A Q&A with HQ’s Winningest Player
A conversation with the other Scott, the guy who’s won over 15x
All HQties out there know Scott Rogowsky, the live trivia game’s charismatic host, but few are familiar with HQ’s other Scott… Scott Menke, the Actuary.
Playing as often as he can, Menke has won 15–20 HQ games, amassing winnings of over $12,000. You can find him on the HQ leaderboard at any given time, and because his wins are so frequent, hardcore fans have shared conspiracy theories of collusion. After all, at one point, Menke’s profile picture was him with an arm around Rogowsky, the show’s host. (Relax though. They just met at a Christmas party and happened to go to the same school.) Menke’s HQ success is because of his raw knowledge. With previous TV appearances on Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, he’s no stranger to trivia.
But more on HQ… In a claustrophobically crowded technological space with attention at an all time invaluable scarcity, HQ’s viral takeoff is almost incomprehensible. How is it that a mobile app so new can dictate millions of people to stop what they’re doing and tune into a show for 15 minutes, twice a day, everyday? It’s a feat worth noting from both a product and cultural standpoint. Such phenomenon are so meaningful, that when they come around, discussion is worthwhile.
In order to better understand HQ’s unprecedented success, I spoke with Scott Menke, the power player and winner himself to dive deeper.
MK: So who is Scott Menke?
SM: I’m a trivia enthusiast who happened to luck his way into a few big wins on this app. I like playing games of all kinds, and see HQ as a challenge that combines speed, smarts, and a healthy dose of excitement from the live-TV atmosphere that it has created.
MK: Well it seems to be playing out well for you. How’d you first hear of HQ?
SM: I first heard about it through word of mouth back in October 2017. It was recommended to me by a few different friends since I have a reputation as a trivia buff. To be honest, I was skeptical at first as several trivia apps have come and gone over the years, and I didn’t understand why HQ would be any different. Since October though, I’ve probably played 90% — 95% of the games, so it’s safe to say they’ve figured out a good formula.
MK: Clearly something’s working. What keeps you coming back?
SM: Cash prizes are a big motivator. I think HQ understood that there needed to be significant incentives in order to generate the kinds of audiences that they were looking to reach. And to their credit, they’ve continued to increase the prize pool all the way up to $300,000 so far. Rus, one of the Co-Founders of the app, mentioned in an interview that he wanted to offer a $1 million prize one day. That just seems like a formality at this point.
I also think they’ve found a group of engaging hosts that help enhance the experience. Taking a break from work at 3 PM and hanging out with Scott Rogowsky is not a bad way to spend 15 minutes. So while I feel I should keep playing from a practical perspective, with over $12k in winnings, I think HQ has cultivated something that’s fun and enjoyable, and could potentially be extended to other forms of entertainment besides trivia.
MK: But exactly makes HQ more attractive than any other trivia site or app?
SM: The question quality is key. There are real differences between the questions on HQ and the questions on other imitation apps that have popped up recently. It’s easy to tell that HQ has a team of people that composes, vets, and compiles a set of 12 questions that tests a wide variety of topics and is calibrated for the right difficulty level. Other apps just haven’t come close.
I’d also argue that the appointment-viewing nature of these apps makes it tougher for competitors. HQ has laid claim to the 9 PM time slot, and other apps have followed suit by scheduling their games at 8 PM, 8:30 PM, 10 PM, etc. I’d imagine most people are unwilling to devote their entire evening to trivia, so they choose one app to play, and I think they’re going to tend to choose HQ since it has the biggest promotions and most buzz surrounding it. My point is that you can’t consume this trivia content on demand in the same way you can with podcasts or TV shows, and given the scarcity of people’s time, I think they’ll continue to choose HQ.
MK: Why do you think HQ has grown the way it has?
SM: The Founders undoubtedly learned a lot when they built Vine. There are a number of social features that help, such as referring friends to earn extra lives, and making it easy to post wins or high scores to Twitter and Facebook. Ultimately though, I think they’ve created a very compelling product that is a reliable source of entertainment seven days a week. The number of players has been steadily increasing over the last several months — while I don’t have data to support this, I’d guess that there’s not been much churn, that older players continue to play while newer players sign up. I think it ties back to that familiar jolt of adrenaline that users have come to expect every day that they tune in.
MK: HQ’s growing up. With recent funding, how do you envision maturation?
SM: I think the majority of that funding should go towards developing new content. Trivia is cyclical. It pains me to say that, as someone whose primary hobby is playing and studying trivia, but the reality is that its popularity comes and goes. Who Wants to be a Millionaire had 30 million viewers a night at its peak. I think we may be in one of those peak phases now, where HQ’s trivia has really captured the public’s attention.
I think one possible outcome is HQ continuing to host a daily trivia contest and exploring different forms of interactive entertainment in the afternoon time slot. This blueprint sounds consistent with what the company has stated in the past, that they’d like to be the future of TV. It’s pure speculation on my part, and I’m sure they have smarter biz dev guys working on this. But branching out into other broadcast entertainment forms seems like a possible path.
MK: Now if you had a say, what additions would you make to HQ?
SM: Maybe a Champions Tournament? I’d like to be included!
MK: Fingers crossed. With advertisers are now involved, as a player, how would you like brand integrations to work?
SM: What they’ve done with Nike, Ready Player One, and Rampage seemed effective and part of a winning formula. I personally studied up on the synopses of the two movies along with the major characters and people involved with the production. I think they can take this concept further and have a 12 question set that’s entirely focused on one subject. An HQ Trivia round sponsored by Kohl’s and containing questions based solely on their stores and products feels like it would boost brand awareness and cater to their loyal shoppers. I think it makes sense to do more themed rounds like this, which weave brands directly into the questions in order to generate more revenue and in turn, bigger prize pools.
MK: I would never imagine Kohl’s being that savvy, but who knows. On a darker note, what would eventually turn you off to HQ?
SM: Blatant bot activity that leads to thousands of players winning every game would really rob HQ of its fun factor. I think there are measures being put in place to try to prevent this situation from arising. Other than that, I feel like having kids would hinder my ability to commit to a 9 PM game every day. I’m getting married in October so that day might not be too far into the future!
MK: Ah, congratulations, Scott! Lastly, any advice for winning?
SM: Here are a few tips. Pick the least obvious answer, especially in later rounds. Have a world map nearby to consult quickly on a geography question. Memorize the US Presidents as they tend to come up a lot. And play along with friends! I’ve been surprised how often a friend or coworker can chime in and save the day when I’m stumped.
MK: Done! Thanks so much. Best of luck, Scott!
Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.