BattleBots 2021 Final Review: Controversy, Changes for Next Year, and Why Tantrum is the New GOAT

Happy Easter, comrades! On this fine holiday where we celebrate the resurrection of our lord and saviour by stuffing our faces with chocolate rabbits (such is the nature of our society), what better occasion to take time out to reflect on the BattleBots final that was?

I should start by saying that I’m aware the final was two weeks ago and this review is a tad late, but as I’m sure all of you reading are aware of the negativity that has surrounded the final episode. Allegations of fixing and favouritism, confusion about the rules, and general anger about the outcome have sadly clouded the awesome achievement of Tantrum and Team Seems Reasonable, who defied all odds to take home the Giant Nut after KO’ing Witch Doctor in the final.

I figured it was best to let the dust settle before writing something up, since a lot has been said by a lot fans in the heat of the moment. For once I figured it’s best not add fuel to the fire, since as a result of this, teams have had to get involved, the referees have had to get involved, and BattleBots themselves have had to get involved. Combat robotics, and BattleBots especially, has always has its fair share of controversy, but I can’t recall a time where so many fans have been left feeling so aggrieved and resulted in such negativity.

So this isn’t going to be so much of a review of the last episode in the typical sense, given what has happened over the past couple of weeks. Instead, we’ll address the controversies (without losing our sh*t over anything), make a few suggestions for next season, and end with something wholesome. Hopefully you good folks won’t be giving me any schtick in the comments, this isn’t going the a “wah wah wah Witch Doctor cheated” sort of post you will have seen over the last two weeks.

Anyway, deep breath, and we’re off.

The Controversies

I’ll try to not dwell too much on the controversial incidents that happened in the final episode, since a lot has already been said of them and several other people on the internet have explained things better than I could. So we’ll do a cheeky speedrun of both of them.

Basically, people are angry that Witch Doctor beat Minotaur and that Tantrum beat Hydra. Some may be to do with fans being angry at their favourite bot losing, but many are angry about how the judges’ reached their respective decisions.

It’s true that on a first viewing, Minotaur had a case for beating Witch Doctor. It was in control of the fight, landing several hits to its opponent and ripping one of its front ploughs off. Witch Doctor landed one good hit on Minotaur during the fight, albeit taking a whole wheel off, before backing off for the remainder of the fight after a time-out for Witch Doctor getting stuck on the wall. What later transpired is that Witch Doctor were being told Minotaur was about to be counted out, while the Minotaur team were angrily telling their referee they still had control of their bot, hence why Witch Doctor weren’t engaging.

People seemed unhappy at the outcome for three reasons; lack of clarity over the unstick rule, Witch Doctor winning despite not engaging for half the fight, and that Minotaur lost despite all of the early hits. However, a look at the rules lays most of these to rest. For one, the rules state that unsticks only occur if either the two bots are stuck together, or if at least one bot is stuck to an unmovable part of the arena – i.e. the wall, and it is safe for someone to do so. Hence why Cobalt’s fight with Whiplash went straight to the judges, since Cobalt’s weapon was stuck on full power and it was unsafe to enter. Hence also why Blip was counted out against Hydra – yes, it was caught on the wall, but it’s back wheel was incapacitated and couldn’t maneuver itself off. Witch Doctor was still functional but couldn’t work itself free, so a time-out was called. The main issue lies with how quickly the time-out was called, after ten seconds instead of twenty, which is a fair criticism.

As for the judges’ decision itself, we’ll have to refer to the “judging matrix” that was introduced at the start of this season to simplify controversial decisions. I’ve had strong feelings on it, but it’s actually cleared things up here. Witch Doctor did more meaningful damage than Minotaur, and the fact it affected its movement for half the fight, and capitalised on a driving error from Minotaur, means it takes the damage and control categories. Despite all the big hits from Minotaur, Witch Doctor still did more meaningful damage, so even if Minotaur wins on aggression, it still loses the other two categories. So Witch Doctor wins.

The same can be said for the Hydra-Tantrum fight, although to a lesser extent. Tantrum clearly did more noticeable damage than Hydra, despite all the times it was flipped over. Hydra also spent most of its time waiting for Tantrum to come to them, while Tantrum circled Hydra for an opening, displaying more aggressive driving and controlling most of the action. I can see how Tantrum won. I guess the result does raise a couple of questions: does consistent use of the primary weapon not count towards aggression or control? And Hydra fought almost the exact same fight against Black Dragon in the previous round and won comfortably via the judges – Yes, Tantrum fought better than Black Dragon, but does this not raise questions of consistency?

Changes for Next Season

Realistically, it does. The big issues raised here for me are a lack of clarity over the rules and consistency in decisions. I think on the whole the judging has been very good this year, but when the rules aren’t properly explained to the fans watching the show, it leaves them feeling angry and confused at crucial, closer decisions.

There also needs to be more consistency in the decisions, which has been a recurring theme over the past few seasons. You could argue that Witch Doctor beating Minotaur through one good shot is further proof Rotator should have beaten Beta last season (spoiler alert, it still shouldn’t). I’ve seen a lot made of what constitutes “controlled movement” – why was Minotaur not counted out against Witch Doctor when Ribbot was counted out against Hydra? I can’t remember if it was BattleBots, Robot Wars, or something else that had it constituted as “moving out of its circumference,” but I always thought that was a pretty clear definition of controlled movement. The same goes with unsticks, what about when Cobalt got stuck on the floor against DUCK! or when HUGE got stuck on the screws against Riptide? And why was Deep Six not unstuck against SMEEEEEEEEEEEEE when it got stuck in the killsaw slot?

This also leads into a couple of other points I think would improve the show. For one, the killsaws and the upper deck should go. The killsaws are a staple of the classic era, but the only purpose they’ve served this season is to get bots stuck and frustrate the drivers. The upper deck was a nice idea in theory, but in reality adds nothing to the show, and virtually every competing team this season has voiced their frustration at its inclusion. The only hazards should be the pulverizers and the screws, with two areas for ring-outs. I was initially frustrated at the inclusion of the “sneeze guards” around the arena, but they’ve actually improved the quality of knock-outs and have been a welcome addition to the arena. As long as OOTA’s aren’t done away with altogether, I’ll be happy.

For the judging criteria, while the judging matrix has actually been a big help this season, it’s still attempting to justify a broken system. I get that damage is important, but for as long as it’s weighted so heavily, the more we’ll see dubious decisions, dominance of spinners, and other weapons such as flippers struggling to get much of a look-in. I really don’t see why the categories can’t be weighted evenly – even something like 5 for damage and 4 for control and aggression would be fine – but the criteria needs to be more even to give control bots, flippers, hammers, etc., an actual fair shot at winning without a KO. The matrix can stay, but only so long as it’s part of a more even scoring criteria.

As for the format of the show itself, I’ve long held the fact that the 1 vs. 32 bracket system is busted and only makes for uneven, predictable fights. However, a lot of people seem happy with the current format, and in reality I can’t really argue my point on the evidence of this season, since the highest-ranked bot to make it to make it to the top eight was the fourth seed SawBlaze, and the number eleven seed won the whole thing. What I implore the show to do though, is more equal line-ups during the regular season. Some of the scheduling was an absolute joke this season. Witch Doctor shouldn’t be up against Rusty, Valkyrie essentially got a free pass, as did Subzero and Beta last season. If the top 32 is to remain with three fights per bot, please just make the scheduling more even. This season the top 32 rankings were so all over the place due to poor fixtures, and if it’s so much of an issue then lower the number of bots in the field so that all the fights can be fitted into the show.

In short; more consistency, more clarity, more even judging criteria, more even scheduling, and fewer arena hazards.

An Ode to Tantrum

So with all that out of the way, we should really get to the point that so many have sadly overlooked – Tantrum won. TANTRUM. Honestly, hands up who had this lil’ guy down as the Giant Nut winner at the start of this season?

What a ride this bot has been on. With the 2018 season airing on ITV4 in the UK right now, many will have been re-introduced to its first-ever televised fight against Battle Royale with Cheese, a burger-themed bot that didn’t work, and Tantrum was able to defeat it by flipping it over with a spatula. Yes, that really did happen. Its most infamous moment was when it was given an exhibition fight against Tombstone, presented as a sacrificial lamb to the King of Kinetic Energy. It subsequently lost, having one of its trademark fists embedded into the arena wall.

Fast forward four years and it’s the Giant Nut winner. It hasn’t even changed that much, but the punching system it’s cultivated has been nothing short of amazing. It reminds me of Pussycat from the fourth series of Robot Wars – not necessarily the most damaging bot out there, but it gets the right hits in the right places, aided by some awesome driving. Last season only Valkyrie and End Game got the better of it, and this season nothing could stand in its way. Malice, Lucky, Gigabyte, Rotator, Cobalt, Hydra, and Witch Doctor, seven bots with a lot of pedigree, had no answer to them. They took on the best, and beat the best. Even more impressive, to me, is that the bot was handed over to a whole new team this season, and yet it only served to get better. While Aren Hill went off to take charge of Blip (itself a quarter-finalist in its debut season), the new group took Tantrum to a whole new level, and got exactly what they deserved for it.

So, and I really don’t think they’ve received this enough, massive congratulations to Alex Grant, Ginger Schmidt, and everyone at Team Seems Reasonable for building an awesome bot and for defying all odds to lift the Giant Nut. You guys have come a long way from flipping burgers.

And on that note, a huge thanks to all the teams for putting on one heck of a show this season. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, one that was (until the last episode) relatively controversy-free, and one that saw so many great fights, moments, and newcomers. The show is on course to go from strength to strength, and hopefully the right improvements will be made to make next season the best yet.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a wonderful off-season.

2 Replies to “BattleBots 2021 Final Review: Controversy, Changes for Next Year, and Why Tantrum is the New GOAT”

  1. A better way to reward top seeds and prevent undesirable matchups in the round of 32 is allow the top 8 seeds to, in order, pick their opponent for the first round from the bottom 16. Then shuffle the seed number of the remaining bottom 8 seeds for the draw.

    Like

  2. I call the hydra decision Karma and they deserved it. Hydra faced off against Huge with some device that would stop the wheels and huge from getting close. Hydra never bothered to engage, it just sat there didn’t touch but never move forward.

    So now you have another bot who did damage and then just circled not moving forward to engage circling was controlling the fight, they were already hit many times so there was little aggression on their part.

    Hydra is whining fowl whilst they reveled in their doing the same thing themselves, and they lost the nut for it. Karma Baby, sweet Karma.

    Like

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