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11.21.17 3:11 PM ET
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world fire up their smartphones and log onto HQ, a live trivia app that has attracted enormous online buzz and been called the “Future of TV” in the past week.
The co-founder and CEO of the app, however, threatened in a tirade to fire its star host simply for speaking to press on Monday.
HQ Trivia allows users across the globe to tune in and participate in twice-per-day live trivia shows where they have the chance to win real cash. The app was founded by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, who co-created Vine in 2012.
Since its launch over the summer it has become a cultural force. Over 170,000 people waited in the game’s lobby to play HQ on Sunday night.
At the heart of the app is a cult figure named Scott, who hosts the majority of shows. Scott Rogowsky has become the default face of the app, and while other hosts sometimes fill in, Scott is undoubtedly the favorite. It’s Scott’s face that is plastered all over HQ’s press materials, after all. Fans call him “Quiz Daddy” and on the few days when he doesn’t host HQ Trivia, people beg for his return.
Because of his status as a rising celeb, The Daily Beast reached out to Rogowsky on Monday to write a lighthearted profile on his career and how his life has changed post-HQ fame.
Scott agreed to the interview and chatted with The Daily Beast on Monday afternoon. The Daily Beast simultaneously reached out to the HQ public relations email account and Yusupov, one of HQ’s founders, letting him know of our plans to write a story about the show’s host.
Several hours later, we received an email from Yusupov stating that HQ was “not making Scott available to discuss his involvement with HQ with the media/press.” The reporter informed Yusupov that we had already interviewed Scott and that the story was nearing publication, but encouraged him to call us with any concerns.
That’s when things went off the rails.
Yusupov, the CEO of HQ, called the reporter’s cellphone and immediately raised his voice. He said that we were “completely unauthorized” to write about Scott or HQ without his approval and that if we wrote any type of piece about Scott, he would lose his job.
Yusupov continued to threaten Scott’s job, even after The Daily Beast explained that the story was framed around Scott’s daily life and that he revealed no corporate information.
“You’re putting Scott’s job in jeopardy. Is that what you want?” Yusupov said. “Scott could lose his job.”
“Please read me your story word for word,” Yusupov said. “Or you can email it to me.” Although The Daily Beast does not typically share the contents of our pieces, the reporter shared quotes from Rogowsky, which were non-confrontational and shared no company secrets.
Yusupov’s objections began with the line, “Scott said that despite the attention, he’s still able to walk down the street and order his favorite salad from Sweetgreen without being accosted.”
“He cannot say that!” Yusupov shouted. “We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that.”
When asked to confirm that Rogowsky can’t say he personally enjoys eating at Sweetgreen, Yusupov said “he cannot say that,” inaccurately claiming that Scott had disclosed private company information by revealing his preference for a salad chain.
When The Daily Beast read Yusupov a quote from Rogowsky saying “I can make people happy and give them the trivia they so desperately love and want. It’s been so great to build this community,” Yusupov implored the reporter to “take that out.”
Asked for clarification, Yusupov replied that Rogowsky was absolutely not allowed to say that he “enjoys making people happy and giving them the trivia they want.”
“He cannot say that people want trivia,” said Yusupov, the founder of the HQ Trivia app.
“It’s highly unprofessional. Highly unprofessional of you to reach out to one of our contract employees without my permission and without going through proper press channels,” Yusupov said, revealing previously undisclosed information that Scott himself is not a full-time HQ employee.
Yusupov said that he would approve The Daily Beast to write an article all about Scott’s life, but that we were “not allowed” to include any mention of HQ or his role in HQ (which is public), or he could be terminated.
“This is ridiculous,” Yusupov said. “If you reached out to an Apple engineer and they gave you information about the new iPhone, would you run it? No, because you’d have to go through proper press channels.”
Yusupov was repeatedly reassured that Scott had not revealed a single piece of classified information about HQ.
After a back and forth wherein Yusupov told The Daily Beast its reporter would never be allowed to talk to Rogowsky again, the co-founder nervously stated that the conversation was off the record, something he had not stated before that point and a precondition The Daily Beast had never agreed to. The phone call ended shortly thereafter.
The Daily Beast’s chat with Rogowsky himself was considerably less combative.
Rogowsky said he had planned to move to Los Angeles this fall and had even given up his Brooklyn apartment when he landed his big break with HQ.
When he got the opportunity to interview for the the job of host he thought, “What the hell? Why not? I figured I’m not going to pass on this thing that could be the future.”
Rogowsky was no stranger to being in front of audiences—although none were as big as HQ’s. He started doing standup in 2005 back when he was in college and moved to Brooklyn shortly afterward to pursue a career in comedy.
He eventually realized that life as a traditional comedian wasn’t quite for him, so he began doing live shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre. He also began making YouTube videos and one of them, a Super Bowl parody, went viral in 2009. Rogowsky said that it opened his eyes in terms of the power of online video.
“That’s when I pivoted to video,” he said. He began making more videos for corporate clients and eventually producing web shows. He even did a stint at The Onion as a contributing headline writer.
But nothing Rogowsky has done before captivated an audience on the scale of his HQ hosting gig. In the past six months, he has become an A-list celebrity in the eyes of fans of the app.
“I travel everywhere by helicopter now,” Rogowsky joked. “Nolita to Soho? I’m taking a chopper. No, to be honest I’m still the same person I was before. I have gotten more Twitter followers, though.”
Rogowsky said that shortly after the app began to launch in beta he was eating with a friend when a man approached him. “He goes, ‘You’re Scott from HQ, right?’ I was like, ‘How the hell?’”
Since that summer encounter he’s had a woman ask him for a selfie while he was retrieving money from an ATM. Others have shouted his name on the street. Several HQ fans even dressed up as Rogowsky for Halloween.
“That was probably the craziest moment,” he said.
One of the most hectic encounters Rogowsky has had with fans was when he visited a friend at a local WeWork.
“That’s where you get mobbed,” he said. “It’s all the startup and app-type guys, so they’re big fans.”
Unlike other corners of the internet, the HQ community is extremely positive, a stark contrast to the defensive secretiveness of its founder. Fans can socialize prior to and throughout the live shows via an open chat log on the bottom of the screen. With tens of thousands of players signed in at once, the chat messages can fly by, but nearly all messages are positive.
Some root for popular players or ask Scott for special birthday shout outs.
“I feel like HQ has been a force for good and it’s brought together this amazing community. I would love to see the first people to get married from HQ. Maybe they’ll meet in the chat and name their first child Scott,” said Rogowsky.
“The internet was supposed to bring people together, but it’s created big divisions.”
When The Daily Beast called Yusupov back a day later letting him know that the story was being reframed around his comments, Yusupov brought Rogowsky onto the phone call and falsely claimed that he never threatened to fire him.
“My feeling was that it was unethical and that you were compromising the app,” Yusupov said to Rogowsky while on the phone with The Daily Beast. “Now they want to reframe the story as me threatening to fire you. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Yusupov then said that the two were actually in long-term contract negotiations and that he never had plans to fire him. “He and I are working on a media plan,” Yusupov said.
“I don’t want to fire Scott. Scott is our guy.”
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