HQ trivia, the live game-show app that launched in July, is ridiculously hard to win, but contestant Allan Gibbons repeatedly finds a way.
Better known by his username “AllanG,” Gibbons is an HQ trivia celebrity, born from his knack for dominating the game show’s daily competitions. The 28-year-old radio DJ from Owen Sound, Canada has earned more than $870 from the nine games he’s won and has sat at the top of the all-time leaderboard for about two months.
Sure, maybe his winnings sound like chump change in comparison to the game’s jackpots that range from $500 to $10,000, but it’s been enough to earn him a position atop the leaderboard, and therefore, the envious eyes of the hundreds of thousands contestants who have spent time with the iPhone app over the last six months.
Gibbons’ domination has the HQ community — on the app’s live chat and on Twitter — questioning if “AllanG” is actually human. (He is.) Or if he’s a cheater? (He’s Googled answers now and then.) But the truth is, at times, he’s just gotten lucky.
“The [second time] I won, I split [the winnings] with 14 people. I got lucky on the final question. It was, ‘Where do cherry blossoms bloom first in Japan?’ Thankfully, it was Okinawa,” Gibbons said in a phone call earlier this month.
But Gibbons’ reign at the top of the leaderboard has been precarious as HQ sharply rose in popularity. With every game and with the upcoming launch of an Android app, his internet fame is in jeopardy.
Following a heartbreaking misfire in a contest last week — one with a rare prize of $1,500 — Gibbons’ place as the number one all-time leader came crashing down. It was the highest jackpot ever awarded to just one winner — and its unusually large prize launched contestant “cpaolini” straight to the top spot on the all-time leaderboard, bumping “AllanG” to second place.
I hate CPaolini, I will fight you for the #1 spot.
— allan g (@algibbons) December 13, 2017
It wasn’t easy for Gibbons to climb to the top of HQ’s leaderboard. He fought relentlessly, day after day, match after match, to become the highest earning contestant ever. It took him weeks of games taking at least 30 minutes every day, and his earnings were only enough to buy him a new winter coat, a pair of boots, and some Christmas presents.
But his first victory felt so good, even though it was minuscule in terms of competition and in rewards. The first time he won HQ was after one week of playing, and he said his winnings totaled $1.62, which wasn’t even enough to cash-out (you need at least $20 to do that). But regardless, he kept playing. The next time he won HQ, he earned $536.
He played twice a day, every day, and kept adding to his total winnings, dollar by dollar. With a pool of roughly 400,000 contestants in each of the app’s two daily matches, Gibbons’ spot at the top only became more improbable as time went on.
For Gibbons, HQ fame hasn’t been entirely based on his skill. He says some questions he’s gotten lucky, some he’s relied on help from his colleagues or friends, and others he’s even used Google search.
“I wish I could Google every answer,” he told Mashable when we asked if he cheats. “If you can type fast enough and get a keyword in, it can help. It’s not going to make or break [you], but I’m sure there are people who have won from that.”
On the surface, Gibbons is just your average Canadian. He supports his local hockey team Owen Sound Attack, operates the “Fan Cam” for them, and plays soccer in his free time. He’s the midday host of Canadian radio station Country 93 and weekend host on Mix 106.5. But beneath the surface, Gibbons is quietly obsessed with trivia. He’s been playing since the age of 11 in IRC chatrooms.
He’s the type of person who always checks to see if gameshows like Jeopardy! or Cash Cab are on in his spare time. He also used to watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and on top of all this, he attends three different trivia competitions every month.
Gibbons hosts a trivia night every other week at Bridges Tavern in Owen Sound and hosts another trivia night with the radio station he works for once a month at Joe Tomato’s. He attends a third trivia night every other week at Bridges Tavern on the nights he’s not hosting. Gibbons even comes up with the questions on many nights, which he admits takes a lot of time.
“I get paid for it, which is nice, but it’s a hobby,” Gibbons said. “It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind.”
“I’ve always been pretty good at it,” he added.
When he goes out to trivia nights with friends, his team usually finishes in the top three, he said, taking home small gift cards of about $25. He started hosting trivia nights in the middle of 2016 and has been creating his own content for the games since March of this year.
In October, the HQ app entered Gibbon’s already trivia-packed schedule. He discovered it after reading about it online. Although he can’t remember the specific article, he suggested it might have been Mashable’s story from Oct. 25.
Allan Gibbons loves trivia and has dominated the HQ trivia leaderboards for the past two months.
Image: Allan Gibbons
Back then, HQ trivia was giving out $500 prizes and only about 10,000 people were playing each game. Compare that to last week when HQ reached a record of 681,000 players on Sunday, and you can get a sense of just how hard it’s been for Gibbons to climb to the top of the leaderboard.
Although he’s no longer the highest paid contestant of all time, Gibbons has taken his defeat well.
“I’ve kept playing,” he told Mashable in a Twitter direct message shortly after being toppled. “I won $40 bucks last Thursday or Friday… [I’m] slowly trying to climb my way back to number one.”
He’s using everything in his repertoire to climb back to the top spot. He said he’s already used plenty of extra lives, which HQ players can earn by getting new users to apply a referral code. Players can only use one extra life per game, however, so it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’ll win.
Gibbons also told Mashable that he’d like to clarify that he’s not a bot, as people on Twitter have insinuated and harassed him about in private messages. A quick glance at his Twitter mentions will find several instances of people mocking and messaging him.
He also told Mashable he’s a fast typer and even though he searches for answers or suggestions now and then, but he’s not running any software hacks to help him win.
“Even if someone was able to program something [to hack this], I do not do any of that. Yeah, maybe it’s a skill to type really fast,” he said. “It’s not completely legit, but everyone’s seen the Google trends and it spikes at certain times. So now I’m just competing with everyone doing it.”
Hacks and cheats aside, trivia is not all about winning and the money for Gibbons.
“It’s a free trivia app you’re playing for fun. If you’re playing trying to win money, you’re not going to have fun,” he said. “I’ve gotten super lucky.”
But the extra cash from HQ has been nice. He said his Christmas shopping is pretty much “taken care of.”
He’s keeping a close eye on his competition. For example, Paul Paquet, who was previously number three on the leaderboard and is now number four, is a popular trivia host in Ottawa, Gibbons told us.
Gibbons wearing a jersey for the local OHL team, the Owen Sound Attack. “I work for them running the Fan Cam on game nights, and I’ve done some commentary for games as well on our radio station. Big hockey fan!”
Image: allan gibbons
As HQ trivia grows, Gibbons’ spot on the leaderboard will continue to be challenged. The company said it’ll release an Android version of the app in time for Christmas. That means more players for every round as long as the HQ hype persists. It also means more extra lives, potentially, Gibbons noted with enthusiasm.
“I can’t wait for it to launch on Android. My whole other half of friends can give me extra lives,” Gibbons said.
Asked what he hoped to get out of HQ going forward, Gibbons said he wouldn’t mind if they eventually introduced ads.
“A commercial or two in the middle of my trivia won’t put it off for me. But who knows? We’ll see how it goes. I hope they keep giving more money and keep upping the prize,” Gibbons said.
Of course, rewarding players with more money would mean bringing in more venture capital funding and/or introducing ads, like Gibbons suggested. And that hasn’t been easy for the team behind HQ, according to a recent Recode report, in part due to the founders’ bad reputations while running Vine.
The HQ team told us the leaderboard was introduced as a way to “highlight the brightest players.” HQ recently reached out to Gibbons. It wasn’t to congratulate him, however. The company needed him to file a W-6, to comply with the American tax system.
“Lucky me,” Gibbons said.