BattleBots 2021: What the Top 32 Should Look Like, and How to Fix it For Next Year

Good afternoon, comrades, and welcome to how I think the top 32 should look. Yes, I promised yesterday there’d be an upcoming post regarding the discrepancies with the bracket. As with every year, there are a fair few. Broken rankings, broken systems, broken promises that everything would be fairer.

Obviously, something like this is totally subjective, and the mysterious selection committee are more qualified than I, a lifelong fan, albeit with no experience of fighting robots apart from playing with my old school Robot Wars toys, my Hexbugs, and the time I took control of former UK champion Ripper at a robot-building workshop in Burton-on-Trent, than an assorted group of unrevealed TV execs who just want to put the most interesting fights together as possible to keep the Discovery Channel in business.

I should say that this regular season has been absolutely fantastic, full of brilliant fights and some classic displays of destruction. And with such a competitive field this year, there are obviously going to be a couple of placements that are hard to get exactly right. That’s all part of the fun of something like this, so when a ranking is off by a placement or two, that’s not so much of an issue. It’s the ones that are striking, or those that haven’t even made the bracket, as well as issues with the bracket itself, that we’ll be focusing on. Hope that makes sense.

Before we dive into the biggest issues this year’s top 32 has brought us, let’s compare and contrast the actual top 32 with the top 32 that I’ve drawn up:

Actual
1. End Game (3-0)
2. Ribbot (3-0)
3. Whiplash (2-0
4. SawBlaze (2-1)
5. Uppercut (2-0)
6. Rotator (2-0)
7. Blip (3-0)
8. Copperhead (2-0)
9. Glitch (3-0)
10. Jackpot (2-0)
11. Tantrum (2-0)
12. Shatter (2-0)
13. Hypershock (2-0)
14. Cobalt (2-1)
15. Mad Catter (2-1)
16. Minotaur (2-1)
17. Bloodsport (2-1)
18. Black Dragon (2-1)
19. Yeti (2-1)
20. P1 (2-1)
21. Riptide (2-1)
22. Gigabyte (2-1)
23. Tombstone (2-1)
24. Witch Doctor (2-1)
25. Lucky (2-1)
26. Valkyrie (2-1)
27. Captain Shrederator (2-1)
28. HUGE (2-1)
29. Hijinx (2-1)
30. Icewave (2-1)
31. Hydra (1-2) or Defender (2-1)
32. Skorpios (1-2) or Malice (1-2)
Mine
1. End Game (3-0) =
2. Ribbot (3-0) =
3. Hypershock (2-0) (+10)
4. Uppercut (2-0) +1
5. SawBlaze (2-1) -1
6. Blip (3-0) +1
7. Whiplash (2-0) -4
8. Copperhead (2-0) =
9. Tantrum (2-0) +2
10. Cobalt (2-1) +4
11. Glitch (3-0) -2
12. Rotator (2-0) -6
13. Mad Catter (2-1) +2
14. Yeti (2-1) +5
15. Black Dragon (2-1) +3
16. Minotaur (2-1) =
17. Jackpot (2-0) -7
18. Shatter (2-0) -6
19. Riptide (2-1) +2
20. Lucky (2-1) +5
21. P1 (2-1) -1
22. Bloodsport (2-1) -5
23. Gigabyte (2-1) -1
24. Skorpios (1-2) +8
25. Hydra (1-2) +6
26. Captain Shrederator (2-1) +1
27. Tombstone (2-1) -4
28. HUGE (2-1) =
29. Icewave (2-1) +1
30. Valkyrie (2-1) -4
31. Witch Doctor (2-1) -7 or Fusion (1-2) N/A
32. Defender (2-1) -1 or Hijinx (2-1) -3

First thing’s first, I’m so glad they introduced the play-in matches, because that just makes the harder placements so much easier to sort out. And there’s only a few differences between mine and the actual bracket that I don’t really have an issue with. The production team decided to put the 1-2 bots in the play-ins, whereas I put in bots on 2-1 which, in my opinion, had weaker seasons overall. That’s cool, I can totally understand that. The only bot in my list which didn’t make the bracket is Fusion, as the production team went with Malice. I’m surprised that Fusion didn’t make it, considering how convincing it was in its victory over Cobalt, and that it’s had a tougher schedule than Malice, but it’s not one I’m overly annoyed about. After all, I had Malice ranked at 35th, so it was on the brink of my play-ins anyway. And it would also have been a bit dubious for the producers to put Fusion in the top 32 five minutes after showing its pitiful performance against Icewave.

So on the whole, I think they got the bots right, and there are even five places we agree on entirely. A fair few others are only a few places out. But you’ll also see a lot of pretty wild numbers next to the bots in my column. And, in my opinion, it highlights some pretty glaring issues not only with the top 32, but with this season in general. After the success of last season, this may be a case of second-season syndrome in trying to make the show the best it can be, but in trying to make the show an entertaining piece of television we’ve seen some issues that have just made the whole process kind of unfair.

Here are six talking points from the top 32 bracket, and the regular season in general.

1. The 1 vs. 32 format is totally broken

For as long as BattleBots has been back on the air, the producers have insisted on a format which pits the number one seed against the bottom seed, and working their way inwards from there. When the number one seed inevitably gets through, they’ll have the (theoretically) easiest run to the final out of anyone else, given how the bracket is structured. It was a problem when there was only a top 16 to compete for, but now that there’s a top 32, it just highlights the disparity in the bracket, and makes End Game’s task of holding on to its Giant Nut that bit easier.

It doesn’t always guarantee success, as Tombstone found out in 2016. But it just means that, even in a year as competitive as this current season, we’ll still most likely be seeing the top eight in the quarter-finals, or thereabouts. It gives those with a lower ranking even less of a chance of going on a run deep into the tournament, and honestly just makes the whole thing predictable. When it was announced that the Copperhead-Lucky and Uppercut-HUGE fights were announced as being made available on YouTube, it was obvious that the higher seeds (Copperhead and Uppercut) were going through. Of the eight top 32 ties this week, six were won by the higher-ranked seeds (if we count Witch Doctor being ranked higher than Mammoth). It’s just such a bland and predictable way to ensure one of the favourites will end up the winner at the end of the season.

I’ve long been an advocate of arranging the fights as 1 vs. 17, 2 vs. 18, and structuring the bracket from there. Then, there would be less of a noticeable gap in quality between contestants, lower-ranked bots would have more of a chance of going on a deep run, and most importantly, it makes things so much more interesting. A possible 1 vs. 32 fight in, say, the semi-finals, is so much more interesting than seeing it predictably end in the top seed winning in the round of 32.

The issues in this format are showing again this season, and I really hope things change next year.

2. The bots with no third fight

This is the biggest issue I have with this season, and it’s really skewed the whole bracket as a result.

The fact the producers decided that Hypershock, Whiplash, Uppercut, Tantrum, Jackpot, Shatter, Copperhead, and Rotator didn’t need to fight again before putting them in the top 32 is ridiculous. Now they’re surrounded by bots who have fought three times, whose rankings are more accurate, leaving these eight bots all over the place since it’s so much harder to equally compare them. And if they didn’t “need” a third fight, even though many of the teams have said they absolutely wanted one, then why did SawBlaze, Blip, and End Game, the REIGNING CHAMPIONS need one? And considering the laughable quality of the fights we got in episode 10, the episode which would supposedly decide how the bracket looked, it’s baffling how they thought giving Mad Catter and Witch Doctor free passes into the top 32 would be more interesting than, say, Tantrum against Whiplash, Copperhead against Rotator, or Uppercut against Hypershock.

It’s had such a knock-on effect to this year’s bracket that, as I’ll get in to below, but if anything it shows how bloated the field of bots was this year, and with only three fights each it seems to have given the producers too much to do with not enough time to do it in. Hopefully next year we’ll see things revert back to four fights each with a smaller, more manageable field.

3. Jackpot in the top 10

This isn’t too much of an issue, I kind of just wanted to have six points to complain about. But it does surprise me that Jackpot was picked for the top 10, a bot which I don’t even have in my top half.

Admittedly, it’s a bot that’s suffered from only having two fights this season, but considering one of those was a judges’ decision against Deadlift, which was only deemed fit enough for YouTube, it’s very strange how it was deemed worthy of a top 10 spot over bots such as Cobalt, Tantrum, and Hypershock.

Speaking of which…

4. Hypershock in 13th?

This is totally ridiculous. Thirteenth for a both that I had ranked third overall. A bot with two awesome KO’s this season, including one against one of the most experienced bots in the whole competition in Lockjaw. Yes, both its wins were against competitors that exited this season without a win to their name, but what a beast they looked this regular season.

It may not be the most convincing argument to have Hypershock ten places higher considering they were just knocked out in the round of 32, but they’ve looked so improved, so much more ruthless and controlled, finally capable of mounting a challenge. And their reward was a spot in thirteenth place.

Baffling. And another victim of the lack of third fight.

5. Witch Doctor in 24th

I know Witch Doctor is a former runner-up and a beloved figure of modern-day robot fighting, but to put them in 24th after the season they’ve had is more than a little generous in my opinion.

Yes, they were placed against the reigning champions End Game and suffered a pretty brutal loss, and there’s no real shame in that. But against DUCK!, which looked pretty incapable of doing anything this season, Witch Doctor’s weapon broke after a couple of hits and eventually won the judges’ decision courtesy of a pushing contest. And with its status in the top 32 at stake, it was given Rusty of all things. There was no dramatic make-or-break fight against another 1-1 bot with everything on the line, instead it was just given a free pass into the top 32 by being allowed to bully the weakest bot in the field.

All that apparently makes it the 24th best competitor in the field this season. I mean, really? After what I just described, that’s an incredibly generous placement for it to go. But its scheduling does raise a bigger issue.

6. Broken scheduling in the regular season

I’ve already mentioned that three fights instead of four isn’t a very fair reflection on the overall quality of the competing bots in such a wide field, at least in my opinion. And I’ve already said what I think about those left on only two fights. But I should give a quick word to how awful some of the scheduling has been this season.

As I just mentioned, Witch Doctor was handed a place in the top 32 by being given Rusty as its final opponent, and the same can be said of Mad Catter with its fight against Rampage. Valkyrie was given fights against two of the weakest bots competing this year in Triple Crown and Pardon My French, HUGE was given three fights against rookies, and Tombstone, a former champion no less, was given Captain Shrederator, Mammoth, and Free Shipping as its opponents. Not exactly unworthy opponents, but surely you’d expect the Hydra’s, Uppercut’s, and Hypershock’s of the world to be given a shot against the King of Kinetic Energy?

On the other end of the scale, Lockjaw finished at 0-3, but given that it had to fight Copperhead, Hypershock, and Blip, all bots which made the top half of the bracket this year, there was much more a chance of that happening to them than, say, Witch Doctor, given the contrast in the quality of opposition. The same argument could be made for Kraken last year, and this year as well to a certain extent. And given that pretty much all the Giant Nut contenders (End Game, SawBlaze, Whiplash, etc.) are consistently being made to flex their muscles against each other, it leaves the final rankings looking disproportionate.

I’m just going to come out and say it: “strength of schedule” should not be a thing in deciding who goes through to the top 32. It’s the producers who decide who fights each other, and it’s the producers who decide on who makes the bracket. For them to place one bot higher than the other based on the quality of opposition that they’ve made them fight against is just ridiculous. And this does also highlight how overblown the field has been this season, and reducing the number of fights to three has proven unfair, as it leaves too many bots with disproportionate match-ups, and not enough time for them to have a shot against more equal opponents. All in all, it’s just been a bit of a mess.

And that about does it for this list of complaints, or, as I choose to call it, constructive criticism to make the show better. At least in my opinion. I’d be curious to hear what all the bot builders from the show have to say about some of these suggestions, just as long as you don’t yell at me and tell me to go home and finish my beetle. But you can’t finish a beetle if you haven’t started building one, am I right?

Thanks for reading everyone, and have a wonderful day.

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