India

Coronavirus outbreak: How online quizzing has become a way to digitally interact during the lockdown

A private zoom call link shared on a Whatsapp group. People scramble to join. A screen is shared, notebooks and pens are brought out, and another session of quizzing starts. It’s a common daily activity for regular quizzers, who participate in offline quizzes a few times a month, but have now turned to online events to keep themselves occupied during the lockdown.

Every evening, at 8 PM, Ace of Pubs hosts a session on Instagram Live. The company, founded two years ago by Tilak Shah, conducts pub quizzes and events across the country.

Restobar Irish House is one of the brands Ace of Pubs is associated with, organising for them in all major cities in India. When events stopped due to the lockdown, they moved to Instagram as a forum to host these quizzes. A Herd of Quizzers was a Whatsapp group and subsequently an Instagram page, meant to provide a safe space for women quizzers to get to know each other and feel more comfortable in the circuit. They too have regular Instagram quizzers on different themes — women in literature, women filmmakers and even a Birthday of the Week section with questions on celebrities with birthdays that week.

Thinq2Win, a brand that has worked on offline quizzes for a few years, had a subscriber-based model, with them sending out short quizzers to their subscribers on email, daily, for a few months now. They’ve extended that to the Family Quiz Night, a daily quiz on Zoom, that allows people of different age groups to take part, and answer questions together. “We’ve had kids as young as 5 or 6 doing the quiz, along with people in their 70s,” says co-founder B V Harish Kumar.

“The biggest advantage, keeping the scenario in mind, is to be connected to people who are sitting a few hundred kilometres away. And we can still keep in touch with them. It’s the highlight of my day, for sure. We all love what we do at Ace of Pubs, and this allows a chance to keep in touch with that,” says Shah, as he talks about a platform that regularly has about 200 people tuning in to play the quiz. They’re not all generic questions either- they play around with themes like Bollywood, Harry Potter and even The Simpsons, to attract a larger audience.

It’s not an easy thing to do, however. Just because people are bored at home doesn’t mean they will tune in to any live streaming sessions. There’s work and chores to do. Plus, connectivity issues are always a problem. Since Thinq2Win’s Family Quiz Night has people of all ages, including young children, they are very particular about keeping it a safe space, and have a set of guidelines. All participants are kept on mute, without videos and all answers go directly to the quizmaster. They also have to be wary of the kind of questions they put up, since they’re catering to a large audience.

Sagnik Sarkar, a student in Pune, who often conducts offline quizzes, and is a part of various online quizzing pages, agrees. “For an offline quiz, people are more relaxed and they’ve taken out the time to be there. For Instagram quizzes, we have to keep it to about 20-25 minutes and crisper questions,” he says.

Popular stand-up comedian Kumar Varun is also an avid quizzer and quizmaster, known in the comedy circle for his passion for quizzing. Not only does he regularly conduct private quizzes for his close friends (on Whatsapp and Google Hangouts during the lockdown), he also conducted four quizzes as a part of the Stay Home for India campaign, live streamed on the YouTube channel of Tanmay Bhat. The campaign aimed to raise funds to fight COVID-19, and the 4 quizzes over 2 days saw several comedians, actors and YouTubers take part, including Kanan Gill, Rohan Joshi, Shweta Tripathi and Rajeev Masand.

What went on in the creating of the questions? “I realised it was a public quiz and a lot of people were watching it and these people are mostly young. These are also people who were watching all sorts of stuff in the live stream for 8 hours. They’ve seen PubG, they’ve seen Scribbl, they’ve seen a lot of fun games. And in the middle of that, I’m doing 30 minutes of quizzing, which is very different from what they’ve seen. So it couldn’t be poles apart from what they’ve been watching. What I mean to say is, it had to be entertaining. For example, I won’t have something that only a certain section of people will know like I won’t have an obscure Seinfeld reference or Star Wars reference. Everything had to be very, very mainstream. If it had to be a TV show question, I would have picked a Game of Thrones question over a Brooklyn 99 question. Just in terms of sheer massy following. And thankfully, the reactions were great (sic).” In fact, around 10,000 people saw each of those quizzes and the number of viewers didn’t drop at all, something the quiz master was scared would happen.

All the daily quizzes too, have enjoyed a warm reception from audiences. From the 200 people who regularly join the Ace of Pubs Instagram live, a good percentage of them come back every day. Many of them are people who attended offline quizzes but many of them are also new viewers who have just found out about the quizzing platform. Most of them would be in their late 20s or 30s, with even some people in their 50s joining regularly. Sarkar too has noticed older people being a part of these quizzes. “I’ve never seen them at offline quizzes because they’re working and sometimes the venue might be far, but this is a perfect time for many of them to come back to quizzing,” he says.

And, significantly, unlike offline quizzes, few online ones have tangible rewards. If you’re at a pub quiz, you can win free beer for every correct response, a large motivation to participate, but here, few pages are offering rewards.

Anindita Basu Roy, who runs the page A Herd of Quizzers, says, “We can’t afford to give rewards right now, but we do have a leaderboard that we publish every day, so people can see their scores.” Sarkar adds that cash prizes are a factor in professional quizzes but the ones taking part on social media don't expect much, except, perhaps, a shout-out. In fact, Harish says not having prizes is a good incentive for people to not google the answers, important in a format that mostly relies on the honour code to prevent cheating.

Shah of Ace of Pubs, disagrees. Participation is heavily factored by rewards, at least in offline quizzes. In a pub quiz, every correct answer gets you a free beer, which is a massive motivation for people who are essentially out to drink. “People come (to our offline events) for movie tickets as well,” says Shah, who believes that these rewards are essential to draw people in, for the first few times. They might like it and keep coming back.

Even for their Trivia Nights on Instagram, they are introducing a leaderboard. Each correct answer wins them a free beer, at a later date, but the top 10 people on the leaderboard also stand to win cash and gift vouchers from Ace of Pubs. “There is a pride factor as well. People who come in everyday also understand that these are unprecedented times, and the instantaneous gratification that Ace of Pubs is all about, is absolutely not possible. But there are people who have won like 10-13 beers each, so they know that even the redemption of it will not happen on one night,” he says.

The response to the online quizzes have been so good that Ace of Pubs has started a Whatsapp group, where they send out questions to their subscribers, before they go out on their website. This series, titled Quiz At Home, is meant to be shared by the viewers amongst their own families and friends. This helps more people take part in the quizzes, and helps Ace of Pubs to be a more widely-known brand.

What motivates people to keep quizzing then, if it’s not rewards and free beer? Sreshth believes it’s a love of learning. People love finding out new things, and that’s what makes them join in everyday. It’s a fun break from their daily lives, he believes.

“When you look at famous shows like KBC, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Jeopardy, they are all mainstream shows,” says Kumar Varun, talking about the popularity of quizzes. “They’re not for a particular section of people. People just enjoy watching those shows and cracking those answers. When you see a KBC participant being asked a question, you, in your mind, are also playing it. And that always helps.”

Indians have always been fond of watching quiz shows. Most '90s kids fondly remember Bournvita Quiz Contest on TV every Sunday, Mastermind India was extremely popular too, and of course, Kaun Banega Crorepati changed the TV viewing experience for many. People then, tended to watch these shows as a break from the daily TV dramas — it was informative and you could learn things. Similarly now, people are moving away from spending time on the usual shows on streaming platforms to engage in some lively competition and learning to keep themselves busy and productive. It helps that they get to do it with their friends as well.



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