BattleBots 2020: Episode 11 in Review

Good morning, afternoon, evening, whenever you’re reading, comrades, and welcome to another BattleBots write-up from your favourite sarcastic, no-f*cks-given, narcissistic robotic combat writer. No, not BattleBots Update, but me. In my vague attempts to fill the gap in the market of the above criteria in their much-maligned absence, I present before you a review of the eleventh episode of the 2020 season – the first part of the top 32.

Yes, we finally made it to the knockout tournament, and after getting over the apparent travesty of P1 not making it into the bracket, we were treated to eight mouth-watering ties. With seedings and performances all over the place this year, the schedule promised some absolutely madcap match-ups, with legends falling into the bottom half, 3-0 bots outside of the top 10 for some reason, and the most unexpected of bots having the most incredible of runs this season. In a year full of unpredictability, this tournament is pretty reflective of it, and these first eight fights turned out to be a joy because of it. Even when three quarters of tonights competitors were spinners, it was still a great show.

Let’s get ready for action.

Mad Catter (12) vs Tombstone (21)

To kick things off, if ever there was a fight that could be summed up as “two bots with a point to prove”, it’s this one. Mad Catter and its team of batsh*t mental college students led by Martin “the Man” Mason come into the tournament off the back of an incredible 3-0 season that approximately no-one saw coming. They were looking to prove their regular season wasn’t just a fluke, and who better to do that against than former Giant Nut winner and overall nightmare-inducer, the one and only Tombstone? Ray Billings came into this looking to prove their 1-2 regular season was only a fluke, the result of facing quality opposition and an annoying wheel mishap. Both very much had a point to prove, and it was Tombstone that well and truly made it.

It was a bit surprising to see Mad Catter aiming for Tombstone’s wheels instead of the weapon. It’s a well-documented fact that Ray Billings likes to bait in other bots with the wheels before pulling the ol’ switcharoo with the blade. And that’s exactly what happened here. Calvin Iba is a fantastic driver, and did get a nice shot at Tombstone’s wheel that did shake it a bit, but Mad Catter suffered too many shots to its side to have any realistic possibility of KO’ing the King. The wedge actually held up alright when they did go weapon to weapon, which can only make you wonder what might have been if they’d gone with that approach from the start. 

The best moment came towards the end as the cat trundled along the floor, desperately trying to stay mobile, but it was all to no avail. It’s an abrupt and undeserved early ending for Mad Catter, who deserved so much better after such a surprising, barnstorming season. As for Tombstone, it’s the first step toward proving the doubters wrong, and further proof that the exposed wheels are just part of the plan.

*aroused purring*

Uppercut (4) vs HiJinx (29)

I honestly didn’t expect either of these bots to make it this far before the season started, let alone for one of them to be the number four seeds. But that’s just the sort of season it’s been. The kids from MIT and Uppercut, coming in with apparently the most fearsome weapon in the whole tournament, go up against the superb pink owl of Hijinx.

Even though I had Uppercut down as my winner, I did have my doubts about the reach and impact the weapon would have against a bot as low to the ground as HiJinx. I was literally thinking “what’s it gonna do, flick it up and volley it across the arena?”, like it was some sort of farfetched concept I’d thought up in a fever dream. Except that’s exactly what happened. A mere eight seconds into the fight and Uppercut has flicked HiJinx up slightly with its front wedge, and then hit it so sweetly on the volley it sent the owl flying out of the arena. It was awesome, it was frightening, it showed me the value of never questioning Uppercut’s weaponry. 

The HiJinx team looked as shook as I did as their bot went hurtling over the wall, and for them their Giant Nut run comes to an end, having endeared themselves to me, and a whole raft of new fans as pretty awesome beans. As for Uppercut, whose team still look amazed by the amount of power they wield at their fingertips, they take another stride towards the trophy.

Can you spot the wild Uppercut taunting its victim?

Black Dragon (5) vs SlamMow (28)

I still maintain that 5th is far too high for Black Dragon, who’s looked decent this season, but nowhere near their best. Even if the seedings are a bit off for this most unprecedented of seasons, this one still stands out as strange. Maybe not as strange as SlamMow actually managing to make it into the top 32 as a new, experimental design maybe, but an anomaly nonetheless. 

That being said, Black Dragon is still a phenomenal bot that I have a lot of admiration for, and it laid into SlamMow from the get go. I’ve seen a lot of people comment on Craig Danby’s decision to use the wedge set up instead of the extended middle fork, which would’ve given more reach when trying to get underneath the Brazilian bruiser.I can see it both ways, because when you’re facing a powerful drum spinner, you’re going to want to try and stop it whilst defending your bot’s internals. Sadly, Black Dragon got underneath SlamMow’s wedge, and kept popping it about just enough to take a drive belt off, leaving it on its back and unable to move. Contrary to what Craig said about “nearly having them”, this was all Black Dragon.

All in all, a straight forward win for the boys from Brazil, the exact opposite of what their upcoming fight against Tombstone will be. For SlamMow, they can be happy for finally making it into the main competition, but work will have to be done for next season. After all, Craig is sick of (apparently) “nearly having people”.

I think we might need a new lawnmower

Beta (13) vs Ribbot (20)

Rounding out group four, and going into this fight at 3-0 on the predictions score card, this was one I was actually pretty confident about going into it. Even if we haven’t seen the best of Beta this season, its hammer still packs a mighty punch, and Ribbot looked the perfect shape for it to get underneath and wail on it with the hammer. 

Except, that’s not what happened at all. Much to basically everyone’s surprise, Beta changed their configuration to a flat front plate of armour instead of the wedge. I’ve seen a lot of people get angry/confused/emotionally distressed over this choice, but I can understand the logic in their decision. I’d have assumed they were going for the Donald Hutson approach to facing a big spinner, in having a flat panel of armour attached to absorb big hits. It makes some sort of sense to me, but on this occasion it completely backfired. 

Given the ground clearance under said front panel, and that Ribbot set itself up with ground-scraping wedgelets, it was a recipe for disaster, and the frog got underneath Beta countless times, chucking it about onto the screws, sending it through the air, and eventually leaving it with a wheel off the ground, twitching in the red square. Even though John Reid did land one good hit to Ribbot’s top, the frog made this look easy.

A solitary killer, the frog eyes up its prey

David Gin was ultimately too quick, too nimble, too powerful for Beta to handle, and moves on to an epic encounter against Uppercut in the last 16. Beta, meanwhile, makes the long, quarantine-ridden journey back to the UK left to wonder might have been if they’d have just stuck their darned wedge on the front.

Whiplash (8) vs HUGE (25)

A rematch from last season’s top 16 which left some confused and disappointed, such as myself, as to how HUGE didn’t come out on top. Now was a chance for vengeance, and to make up for a disappointing regular season against the mad driving skills of Matt Vasquez and Whiplash. 

I, for one, thought HUGE would get vengeance against Whiplash, as I felt it would go pretty much the same as the last fight, which I felt Jonathan Schultz’s bot won, and given that damage counts for more this year, that would tip the scales in its favour. Alas, no such scales were tipped today. HUGE’s team took the decision to spin the bar downwards in an attempt to inflict more damage to Whiplash whenever they climbed on top of them, which seemed like a nice idea at the time, but it quickly became apparent that this hindered them more than it benefitted them. Yes, they got a couple of nice hits to the top of Whiplash, but this didn’t seem to do any significant damage, and the bot kept gyroing out of control whenever they tried to turn. This essentially left HUGE at the mercy of the Vasquez family, with Whiplash controlling the fight, sending HUGE around the box and getting some good hits in with the spinning disc. By the fight’s end, the hulking beast of HUGE had its balancing prongs bent out of shape, leaving it to just sort of stagger about uncontrollably until the buzzer sounded.

Unsurprisingly, Whiplash took the judges’ decision, and advanced to the next round. For HUGE, a disappointing season comes to a disappointing end, but here’s hoping for even bigger (or Huger) and better things from them in the future.

That Monday mood

Valkyrie (9) vs SubZero (24)

Fighting for the right to face Whiplash in the next round, we have Valkyrie, out for vengeance having been trounced by the Vasquez clan in the previous episode, against SubZero, looking to prove they can mingle with the big boys after a comparatively tame regular season.

SubZero came out armoured with the aforementioned flat plate of armour on the back, a la Lockjaw, and it actually worked for about five seconds, using it to negate Valkyrie’s weapon and almost launch it out of the arena via the screws. Sadly that was the best we saw of SubZero, because after that Valkyrie went to town on the icy flipper bot. First, the back plate came off, then the front wedge, and then one side of the drive became locked up, leaving SubZero immobile in the corner.

A dominant display from Valkyrie, which moves on to make its first appearance in the top 16 in a rematch against Whiplash. While it’ll take some more incredible driving from Fred Moore to assure we see Valkyrie beyond the next stage, it’s still great to see them make it this far. As for SubZero, I guess the question of whether they can mix it with the big boys remains to be seen for another season at least.

Jenny’s homework: who remembers where sparks come from?

Malice (16) vs Gigabyte (17)

If rankings are anything to go by, this penultimate fight represents the most evenly-matched line-up of the whole bracket. Almost nothing to split them, the seasoned veterans of Gigabyte take on the all-new Malice, with both having looked destructive, explosive, all kinds of -ives that I’m struggling to think of right now.

In theory, it was an even fight. In reality, it was all Gigabyte. In a battle that was going to be won on damage, patience and endurance, Gigabyte won all three as they methodically picked away at Malice, before a couple of big hits left Bunny’s bot down a wheel. Before long the other wheel was falling apart, the weapon had stopped, and they were out for the count. There isn’t really much else to say about this fight, but if you haven’t seen the post-fight photos, it’s well worth checking them out. There were whole chunks missing out of Malice’s spinner at the end, and considering that thing weighed about 65 lbs. going into the fight, that’s pretty much shows you how powerful Gigabyte is when it gets going.

So, Malice exits the tournament in the top 32 having put in an awesome showing for a first-time bot, and we’re all hoping we see more of Bunny & co. in the near future. For Gigabyte, they go marching straight into the top 16 looking better than ever.

There’s been so many sparks you wonder where Sonic’s got to

Hydra (1) vs Hypershock (32)

Finishing off group one, and the episode as a whole, after watching the two most evenly-ranked bots go head-to-head in the bracket, we see the biggest mismatch. On paper, at least. Given how wild the rankings are this season, we usher out the days of Tombstone vs Escape Velocity, and welcome in Hydra vs Hypershock. The former looking to justify its number one seeding, the other looking to justify its spot in the tournament in general. 

For all the criticism Hypershock has come under recently, there’s no denying it started out the stronger bot here. Hydra was uncharacteristically erratic with its flips, and Will Bales took full advantage, landing a couple of big hits to the side of Hydra. Unfortunately for them, the second hit appeared to kill the weapon, and from then on it wasn’t much of a contest. Chris and Kenny calculated a total of thirteen flips that were dished out on Hypershock, the majority of which sent it hurtling through the air, thudding back down a crippled and broken bot. In fact, it was hit with so much power that it was left immobilised, smoking, and ultimately tossed unceremoniously out of the arena by the end of the fight. That’s the kind of force that Hydra has inside of it. That’s why Hydra’s the number one seed.

The Ewert clan advances to take on Gigabyte, in a fight that will hopefully be as exciting as it looks. As for Hypershock, they remain without top 16 action since 2016, and we’re left to see what their rebuild for next season is going to herald. But at least they make good YouTube content.

In front of the ref too, in case they weren’t sure about them being immobile

And that just about wraps up another exciting week of robot action. Even with seven out of the eight qualifiers we saw tonight being spinner robots, with five of them being top half seeds (and one of those lower seeds was f*cking Tombstone),we still had a lively, entertaining episode that was full of shenanigans, memorable moments and massive yeets. It’s the kind of thing we live for as we all remain locked indoors, a rare spark in an otherwise cruel and barren universe.

If the left side of the bracket wasn’t enough for you, well, brace yourselves, because the next episode has the whole right side of the bracket! I know, it’s almost too much to comprehend. We’ll see more action from such heavy hitters as Bloodsport, Copperhead, End Game, SawBlaze, Witch Doctor, and so, so many more. It’s an all-star line up that promises much, and hopefully delivers in abundance. 

There’ll be some wildly inaccurate predictions coming your way for that episode in due course. But for now, thanks for reading, and see you again soon.

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