BattleBots 2020: Episode 14 in Review

Happy New Year, my fellow comrades! welcome to the final review you’ll see of this 2020 season of BattleBots. After fourteen head-spinning, earth-shattering, mind-boggling weeks of sumptuous robot-bashing action, the series has drawn to a close. I almost don’t want to admit that it’s over – why else do you think I’ve taken the best part of a year to get this thing published? It’s not easy to write through watery eyes, you know.

Anyhow, I know the delay has been long, it’s been a strange and eventful time in my life, and I’m sure most people have forgotten what’s even happened and are too excited for the next season to care to reminisce about what has gone before. But oh well, I’ve dusted off, settled down, and prepared a fitting ode to this wonderful final episode, which I’m sure is why you’re all here today reading this.

Truly, this 2020 season was a rollercoaster of emotions, with controversy, sparks, innovation, and most importantly of all, Rusty. And now it’s the final curtain. To decide who wins the Giant Nut, to de-throne Bite Force (made easier by the fact they didn’t compete this year) and claim their place as the nutty overlord.

So sit back, relax, and let’s take a trip down the winding path of nostalgia to remember how the 2020 series of BattleBots was won.

Shatter (19) vs. End Game (6)

The first fight of the night saw us take a trip to the bottom right of the bracket, as Shatter, on a surprise run to the last eight, took on the only robot left from New Zealand (and also the only competing bot from New Zealand) in the guise of End Game, sporting a new look something akin to melting down a rubbish bin and asking a five-year-old to reassemble it. But tactics must, and this was tactical precision from the Kiwis.

On paper, it didn’t look like much of a competition to begin with. That’s no disrespect to Shatter they fully earned their right to be in the last eight. But End Game has been truly awesome this season, they set their bot up to get under Shatter with those long forks, and the top plating was in place to negate the effects of the hammer. It’s safe to say it worked to perfection, and Shatter never really got going. As soon as the klaxon sounded End Game delivered some mighty hits onto Adam Wrigley’s bot, shoving it around and tearing chunks of armor off. That was before the head of the hammer went (again) and Shatter became stuck in the corner. The inevitable happened, and End Game watched on triumphantly as Shatter was counted out.

Like a trash can-coloured shark

So for the 19th seeds, the dream run ends, but it shows a marked improvement over their 2019 showing. Even more can be said of End Game, looking like a totally new beast to the one that fizzled out in the previous two series. They go marching into the semi-finals.

Ribbot (20) vs. Black Dragon (5)

I’m nor really sure how we ended up with this as a quarter-final tie, but boy I’m glad we did. This was one of the most chaotic fights I have ever witnessed.

Both these bots have taken unorthodox routes to get here to say the least. Ribbot recovered from being almost entirely decapitated by tournament favourites Uppercut before divine intervention saw them break down and give the plucky frog a spot in the last 8. Black Dragon, meanwhile, have looked a shadow of the bot they were in 2019, yet have somehow pulled off a series of narrow victories to book their place in the top 8. Their weapon’s barely worked, they’ve been tentative in their approach to fights, and yet, here we are.

In a pretty slapstick start, Ribbot managed to lose one of its wedgelets entirely on its own accord, and was then subjected to losing its top plate (again), being pelted with hits, and eventually being flipped over and having to drive upside down, all within the first minute. However, this is where things changed dramatically, as Black Dragon’s weapon motor gave out, and engulfed the whole left side of the bot in flames. Like, literal fire. As Kenny was quick to point out in the commentary, usually when a bot is on fire, particularly an entire half a robot, it stops working immediately, due to the scientific fundamental of fire being hot and making things melt. This wasn’t the case with Black Dragon however, and what seemed at first to be another divine intervention to gift Ribbot an unlikely passage to the semi-finals, turned into an extraordinary display of endurance from the Brazilians, who shunted Ribbot around the arena for the remaining two minutes while being, and I have to really emphasize this point, on actual fire.

No mother, it’s just the northern lights

And so, incredibly, Black Dragon makes its way into the semi-finals, and Ribbot has to face the ignominy of being dominated by a robot that had no right to work. They’ve been one of the entertainers of this season though, and we look forward to having them back again soon.

Tantrum (18) vs. SawBlaze (7)

As if things couldn’t get any wilder, straight after that hot mess of a fight we get treated to this absolute gem of a showing from the little orange bot that could.

I’m not sure many people gave Tantrum much hope going into this season – I know I certainly didn’t. In previous years it had been a plucky gimmick bot that had shown glimpses of promise, but ultimately looked like a bot that was never destined to go far. And now here we are, Aren Hill’s bot in the quarter-finals having vanquished Fusion and Bloodsport with consummate ease, squaring off against one of the hot favourites for the nut, Jamison Go’s SawBlaze.

I think this is arguably the best individual performance of the season. Not only was Tantrum the massive underdog going into this fight, it took things to SawBlaze and totally dominated proceedings. SawBlaze tried its best to get up to speed, but Tantrum was always there to get underneath it and take little nicks out of the armour. It wasn’t helped by Tantrum bending the front forks, which not only meant SawBlaze couldn’t get in underneath and go hell for leather, but it kept popping wheelies that made its underbelly vulnerable to attack. Tantrum isn’t a robot designed to cause massive amount of damage, but more to be an annoyance with its precision driving and attack – think Pussycat in the fourth series of Robot Wars. This was just a showcase of everything good about what Tantrum can do, pushing SawBlaze about, flipping it over, totally controlling it.

There were two main highlights of the fight: the first when Tantrum had SawBlaze pinned against the arena wall, firing its drum up to speed before sending it hurtling into the back end of Jamison Go’s machine. The second was when Tantrum managed to flip SawBlaze over and take a whole bottom panel off with it. The fight was won there and then. SawBlaze tried mounting a late comeback but it was all to no avail, as Tantrum easily took the judges’ decision.

Charging in from behind

And so my picks for the nut have fallen, but I can’t even be mad about it. I was just in awe of Tantrum, who confidently marches into the last four with nothing to lose, leaving a whole trail of scalps in its wake.

Hydra (1) vs. Whiplash (8)

The only quarter-final clash not to have an “underdog” represented, instead we have an all-family affair, as the Ewerts and their number one-ranked Hydra take on the Vasquez clan and Whiplash.

It’s kind of hard to describe the action of this fight, since it was all fairly standard stuff without anything spectacular happening. Hydra got a few flips in, but seemed to be lacking power all fight. Whiplash managed to get some lifts and hits in, but struggled to maintain consistency throughout. Suddenly this scorecard is looking a lot like one from a classic season episode. It was an intriguing watch, but very little separated them.

In the end it went to the judges, and on a split decision they gave it to Whiplash. Make of it what you will, it seemed pretty clear that the two were kind of even on control and aggression, but Whiplash took the fight on damage. Is this another damning indictment of the unfair weighting system? Probably, but I think Whiplash would have won the fight anyway, since Hydra ended the fight having its rear end torn apart by its disc.

NSFW

And so the top seed falls, the last of the top four to do so. We head into the semi-finals with a line-up I’m sure almost no-one expected to see at the start of the season.

Tantrum (18) vs. End Game (6)

We enter the most unlikely of unlikely semi-final line-ups, and I don’t think I’ve ever rooted for a robot harder than I have for Tantrum here.

For a bot I considered a write-off before the season began, here it was three minutes away from the final. It went in with the same approach that’s served it so well this season, while End Game kept its 1960’s TV dinner tray look for maximum efficiency.

Things started well for Tantrum, being able to get in underneath End Game and get a couple of little nicks in with the drum. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it made you sit up and think; “holy sh*t, maybe they have a chance!” And then it all went wrong. In a literal puff of smoke, Tantrum’s weapon gave out, meaning the team had to resort to pushing duty. Against a bot as powerful as End Game, that’s never something you want.

Jonathan Pearce would have had a field day with this fight

Tantrum did its best, but End Game smelt blood and went into overdrive, finding all the right angles to get in underneath before dealing the killer blow. Flinging Tantrum across the arena, Aren Hill and co. were on their backs with nothing to be done, accept their fate and wait for the countdown to end.

And so in one felled swoop, the final surprise package of the tournament bows out. But the utmost respect has to go to Hill and his team, who have made a staggering leap from when they first débuted in 2018. To a lesser extent, we can say the same of End Game, who claim their victory and take the first spot in the final.

Whiplash (8) vs. Black Dragon (5)

So who will be joining End Game in the final? The second coming of the prodigal son in Whiplash, so often tipped for the nut, or the undoubtedly brilliant, but so far underwhelming, Black Dragon?

Having ridden their luck for much of this season, things came crashing to a halt for the Brazilian team. This was Whiplash’s fight from beginning to end, flinging Black Dragon around the box and getting the better of the weapon-on-weapon exchanges. Everything seemed to go Whiplash’s way. Highlights included managing to high-centre Black Dragon on one of its own detached wedges, and then later propping them end-up against the arena wall, much like it did to Mecha Rampage two seasons ago. But to do it against such quality opposition when a place in the final is at stake takes some moxy. Black Dragon also ended the fight down a weapon (again) and helplessly upended on the screws. The judges’ decision was never in doubt.

I think Whiplash is laughing, but can’t confirm

Hopefully we’ll see better of Black Dragon next season, but if they can make it this far with an under-strength bot, who knows what they can accomplish when it’s working fully? As for Whiplash, it’s time to see whether the prophecy of Matt Vasquez winning the Giant Nut will finally come true.

The Final: End Game (6) vs. Whiplash (8)

And so, it all comes down to this. After fourteen episodes, countless fights, sparks, damage, controversy, breakdowns, meltdowns, and Faruq puns, it’s finally time to crown a new champion? The hotly-awaited fight to finally end the dominance of the 4WD-vert Bite Force, and replace it with… oh, another 4WD-vert. Ah well, at least for once we have a chance of the BattleBots “world champion” actually living up to its name, as we enter into an international affair: the USA’s Whiplash against New Zealand’s End Game. Considering the travel restrictions, it’s pretty amazing that’s how it ended up, this year of all years.

Both bots set up as expected, with massive f*ck off forks attached to their respective fronts for maximum get-underneathness. What ensued was a classic tale of Whiplash circling around End Game for a hot minute, realising it couldn’t get round to its sides and back, accepting its fate, and being destroyed. Well, destroyed is probably a strong way of putting it – tactical disintegration is probably more accurate. End Game was patient, composed, and took its chance when it could. The first time it was allowed an opening it took it and never looked back. It all culminated in Whiplash being out-grounded, out-classed, and, ultimately, out-of-the-arena’d.

Long live the king

It would have taken a lot to convince me that End Game was title-worthy material before the season started, but they’ve been near-flawless from beginning to end. They started by throwing Tombstone out of the arena, and they finished by doing the exact same thing to Whiplash. In many ways this season sort of feels like an anomaly, and I guess this title win sums it up; a bot not many people fancied, that had promise in the past but had delivered very little, sort of assimilating into the rest of the 4WD-gang without much else to offer. But that’s all in the past now, and End Game joins the elite echelons of robot combat, becoming the latest name to lift the coveted Giant Nut.

And so that about wraps things up on BattleBots 2020. What a rollercoaster it’s been. I was meaning to write an entire post about 7 things to improve for 2021 (which will be broadcast in 2022? Best not to question it), but the new season is a week away, it was filmed months ago, I’m very lazy, and they most likely haven’t done any of the things I would have wanted. So to save everyone some time, here’s a bullet-pointed list of things I thought could have been fixed from the 2020 season:

  1. Go back to 4 fights per bot
  2. Evenly distribute the quality of opponent
  3. Evenly distribute the judging criteria and lose emphasis on the primary weapon
  4. Promote sustainable technology (if anyone can save the planet, it’s BattleBots)
  5. Less 4WD verts
  6. Keep OOTAs
  7. Re-format the knockout bracket (1 vs 17, 2 vs 18, 3 vs 19, etc).

I’m pretty sure at least none of those will come to fruition. The last point is a pipe dream despite the fact it will 100% make the show more engaging and interesting, but Americans seem insistent on promoting a top vs bottom mentality to make the upsets all the more dramatic. It also makes them all the more uncommon and means we get stuck with a disproportionate field of 4WD-verts to the point where we call the 6th seeds out of a field of 60 the underdogs. Ok, sure. Also, if you want less controversial decisions, just fix the criteria to its basics and lose the emphasis on damage. Please. We need some change.

That’s a short version of what I could have said. If you’re wondering why I haven’t ended on a list of positives, it’s because there’s too many to name. It’s been a fantastic season, and it truly has been a special one given the circumstances in which it was filmed. In the middle of peak pandemic times it offered us entertainment, hope, and excitement. Obviously things weren’t perfect (as I just mentioned), nothing ever is. It was a shame that some of the big names couldn’t make it. But what we did get was a plethora of fights that mark some of the best in the show’s history. So many improved bots, so many awesome newcomers, so many explosive memories. As we prepare for the new season, we’ll look back on the 2020 season as one so full of memories. Uppercut exploding SawBlaze’s fuel tank. Skorpios stunning Tombstone. Valkyrie and Rotator going at it in a shower of sparks. Rusty. I could go on.

But for now, we’ll close 2021 on a nostalgic look back on one of the most enjoyable seasons in recent memory. Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy new year.

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