April 29, 2006

Buzztime in McAllen, Texas
By: Kate Lohnes, The Monitor, McAllen, TX

Buzz Time: Interactive trivia network endears itself to Valley gamers
April 29, 2006
Kate Lohnes
Monitor Staff Writer

By day, Alamo resident Abraham Marroquin is a mild-mannered bartender at Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill in McAllen.

But by night, he dons the moniker “GHOST,” and he takes no prisoners.

The 22-year-old is candid about his passion for the NTN Buzztime Network, a televised interactive trivia and gaming network found in casual restaurants and sports bars. Playing under the handle “GHOST,” Marroquin competes with other Rio Grande Valley residents on the largest live gaming station in the country.

“I think there’s maybe one day out of the week when I don’t go,” Marroquin said. “I can’t remember the last time I walked in there and didn’t ask for a playmaker.”

To play a game on Buzztime, users watch a television connected to the NTN network. Buzztime broadcasts different games during the day, such as Q&A trivia games or sports prediction games. Using a wireless key pad called a playmaker, contestants can play individually or in groups, watching the screen and selecting the solution they think is best on the pad. Right answers are rewarded by a certain number of points, which at the end of the game are tallied up and compared to other individual results in the same bar and around the nation. Bars and restaurants are also considered competitive locations and are ranked against each other as well. Sign up and participation is free.

There are currently two locations in McAllen that have Buzztime, Buffalo Wild Wings at 4021 N 10th St., and Bennigan’s at 129 W. Nolana. Both locations have caught the Buzztime fever. According to Amanda Salinas, a manager at Bennigan’s, the restaurant has regular players who frequent the bar, so much so that Bennigan’s has hosted a Buzztime tournament for the past three years.

“It gets really exciting,” she said. “They’re so into it. A lot of them have met really good friends here, all because of the (Buzztime) competition. They’ve gotten to know each other so well, and it all goes back to when they met that first day during the lunch or dinner hour.”

Since parent company NTN Buzztime, Inc. went public in 1985, its scope has reached from a handful of restaurants into other countries, said John Boozer, spokesperson for NTN Buzztime. There are currently around 3,600 bars and casual restaurants in the United States that carry the Buzztime network, as well as 400 establishments in Canada and 35 in the United Kingdom. Buzztime is also available through the Internet, in homes via satellite television, on many major cell phone carriers and as home gaming sets, he said.

While Marroquin’s favorite game on Buzztime is “Texas Hold ‘Em,” Boozer said the most popular game on the network is “Showdown,” a general knowledge trivia game.

“Trivia has been the biggest draw for Buzztime, and has been for nearly 22 years,” he said. “It plays on Tuesday night, and we put most of the promotional power behind that trivia game.”

The allure of trivia is nothing new, said Steve Beverly, a professor of broadcasting at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and the creator of Trivia outlets like television game shows and Buzztime offer people the chance to be competitive without being athletic, he said, and recalls pop culture information associated with fond memories.

“This is highly competitive, whether you’re challenging the computer or playing with a team,” he said. “There’s also the old cliché that trivia is useless information, but I argue, is it? Pop culture is part of our lives for years. That, coupled with a competitive nature makes this, to a degree, somewhat of a cottage sport. There’s absolutely no surprise that this format of competition is successful.”

In addition, Beverly said Buzztime also parallels the format of a lot of TV’s popular game shows, both past and present. “Showdown” is a skewed version of games like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Jeopardy, he said. The network even offers prizes, like Dodge trucks and trips to Hawaii.

Big ticket prizes, along with respect from fellow Buzztime addicts, gets players like Brownsville resident Harry Allen excited. Since he began playing the Buzztime game “QB1” in 1996, the 37-year-old said his dream has been to win the “QB1” national tournament. In “QB1,” players watch live NFL football games and predict what play the quarterback will run next. Allen said he spends four hours on Sunday nights and six hours on Monday nights during football season at the Bennigan’s location in Brownsville making his calls.

“I love it just as much as if I were involved in a bowling league or a softball league,” he said. “I’m going out there among my friends in a relaxing atmosphere and having fun with trivia. A lot of the players work as a team, and share answers, or they try to build up scores. You always have the camaraderie either way.”

Allen said he and his friends, who used to play in McAllen before Harlingen and Brownsville bars got Buzztime, have specific rituals they follow when game time arrives.

“First of all, we always sit in the same chairs,” he said. “One year I had to wear a certain hat, but at halftime I had to switch hats to keep my mojo going. It was working, so I did it for a whole season.”

Other players, like Don Denton of Covina, California, devote whole Web sites to Buzztime scores and recaps. Denton, a real estate appraiser, has been updating his NTN site,, on a daily basis since 1996. At one point, Denton played with what was then the top trivia team in the country at the National Sports Grill in West Covina. Like Allen and Marroquin, Denton said he enjoys the competitive spirit of the games as well as the sense of community.

“I enjoy the company and enjoy the social activity,” he said. “We always play as a team and share the answers and try to beat everybody else. Sometimes we’re No. 1 and sometimes we’re No. 648, but we still have fun.”
Kate Lohnes covers features and entertainment for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4427.

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