In 2000, Comedy Central decided that they would enter into the world of sport. No, they didn’t assume the rights to the yearly disastrous, nationally televised Jaguars game from parent company NBC. They didn’t even buy into the already-comical XFL, WWE boss Vince McMahon’s disastrous attempt to edge in on the NFL’s football monopoly. No, that would be all too legitimate for the network whose primary investment was in reruns of “Premium Blend.”
Comedy Central invested in giant metal R/C cars driven by giant nerds ram into each other repeatedly for our amusement inside a plexiglass box. They chose Battlebots.
That description is not meant to be disparaging. I am a giant nerd, and I remember religiously watching Battlebots as a preadolescent. There is something artistic about big hunks of metal with chain-driven sawblades and pneumatic pickaxes trying to beat each other to death. After a few fights, you get a rush hearing actual sports person and noted philanderer Sean Salisbury yelling the words “the box is locked, the lights are on, it’s robot fighting time!” like he’s amazed he has the power of human speech.
Battlebots are modern-day gladiators. They die so that we may live, and we live through them. We cheer when twisted shrapnel flies across the room after a robot with a lawnmower blade on its head digs into a slow, walking robot. We boo when the final horn sounds and a driver slams his wedgebot into the back of his opponent. We feel the pain of the smoking husk stuck underneath the pulverizing hammers in the corners. And no one gets hurt except for the owners’ wallets, and who cares about them, they’re all programmers or Mythbusters, they’ll be fine.
It’s been sixteen years since Battlebots was first televised, and last summer, ABC decided to revive this bizarre pastime; it recently started running its second revised reason. It’s cheap, it fills air time, and it has a built-in audience: dorks like me. Still, I haven’t been particularly interested in this year’s metal mayhem. It’s too polished. All these builders know what they’re doing, their robots are optimized for battle instead of the schlubby couch potatoes they found over a decade ago.
As a fan of mixed martial arts (or ultimate fighting, if you like branding), I like to think I have an appreciation for how technique and a dedication to craft can make certain fighting tactics obsolete while elevating others to near-universal acclaim. Maybe by appreciating how horrible robot combat was in the past, I can find a greater appreciation for its current form.
But that’s not enough for me. If I’m really going to throw myself into it wholeheartedly, I need to geek the hell out. So I decided to break it down statistically. I wanted to know what kind of weapons work best, what type of robot shape takes the least damage, how many wheels (or legs) are the perfect number. What, in 2000, was the perfect fighting machine?
I set my parameters early on, because after watching one episode of Battlebots, I arrived to a sad conclusion: this show does not age well.
Sure, it’s still cool to see the old gang. There was Nightmare, the massive steel circular saw mounted on steel girders that would go on to be one of the most famous robots of all time. I saw the first glimpse of the speedy, box-shaped wedgebot in Biohazard that would come to dominate the robot combat landscape both domestically and abroad (the UK’s Robot Wars is arguably more entertaining than Battlebots.)
But beneath all the nostalgia and all of the talking (SO MUCH TALKING DEAR GOD), there really isn’t much going on here. Over a twenty-minute episode, there are three fights. They usually last a minute, and one robot often malfunctions apropos of nothing. On the occasion that both robots can do what they intend to do, it’s a fun thing to behold. Still, after two episodes of listening to people yap, I learned to skip through to the fights.
There were 4 weight classes going into this competition: lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight, and super heavyweight. The parameters of these weight classes was never fully elaborated upon, so I just ignored them for the most part. Is that bad analysis? Probably, but I have a large sample size, and it’s my analysis, go do your own.
As a rule of thumb, I decided not to include bouts that weren’t included on the broadcast in their entirety. This led to a weird situation that I’ll discuss when the time arises. I also excluded the “lightweight robot rumble,” because that was weird and offered zero quantitative value. And before some supernerd comes at me, yes, I know there were untelevised tournaments and pay-per-view tournaments before this, I’m not talking about those because I can’t watch them.
Now that we’ve gone through the reasoning, let’s get to some basic stats.
43 Unique Robots
That's a lot of bots to keep track of. To help out, I made a handy-dandy spreadsheet, which measured robots in three distinct areas:
- Weapon Type
- Body Type
- Movement Type
You can find that here.
(some robots have more than one weapon; their primary weapon has been taken into account)
31 Uniweaponed Robots
12 Multiweaponed Robots
13 Spinbots—Robots with a spinning blade or body designed to rip apart the opponent
2 Full Body spinbots
7 Vertical spinbots
4 Horizontal spinbots
5 Liftbots—Robots with lifting arms to pick an opponent up off the ground
1 Flipbot—Robots with flippers designed to upend opponents
13 Axebots—Robots with a swinging arm, axe or blade designed to dent or pierce the enemy
1 Horizontal Axe
11 Vertical Axes
1 Multidirectional Axe
4 Spikebots - Robots with spikes designed to pierce the enemy/grip their bot
7 Wedgebots - Robots with a wedge on the front designed to raise the opponent; often used as a supplemental weapon
1 Trapbot - Robots with pincers or covers designed to immobilize an opponent
There was a very even split as far as weapon types go in this competition, which made for some amusing matchups. I was surprised at how few flipbots there were in this competition. My recollection of Battlebots was always of behemoths like Toro flipping robots over two or three times in the air like a catapult. I was also surprised at the number of wedgebots; I thought those were a later development in robot combat, but I guess people recognized the power of low ground clearance early.
17 Boxbots—Robots with bodies in the shape of boxes
5 Plexibots—Robots with shells made of plexiglass
8 Hiddenbots—Robots of irregular shape that hide their machinery
10 Exposebots—Robots with irregular frames that leave their inner machinery exposed
3 Tubebots—Robots made of tubular frames
Boxbots, like one would expect, were the most popular type of frame. It’s traditional, standard, and offers the widest range of possible weaponry attachments. Exposebots sacrifice defense for offense and speed, allowing their weaponry and wheels to try and work out of jams. I was surprised more builders didn’t go with the "plexibot" model. It covers your robot entirely and is lightweight, it seems like the best of all possible worlds. Then again, this is what discovery periods are for.
(by primary movement mechanism)
12 2-Wheeled Robots
1 3-Wheeled Robot
12 4-Wheeled Robot
2 6-Wheeled Robots
11 Covered Robots - Movement is completely hidden by body
2 Treadbots - Robots with tank-like treads; excellent for reversibility
3 Walkers - Robots who move through numerous walking “legs”
Ugh, walkers. The sign of a truly immature builder. Simply put: they don’t work. They never work. They’re slow as hell, and they put up no offense as a result. They’re easily toppled because their ground clearance is so high, and they’re virtual sitting ducks. Unsurprisingly, 2- and 4-wheeled bots dominate the field. One provides superior maneuverability, the other greater stability. Most of the covered robots have very low ground clearance, which would make flippers and liftbots relatively ineffective.
38 Unique Matches
4 KO Losses
Axebots were more successful than I would have believed them to be. Prior to this analysis, I would have expected them to perform the worst of all the bots, except for maybe spikebots. Vertical axes have a limited range and a sizeable windup, which caused most of their problems. However, when they hit, they can be deadly – 7 of their 9 wins were by KO. Grant Imahara’s Deadblow, which tapped away at its opponents with a rock chisel at lightning speed, even reached the middleweight finals before running into the formidable spinner Hazard.
However, two of the axebots are absolute garbage, and yet they still advanced pretty far thanks to sheer luck. First, we have Mechadon, a robot made of five claws and... that’s it. They’re five slow moving claws that move up and down, approximating forward motion. I was being generous calling this an “axebot” because it’s really a pile of junk that rocks back and forth with no discernable plan. A baby could knock it over, and Rammstein, a generic spikebot, did just that, over and over again.
Last, and my least favorite robot of all time, was Pressure Drop. It’s a plexiglass walker with an axe on a turret. Despite moving at a snail’s pace and its axe always missing during the fight, it won two fights on television because the other robots self-destructed after running into its feet. This pile of crap, which got no offense in the entire tournament, won two fights by knockout. In one of those fights, the buzzer rang, and it meandered its stubby legs over to its opponent and landed one shot. Its only offense came from cheating, and it STILL screwed that up.
Deadblow finally beat the snot out of Pressure Drop in the semifinals (SEMIFINALS) of the tournament, landing about 100 shots to its stupid plexiglass body. If you take Pressure Drop out, axebots have 5 KO wins and 7 wins total from 12 competitors. Pretty terrible. Don’t use axes unless they’re the equivalent of Chinese water torture, or you have a sweet trapping mechanism.
0 KO Wins
1 KO Loss
With only one bot in the competition, it’s hard to expect much from proto-flipbots. Das Bot didn’t really have any pop in its flipper, and it got knocked out in its only televised competition. Still, someone must have seen something in the little guy, as future competitions would go on to feature successful flipbots like Toro and T-Minus flinging their foes through the air like paper footballs.
1 KO Win
3 KO Losses
Liftbots were the true winners of this season of Battlebots, producing a champion and two runners-up in Alpha Raptor and Voltarc. With a startlingly high win percentage, the success of liftbots would not go unnoticed. Biohazard, a once and future champion, would serve as the prototype that led builders to create Tornado and Storm II in the UK’s Robot Wars.
Vlad the Impaler was the first televised heavyweight Battlebots champion, and there’s good reason for that. Using the lifting forks on the front of its machine and its considerable traction, Vlad picked up robots like Punjar and steamrolled Overkill en route to a win over Voltarc in the finals, where it easily tipped the opposing liftbot over for a KO. Voltarc itself upset the #1 ranked Biohazard (also a liftbot), visiting every killsaw on the floor before securing a clearcut win. The only liftbot that didn’t score a win was Knome II, which was mostly due to it sucking at everything else.
2 KO Wins
2 KO Losses
Spikebots are not worth their weight in scrap. They don’t work. Pneumatic spikes don’t work, stationary spikes don’t work, they just fail. The only spikebot of note, super heavyweight runner-up DooAll, only won because the robots he faced were either beaten to hell or imploded. Its pneumatic spike had all the force of a punch thrown in molasses, and it was soundly thrashed by Minion in the finals. Spikes might be a decent addition to the back of a robot that would otherwise be weaponless, but as a primary weapon, you’re better off slapping a clown nose on the front of it.
6 KO Wins
5 KO Losses
I always thought spinbots were awesome growing up. They always do the most external damage to their opponents. Watching Hazard rip into its opponent’s shell or Mauler smash out Nightmare’s wheels from underneath it never gets old.
The statistics of this tournament don’t quite bear my childhood thoughts out. Qualitatively, spinbots had a great showing, fielding two of the show’s four champions in Backlash and Hazard. However, outside of their 6 combined wins, spinbots had very little success, winning just five of their remaining fifteen bouts.
Backlash was the star of this weapon type. Built by the same team that put together Nightmare, it featured a massive vertical saw on the front of the bot and a wedge on the back. This allowed the driver to switch up its tactics when the chain on the sawblade fell loose, and it paid off – Backlash won all of its fights by knockout to become the lightweight champion.
Here’s where we reach a weird point in this analysis. There was one robot who didn’t lose a televised fight, but was not a champion: the lightweight full body spinbot Ziggo. In the first episode of the series, Ziggo demolished The Missing Link, a two wheeled spikebot with a phone book taped to it (seriously). However, Comedy Central never aired another of Ziggo’s bouts in full. Ziggo lost in the next round to Das Bot after getting stuck in the the boards, but it goes into my record books as an undefeated bot.
1 KO Win
3 KO Losses
I admit, this particular one left me scratching my head. Only a .500 record for wedgebots, really? Indeed, wedgebots had a very poor showing in this tournament outside of super heavyweight champion Minion, who won four of the wedges’ 5 wins by himself. Minion originally had a chainsaw on its other side, but it fell off almost immediately in the opening match. However, Minion had another weapon under its belt: speed. At that weight, speed is a killer, and Minion had the traction to back its wedge up.
So solo wedgebots did rather poorly. This makes sense, in retrospect; it’s a wedge, it has no offensive weapons, it just relies on the box and the flaws of the other robots to win. Not a great recipe for success. When wedges were paired with other weapons, however...
Wedges as Additional Weapon
6 KO Wins
3 KO Losses
That’s what I remember, the dominance of wedges! When paired with another weapon like a spinner, a spike or an axe, multiweaponed bots dominated, as both Hazard and Backlash utilized wedges en route to championships. Hell, even Doo All had a wedge on the back of its stupid spike, and it got to the super heavyweight finals! BELIEVE IN THE WEDGE!
Tentamushi, the only trapbot in the competition, got my highest markings for creativity this season: it used a children’s sandpit cover to immobilize its enemy, then used a vertical saw underneath to grind up its prey. Did it work? Not really, but it was cool looking, and it was surprisingly agile. Alpha Raptor just had more torque.
Win Shares (Based on Primary Weapon)
Wedgebots—6 Wins (7 bots)
Axebots—9 Wins (13 bots)
Spikebots—2 Wins (4 bots)
Spinbots—11 Wins (13 bots)
Liftbots—10 Wins (5 bots)
Flipbots—0 Wins (1 bot)
Based on these results, axes, spikes, and flippers are the least efficient weapons. Liftbots are by far the most efficient fighting machines, with wedgebots breaking about even and spinbots a little further behind.
This leads me to three simple conclusions:
Never use spikes, especially when you can use a wedge.
Spinners can make you famous, but only use them if you know what you’re doing.
Lifters are money in the bank.
Body Win/Loss Analysis
17 Boxbots—13 Wins, 16 Losses (17 bots)
5 Plexibots—11 Wins, 3 Losses (5 bots)
8 Hiddenbots—6 Wins, 7 Losses (8 bots)
10 Exposebots—7 Wins, 9 Losses (10 bots)
3 Tubebots—1 Win, 3 Losses (3 bots)
My intuition on the subject of body type proved correct: plexibots were far and away the most successful robots of the season. With two champions coming in the form of decision machine Minion and destroyer-of-man Hazard, it's safe to say that designers took note of those robots' increased mobility and lethality.
It's hard to quantify the efficacy of boxbots. They're just... meh. They're there, I guess. They don't take risks. They had two runners-up and one champion, but... whatever, man. Wow me or go home.
Alright, so thus far we've got the beginnings of a good bot: a lifter, possibly with a wedge as an additional weapon, that utilizes plexiglass to cut down on weight. But how should we propel it?
12 2-Wheeled Bots—7 Wins, 11 Losses (12 bots)
1 3-Wheeled Bot—0 Wins, 1 Loss (1 bot)
12 4-Wheeled Bots—7 Wins, 11 Losses (12 bots)
2 6-Wheeled Bots—5 Wins, 1 Loss (2 bots)
11 Covered Bots—14 Wins, 9 Losses (11 bots)
2 Treadbots—3 Wins, 2 Losses (2 bots)
3 Walkerbots—2 Wins, 3 Losses (3 bots)
Covered bots frustrate me. I feel like I’ve been cheated of something because I can’t tell how these robots move. And they’re successful, too! Both heavyweight finalists had their wheels hidden, guarded from prying lifters and protected from ripping spinners.
Surprisingly, the most popular movement types (2- and 4-wheeled bots) were only middling in their efficacy. The only 2-wheeled bot of note, Backlash, was an absolute monster of a robot, utilizing it's vertical spinning blade to destroy its opponents, but it lacked in the department that so often categorizes its kin: mobility. It just kind of teetered along until it sunk its spinny fangs into you.
Here is where we run into another problem: small sample size. Based on percentages alone, 6-wheeled robots were far and away the stars. It truly is hard to put into words the importance of traction on the Battlebots floor; in the case of Minion, that traction allowed the powerful wedgebot to get underneath much more lethal bots and cruise to a championship. But can we say it's all that effective with that kind of sample size?
So what have we got here? After a careful review and poring over hours and hours of tape, we've come to our conclusion:
- We need a liftbot, possibly with a wedge.
- To achieve maximum efficacy with increased speed, power, and weaponry, we need to have a plexiglass shell.
- 6 wheels will provide us with the traction and momentum we really need to get over the top.
That sounds... boring. It's not sexy, there's no metal flying everywhere, there's not much you can really go nuts for. It's a simple, effective robot, but I'm not happy with it. What would that even look like?
Oh. Right. Jeezus. Yeah, I'm happy with that.