competition, Cyber Skyline monitors player feedback and answer accuracy. Each season, they often discover at least one or two questions that need to be reworded or accept additional answers. While there are in-game notifications of significant corrections, you should keep a close eye on Slack throughout each game. You’ll likely find Cyber Skyline staff commenting on any issues that arise.

While you won’t find any answers or hints in Slack during each game, you will likely see casual feedback about the competition, including which challenges players are finding exciting or especially well-made. You may want to prioritize these challenges, as they often offer unique educational value. Personally, I enjoy a good puzzle, so I gravitate toward challenges that other players identify as difficult but rewarding.

At designated times after games, Cyber Skyline will open a #no-answers-only-methodologies discussion channel. This the only time you’re allowed to discuss challenges with all other players on Slack. Unlike other channels, this channel tends to be fairly structured:

  • Discussion is organized into threads. The exact organization of the threads may change from season to season; at minimum, you will typically see a dedicated thread for each of the most difficult challenges. There will typically be a message from a moderator explaining the structure and special rules that may apply.
  • Step-by-step instructions and exact answers aren’t allowed, but hints and strategies are fair game.

Finally, Slack has a networking value — and not the computer kind. You’ll get to meet a variety of people from all walks of life, many of whom will share your interests and goals. You never know what doors you’ll open and what opportunities will arise.

If this sounds enticing — and it should! — join us in Slack now.

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