How Does Sporcle Prevent Cheating at Live Pub Trivia Nights?

(Last Updated On: May 29, 2020)
How Does Sporcle Prevent Cheating at Live Pub Trivia Nights?

We’ve developed a Cheating Robot that is invisible. She sits in the corner while you play and watches to make sure you don’t cheat. Don’t cheat; you don’t want to see Cheating Robot angry.

You’re still reading? Guess we didn’t convince you. Okay, okay, there’s no Cheating Robot and there’s no easy solution to cheating.

We here at Sporcle believe that the vast majority of trivia players do not cheat. Most people who play pub trivia do so because they have fun competing and they like to connect with friends over mentally stimulating diversions. Winning a gift card or cash prize is just the cherry on top of the sundae. However, we are also realistic: despite the fact that cheaters in pub trivia are only cheating themselves, some people are so determined to win that they’re willing to become losers who cheat.

Sporcle has developed a few ways of dealing with cheaters over the years, for both in-person and virtual live trivia events.

How does Sporcle prevent cheating at live pub trivia – in person?

First and foremost, the host lays out the ground rules: here’s what cheating is, and it’s not acceptable!

Generally the rule at all of our in-person pub trivia events is that phones need to stay out of view and off the table until after a team has turned in an answer. If it’s impossible for you to not look at your Instagram comments every 30 seconds, then pub trivia may not be the game for you.

The consequence for having a phone out varies based on the host and the event; some hosts will automatically disqualify a team from winning prizes, some will subtract ten points from the team’s score, some will publicly shame the team. If the event has a cash prize, you can bet the consequence will be more severe and teams will be given fewer second chances. (In the Pub Champions Trivia League post-season, which awards $100,000 in cash prizes each year, we add additional cheating prevention rules, such as requiring that all team members stay seated until they’ve turned in an answer!)

Of course, a consequence is only useful if the offending team is caught in the act! So all of our trivia hosts are trained to keep an eye out for cheaters. By positioning themselves in a smart location, glancing up from their screen often, and walking around the room throughout the game (now easier than ever with our new digital scoring system), hosts can spot teams that are behaving suspiciously. When someone’s glancing down at their crotch every few minutes and smiling, it’s probably not because their pants are funny – it’s because their phone is in their lap.

Additionally, Sporcle’s hosts are encouraged to think critically about each team’s scores and patterns in those scores. We have a lot of smart teams that can get every question correct! But when a team that’s been losing all game suddenly sees a spike of correct answers after their “grandma” texted, it’s probably because it was actually their teammate texting them after Googling the answers in the bathroom.

Lastly, preventing cheating is a team effort. Many hosts rely on waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and other teams to be their eyes and ears. So if you are at a trivia event and you see something, then say something! If you feel comfortable talking directly to the team in question, let them know. If you’d prefer not to call them out directly, tell the host what’s going on. The host will take it into consideration with the other pieces of info they have gathered and will decide what to do. Keep in mind that they may silently disqualify the team in question, so even if they don’t make an announcement over the microphone, your concern was still heard and considered!

How does Sporcle prevent cheating at live pub trivia – online?

When it comes to virtual live trivia, cheating is a lot harder to predict and prevent. By nature of the format, everyone playing the trivia game is already on a device that connects to the internet. The temptation to tab over to Google is very present.

Additionally, during the virtual live trivia games Sporcle runs daily via Zoom, teams spend approximately 50% of their time in a private chat room with only their teammates. It’s a great opportunity for friends and family to spend time together! Unfortunately, it’s also a great opportunity for cheaters to cheat. The host cannot monitor the activity of teams while they’re in the breakout room because the host can’t see or hear teams during that time.

Because of these challenges, Sporcle has made a few adaptations to the game that make cheating less worthwhile and signal to the host that cheating may or may not be occurring.

The first adaptation we’ve made is that most virtual live trivia games do not award a prize based on which teams got the most answers correct. Instead, everyone who plays one of Sporcle’s virtual live trivia events gets an entry into a randomly drawn weekly giveaway. Teams who win 1st place get double entries into this weekly giveaway. The more you play and the more you win, the more likely you are to win the giveaway – but cheating doesn’t help significantly.

The second adaptation is that when a virtual live trivia event does award a prize, the amount is equivalent for all places. If prizes are awarded to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams, they will all receive the same amount. Whether a team comes in 1st or 3rd is irrelevant; therefore, the motivation to cheat is diminished.

The third adaptation is that we’ve built a tool into our web-based scoring system that allows the trivia host to see when a Team Captain has tabbed away from the site or turned off their device. This tool is intentionally limited for privacy reasons: it does not tell the host any other information than that the team has temporarily disconnected. Its usefulness in determining a cheater is therefore limited, especially because the Team Captain could be using a second device to look up answers or their teammates may be doing so. So hosts of virtual live trivia games take this info with a large grain of salt. However, when in-person events resume and the only phone permitted to be used by a team is the Team Captain’s phone, this tool will alert the host that something suspicious may be going on with a given team. Hosts can then investigate in other ways, like standing nearby to ensure the Team Captain is not tabbing to Google.

No one likes a cheater, especially during trivia. Cheating has been, and always will be, a detractor for anyone who wants to enjoy a fun, friendly, and fair trivia game, as well as those of us who host such events. All of us here at Sporcle will keep doing our part to set clear expectations for all participants and stay attentive in the hopes of identifying most obvious cheaters. We appreciate the honesty of all of our participants who choose not to cheat, and are grateful for those who apply well-intentioned peer pressure to a competing team who’s tempted to look up “just this one question.”

Do you have suggestions for spotting a cheater at a pub quiz? How about a story about the time you caught a competitor in the act? Share it in the comments below! We’d love to hear your ideas and stories!