Hype, Meetings, and Workflows | Building DEF CON CTF

This is part 2 of a series of posts about Building DEF CON Capture the Flag.

Basic Hype Game

Many parties want to see you succeed running DEF CON CTF: the DEF CON organization, past organizers, past competitors, and everyone in the CTF community. We all have a vested interest in seeing DEF CON CTF as a popular game with lots of players, which means you need to bring your hype game.

I consider our marketing/hype efforts under way once we launch the website, usually on Jan. 1. For us, this meant agreeing on quals dates in December. Dates are mostly arbitrary, but Jan. 1 was a convenient deadline to target, and gets the rest of the team in a CTF frame of mind.

Besides the website, letting people know about the upcoming game is useful. We kept a Twitter account active, posting announcements leading up to and during the game. Mentioning DEF CON’s official account is easy to do incidentally, and they’ll retweet CTF stuff to their zillion followers. We also had public Google Plus and Facebook pages, but I never felt like they got the traffic that Twitter did.

A CTF game is inherently fun and easy to advertise to CTF enthusiasts. What we’ve always struggled with is non-CTF enthusiast/professional types, especially after establishing a reputation as being very binary-heavy. We leaned in to it a bit, hyping up a challenge or two in 2017 as being web-based when they were just binary reversing that happened to speak HTTP.

One thing I enjoyed and think helped us was having the “#” (octothorpe) brand. The vine-covered computer was a good recognizable image in 2014, and the spraypaint-style version from 2015 has stuck around since then.


In 2017, we met every Wednesday from January until Vegas. We didn’t go all Robert’s Rules of Order but I did maintain meeting notes each week, and persisted any ongoing stuff that needed/expected work from week to week to make sure it was getting done.

Keeping meetings on track is hard! Start with an agenda and know which items are likely to become an open-ended discussion (for us it was challenge infrastructure and challenge difficulty). Make sure that when open-ended discussions come up, you interrupt and defer them until the end of the call. You’ll either forget the less-exciting stuff, or not give it the attention it needs.

Keep the meetings friendly and fun! You’re all relying on each other, and if meetings go badly or turn personal, you’ll find tasks will slow down or never get done.


We didn’t use Scrum™ or any other documented workflow. I kept a personal board on Trello of stuff to do, but didn’t expect anyone else to use it.

Be ruthless about things that don’t need to get done right away or ever. A full month after 2017 qualifiers, when I hadn’t finished the quals stats dump, Gyno told me to let it slide until after finals (I swear I’ll get it done one of these weeks). Ambition can be good: that’s why you’re running a CTF in the first place, and it’s where legendary challenges come from. But it’s risky, and when you have a deadline, sometimes you just want something you know you can do reliably.

Coming Soon:

  • Building Qualifiers
  • Building Finals

Thanks Matthew Pancia for proofreading and reviewing.