Chaos broke out on Sunday night when a contentious winner-takes-all game of HQ Trivia abruptly ended with no winner after the would-be champion was hit with allegations of cheating.
HQ, the popular trivia app, was testing out a new royale-style format: Instead of the traditional 12 questions, where the winnings are split between all contestants who successfully answer the 12th question, in Sunday's new format, the game keeps going until only one winner emerges.
The jackpot on Sunday's night game was $25,000 and this was only the second time HQ had experimented with the new format. Last Sunday, a 25-year-old teacher took home the full $25,000 prize after answering 18 questions correctly.
Sunday night's game went on much longer, however, and by the 20th question many users were beginning to suspect something was fishy with the final group of contenders.
According to one user playing last night's game, people posted in the live group chat below the game that they believed cheaters were amongst the group of finalists, since (some suspected) there was no way players could have gotten so far without some type of outside help.
Nearly 1.7 million people initially logged on to play but after 30 minutes and 26 questions only two players—by the names of JericBrual and Kayla—were in the running for the $25,000 jackpot.
Both answered question 26 correctly. Kayla answered question 27 incorrectly, but before Brual could submit his (theoretically) correct answer he was kicked out and served a push notification that said he was removed from the game for "inappropriate behavior."
"HQ moderators kick players that violate HQ’s Terms of Service and Contest Rules," the official HQ account tweeted shortly after the game ended.
It didn't take long for those on Twitter to speculate what type of behavior Brual was engaged in.
Brual, whose account is now locked, has tweeted at least once about hacking the game using bots.
On February 3rd Brual tweeted that he had won $51.02 in one HQ Trivia game, nearly five months after downloading the app. He followed up with a tweet saying "FYI: I had 5 bots ready for HQ lol."
As The Daily Beast revealed in January, HQ has been plagued by bots who plug into the game's API and instantaneously scrape search results on several search engines, spitting out the most likely answer to each question seconds before deadline.
HQ has aggressively attempted to curb such behavior and is regularly implementing updates to the game aimed at thwarting cheaters.
In February, the company sent a cease and desist letter to HQuest, one HQ Trivia cheat site, forcing it to shut down.
But according to several avid players who regularly monitor and evaluate top players on the platform, utilizing bots wasn't Brual's only alleged advantage.
Brual was also part of a private Discord community focused on "hacking" trivia apps, most notably HQ. Members of the community live collaborate on games, work together as teams, sell and swap extra lives, and trade tips and tricks—anything to gain a leg up on average players.
On Sunday night, a bot in a Discord chat that both Brual and the runner, Kayla, are allegedly active members of was spitting out supposed answers live as other members of the group collaborated on answers in real time.
"I can confirm that Kayla is in chat because she, along with Jeric, were both screaming in the voice chat about how far they got, and the only reason Kayla actually didn’t win was because she fat fingered," one fellow member of the Discord community revealed.
Screenshots of one Discord chat shared with The Daily Beast show members collaborating and attempting to game the game.
The real action happens over voice chat, a member of the private Discord group explained. Voice chats can act as a real-time conference call between top trivia hackers and lets them to ferret out correct answers more quickly.
After The Daily Beast reached out to Brual for comment on his personal gmail, a representative from the Discord community responded saying, "We noticed that you have recently contacted one of our members in the Discord. Please do not do this. We take this kind of stuff seriously and do not want any of our members to be contacted. We hope that your recent email to Jeric will be your last," signed "The Community."
As HQ has grown into a cultural phenomenon there is no shortage of copycats, and successfully gaming these quiz apps can mean winning big money.
Live.me's trivia game QuizBiz is popular among trivia hackers and in February the HQ clone announced it would be giving away $50,000 in each of its three trivia shows on February 4th, for a total of $150,000 in one day.
Like others in the trivia hacking community Brual appears to have garnered winnings across several trivia apps in addition to HQ, including QuizBiz.
"Lmao I just realized that I sold qb lives to jeric, the HQ cheater," one member of the Discord community bragged on Sunday night.
All of this can leave regular users, like Katie Krzaczek of New York, feeling confused and dismayed.
"As a user/player that doesn’t take it too seriously, it’s still disappointing to think about others who really make the effort to cheat, and the $25,00 winner-take-all games make it so much more enticing," Krzaczek said. "There’s no way to totally know that the winners aren’t cheating, but it’s really disheartening when something like this [a finalist getting docked for an unknown reason possibly related to cheating] happens."
Other users were left confused at what actually qualifies as cheating.
There was speculation that Brual was initially disqualified for using a jailbroken iPhone (an HQ spokesperson later confirmed that simply playing with a jailbroken iPhone won't get you disqualified).
"Is using Discord technically cheating?" one Discord member wondered. "HQ doesn't consider playing with other users cheating assuming no bots are used."
The HQ app also mysteriously disappeared from the app store for several hours following last night's game, which lead to more panic among players.
An HQ spokesperson said that the app was removed temporarily due to a glitch in the App Store. The timing was simply a coincidence. But as Kerry Flynn at Mashable later revealed, it turns out that the person in charge of the company's iTunes developer account actually just forgot to update an expired credit card.
In the meantime, the game must go on and many fans are excited by the prospect of next Sunday's $50,000 winner-takes-all jackpot.
Popular YouTuber and HQ Trivia regular Sam Sheffer said that despite last night's fiasco, he's not even remotely done with the game and looks forward to playing again for big money this Sunday.
"If he cheated, he cheated," he told The Daily Beast in regards to Brual. "I'll keep playing. I could care less about the drama honestly."