In the days leading up to BattleBots 2016 people of all walks involved with the event were slowly releasing teasers and information to build hype. Builders and teams were showing off everything ranging from full robot shots to abstract unveils for things like weapons and paint jobs while BattleBots themselves were doing behind the scenes Periscope streams during the construction of the BattleBox and the setup of the actual venue itself. Followers of BattleBots Update on Facebook were treated to a reveal of our own when just two days before the kickoff of the 2016 season I made the announcement that I would be present at the taping of the entire event in order to put together an event report.
Right off the bat I feel I should inform you all that this is a spoiler-free report. I will not, and cannot, reveal who the champion of the event is. Instead, I’ve written this report to include some inside information on as many competitors as possible along with my experiences as a fan at the Mecca of robot combat itself. Out of respect for the wishes of the event organizers I did not personally take any photos of the venue; pictures used in this article were taken by the competing teams or posted by BattleBots themselves.
Major thank you’s go out to BattleBots for making this trip possible!
HELL OR HIGH WATER
My trip was slated to begin the afternoon of Monday April 18th with my departure from the Corpus Christi International Airport. Fun fact, the name of that airport is actually a misnomer unless by “International” they really mean “no matter where you are going we will drop you off at the airport in Houston first”. That might sound like an unrelated and shit-tier quip, but Houston plays a key role in this fiasco largely because on the day I was supposed to fly into that city it turned into a fucking swimming pool. Just two hours before my flight, and while I was already on my way to the airport, I received notification that my flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled.
I still showed up at the airport to see what could be done but since Houston was busy reenacting Waterworld I was told that I was pretty much shit out of luck and that there were no flights going from Corpus Christi to Houston at all, period. I was fucking livid. I would need more than a couple of sentences to convey to you how excited I was for this trip and how much it meant to me, but I think you probably get the gist of it. I could care less that Houston was a lake. I’d literally swim to my next fucking flight if I had to, but I guess rather than hire pilots with some balls Southwest Airlines will instead let you check two bags for free. I should’ve flown American. They don’t give a fuck.
As I stood at the Southwest check-in counter contemplating transcending into an ethereal being of pure goddamned rage I had an idea. Houston might be a write-off, but there’s also an airport in San Antonio. Like, a real airport, not some “all of our outbound flights stop at the city next door” airport like the one I was standing in at that moment. Southwest had a flight departing from San Antonio at bumfuck A.M. in the morning that, thanks to time zone changes, would put me in Los Angeles one hour before BattleBots opened the doors for seating on the first day of the event. I changed to that flight and informed my brother who had given me a ride to the airport that our itinerary for the day had changed and that we were now going to the Greyhound station because I just spent $17 on a one-way bus ticket to the fucking Alamo.
He had many questions.
The new plan required me to sit at the bus station for three hours, which in bus station time is five years. It’s a pretty shitty fact of life, but bus stations are unceremoniously always located in the “rough” parts of town. As such, there were no less than three signs hanging up near the station’s only empty plug outlet informing me not to charge my phone there under penalty of a whole five dollars. Even though my life is impossibly far off from where I’d like it to be right now, at least I can say that a penalty of five fucking dollars isn’t something that would ruin me. I ignored the sign, plugged in my phone, and when they eventually noticed that I was using the outlet they literally told me they didn’t care, presumably because I looked like someone who had showered at some point in the past month.
I rode a bus to San Antonio, phoned in a favor with a friend there to crash on his couch, and when all was said and done the next morning I was sitting on a plane headed for the west coast sans-Skymall catalog because as I’ve recently been informed Skymall went bankrupt last year. Shoutouts, and my condolences, to Skymall. I can’t imagine how a company whose modus operandi involved selling
watches chronographs for upwards of $27,000 could’ve possibly failed.
THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION
My flight out of San Antonio arrived just in time for me to catch a “SuperShuttle” arranged at the last minute by the aforementioned trip sponsor. I’ve never ridden in a SuperShuttle but if I had to describe it to you I’d go with “regular minivan with an impossible number of seats inside of it and an air conditioner of dubious functionality”. Fans of the Los Angeles airport might know that Southwest Airlines is terminal 1 out of 7. I didn’t. By the time I got my luggage and made it outside I was already running 20 minutes behind schedule. When I got on the SuperShuttle I was 35 minutes behind, and as the SuperShuttle driver stopped at every single terminal — even those with nobody waiting — that gap only continued to widen. By the time the guy pulled up to the fifth terminal I was convinced this was some kind of fucking joke because we had made enough left turns that we should’ve been right back where we started.
I finally made it to the hotel I was booked at… 95 minutes behind schedule. I missed the rest of my party by mere minutes which meant I needed to use Uber to get a ride. I use a Windows Phone, and while there’s an Uber app for that platform it’s incomprehensibly awful because the Windows Phone platform is utter garbage. Since I’m probably the only person on the face of the planet using one of these devices I can’t fully convey the struggle to you because you’ll never know that pain… but if you were to take your phone, throw it at the ground as hard as you could, take its battery out and shove it all the way up your ass, and then try and connect to the nearest Wi-Fi network with a brick you’d come marginally close to the “experience” that is “using a Windows Phone”. Actually, by simply not owning a smartphone at all that affords you the ability to use more apps than a Windows Phone.
Uber guy took me to the place where BattleBots was being filmed and wow, they could not have found a more unsettling part of town to shoot in. Granted, BattleBots requires a very specific type of venue so I guess suitable locations aren’t exactly in abundance, but it’s kind of terrifying when halfway through the week of the event you try to go outside to get a drink during a down period and get denied by the security guard at the door because less than a mile away some dickhead killed someone and the police are currently searching for them. Also, going back to the story I was originally telling, I was now a full two hours behind schedule.
Literal murder aside, I had finally made it. 17 years after seeing BattleBots on television for the first time I was now standing on the sidewalk in front of the building where just inside the doors lay dozens of robots eager to mutilate one another for my amusement. The awkward kid in me that spent afternoons and weekends hacking apart radio controlled toys and building shitty robots out of cardboard and scrap aluminum who I thought died a long, long time ago was suddenly alive and kicking. Here I was, at this huge mega super show, solely because one time I said “sabertooth cat” and multiple people found it to be exceptionally hilarious. I am no stranger to admit that I’ve been writing for a very long time and in that period I’ve been invited to various places for various reasons, but this time it was different; I can lecture for hours on end about the finer points of the literary art of describing a dinosaur’s asshole in a science fiction setting, but those lectures don’t have robots that fight to the goddamned death.
For the first time in a very long time, absolutely nothing on this terrible planet bothered me.
THE BOX IS LOCKED…
If you’ve never been to an actual BattleBots event, the experience is radically different from just watching the show on television. The obvious difference is that TV is edited so things are instantaneous and there’s no waiting, but while robots are being hauled out of the arena there’s always something else going on. Chris Rose, Kenny Florian, and their lady counterpart (her name escapes me right now, and that’s not just a poorly rehashed punchline) were always floating around on the BattleBots stage — which is fucking giant in real life — filming all the dialog and chatter segments before the show. They also shoot all of Faruq’s “IT’S ROBOT FIGHTING TIME” shots in a row so you end up clapping and cheering for about 20 minutes for matches that won’t be happening for another three hours. It’s a very weird disconnect, but I get why they do it. Something else that struck me as strange, which I noticed when the studio’s generator shit the bed on day one, is how the giant BattleBots stage backdrop is actually solid white; there’s an array of LED lights stuck in various places the camera can’t see that illuminate it like in the picture of me over to the left that absolutely wasn’t taken inside the studio when we were told not to take any photos.
What’s also crazy is that for how large the Battlebox looks on TV, in real life it’s pretty small. In fact, the whole venue itself is not very big. Diehard fans know the arena is 64′ x 64′, but when you’re up in the stands looking at it in person it’s inexplicably smaller. It’s all movie magic really; the wide angle lenses used on the show’s studio cameras make everything look a lot larger than they really are. The distance from the doorway where the teams emerge during their intros to the arena ramp itself can’t be more than 10 feet, and if I had to venture I guess I’d say there were only about a 12-16 sets of metal bleachers used for audience seating. Speaking of, since the venue is comparatively small, you end up running into all sorts of people in the stands. A couple of folks (such as reigning champion Paul Ventimiglia) recognized me outright, but there were many others who had no idea that I was close enough to them that they could sock me in the jaw if they felt like it. During the first couple days of the event I got to hide in plain sight around the likes of Christian Carlberg, Brian Nave, Lisa Winter, Jim Smentowski, and the teams behind Witch Doctor, Wrecks, Bronco, and Red Devil.
I was mostly worried that if I said “hi” they’d put two and two together and be all “hey you’re the sack of shit that compared my robot to the Holocaust” or something, but once the qualifying rounds were over and I had taken a tour of the pits I started opening up a bit and was more talkative. What’s crazy is that I ran into tons of people that I knew both in a sense of “I’ve followed your work for years” as well as “I literally know this person in real life”, like Brady Davis from the SubZero team. Brady and I first met in 2003 at a Southwestern Alliance of Robot Combat (SWARC) event and as luck would have it I bumped into him waiting for a ride. He let me and the party I was with into the pits on the day of the finals to mingle and shoot the shit with lots more builders than we were able to catch during our first tour, which made me the fucking king of the group that day to say the least because half of them had a boner for Nightmare the size of Tombstone’s blade. I also met up with Mike Jeffries from the Bombshell team, someone whom I’ve known for 13 years but somehow had never actually seen before which made for a hella awkward moment when he noticed me before I noticed him.
In regards to The Update, though, reception was “universally” positive. I think. I greeted and met with a ton of builders, but “BattleBots Update” only really got brought up around Andrea and the Witch Doctor team, Matt Maxham (Stinger), and Charles Guan (Overhaul). Trey Roski and Greg Munson also recognized me, but they were busy running the event and weren’t competing or demonstrating with Ginsu this time around. It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s always so strange to meet someone who is both A) familiar with your work and B) legitimately enjoys it. I’ve worked in multimedia and showbiz for a long time, but nobody’s ever given a damn. I legitimately do not know how to react to it but I’m learning, and that’s not a part of the dumb character act I run here.
…THE LIGHTS ARE ON
I feel that it’s always important for me to continuously remind my audience that the stuff I do here on this website is largely in jest and that I just take the piss out of everything as a character act. I’ve followed the sport intensely for 17 years and have dabbled in building and competing myself from time to time within that window; I feel that my experiences in the sport and my talents in the field of writing and acting have presented me with a unique opportunity to do something that not a whole lot of people can really do. I might crack a few questionable jokes here and there but at the end of the day me and the cast and crew of BattleBots are all just professionals doing what they do best: putting on a great show.
Like any production that involves camera talent there’s a lot of downtime where you get to see the real personalities of the hosts and actors shine through, like how the studio cameramen would constantly zoom in on Kenny Florian’s socks with ninjas on them. Yes, you read that right. Kenny seriously wears socks with fucking ninjas on them when he’s taping BattleBots. When you watch BattleBots this season and see Kenny talking shop with Chris about how best to jam something up keep it in the back of your head that the man’s wearing socks that Reddit would jizz all over.
Speaking of Kenny and Chris, I give them a lot of shit for appearing like doofuses on camera but I get that they are written to act that way. They crack corny jokes and bad puns because it’s the characters that the producers have put together; when I say stupid shit about the stupid shit they themselves say it’s because I know they’re actors. I like them. They’re no Bil Dwyer and Sean Salisbury (and god forbid I bring Tim Green into this), but I still think they’re decent guys. Between takes Chris would occasionally lip sync into the camera whatever song was playing on the house speakers at the moment, sometimes while Faruq would literally be dancing in the center of the Battlebox while waiting for direction from the producers. These are all things that you never get to see on the actual show, but when you’re there at the event they just make the whole shebang a lot more personal and fun.
While we’re on the subject of fun, major shoutouts to the hype man the producers brought along to keep the audience juiced up. This guy had one of the hardest jobs at the event and I have mad respect for him; for something as tumultuous and unpredictable as BattleBots he was quick to adapt and let everyone know when to applaud and what was happening next. He also apologized profusely when the audio team accidentally played a explicit version of some shitty Britney Spears song. Maybe it’s just because I’m easily amused or something, but hearing an overly jovial English man apologize for playing Britney Spears is absolutely hilarious to me. He threw shirts into the stands, sang along with the house music, and best of all he pointed to me and said I was “brilliant” for banging on the top of the LED walls when Yeti was making its way into the arena. British slang was used to describe me at some point during this show. Amazing.
Everyone involved with the show were great folks when the cameras were off. Some of you might be aware of how Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame is going to be a guest host this season. This is crazy, but Adam was booked at the same exact hotel that my friends and I were staying at and we actually ran into him on our way back from breakfast one day. He was about to get into a taxi when one of the guys I was with asked if he could take a quick photo since he was a huge fan. Adam could’ve been a dick about it, but he wasn’t. It’s just little things like that which make this sport and its community literally one of the greatest things ever.
IT’S ROBOT FIGHTING TIME
This is a hard section to write because I can’t really tell you who wins and who loses. BattleBots made me and everyone else who attended sign a non-disclosure agreement and I’m pretty sure if I tell you who wins the contest then ABC can legally send a hitman after me or something. I could be vague and say stupid generic shit like “there are a lot of surprise newcomers and a lot of upsets and twists” but that doesn’t really tell you anything of substance. Of course there are surprises and upsets; statistically, every single robot except for one of them is going to fucking lose.
Instead, without saying who beats who here’s a list of new robots this season that I think are worth keeping your eyes on when the season unfolds in June.
- Blacksmith: A brand new robot from a veteran of the sport, Blacksmith is a pyramid-esque robot armed with a hammer that contains a flamethrower. While I usually dismiss flame weapons as utter shit, this is a pretty interesting application and I think it might surprise a lot of people.
- Bombshell: This robot has made the list solely because it was built by a friend of mine.
- Chrome Fly: A sort of rectangle-shaped robot with a tilted spinning blade at its front and rear, like Counter Revolution turned on its side. Really strange design, but definitely an interesting one that made a lot of noise at the event.
- Clockwork L’Orange: Ray Scully’s newest creation makes this list because Abbatoir is my favorite robot. Yes, I know he got locked out of his hotel room and had to forfeit the event but I don’t give a shit. Clockwork L’Orange all the way.
- Deathroll: It’s painted like an alligator and has glowing red eyes to seal the look, this robot is fucking amazing. The team also brought in a bunch of inflatable alligators that they threw into the stands for people to cheer with so props to them for going the distance with their gimmick.
Disk O’Inferno, The: Jason Bardis, builder of BattleBots champion Dr. Inferno Jr., makes his tournament return with his newest robot that sports a ridiculous name for copyright reasons. I think. He also straight up wore a Saturday Night Fever cosplay to the event, so there’s that.
- Hellachopper: Special shoutouts to Hellachopper, whom the producers actually filmed an intro for, but ultimately did not compete because it was deemed too dangerous. This robot’s weapon was pretty much spinning hammers spinning as fast as inhumanly possible, so you can kind of guess why it was DQ’ed, but holy shit would it have been awesome to see in action.
- Mega Tento: Lisa Winter has retired Plan X in favor of reviving her most famous robot, Tentomushi. Mega Tento is literally just a ‘roided up lightweight with the same overall design and strategy and I’m excited to see how well this design — which struggled in the lightweight division — fares in a heavier class.
- Minotaur: Better known as Touro in the RoboGames circuit, Team RioBotz from Brazil finally made it into BattleBots. Touro just absolutely destroys everything it touches and this new 250 lb. version of their robot should be no different in theory.
- Obwalden Overlord: lmao
- Rotator: Remember when Surgeon General kicked all sorts of ass in BattleBots for like one season? Rotator takes that same design and doubles it with a blade at its front and back, each at different heights. Very quick, very nimble, and I like that their robot’s name is a palindrome to go with its design.
Of course, the obvious candidates such as Bite Force, Tombstone, Nightmare, Witch Doctor, Stinger, and the other returning competitors are worth cheering for as well, but those are all robots I’m sure you’re familiar with. There’s a lot of new blood at this event and a lot of new breakout bots from returning contenders from the days of yesteryear and many of them are pretty formidable. There’s also flying drones, which make for pretty retarded minibots, but at least it’s new ground being broken in the sport. Speaking as someone who’s already seen how this event unfolded, you won’t be disappointed. This I can promise you.
The friends I was with at the event jotted down some notes so we could keep track of the tournament brackets as we went along, which I might have to ask them for in the likely event that some of the event’s fights don’t make it to air. There were quite a few quick KO’s (like last season’s Stinger vs. Captain Shrederator match) as well as some fights that were mostly uneventful, but still worth mentioning in the context of this website even if my coverage consists only of the sentence “this robot beat its last opponent when they met weapon to weapon and the other robot turned into a pile of bitcoins”.
ALL THAT GLITTERS…
I can only put it into words so many times, but being at BattleBots was an exhilarating experience that I really don’t think I’d ever have gotten to live had my trip not been covered by some absolutely wonderful people both inside and outside of the robot combat community. That said, there were an awful amount of shitty people in the audience that lacked the common decency and social comprehension to not act like a fucking cock in public. Perhaps the most aggravating offenders were the assholes who blatantly and seemingly intentionally disregarded the many notices, both posted and verbal, to not take photos or video of the event. So many worthless attention-seeking nobodies were so eager to take selfies with fucking everything just so they could share it on social media because their “opinions” are clearly worthwhile and their audience of 21 followers that consist of estranged family members and co-workers that they never talk to must really give a shit. Taking one picture at the event is fine — I did that — but the extent that some of these people went to was just uncalled for.
There were also handfuls of people peppered into the audience who acted with civility on par with a drunken cousinfucker at a monster truck rally. For example, during the qualification rounds there was a bit of a slow start with Lucky (one of the contenders) when its team seemingly could not get their robot to activate or behave correctly before its first match. Lucky’s opponent was ready, so to an extent they were holding up the show slightly. One jackass in particular a few rows down from me took it upon himself to start shouting shit like “you suck” at the top of his lungs while laughing to himself and the people next to him. This motherfucker looked like he was about 40 years old and judging by the way he acted I’d be willing to bet my life savings on the fact that he probably peaked in high school where he used to play for the football team and heckled other students because he has a massive inferiority complex while simultaneously being an entitled piece of shit. If you’re reading this right now and you’re the dickwad who thought it was funny to be a routinely disruptive member of the audience then I want you to know that had I known what your name was it would be following this paragraph in giant red lettering.
On a similar side of the “grown ass adults failing to act like decent human beings” coin are all of their terrible, terrible children that they made zero effort to contain or control. I don’t have kids of my own, but I’m the oldest of three siblings and I can never recall a time when me or either of my brothers behaved like horrible fucking heathens. Our parents never needed to beat us and to be honest I think I can count on one hand the number of times I was grounded from something, so I guess the people really at fault here are the parents for doing an absolutely piss poor job at parenting by letting their crotchspawn run up and down the stands and out on the floor instead of teaching them the virtue of respect.
Maybe I’m the asshole here and I’m coming off like some elitist prick, but I have zero patience and virtually no respect for those who fail to adhere to even the most basic of societal standards. Whether you’re willfully breaking rules for the sake of fucking Instagram likes or lack the conscience to not be a complete fucking tool, your actions are detrimental to the enjoyment of the event for literally everyone around you.
You’re not cute, you’re not funny, and you’re not endearing. The only thing you are is annoying.
As I write this article I’m currently hanging out in the LAX airport waiting for the terminal to re-open so I can check my bags and get ready for my trip home. The past week has been absolutely phenomenal and just thinking about the bizarre domino effect that was needed in order for this event to pan out the way it has is mind-boggling. I took some notes while I was at BattleBots and I can’t wait to make good use of them when the second season of ABC’s BattleBots makes it debut on June 23rd.
It’s one thing to watch it on TV, but being at BattleBots has rekindled my desire to get back into the ring myself like nothing else. Perhaps, if finances allow, BattleBots Update just may bring something to season three. That’s another story for another day, because the second ABC season is right around the corner and you don’t want to miss it. Check your local listings to catch it live, then join me here a day or so later for the play-by-play coverage that has a fanbase I’ve grossly underestimated!
Thank you all so much for making this silly project of mine something greater than I ever fathomed possible.