All the while, the company has expanded from a single Bethesda trivia night to nearly 100 weekly events in the D.C. area, averaging some 5,000 players. District Trivia also has spawned offshoot operations, in Baltimore and Portland, Ore. But when the novel coronavirus pandemic forced the company to cease in-person events in mid-March, cutting off income for 138 full- and part-time employees, Groves suddenly became a quizmaster without any answers.
“We may not be back for a week, a year, a month, five years — nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Groves recalls thinking. “So I went out, wrote my résumé, and I put everything together and I started looking at jobs. Then one day I just stopped. I closed my computer and I said, ‘You know what? No. We’re going to do this.’ ”
District Trivia has since kept the quizzes coming by relocating its games from teeming bars to Facebook, Zoom and Google Hangouts. Now, players can tune into three live-streamed trivia nights a week or schedule private games. District Trivia also has partnered with the likes of National Geographic and the U.S. Botanic Garden to host special events. After a brief hiatus, the company’s factoid-filled “We Don’t Know Either” podcast is back up and running.
“It was that slap across the face or that bucket of cold water thrown on you,” Groves says of the shutdown. “Overnight, the work was gone, and all that was left was: What’s next? Being able to focus on that and being able to create unfettered, unrestricted, uncontrolled — it was just such a unique experience.”
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, players can head to the Facebook group We Don’t Know Either Live for District Trivia’s live-streamed quizzes. Each night, the host shepherds players through a trio of 11-question rounds (a shortened version of the in-person events), with bonus rounds in between. Teams sign up and compile their scores on a Google doc, with the honor system in place and bragging rights at stake. It’s free to participate, though tipping the host via Venmo is encouraged. Games typically take about 75 minutes.
“Our goal is to make the virtual event feel as much like our real event as possible,” says Lindsey Machak, District Trivia’s director of operations, who manages and occasionally hosts the virtual events. “The hosts are still really dynamic and engaging, there is still that competitive element, it’s still the format. And that’s the goal: to make it feel like you’re in a bar.”
District Trivia also can be booked for virtual private events, in which a host joins participants on the videoconferencing platform of their choice and facilitates a game customized for the occasion. Since the start of the pandemic, District Trivia has hosted around 200 of these private games, which have been pegged to such gatherings as conferences, baby showers and retirement parties. Looking forward, the company is optimistic that these private events will serve a purpose that outlives the pandemic.
“Someday, we’re going to get back to hosting live events,” says Machak, who was on her honeymoon in New Zealand when she got word of the company’s shutdown in March. “But I think that the virtual private events might be something that sticks around because companies are going to stay remote, or companies that have offices across the country that want to connect people are still going to have a need for this fun, entertaining service.”
Although the future remains murky for District Trivia, the company is considering ideas for what those in-person events will look like on the other side of the coronavirus crisis. When it comes to solving that particular brain teaser, Groves is optimistic, but preparing to hedge his bets.
“When all of this is over and we can all safely resume our lives, we will start again, in a very similar position that we did 10 years ago,” Groves says. “We’ll have one venue, we’ll have one host — and then we’ll have another one and then we’ll have another one.
“The good news is, given how amazing our clients and our players and our hosts are, that process should hopefully be slightly accelerated from the way it was a decade ago.”