Behold the Glory That is ‘Battlebots’

Eleven seasons of robot fighters can’t be wrong

It was inevitable I would love BattleBots. As a boy, I remember having buddies over to hang out in our awesome converted garage. There was a pool table, dart board, the sweetest poker table and chairs ever, a TV with the Atari hooked up. But for a time, smashing Lego was king. We assembled our multi-colored cars in all different shapes and sizes, knelt down on the cool concrete and hurled our creations head on. There were glancing blows and total misses where one kid would get tagged in the knee and cry it out. But when those suckers finally collided and one of them exploded like a plastic pinata, it was GLORIOUS!

Just add military grade armor, 60 lb. titanium blades spinning at up to 250mph, flippers that throw bots 10+ ft. into the air and a few flamethrowers, and BOOM, you have BattleBots!

BattleBots Season 11 is now showing on Discovery. The show, puns be damned, is truly a well-oiled machine as it reaches the halfway point of its sixth season since its 2015 reboot on ABC. Ringside commentators/hosts Chris Rose and former MMA fighter Kenny Florian toss out hilarious and insightful commentary with a genuine enthusiasm for the competition and admiration for the participants. Ring announcer Faruq Tauheed pairs Michael Buffer bombast with enough ridiculous rhyming hyperbole to make Nipsey Russell blush.

And while my six-year-old has tough time sitting through the filler, the pre-bout interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, they do it as well as they can considering they’re dealing with a bunch of geniuses who devote virtually all of their free time and money to meticulously designing and building a robot that another robot will likely destroy within minutes.

And that’s the real beauty of the show. The most successful teams are lucky to break even with sponsorships, merchandising deals and appearance fees. That doesn’t include the thousands of man-hours put in by a crew of typically five to 10 people.  It’s akin to your softball team practicing for 30 hours a week for a year to play three games while breaking half the bats and burning all of the gloves after every game. Some of these bots cost over $50k to build. It’s nuts! I love it!

Battlebots
This Battlebot ain’t playin’. (Discovery)

They house the three-minute bout in a 48’ x 48’ BattleBox surrounded by over a million dollars in Lexan bulletproof glass. Thankfully all of the hazards phased out other than the two Pulverizers (metal hammers in opposite corners controlled by the teams), the Killsaws (titanium saw blades that rise periodically from the floor in the final minute) and the Screws (twin sets of 6’ horizontal, rotating metal screws on either side of the arena).

The one new addition to the BattleBox for this year is a 16’ x 8’ platform, deemed the Upper Deck, centered on one of the formally open walls with another set of screws. Few bots have found their way up there so far, but the crowd certainly loves those rare instances. The loss of floor space and creation of two somewhat boxed in corners has definitely had a greater impact on many fights and has negatively impacted full-body and horizontal spinners. If they don’t decide the fight by knockout, a 3-judge panel of former bot builders score the fight based on damage, control and aggression.

While the cast and arena improvements are great, it’s the technical evolution and variety of bots that makes the show so compelling. Horizontal and vertical spinners, essentially 30-80 lb. metal fidget spinners whirring at over 200 mph, are currently the kings. All five of the most recent champs hail from this category. And as these bots routinely destroy their opponents, they are definitely the biggest crowd pleasers. Flippers, full-body spinners, hammerbots, grabbers, lifters, flamebots. Add “bot” to the end of anything that you could use as a weapon, and someone has likely tried it. There’s Double Jeopardy, a gunbot, that fires 5lb. slugs. Or how about, Mammoth? It’s basically a six-foot-tall catapult made out of what looks like a cheap bike frame. Possibly the most unique-looking bot is Huge. The bot resembles a weightlifting bar run between two bright white 40” UHMW (a seemingly indestructible, but somehow flexible plastic-like material) spoked wheels with a massive spinning blade set in the middle. The sheer variety and quality of current bots leads to intriguing and entertaining matches not seen in the past.

Robot fighting started in the early 90s out in the Bay Area when a group of destructo-nerds, including Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman of future Mythbusters fame, began pelting warehouse-filled audiences with shrapnel. Tom Gutteridge, a British TV producer, got his hands on a video of one of the bouts, fell in love, bought the production rights and worked for three years to bring Robot Wars to the BBC. The show was an instant hit, running for seven seasons.

Back in the US, a couple of OG robot fighters, Greg Munson and Trey Roski (son of a billionaire realtor), saw an opening and created BattleBots. After getting turned down by all of the major networks, the duo scored a deal in an unlikely place, Comedy Central. BattleBots debuted in 2000 and pumped out five seasons in just three years. The show was a lot of fun, but it had its flaws. There were five weight classes originally and often the various hazards placed around the arena determined the outcome of too many matches in the lighter divisions. And being on Comedy Central, they thought they needed Carmen Electra bouncing around and corny gags to keep it interesting. We’re here for the destruction, man!

Episode 7 airs tonight on Discovery at six PM EST. If the first half of the season is any indication of what is to come, this will be another great one. Brutal slugfests from legacy teams, multiple fire ravaged bots continuing to fight it out, compelling designs from newcomers and massive upsets. My little guy has asked if it’s BattleBot night nearly every day since the premiere. As we wait for Thursday every week, hopefully my wife will be okay with a few dings to the hallway furniture after I introduce him to head-on LEGO car bashing.

Battlebots
A typically subtle moment in Battlebots, Season 11. (Discovery).

 

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Ty Pearson

Ty Pearson is a househusband who has written four obnoxious punk albums and placed third in the UIL 2A State Headline Writing competition. He once drank some beers with Mojo Nixon, Jello Biafra and Kris Kristofferson.

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