Fight nights was different this year. Every team was given their four-fight schedule at once. That meant we could strategize and prepare for multiple fights at a time, really making use of those spare robots we’ve been lugging around. In season 4, Aaron Catling told us to “Roll deep like a NASCAR team.” We’d already invested in showing up with multiple robots, but we knew then that multiple robots would be the expectation. 3 seasons later, it is the standard. Anything less than 2 robots worth of parts means they’re probably not treating you like a full competitor. We had 4 frames welded and a 5th in parts. We had 3 full robots worth of guts, 8 weapon assemblies, and 24 tires. We felt ready. Getting the whole schedule at once massively validated all the work we’d put into preparing multiple robots during the build season.
This blog will be an analysis of how our opponents have lost and what we learn from studying their losses. We watch all of their recent fights to study their driving and strategies, but distilling out moments where a fight could have gone the other way is very difficult. We like to pick out whether someone is prone to oversteering, or if they become flustered after a hit combo. When we look at losses, we try to figure out if they have a specific reliability problem or if there’s a common trend to how their armor comes apart. More than anything, we’re studying their driving. How fast are they, can they turn, do they have pushing power, are they precise? I’ll be doing a deeper analysis of each of our fights after they air.
Every team was given its full schedule before any fights happened. We also knew there would be 5 days with fights and we will fight on 4 of them, with one day off. For the most part, having a given day off wasn’t better or worse than any other. Maybe having the first day off would be the worst, but having double days off isn’t much better if you can’t make use of them. We showed up with 4 chassis and 3 robots worth of electronics, so we intended to have 2 running at all times with a third nearly ready. For the first time, we were through safety and tech checks before the first day of fights. That went from a goal to critical when they told us we’d be fighting Sawblaze in the first fight of the first session because Reddit thinks that there’s a conspiracy to have Sawblaze in the first episode of every season. Surprise! The selection committee reads the BB subreddit, your opinions have consequences. Though, Sawblaze is just so consistently awesome and prepared that it makes sense to open the season with them. The matchmaker overlords would be wasting all that effort to not run them on day 1.
We’re coming into this season ranked #8. We were told re:MARS didn’t count toward rankings and I sincerely have no complaints about that. #8 is high, much higher than we’ve ever entered the bracket (#13), as well as higher than we’ve ever exited the bracket since we’ve always lost in the first round. It’s not too surprising, considering our post-bracket run in Champions and Golden Bolt, especially with the level of carnage we left in our wake. We’re being put in a position where we need to prove we deserve to be recognized alongside the top-tier robots. Our schedule reflects that well. I’d argue we and Blip are staring at by far the two hardest schedules. Both of us are highly ranked and mostly fighting robots ranked even higher.
Sawblaze ep 2 ranked #4 (the first fight of the first session on day 1, the previous HyperShocks would never have been ready by then).
Sawblaze is one of just two hammersaws, and they couldn’t be more different. We’ve fought Skorpios three times, losing to a combination of reliability and ground game the first time, and winning through a forced error. We’re not optimistic about Jamison whiffing a box rush and then over-correcting twice. Skorpios wins through aggression, control, and durability. Sawblaze also uses aggression and control, but then punches holes in everything. We both have 17 wins coming into this season. 11 of their 17 wins are by JD. 15 of our 17 are by KO. These divergent paths to victory should highlight how differently we’re expecting this fight to go. Looking at our losses, both of us are more likely to lose by KO than JD. I wouldn’t say that in any way gives us confidence, but it does reinforce our need to keep on the offensive.
We’ve finally earned this fight. We came out of S6 and Champions S1 pretty hot, awarded most destructive, and won re:MARS (not “ranked” but worth something?). Maybe by the end of S6, we were in this field, but definitely at no point previously. Sawblaze has been a gatekeeper to success for a few years now, beating them is often a ticket to at least a top 4 finish; End Game (Golden Bolt) and Witch Doctor (double Runner-up) in S6, Tantrum (Giant Nut) in S5, Witch Doctor (Runner-up) and Tombstone (Semi-Finalist) in S4. It's a short list, they don’t lose often. Their only other losses in the last 3 seasons have been to Uppercut (S5) and Tombstone (S4), neither of which is a slouch. Digging further, their losses to End Game and Uppercut were immediately chaotic, and both were effectively lost in the first 10 seconds.
Vs Witch Doctor, the only team to beat Sawblaze twice
In S4, a fortuitous combination of the cratered trampoline floor and Witch Doctor’s anti-ground game approach enabled them to tear through every fork and wedgelet they saw. This fight exemplifies that strategy with Witch Doctor landing hit after hit on Sawblaze’s forks, eventually bending them up into handles. Sawblaze lost drive about a minute into this fight then spent the next minute getting pummeled before finally giving up the ghost as the 1-minute warning lights flashed.
In S6, the fight opened almost identically to Sawblaze vs Uppercut in S5: Sawblaze doesn’t connect in the opening exchange, getting stuck on a floor seam in the middle. Witch Doctor takes the opportunity to reposition, putting Sawblaze on their heels, leading to a juke that took off half of Sawblaze’s drive. Historically, they don’t come back from losing a side of drive. Their loss to Tombstone went similarly after an aggressive exchange ended poorly for Sawblaze.
In 2 of these losses, Sawblaze lost a side of drive in the first 10 seconds. Against Tombstone, it happened about 30 seconds in. 1 minute in against Witch Doctor in S4. I’m not sure exactly what was wrong with Sawblaze against End Game, but it just wasn’t driving. Maybe it was magnets getting stuck, or a drive motor/controller failing. Regardless, there’s nothing to analyze about it.
Tantrum beat Sawblaze using meticulous driving and manicured ground game. They also lost by judges’ decision. We don’t have Tantrum’s durability, we’re not going 3 minutes with Sawblaze. In all, we don’t learn much from this fight except Jamison likes to make space after he gets hit.
Our takeaways are as follows: Sawblaze is one of the best. Driving, damage, reliability, strategy. Like Tombstone, we’ve had to specifically think about how to deal with their weapon and attacking style. We’re faster in a straight line, and Sawblaze still wheelies on acceleration. They mostly only lose to sudden chaos causing a loss of drive. We can do chaos.
Whiplash ep 4 ranked #7 (Aaron wanted this as our 3rd fight in S6, but 2 fight shenanigans)
Matt Vasquez is one of the best drivers in the sport. The finesse with which he drives Whiplash and manipulates the arm is unmatched. So many times we see Whiplash losing an engagement only to throw the spinner back like an elbow and roll out of an attack. They’re one of the only other teams with all 6 seasons of BattleBots (they also made it to both re:MARS events). Counting Splatter’s 2 losses in the two ABC seasons, they have 31 career fights in BattleBots. Only a handful of robots have more than 30 fights on this stage.
Whiplash lost just twice in season 6. A controversial stuck-JD against Cobalt and the other was a two-minute back and forth against Witch Doctor. Not a lot to analyze in their Cobalt fight (relying on bootleg video since the fight was highlighted on TV). There’s one big hit to Whiplash’s rear taking out half of drive, then both get stuck (Cobalt on debris, Whiplash on the arena). Their Witch Doctor fight offers a little more, but it’s just a montage of two of the greatest tight-turning, close action drivers. Other than a short visit to the shelf, they spend the first half of the fight within four feet of each other. I can’t tell if it was hesitation by Matt or if Whiplash’s drive starts to fade after that. There’s a clear, negative change in how it’s driving about 90 seconds in and it really seemed to have cost them the fight. That deep into the event, spares start to dry up, so maybe their motors faded faster than they expected.
Whiplash had just two losses in season 5: the first fight of the season to Sawblaze was a brutal KO and then the finals to End Game in another brutal pummeling leading to an OotA. We see Sawblaze back out of a few pushes to dodge Whiplash’s reverse attack and this fight illustrates just how good Sawblaze’s ground game is. Whiplash repeatedly lines up backwards to reach over Sawblaze’s front armor and try to hit the top or the weapon pulley. It works a few times. Note to make is getting behind Whiplash isn’t free of danger. We also see Whiplash run laps to make space and reorient themselves after an exchange. HyperShock is much faster, so that won’t be an option against us. Whiplash won 6 straight fights by JD in Season 5. Between both their history of winning JD’s and ours of losing them, going 3 minutes is not preferable.
In season 4, they also only lost twice, to Tombstone and Witch Doctor. Tombstone punched massive holes in their front armor, we can’t learn much from that matchup. Witch Doctor beat them by JD, but watching the first minute of that fight, I’m surprised it didn’t end in a KO. The first good hit started bending Whiplash’s wedge, creating a handle. By a minute in, that wedge had been removed along with the tire behind it. From there, Witch Doctor bullies them around the arena, putting them in the screws and taking off more chunks. Another minute down and Witch Doctor has smoked their weapon motors; that’s why it wasn’t a KO. Whiplash recovers some control and aggression in the last minute, but not enough. Witch Doctor stayed close just like the next time they fought. That tight maneuvering against Whiplash is critical to not get caught out. That’s somewhat unhelpful for us since we generally don’t do the same flat spins that wider robots like Witch Doctor can do.
I’m concerned that we’ll get stuck in close and the tight maneuvering will massively favor Matt’s finesse over Will’s chaos. Our advantage is we can carve through the Whiplash’s frame, so any single hit could be the whole fight for us. If we juggle them, it should be over. Whiplash will fight MadCatter before us. We’re pretty similar to MadCatter, so that fight should give us a good understanding of Whiplash’s capabilities this season.
End Game ep 9 ranked #1 (rematch, but the first match wasn’t much of a fight. Missed fight last year losing to WD)
I’m noticing this trend where we’re fighting robots that Witch Doctor fought in S6. Anyway. End Game is almost the new Bite Force. Not just because it’s the ultra-meta optimized vert with a low, square base and cautious sit-n-spin driving, but because they come into every fight so prepared. They’ve collected a Giant Nut and a Golden Bolt so far. Bite Force never showed up with even a hint of reliability questions. They also stayed ahead of everyone else on ground game. End Game is the king of ground and config games. They claim over 100 million front configurations since they can all link together and connect to the robot interchangeably. They have multiple plans for every opponent. They also hit like a truck. Last time we fought them, we lost in 3 hits. We took a nice chunk out of their weapon, but that just inconvenienced them later. Watching their fights, of which they’ve won 14 out of 16 the last two seasons, it’s the ghost of Bite Force. They take the middle of the arena and wait for an opening.
They lost to Minotaur by JD in S6, and it’s one of the most damaged they’ve ever come out of a fight. End Game got stuck in the killsaw slots early on, giving Minotaur a solid hit. End Game has this way of always pointing the front of the robot at the opponent, even when they’re in a compromised position. Their ground game bit them a few times when they collided with floor seams hard enough to pop them off the floor. Many of Minotaur’s hits are straight up the front of End Game. Based on how much gyro each bot displays, I don’t think they’re at full speed for many of these hits. Minotaur’s drum is small enough that a lower tip speed still corresponds to a very high RPM, so that isn’t something we can imitate. Even when they get blasted back by a hit, End Game doesn’t flip over and they reorient instantly to face Minotaur. A few of the times where their fronts interlocked, Minotaur was able to out-push End Game. We can’t go weapon to weapon with them, but it’s good reinforcement of how much pushing power they have. They improved their magnets coming into season 7, but I’m still not too worried about losing a pushing match here. End Game’s weapon didn’t go down until the last few seconds with all that abuse, and I know they’ve improved its reliability.
Their only loss in season 5 was to Bloodsport. They either got stuck or lost a side of drive pretty early on, then definitely lost a wheel after the next big hit. It peeled off in a saw slot. They crab a bit, but then a battery goes and they get counted out. They’ve changed their wheels since, so I doubt we’ll get so lucky.
End Game was KO’d four times in season 4. Each time was a different combination of reliability issues or just overwhelming damage. The current End Game is a pretty large departure from that season’s, so I’m not putting much emphasis on those losses in this analysis.
End Game will fight Blip and RIPperoni before us, so we should have a comprehensive understanding of just how good and reliable they are. Blip should be the best test their ground game will see and RIPperoni might explode, or explode them. If the latter, maybe the Kiwis will come in a little nervous. We certainly will be.
Claw Viper ep 12 unranked (the only bot quicker than us, only opponent without a spinner)
No offense to Claw Viper, but by rankings alone, this appears to be our “easy fight”. We’re supposed to win this one and we’re supposed to be able to do it definitively. It's a significant fight because Claw viper is one of the few robots that are unquestionably quicker than us. We have a higher top speed, but they’ll still beat us from one side of the box to the other. Claw Viper may only be in its third year, but Kevin and his team have been at and around BattleBots longer than that. He’s been a pioneer in insect-weight magnet bots and seems to be working on perfecting their use in heavies. Claw Viper will be our only opponent without a positive record at 3 wins in 9 matches. In season 6 it almost ejected Bloodsport from the arena through sheer momentum. Their acceleration and speed will neutralize our typical advantages. If nothing else, it shouldn’t be an expensive match for us, win or lose. Combined with the double off-days we’ll have since we fight on the first four of the five fight days, we should be well prepared for the tournament, (assuming we make it). Watching through Claw Viper’s fights, we should win if we don’t screw up. We should know if they’ve dramatically improved their ground game before we fight, but if they haven’t this should be a standard Will Bales Berserker Barrage Mode fight. They’re fighting two spinners before us. Ominous is a big unknown, but Ribbot will likely be an expensive repair for Claw Viper.
I think we stand to do well this season. Even at 1-3, assuming we don’t get embarrassed in more than one of those losses, I think we’d still make the bracket purely based on strength of schedule. There’s no conceivable way that Sawblaze, End Game, and Whiplash all come out of fight nights with negative records, so losing to more than one of them shouldn’t demolish our chances. If we somehow pull off a 4-0 record, we’ll be expecting to be seeded first. At 3-1 we’d expect to maintain our ranking, landing in the top 8. 2-2 gets us probably in the lower-middle, maybe top 16 if the two losses are very close or strong. At the point in time we were given this schedule, we didn’t know how win/loss and strength of schedule would be weighted. In season 6, win/loss far outweighed everything else. I’m not expecting a departure from that logic. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that strength of schedule should matter more, but I’m clearly in the losing minority there.
In all, I’m very excited about the confidence BattleBots has in us and our projected performance. We’re elated they think we’re so strong that we need this tough a schedule to test our mettle. Or they secretly just want to punish us. It is an odd-numbered season after all…*
*We call this the Jevan rule; all else held equal, HyperShock is doomed to not suck less in odd-numbered seasons.