We’re going a little off trail to share everything we can about BattleBots: DESTRUCT-A-THON this week. This adventure started last April, sort of. The first meeting was in April anyway. We’ve had non-committal, blue sky conversations with Trey and Greg about a possible live show since the show rebooted in 2015, but it started to sound serious as we wrapped up Season 6 filming. When they came back to us, Hal Rucker had been hired as the project manager and builder wrangler. He, like many builders, ourselves included, believed the cleanest and simplest path would be to crowdsource some elements from builders, but have one dedicated team do all the design work. This would be the best way to ensure maximum standardization and uniform performance. Of course a bunch of engineers and STEM-adjacent people want to do it that way! Well, the people with decades of experience running TV and theater shows disagreed. They made a strong case that there would be too much risk of that uniformity translating into a feeling of sameness across the robots. Specifically, they’d all drive almost exactly the same speed with too-similar wheel bases or the stylings would be overly familial. On top of all of that, Trey really wants as many builders involved as possible. He doesn’t just want to buy a stable of robots to run a show in Vegas, even if it would be more cost efficient. With a big enough check, anyone could make that happen, meaning it’s less special. Now that we’ve seen almost all of the robots in the show, we’ve shifted closer to their perspective. The robots are better differentiated having come from a spread of teams. Each one is cool and exciting for its own reasons, just like the real show.
So why am I writing this? I’m seeing the same questions being asked frequently and I want to just link this instead of answering them. I'll update it as I learn more things to share.
What the heck is DAT?
DAT is the acronym for DESTRUCT-A-THON, the BattleBots live show in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can buy tickets here: https://www.ticketmaster.com/battlebots-las-vegas-tickets/artist/2929055
Why is there a live show?
It’s fun and cool and we need a place for new robots to be tested. The live show creates a persistent revenue stream for BattleBots. That money helps fund keeping the arena set up. The BattleBox is a herculean logistical challenge unto itself. It requires cranes, electricians, about a dozen experienced people, and five full size trucks to relocate the arena. Relocating it also implies we don’t know where it’ll be from year to year. Finding a space big enough for the arena is somewhat challenging. Add on the necessary acres and power and nearby housing for several hundred competitors and dozens of staff members, and you have most of the plates spinning for just hosting the event. Now you need to manage a TV deal. Oh, and you don’t really have a budget other than your own pocket until you have a TV deal.
Why should I care?
A nightly live show solves or removes a lot of those problems, like how do you pay staff to work on a prospective event which may happen on an irregular schedule. It also makes a lot of those solutions permanent, like the location. Is it the perfect location? There’s massive hotels within walking distance, restaurants that can handle a party of twelve at 1am with no reservation, ample space, and large reserves of caterers and production staff. It’s hot, but rain is a nightmare when dealing with robots. The dry air and hardcore air conditioning creates a lot of static, but paint dries fast and 3D printer filament is a little more cooperative. If I could change anything, I’d want a McMaster-Carr warehouse across the street. All of this contributes to the show improving. A better show means happier fans, bigger sponsorship opportunities, and more kids finding a love for STEAM (yes, you too art kids).
Are the fights and robots real?
The fights are absolutely real. The damage is real (and expensive!). Where it differs from any other event is it isn’t a competition. For the TV show, there are considerations made, mostly in design and outside the arena, to make everything more entertaining, but everyone is driving to win. It’s certainly sporting and appreciated to free a stuck opponent early in a fight, but as a team gets deeper into the tournament, there’s a lot of motivation to just leave an opponent stuck. In the live show, winning is irrelevant. There’s a mild desire to mitigate damage and avoid the most brutal execution shots for the sake of longevity, but the bots are built to take it. Most of the bots ended up well over 300lbs as we scaled up armor and structures. There are some discrete fastener choices to enable some outer armor to fly off rather than get smashed in, which sounds silly, but means more parts go flying in a fight.
We’re still trying to navigate how to refer to the “real” robots while not diminishing the ShowBots. “ShowBots”, “live show robots”, or “Destruct-A-Thon bots” are all pretty clear. There will be non-ShowBots fighting during the same nightly events, tentatively starting sometime in March. They’re calling those fights “Proving Grounds”. To the best of our knowledge, they will be recorded and put on YouTube or maybe compiled into a special episode during Season 8 (this doesn’t count as Season 8 confirmed).
Teams will be able to bring their own robots to fight other teams in Proving Grounds. Those robots will not be fighting ShowBots. Not "probably won’t," or "they’ll only do it in special circumstances." They won’t. The ShowBots aren’t built to the same rules or for the same conditions. Teams participating in Proving Grounds fights are trying to show they should be on BattleBots the TV show and need to push their robots to the limits. ShowBots won’t do that. They’re 30% heavier and built for reparability. Mixing the fights will have one of two outcomes: the Proving Grounds robots will break themselves fighting what’s essentially a super heavyweight, or the ShowBots will get shredded beyond repair.
Should I go see it?
Yes, emphatically. It’s awesome, and it’s only going to get better. The show is running a reduced schedule for the first few weeks and they’re only fighting with the showbots for now. Proving Grounds is supposed to start in March and there are already teams preparing for it. Some are completely new builds hoping to earn one of the 50-ish spots for the TV show, some are established teams looking to test something out, a few are just being built for fun.
Superfans, who I assume is nearly everyone reading this, may get tripped up by the uncanny valley aspects of watching look-a-like robots fight. Having seen most of the fights from the first two weeks remotely, it’s grown on us quickly. It’s a little weird. Seeing how HyperShock and Witch Doctor are driven by other people is odd, but it works. The fights are great. There are kinks to work out, but every day has been an improvement over the last. The driving team is getting incredible amounts of stick time, they’re going to be phenomenal in just a few weeks. I can’t wait to see if that transfers back to their respective TV robots. The more expensive VIP ticket packages will get you access to the pits after the show if you want to see the damaged robots up close. Check the ticket descriptions for those details.
Are there concessions or merch?
Yes. There is food and drinks and a whole bar. They're also selling shirts, hats, and toys, just like at filming.
How does Proving Grounds work?
I’ll update this section once the details are finalized. The official word so far has been anything that meets the design criteria on the BattleBots website will be allowed to fight. The scheduling system will ensure that teams have an opponent and that there aren’t too many teams showing up the same day.
Teams that impress the selection committee members present will likely be invited to the next season of BattleBots. It’s quite likely that new builds from domestic teams will be all but required to attend a DAT event before getting to the TV show.
Who drives the robots at Destruct-a-thon?
So far it has been a mix of visiting builders and Trey. At one point there were discussions about teaching the ambassadors to drive the robots, but I think that’s been shelved. It’s much easier to have a rotating team of a few expert drivers. Veteran builders attending the show can probably convince Trey to let them drive a showbot.
Who built the robots?
Other than Ginsu, all the the DAT robots with TV counterparts have been built by their original team. Hal Rucker somehow built Ginsu while managing the 10 other builder teams. Teams were paid and the costs of the robots were covered by BattleBots. BattleBots wholly owns the robots and have a perpetual license to use them in the show. We’re still working with them to figure out how to keep everything running smoothly. No one has ever done this on this scale. Managing spare parts for all these robots is a massive undertaking. I do not envy the repair crew. By the way, if you’re in Las Vegas and know how to turn wrenches, they’re hiring.
Who's on stage with my Favorite Bot?
As much as we'd all love to fight robots every night, we don't all live in Vegas so it's impossible to be there for every show. To fill the role, each team has Ambassadors to hype the crowd, bring the team spirit, and be our surrogates at DAT. Some nights you might get a surprise team member visiting, or another famous bot builder making a special appearance, but the Ambassadors will be there every show as our, well, ambassadors. They are not pretending to be your favorite builders, nobody is masquerading as Andrea Gellatly or Matt "Spark". We've met them and can say they're awesome and excited to be a part of the BattleBots Cinematic Universe™. Some have even read these blogs to better understand HyperShock and what BattleBots is all about!
Why can’t I watch it on YouTube?
It’s a live performance, like Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group. Marketing teasers go out, and every so often they might produce a DVD edition of that season’s show, but these live Vegas shows aren’t streamed. Ticket sales, merch and concessions are what makes this possible!
Are there judges?
No, the winner of a non-KO fight goes to audience vote by crowd noise. It sounds a little silly, but they did it at the most recent re:MARS and it was fun.
The following questions have been asked many times and the answer to all of them is no:Do the win/loss records of the live show versions of TV robots matter?
Are the teams I see on TV driving their robot every night in Vegas?
Are the robots at the live show the same as they are on TV?
Can I bring my own robot to fight the show bots?