Major League Hacking (MLH) is committed to empowering hackers during the COVID-19 outbreak and working with organizers to support their local communities digitally. We will continue to maintain our official guidance for hackers, organizers, and sponsors in our always up-to-date COVID-19 recommendations post.

In response to COVID-19, many parts of the world are moving toward social distancing to prevent spread and protect their communities. People are feeling isolated as classes are cancelled and companies start to work from home. Hackers are suffering as events are forced to either cancel or postpone. 

Hosting a digital event is an incredible way to bring your community together during this time of uncertainty and isolation. Digital events still strengthen your community and help make individuals feel connected, even if they aren’t physically together. 

In addition to bringing your community together, going digital ensures that all the work you and your team have done thus far can still impact hackers. Although a digital event is certainly different from an in-person hackathon,hackers will still have a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, and even find a new job or internship.

In a previous post, we outlined the logistics of becoming a digital event. Here, we focus on some of the ways you can ensure hacker experience is top-tier at your digital event.  

How does a digital event differ from in-person? 

Some of the key differences and our recommendations for the event are as follows:


DigitalIn-Person
Check-inCheckin using an online formIn-person check-in process
Opening CeremonyPre-recorded, watched on a livestream, viewable anytimeLive presentation, seen once
WorkshopsLive streamed, viewable anytimeLive presentation, seen once
Meals, Snacks, and DrinksHackers provideOrganizers provide
Mini-eventsOnline multiplayer games, trivia tournaments, and Cup stacking, trivia
SwagShipped to hackers after the eventHackers collect swag bag at check in
Hacker InteractionsVia Discord or Slack across all attendeesVia Discord or Slack, or In-person with hackers nearby
Sponsor interactionsHackers join an office hours dedicated for the sponsorHackers approach sponsors at their tables
JudgingPre-recorded demos submitted on Devpost, available to view after submissionsLive demos
Closing CeremonyStreamed pre-recorded videos by organizers, viewable during and after the eventPresented live by organizers, with sponsors on stage

How do I help hackers connect?

At an in-person event, you can quickly communicate with people in the same room as you. At a digital event, you’ll need to set up an environment so people feel comfortable starting conversations like they would in-person.

As we outlined in our recent blog, having a Slack/Discord is essential. Create separate channels for groups, teams, and interests. We also suggest your organizing team is active on these platforms to help facilitate conversations, moderate threads, and get people chatting. This also makes your hackathon more accessible for people who have a hard time in large groups.

Some of the channels to include are: 

  • announcements
  • #README
  • introductions 
  • random 
  • mentors 

Don’t forget to ask folks in Discord/Slack set status/roles to show if they are organizers, hackers, sponsors, or mentors. 

Code of Conduct

Ensuring a safe environment is just as important at a digital event. Creating a space free of abuse and harassment starts with ensuring your hackers agree to the MLH Code of Conduct. The Major League Hacking Incident Response team is treating all incidents at digital events with the same level of seriousness that we treat any incident. Your MLH Coach will be online to help handle incidents, and as always, our Incidents hotline will be available at all hours (Contact information here). 

In addition to your MLH Coach helping moderate your Slack/Discord, ensure that at least one organizer is actively moderating all chats throughout the event. If anything is posted that violates the Code of Conduct, screenshot it and delete as quickly as possible as you contact your MLH Coach. Discord has a feature when you ban a user to also delete all messages they have sent. 

To prevent any potential violations, your MLH Coach will stress the importance of maintaining a safe space during their pre-recorded opening ceremony presentation. We also encourage you to remind hackers of how serious you’re treating incidents in pre-event communication as well as your own team’s opening ceremony. 

How can I make a digital event fun? 

After you’ve planned the logistics and set up your chat platform, start planning how you’re going to make your digital experience fun for hackers. We’ve brainstormed some fun activities you can do. If you try any of these, or have others ideas, let us know so we can spread the word! 

Activities via Slack/Discord 

Keeping your hackers engaged on Slack/Discord is essential to keeping folks around for the duration of the event. Some ideas are: 

  • Start discussions in threads on your #random, or create specific channels for chatting. See below for some potential questions you can use as conversation starters. 
  • Two Truths and a Lie
    • Hackers post two truths and a lie about themselves. Folks vote via emoji and react if they think 1, 2, or 3 is the lie. After a bit, they reveal what the lie was.
  • Question of the Hour 
    • Stimulate the conversation by asking a “question of the hour” on Discord/Slack. Potential Ice breaker questions include: 
      • What’s your coffee/tea order? 
      • What’s your #1 Bucket List item? 
      • What city would you love to move to? 
      • What’s your favorite meal? 
      • What useless fact do you know? 
      • What is your favorite book? 
      • What’s your school mascot? 
      • What’s your go-to karaoke song? 
  • Trivia tournament
    • Host a trivia tournament and let hackers know it’s honors system to not google answers. You could do this via stream where the first hackers to chime in for the correct answer win, or you could do a multi-choice quiz that you distribute via Slack/Discord. 

Gaming

Online game tournaments are one of the most common ways to engage folks online. You can get creative with the games you’re hosting.  Due to the processing power needed to stream, keep in mind the capabilities of your computer. We recommend streaming in no higher quality than 720p @ 30fps and hard-wiring your computer to the network via an ethernet cable when possible. Also, try not to do processing-heavy work on the computer that’s streaming. 

There are numerous online gaming tournaments, and here are a few ideas: 

  •  Jackbox games – We highly recommend Jackbox and Jackbox- style games because they are an extremely accessible event to run. You only need 1 person to own the game for everyone to participate! (run it in family mode to avoid inappropriate prompts!)
  • Stream multiplayer games – League of Legends, Dota, Rocket League, and Smash can all be fun games to play over the web. Just be mindful that bad internet connection can make any of these games a bad time.
  • Online Chess tournament 
  • Create a Minecraft server for hackers to build in

Other Activities

Keep in mind that not all your hackers will be video game players. Host some non-gaming activities as well. Some of our ideas are: 

  • !Light – Code-in-the-dark activity where participants have 5 minutes to recreate a website without previewing the code they’re writing. Stream the host’s screen so that hackers can see what everyone else built and vote on their favorite. 
  • Slideshow Karaoke – Presenter picks a random slidedeck based on suggestions from the audience. Have a volunteer present it (via voice stream) without knowing what it is while the presenter controls the slides. 
  • Typing contest – Host an online typing contest to see who can type the most words per minute using websites like 10 Fast Fingers.
  • Music – If hackers have Spotify Premium, you can stream background music on Discord. Think about hosting an organizer DJ of the hour and have hackers vote on their favorite playlists. 
  • Show and Tell – Allow hackers to share with groups things they’ve been working on, interesting podcasts they’re listening to, a fun recipe they tried, or anything else they want to share. 
  • User Experience Design Competition – Give hackers a limited amount of time to create a design based on a theme you announce. Have them post it in a thread on slack/discord and participants can vote on their favorite. 
  • Bob Ross painting competition using MS Paint – Hackers can watch Bob Ross painting tutorials for free on YouTube. Have a competition to see who can recreate a Bob Ross landscape using MS Paint or other online drawing tool. 
  • Skribbl.io – Draw and guess words with your friends and people all around the world! Score the most points and be the winner!

Workshops 

We’ve created a guide on how to remotely run workshops. Check it out for tips on streaming and presenting to a remote crowd. 

The biggest thing to remember is to ensure your presenters test their streaming setup. If they are having trouble streaming video and audio, consider sharing their slides out to participants and only streaming audio. 

Engagement During your Event 

In addition to creating fun activities, keeping people informed and engaged on what is happening during the duration of your event is key. 

Organizer on Call 

Have an organizer in a voice chat at all times. Tell hackers and sponsors they can hop on the chat to ask questions or just hang out. 

Updates

Send updates via Slack/Discord throughout the event. Remind people when activities are happening and share highlights from your activities! 

Mentorship 

As often as possible, encourage mentors to hop on voice and/or video chats with the hackers seeking help. Utilize a #mentors channel for folks to post when they need help and encourage your mentors to keep a close eye on it. Since you aren’t asking anyone to travel, you can recruit mentors from all over. Invite alumni from your school, industry professionals, and your professors to join during shifts throughout the event. Keep a live document of what mentors are online at what times, along with the skills and technologies that each of them feel comfortable mentoring on. 

Sponsor + Hacker interactions 

Encourage your sponsors to stay involved throughout the event. Even though they won’t interact with hackers one on one, they can find value if you set up spaces for them to meet hackers. 

Office Hours

If your sponsors are running a prize track, ask them to host office hours where hackers can ask questions, get feedback, and chat with them about the track.

Workshops

If a sponsor was planning on hosting a workshop at your in-person event, encourage them to do the same digitally. See our MLH Localhost recommendations for help on hosting remote workshops. 

Fun and Games 

As you’re hosting games and competitions throughout the event, consider mixing it up with sponsor vs hacker vs organizers challenges! If your sponsor isn’t as interested in a technical workshops, see if they’re interested in hosting a mini-event or game. 

Recruiting 

Keep in mind that even though hackathons are cancelling, hackers still are looking for jobs. If a sponsor is primarily interested in recruiting, there are still ways to engage them. Some ideas include:

  • Resume critiques – Office hours where recruiters help hackers edit and perfect their resumes. 
  • 1:1 Recruiter/Sponsor Chats – Set up Google Hangouts or Zoom breakout rooms for your hackers to meet companies one on one, similarly to how they would at a sponsor fair. 
  • Interviews – If you’re providing resumes in advance, your recruiters may be interested in interviewing your hackers during the event, similarly to how they would at an in-person event. Assist them with setting up technology to facilitate these interviews. 

Swag

One nearly immutable part of a hackathon is swag. Hackers love getting it, collecting it, and showing it off. If you have the budget, we definitely recommend getting swag to hackers, this will further help to connect hackers and make your event feel like more than just a contest. If you want to give out swag to your hackers see our digital event guide for details and you’re an MLH Member event we’ll be able to help you further! 

MLH is Here to Help

If you are hosting a digital event, we highly recommend attending one of our online Peer Group sessions. There are Zoom calls for you to meet other organizers planning digital events, ask questions, and get tips and tricks from the community.

Spots fill up fast, so RSVP here. If you aren’t free doing the scheduled times, reach out to us at [email protected]!