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HQ Trivia’s first live event was ruined by people who weren’t in the audience

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Anyone with a link could play

Ashley Carman / The Verge

HQ Trivia made “quiz-tory” this week when it hosted its first live, in-person game with a $10,000 prize. Host Scott Rogowsky flew into Austin, Texas, to host the show (donned in a full HQ-branded suit) at Comcast NBCUniversal’s SXSW pop-up. Prior to the start, HQ projected a one-time link to the live show on a screen, which audience members had to load in order to compete. I thought they’d bring contestants onstage to make it more of a live experience; instead, everyone played along on their phones as Rogowsky cued the questions from an iPad.

Naturally, people took photos of the stage (and the screen with the link) before the show began and shared those images on social media. This meant that players who weren’t in Austin or at the Comcast NBCUniversal house could join the game. (They only needed the access link.) Nearly 3,000 virtual players were present at the start of the show, despite the fact that the house appeared to host hundreds of people, not thousands. Rogowsky acknowledged this, but he seemingly couldn’t do anything about it.

Still, it was fun to witness people congregate around the players in the audience who lasted until the final questions. It felt more like a communal experience, as if the HQ comments section entered the real world.

Only two actual audience members won, or at least made themselves known. The rest of the approximately 70 winners were not in the Comcast NBCUniversal house. Ultimately, every winner took home a prize of a little over $100, and the two live contestants joined Rogowsky onstage to talk about how they planned to use the money. One man said it’d cover his gas to get back to Dallas; the other used the opportunity to shout out Chicago and its pizza.

HQ isn’t ruling out more live events. In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson said that the company will “continue to explore opportunities for our players to enjoy HQ, whether on their phone or in person.”

If HQ plans to keep exploring live events, it’ll need to find a way to prevent outside players from joining the game. If there had been rules that only audience members could win at SXSW, those two players would have taken home $5,000 each, which would have been much more enjoyable for everyone. Maybe HQ could geofence the location or verify winners in person. After all, if I’m watching a live show, I want the excitement of reality.