“We don’t play trivia for fun, we play trivia for blood,” Riley Patterson said.
Ms. Patterson, 24, was competing in the King’s Cup, the tournament of the NYC Trivia League, which has hundreds of teams and more than 2,600 players this season alone. At Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, where the 10-week season concluded on Sept. 18, Ms. Patterson and five others wore pinwheel-clad hats emblazoned with “Your Mom,” the name of their team. They had just been knocked out of a qualifying round for the championship and would end up ranking 30th out of 442 teams.
“We’re the 30th smartest people in New York City,” joked Andi Ralph, 25, a captain of “Your Mom,” along with Ms. Patterson.
The team mostly consists of recent graduates of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, along with a new acquaintance or two that they’ve picked up along the way. And although trivia is a blood sport for them, it also provides a sense of community. “It’s really weird to be jumping right into adulthood, especially after the pandemic,” Ms. Ralph said. “It’s really nice to have a group of people that you get together with every week.”
The trivia league is full of New Yorkers with game- and reality-show pedigrees, including “Jeopardy,” “Master Minds” and “The Chase.” One team has alumni of both “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.”
Luckily, the league has found a way to bring all of these strategy and trivia savants together by turning what they do into a monthslong, multiple team competition. It concludes with The King’s Cup, a nod to one of the league’s founders, Ryan West, whose nickname was “the king” and who died of cancer in 2017. Although 442 teams participated this past season, only the top 25 made it to the championship round.
To keep players coming back, Cullen Shaw, 40, another league founder, has hired a group of writers and hosts to come up with new questions every week. “It’s really important to have diverse writers in terms of background, gender and age because there’s going to be a lot of things that seem really easy to me that are really difficult to other people, and the other way around,” Mr. Shaw said.
The league also is known to throw curveballs by way of photo and music rounds. Mr. Shaw loves writing the music rounds, he said, and always makes sure that they’re “highlighting female artists, people of color and different genres.”
This kind of variety keeps the game interesting and fair, allowing players to learn from different backgrounds and cultures. Jeffrey Seguritan, 38, another alum of “The Chase” and currently part of the team “18 Pound Cat,” loves trivia because of its ability to “democratize information,” he said.
“All sorts of knowledge and information has value,” Mr. Seguritan said, “all the way from knowing who the first pharaoh was to knowing who was the winner of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ in the most recent season — they’re worth the same amount of points.”
Some league hosts like Joe Nguyen, 32, are making an attempt to diversify the players, too. “I found that the trivia world can be very narrow,” Mr. Nguyen said. “There are a lot more males than females, and I’d like to change that.”
Mr. Nguyen has the bragging rights of recently facing off against Ken Jennings, who became a household name for his marathon run on “Jeopardy” and who now steps in occasionally as a host on the show. Mr. Jennings eliminated Mr. Nguyen in “Master Minds” in 2020, after which, he pulled Mr. Nguyen aside and asked if he had ever been on “Jeopardy.” At their level, one can just assume.
(Mr. Nguyen has indeed been on “Jeopardy,” where he competed on four episodes of the show in 2017.)
These days, however, Mr. Nguyen prefers to focus on his weekly hosting gigs for the NYC Trivia League, he said. “When I go to my trivia nights I see a bunch of friends that have been there forever,” Mr. Nguyen said. “This is their one little ritual that they have, and as an adult in New York City, it’s nice to have that to look forward to.”
Eliza Orlins, 39, a public defender and a candidate in the 2021 Democratic primary race for Manhattan district attorney, is one of the founding members of “Bunny Massacre,” the team that won the championship title at this year’s King’s Cup. She has also competed on “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.”
The members of “Bunny Massacre” have a thirst for competition that is compounded by their day jobs and after-hours pursuits. Ms. Orlins knows two of her fellow team members, Brooke Camhi, a lawyer, and Brian Corridan, who runs an SAT test-prep class, from their stints on the same reality shows.
As part of their training, or maybe just to decompress, “Bunny Massacre” members do escape rooms together, Ms. Orlins said. “If we don’t get the fastest time that the escape room has ever seen, we’re all very disappointed in ourselves. We try to set records.”
Joe Espenshade, 34, the trivia host at the The Winslow, “Bunny Massacre’s” home bar in the East Village, is an integral part of the team’s experience. “Trivia Joe is great, and we love him,” Ms. Orlins said. In fact, she said, the only aspect of trivia nights that surpasses the thrill of competition is the ritual of putting aside the stressors of the day to spend time with friends.
“I think no matter what else is going on in my life, even if I’m in a terrible mood heading to trivia, you put your phone down for a couple of hours, and we always just have such a great time,” Ms. Orlins said.
“It makes me feel like a New Yorker a little bit,” Ms. Patterson said. “I’ve only lived here for like three years and I’m from North Carolina, but I have a weekly trivia group — it’s my little tiny version of ‘Cheers.’”