Tributes were residents of the 12 districts of Panem who were reaped or volunteered to participate in an annual Hunger Games. Except in special cases, such as for Quarter Quells, twenty-four children between the ages of 12 and 18 were chosen at random to participate. Every district had to give two tributes, a girl and a boy. The circumstances could be different if it was a Quarter Quell, like the 50th Hunger Games. That year, each district had to send two boys and two girls to compete, thus providing a total of 48 tributes. A twist was also applied to the 25th Hunger Games, in which the districts had to pick their own tributes, instead of getting them chosen at random. In the 75th and final Hunger Games, the tributes were chosen, or "reaped", from the existing pool of victors. The chosen tributes fought to the death in an arena until only one remained; there are only two known exceptions to this: the 74th, which had two victors, and no victor in the 75th as the Games never finished, with 6 tributes surviving.
Choosing the tributes
Each year, all children aged twelve to eighteen were separated into their respective age groups and designated to different areas. There were two glass balls, one for the boys and one for the girls, that contained slips of paper with the names of all the children of that district. Children who were twelve were entered once. Children who were thirteen had their names entered twice, and so on until they were eighteen with at least seven entries. A child's name could be entered more times, if they opted to receive tesserae. For each tesserae taken by a child (with a maximum of however many people were in their family), their name was added an extra time in exchange for a year's supply of grain and oil for one person. However, these entries were cumulative, so all entries were rolled over to the next year. Gale Hawthorne took tesserae for five family members since he was first entered into the reaping, and so had his name entered forty-two times by the 74th Hunger Games. Similarly, Katniss Everdeen had her name entered twenty times. Her sister, Primrose Everdeen, had her name entered once, since Katniss refused to let her take tesserae despite Prim's protests against it.
The district's escort picked a name out of each of the glass balls, and the two children whose names were chosen became the district's new tributes. In the 74th Hunger Games, Prim was selected first by Effie Trinket, but Katniss volunteered to take her place since becoming a tribute at a young age was basically a death sentence, especially in District 12. Afterwards, Peeta Mellark was chosen as the male tribute from District 12.
By rule, once a person's name had been chosen to become a tribute, another eligible boy or girl could volunteer to take their place. Normally volunteers were asked for after the chosen person is introduced, but Katniss Everdeen volunteered spontaneously before her sister, Primrose, could mount the stage. This marked the first time that a person had volunteered in District 12.
In the districts 1, 2 and 4, (in the film only 1 and 2) so called "Career Tributes" who had been training all their lives to participate in the Games were eager to volunteer as the Hunger Games were seen by them as a chance at fame and glory, thus the volunteering protocols were different. Cato lunged forward to volunteer. In contrast, in the poorer districts like 12, participating in the Hunger Games was equivalent to a death sentence; therefore, the volunteering regulations were rarely used.
For the 75th Hunger Games, Brutus, Mags, and Peeta volunteered. Mags took the place of Annie Cresta, and Peeta replaced Haymitch Abernathy; thus, District 12 had volunteers at two consecutive Hunger Games, one boy and one girl.
Quarter Quells were special editions of Hunger Games that happened every quarter century, hence the name "Quarter Quell." Each Quarter Quell had a certain theme that would cruelly remind the districts of their failure at rebellion.
- In the first Quarter Quell, the tributes were not drawn randomly from the glass balls. Instead, they were voted into the Games by the people of their district to remind the rebels that they were sending their children to die in the war.
- In the second Quarter Quell, each district had to send two times the amount of tributes to remind the district residents that 2 rebels were killed for every Capitol citizen. These tributes were drawn randomly from the glass balls.
- In the third Quarter Quell, the tributes were chosen from the pool of remaining victors from past Hunger Games to remind the rebels that even the strongest among them could not defy the Capitol's power.
- Tribute is wealth, often in the kind, that one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often the case in historical contexts, of submission or allegiance. Failure to pay tribute constituted an act of rebellion. Ancient Rome extracted tribute from its provinces and subject kingdoms and this role is repeated with the Capitol as the receiver of the tributes in the form of one boy and one girl from each district.
- The word "tribute" is also the official name for Hunger Games fans in the film adaptation. It was primarily chosen after numerous fan sites conducted a survey on which names should be chosen; some of the names included in the survey were mockingjays, rebels, and several other names, such as jabberjays.
- The Hunger Games, Chapter 3