A lot of people are saying it felt like an invitational - anything more specific about why? I didn't notice anything particularly different in that sense.
For our team, there were two main factors that made this feel less like nationals than previous nationals.
First was the campus. Last year, the events were largely centralized in one single cluster, so wherever you walked, you were surrounded by Scioly competitors. This year, all the events were basically spread out along one mile-long road. Traffic was cutting through all day, which physically interrupts the going-ons of nationals and reminds you that it’s just an event at Cornell—there are still other things going on outside Scioly. Also, at least for our team, the homeroom was at the opposite end of campus of most of our events, so people hardly went there. We were essentially just building-hopping between events, and that feels much more invitational-esque. It seemed as though nationals was simply borrowing the space; it didn’t control it like at CSU or Wright State. Not the fault of the organizers or anything, but if traffic was cut off or the homerooms more centralized, it’s possible that some of that feeling would have been alleviated.
The second part was the post-competition. There was no formal banquet like previous years; that was a huge bummer. Additionally, at CSU and Wright State, we were in massive stadium-style auditoriums that really focalized around the awards stage, and going up to get medals felt like everyone had your eyes on you. This year it was in a gym. No elevated seating, just straight rows front to back. We could hardly see the stage as team members went up to get medals. Plus, it felt as though they rushed through the awards. Taking everyone off stage for photos to speed things along had the alternative effect of making each event take only about a minute. People weren’t forced to wait around until all the competitors had gotten their medals; unless there was a special award, they left the stage before the audience could truly see them all together. And they could only see them on the screen, so it didn’t feel like we were really there, celebrating the medalists; we were just viewing them. Combined with the completely non-fitting music, and the awards ceremony was just way less hype. Again, the tournament organizers didn’t do anything bad (apart from the music). They were restricted by what venues were available, but that issue was never so prominent at CSU or Wright State.
Essentially, nationals wasn’t nearly as grand as previous years. It felt like we were in and out; much more like an invitational.
Moreover, for builds, a lot of the strictness I experienced at previous national tournaments wasn't really there. Although events like buggy and roller were run really great, events like mystery weren't great - the prompt was a tunnel, and measurements weren't precise. Especially with scores this close, I expected more precise measurements of the devices built, at least up to the tenths (not just .0 and .5). Volunteers were often confused as well. In addition, the car used to test the tunnel was far from standardized - each one rolled slightly differently, and they actually switched their main "standard" car with ours, because ours rolled easier. These factors made me feel like events like this were just put together in the last second - and I'm sure competitors in events like WaQua and Parasitology felt this too.
For boomi, I really don't have any complaints - however, for previous years, the room it was held in was "grander" - held in an auditorium of some sort. Even at Cornell Invitational, the auditorium was at (Uris?) Hall, where they had a formal auditorium with seats. However, it was instead a large room, for a lecture almost, with no auditorium seats, etc. Obviously details like this wouldn't have any change in tournament results - to me, all that matters is how they were run, not where they were ran, or how formal they ran it. The supervisors and debriefers obviously still ran the event perfectly smoothly and normally.
Last point - volunteers. A lot of them were fairly inexperienced - it was as if any div C grad could just submit the volunteer form and go and help with events. Although events like buggy had the same, great volunteers as before (shout out for running Buggy better than I've ever seen it run!), some volunteers were obviously volunteering for like, the first time.
I have to disagree with some others above, though. Awards and opening really felt like nationals; even the seating labels were glued(?) onto the track field. Obviously, a fair bit of things went wrong (next slide!) but I liked the overall theme (except the classical music) of the ceremonies.