Are Wattpad's Watty Awards Rigged?
For years, The Wattys have been plagued by accusations of nepotism and favoritism. With more recent insight from an alleged former judge, there's more confusion around the process than ever. We're taking a look at the controversy behind Wattpad's prestigious awards.
What Are the Wattys?
In 2014, Wattpad launched a yearly writing competition called The Wattys. The best books are selected by a panel of judges and are awarded the title of "Wattys Winner". While all winners receive the title and promotion by Wattpad, many may be considered for other opportunities with programs like Wattpad Stars or Wattpad Studios. As of 2018, one book per year may also considered for publication by Wattpad Books.
Each year's submission criteria and categories are different. With Wattpad shifting their focus to full-length books, the 2020 rules now limit submissions to over 50,000 words.
Wattpad HQ is notoriously secretive about their review and judging process. This is probably—in part—due to their need to protect the proprietary data science that the platform is based on. Wattpad's Wattys FAQ explains the judging like so:
Our Wattys judging process combines human review and data science to make sure every single eligible story qualifies as an entry.
Diving Into the Controversy
In 2017, writer Elaine Uskoski won a Watty for her story Seeing Through the Cracks. Her win came with quite a bit of uproar when it was discovered that her son was a Wattpad employee.
Needless to say, Wattpad users immediately cried foul. Her son, Nick, recently addressed the controversy on the Road to the Wattys podcast. He explained that at the time, he was not involved in The Wattys judging or selection process and had nothing to do with his mother's win.
While the circumstances of her win may seem suspicious, there is no evidence that her win wasn't deserved. We also haven't come across any other claims of nepotism in the Wattys' six-year run.
Wattpad users have also complained that the awards prioritize stories with high read counts, change their rules at random, or are judged by computers. There is no evidence to suggest any of these allegations are true.
Confessions from an Alleged Former Judge
This week, a Reddit user claiming to be a former Wattpad Ambassador shed some light onto the judging process. In a post titled "The Wattys Are Actually Fake", the user claimed that The Wattys (at least, the French language version) were rigged and entirely judged by just two Ambassadors.
They explained in their post why they believe the Wattys aren't legitimate:
For your information, I was once an ambassador and I saw what the Wattys really are. By the way, I wasn't on the english side, so maybe it is more professional. I was only on the french side. So I'm only talking about what I know.
There is no special judges selected by Wattpad on the French side (and in a lot of countries too). Actually, it was the ambassadors judging all the stories.
Continuing, they clarified that they were overwhelmed by the task of judging and made arbitrary decisions as a result, without even reading some submissions.
...we were only 2 people to judge about 10k-20k stories (let's name the other ambassador S). So we judge stories sometimes with stupid things : the cover was ugly, the title is bad, there was also a blacklist of words that would automatically eliminate some stories.
The poster went on to say that the judges used the opportunity to reward their own friends, while punishing their enemies.
And we made win all of our friends, the people we liked on Wattpad... If we had a conflict with someone, he/she was evicted and couldn't win at all. (It was a blacklist too)
They also added a quick screenshot (below) of their judging spreadsheet as evidence of their claim.
Multiple Reddit users replied to confirm the poster's story, either saying they know "Ambassador S" or have been a judge themselves.
So What Does It All Mean?
It seems that some of Wattpad's corner cutting is coming back to bite them. It seems likely that Wattpad is in fact using Ambassadors to judge the Wattys in other languages. While it's possible—and even likely—that most of these volunteer judges are honest and follow ethical standards, it reveals some serious flaws in their current system. If Wattpad Ambassadors are being appointed as judges (for all the Wattys or just certain languages), they're in a position to use that power to help their friends get ahead and hold back their rivals.
Are the Wattys rigged? Probably not, but there seem to be flaws in the judging process (especially for non-English categories) that unscrupulous people can take advantage of. It's possible these issues have already been addressed, but until Wattpad is clearer about how they judge, we likely won't know.
How do you feel about Wattpad Ambassadors judging the Wattys? Should Wattpad be blamed for this potential abuse of power? Let us know in the comments...