Creating Your Own League


Ambience Is All

Not just any bar will do for this sort of thing. If they cater to a young, noisy crowd, you can bet that the teams won't stay there long. The noise factor is of paramount importance, especially if you have an audio round, but overall as well, because the teams need to be able to hear the questions and answers clearly. We've made some mistakes along the way, and had to move teams out of pubs that don't measure up.

Most pubs, I find, are delighted when you offer to bring in eleven people every Monday night. Monday is traditionally a bar's slowest night, and some of our locations are practically empty except for our players. Unfortunately some pubs seem to feel that providing a location discharges their obligations, and that extra step or two necessary for a good evening is lacking. Ensuring a reasonable level of noise control and providing some sort of free munchies at half time is an excellent way for the bar to tell the players that their presence is welcome and desirable. Obviously, a busy place cannot cater to one specific group as well as a slightly slower place can, so by all means examine the bar on a Monday night before deciding to place a team or teams in there.

Depending on the layout, the pub may be able to provide the teams with a virtually private room or playing area. If you play out in the open, though, you'll find yourselves attracting attention from other patrons, and getting inquiries on how to join the league, which isn't all bad! Rarely, I have had bars get in touch with me, indicating that they have a team wishing to join the league. In most cases, posters in the bar indicating when the league play takes place will generate enough interest among the patrons to cobble together one or two teams. Ideally a bar should be headquarters for two teams, so that there is always one at home and one on the road. A couple of our bars are large enough that they have four teams, so there are always two matches on a Monday night. Remember that a team needs five players available for each match, so it's best to have two or more spares on each squad in case of illness, vacation, business trips, and all the other usual excuses.

Teams tend to be made up of people who know each other before they start playing team trivia. They may be co-workers, for example, or neighbours, or just friends from some other common activity. Our league has grown in a few years from six to eighteen teams, and continues to expand. Players talk about the league to their friends, and more teams just seem to form by themselves! Which certainly suggests that they're all having fun.


Administrative Issues

If you're going to run a league, there are a number of administrative issues that I need to talk about at this point. You've selected your pubs, teams are set, and the league is ready to go. Now what?

Well, first you have to have a Quizmaster for each match. In our league, the Quizmasters are generally people who have become tired of playing, but don't want to leave the league. They having been on both sides of the table and are all excellent. But it isn't hard to find people who want to do it. They are paid twelve dollars a match, which covers their beer (or wine)) and parking, so it becomes a free evening for them. The alternative to regular Quizmasters, although not nearly as good, is to have that night's home team supply a Quizmaster, as well as their five players. Apart from the difficulty of maintaining impartiality, the league is better off with "professional" Quizmasters who are known and trusted by both teams. If for some reason a Quizmaster doesn't show up all players on both teams can take a turn being the QM.


Keeping It Together

Next, you need to set up the night's package for each match. This consists of the following:
  • 1 set questions/answers
  • 3 score sheets
  • 1 USB flash drive (thumb drive)
  • 1 recap sheets with league standings
I put this all together in a large reusable plastic envelope, clearly marked "Trivia League." That way the pub knows what it is, and the Quizmaster doesn't have any trouble picking it up before game time. Let's look at how you go about preparing each of these items for the game each week.


Set-up of Questions & Answers

I talk a lot more about question preparation in (Creating Good Trivia), so let's assume for now that it's done. Next, the questions need to be typed clearly (use at least 14-point type on a word processor), so that the Quizmaster can read them easily in the heat of battle. Put the answer on the next line, all in capital letters, again so that the Quizmaster can easily distinguish between question and answer,and won't read them out together. A good Quizmaster will arrive a few minutes early, and read through the questions, to make sure of any difficult pronunciations, or spot any typographical errors in the questions (or even wrong answers!). Put each round on a separate sheet, with the round number and any instructions to the players or the Quizmaster at the top. A typical question sheet might start like this:

The Strippers

We've all read those comic strips in the newspapers, but do you know who draws them? Name the artist responsible for each of the following strips:

1. The Far Side


2. Dilbert


3. Garfield


and so on. Arrange the ten question sheets together in order to make a neat package of ten rounds.



Now you need a scoresheet for this week's game; three copies for each pub (one for each team, and one for the Quizmaster. The one you supply to the teams should have the round headings already filled in. The easiest way to do this is to make one master each week and then photocopy it.


Audio Round

If you decide, as we do, to have an audio round, you'll need to supply a USB flash drive with the week's items on it. Again, we'll talk later about what to put on the drive and how to get it there.


Delivering the Goods

Your next task, having assembled the packages, one per pub, is to deliver them. Our matches start at 8 pm, which gives everyone lots of time to get home from work, have dinner, and relax before heading out for the game. And since the game only takes a couple of hours or so, it still doesn't make a very late night. It also gives you time to get around to all the pubs and drop off the packages. Most pubs have some spot behind the bar area where they will be prepared to keep the envelope for you. Since we always have an audio round, our pubs also store a small portable stereo for us, along with an extension cord (vital -- the outlet is never very close to where you set up to play).

It's the Quizmaster's job to pick up the package before the game, and to get everything set up. Likewise, at the end of the game, the Quizmaster puts the USB drive and a completed final score sheet back in the package, along with the money they have collected from the players (yes, I know this is the first time I've mentioned money -- more very soon). This goes back into the pub's safe-keeping, and it's up to the league coordinator to get it from there.



We keep track of the league standings and player records, and each week the league website is updated with this information.

Our league administration is very simple: we track the team's wins and losses. One of the other local leagues uses a complex handicap system after the first couple of weeks, which assigns floating handicaps based on a team's average point score as compared to the leading team in its division. Then each match has two outcomes: a normal win-loss, and a win-loss result after handicaps are applied. At the end of the season there are two champions, one using handicap. If you want to go to all this trouble, it is a system that has much to recommend it, since it keeps teams interested even if they are getting blown away; they still can be the winner on handicap on a given night.

We also track individual players' scores (using the number of deuces they manage to get each week) and their running average; we show this broken down by team.

We also have a Facebook group page.
This page and the website are used to convey notices and messages to everyone. Sometimes dates get changed, or matches are moved from one venue to another. One year, we found that a large number of our players were involved in local elections that were taking place on one particular Tuesday, so we cancelled that Monday's games with only a couple of weeks notice.



Depending on how many teams you have, your schedule can be a complete round-robin, or some kind of week-to-week pairing that has the top teams meeting each other. However, in this latter method, you should make sure the same teams do not keep playing one another. I've found that the ideal season is eleven weeks; any longer than that and you will start to experience dropouts. We run three seasons a year with about a month off between seasons. By the end of that month, it seems everyone is raring to get at it again.


All's Well that Ends Well

The various Toronto trivia leagues differ in how they handle the end-of-season festivities. They all finish each season with a banquet night, which includes trophy presentations to winning teams and players. The other leagues each have some kind of play-off system that operates after their league schedule is over, and the banquet is used as Finals Night for their divisional winners to play one another in public.

Our league, by contrast, was started by a group of people who wanted to address some of what we felt were flaws in the other leagues; in particular, we wanted to provide an entertaining banquet where we could reward the winning team and league/team MVPs with gift cards. Have play-offs if you want (although it begs the question of how to keep the teams not involved interested, so we don't), but it was our view that having play-offs as part of the banquet is not a lot of fun if you are not one of the teams in the finals. So as an alternative, we play non-trivia types of games -- amongst our same trivia league teams. A good example is the "It was a dark and stormy night" game: every team is required to write the worst opening line to a novel that will never see publication. They then read them aloud (amid much hilarity) and the Quizmasters judge them. At the end of the evening, I buy the winning table a round of drinks.


Funding the Festivities

Which finally brings us to the question "Where does the money come from for the league expenses including QM fees, payment for submitted rounds, the banquet, gift cards and other expenses?". The answer is that in our league each player pays $8 a night to play. Of this the Quizmaster receives $15 to pay for their drinks and round submissions get $12 each. The fee varies in the other Toronto leagues. Obviously, you get what you pay for, and a league with slightly more upscale fees can afford a more lavish end-of-season festivity.
Revised Funding (as of 2018)
In January of 2010 players' fees were raised to $7 per evening.
Around 2014 players' fees were raised to $8 per evening and Quizmasters now receive $15 per game.