Behind the HQ trivia cult

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Meet Sharon Carpenter.
Image: hq

Would you call a trivia host Quiz Daddy? The Ringer‘s Claire McNear is thinking about it and probably so are about hundreds of thousands of other people who have played HQ, the mobile trivia game stopping employees from working globally, over the past few months. 

Scott Rogowsky, HQ’s first host, has wooed the world (okay, parts of it) with his witty banter during the daily trivia games. His potential firing over his love of Sweetgreen sent fans storming Twitter with #FreeScott and thankful for his presence in that night’s game. Yes, we’re serious. 

But for the team at HQ, the app isn’t just about Quiz Daddy. 

“I think HQ is known for the gameplay. The personalities are a big part of that, but on the team, we put a lot of energy into making it a really compelling game experience. That’s in the branding, in the sound design, in the animations, the way the phone vibrates when you’ve got 3 seconds left,” said Rus Yusupov, cofounder of HQ.

“You should expect to see more faces,” he continued. 

One of those faces is already onboard. Sharon Carpenter joined the HQ team in October, starting with a few guest host appearances, and her presence is increasing. It’s in part a strategic move by HQ to avoid becoming a short-lived hype, as some have suggested. HQ doesn’t have to be a TV show with one iconic host. Adding more personalities sets it on the path to be a much larger network. 

“Imagine one day Obama’s the host or Elon Musk is the host or the product director of Nike is the host and all twelve questions are based around footwear,” said Carl Sorvino, creative director at international marketing agency MWW.

For now, there’s Carpenter, who agreed to meet with Mashable at HQ’s HQ in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan this week. It was her first time sitting in HQ’s meeting room, but for the last six weeks, she’s been in and out of the small office and studio space to host trivia. The next day she would be hosting both trivia games at 3 and 9 p.m. 

Sharon Carpenter attended the 2017 Soul Train Awards on November in Las Vegas.

Image: Getty Images for BET

Carpenter is quite familiar with the neighborhood, the camera, and the hustle. She moved to New York City from England in 2000 and has since worked as a journalist and on-air personality with BET and CBS, among others. She played herself on Season 2 of Fox’s Empire and is currently a regular on The Wendy Williams Show and BBC America. 

She’s also a personality on HQ. One of the producers behind the game had reached out to her a couple months back about auditioning. Carpenter hadn’t played the game — yet — but she’d heard about it through word of mouth and agreed to an audition. 

Carpenter impressed the HQ team, said Yusupov, who noted he still has her audition tape on his phone. 

“We knew immediately at the audition that she had the presentation skills and the energy that you need. I think everyone in the room felt it. She brings a level of professionalism and energy and a fun vibe,” Yusupov said. 

But for some users, seeing Sharon’s face doesn’t spark fun. When Carpenter hosts HQ, the live chat at the bottom of the screen includes messages of “Where’s Scott?” She doesn’t mind. 

“Scott has been a part of the game longer than I have and people are used to seeing Scott. He’s fantastic. He’s so charismatic. He’s hilarious. Who wouldn’t love Scott?” Carpenter asked.

“I get a few ‘Where’s Sharon?’s Not as many as ‘Where’s Scott?’, but a few,” she said. 

Indeed, Carpenter has her own super fans. One HQ player changed her Twitter bio to “Sharon Carpenter’s #1 fan,” Carpenter told me. 

She’s far from the only Sharon fan.

But the conversation on HQ is not always respectful, especially to the hosts. Rogowsky and Carpenter aren’t the only ones hosting HQ. There’s also been Sarah Pribis and Casey Jost. 

Yusupov and Carpenter said they are quite aware. 

“When you’re in the limelight in any sort of formal fashion, you’re always going to have positive comments, you’re always going to have other type of comments that are made. It’s just about when you’re in the limelight you have to have tough skin,” Carpenter said. “These are the same things people might have said in their living rooms when there was no internet.”

HQ’s team does moderate the chat and can ban players from it. Yusupov said he wants the app to be seen as “family-friendly.”

The interactivity — on the live chat and on Twitter before, during, and after the show — is one of the reasons Carpenter said she loves her role at HQ. 

“One of thing you’re not always able to do in journalism is to show your personality and engage with the audience, and this audience is not only the audience, they’re players, the stars of the show,” Carpenter said. 

“This audience is not only the audience, they’re players, the stars of the show.”

While the hosts do get the questions ahead of time and can therefore prepare some of their script, much of it is ad-libbed, Carpenter said. That’s in part because they can’t always judge what will become a “savage question,” as the hosts and the HQ community calls it. 

“Sometimes it’s a question you think is a complete no brainer,” Carpenter said. “It really depends on your area of expertise. We cover the whole gamut.”

Yusupov and Carpenter wouldn’t share many specific plans for what’s coming next and when. Though, Yusupov said people can expect an Android app “very soon.” He previously told Mashable they’ll look to incorporate brands in the future and said that’s still on the roadmap. 

That could not only increase the number of games but keep HQ spontaneous and bring in revenue for sponsorships. 

Another looming possibility is for someone to copycat what HQ has built. What’s a small startup in New York to do?

“If this gets to a certain level of scale, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t get acquired, but what’s interesting about this model is it’s not just technology, there’s an entertainment component,” said Aaron Shapiro, CEO of digital agency Huge. “A company like Facebook is great at duplicating features, but they’re not content creators. There’s a different culture, DNA.”

And yet, Yusupov isn’t really a fan of acquisitions. He and his cofounder Colin Kroll also built the six-second-video app Vine, which they sold to Twitter. Last year, Twitter shut the app down

For Carpenter, she knows her role is expanding in the short-term at least. 

“Rus and Colin have a lot of plans. Not sure what they are, but they have a lot of plans up their sleeve,” she said. 

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/12/01/hq-trivia-game-sharon-carpenter-host-scott-rogowsky/