We had a new and wonderful experience at the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention this weekend. Our teammate, Collin, put things in motion with the organizers, so we shipped Season 5 and 6 HyperShocks up for the weekend. From a distance, spending the weekend standing behind a table talking to fans might not sound like the most enticing thing, but I promise it's some of the most fun we have in the off-season. Little kids have boundless joy, seeing their eyes pop and jaws drop when they realize what they’re looking at just brightens the room. Their parents and other adults range from cool and collected to equally exuberant.
Almost everyone who walks up, the first words out of their mouth are “It's so much bigger than I thought!” Maybe one fan in fifty finds the robot smaller than TV led them to believe, but overwhelmingly, people are blown away at the scale and weight of a full-size heavyweight robot sitting there in front of them. Visitors who stick around long enough to talk will follow up with questions about the weight, speed, and cost. After those basic questions, there’s a split based on how familiar they are with robots, RC cars or drones, or even motorsport to some extent. The more technically inclined fans tend to stick around the longest, asking questions about motor choice, battery capacity, and the materials we use. The least common, but some of the most interesting conversations come from fans or visitors with a background in media production. Those conversations tend to go pretty far behind the curtain talking about the logistics of keeping several hundred builders organized and fights to flow in front of a live studio audience.
Will voiced an interesting observation on the way to the airport; it is possible many of the fans are so surprised by the scale of the robots because they’re not paying attention to anything except the fights. When we mention that they can see the robots next to people as we come out of the tunnel or when we’re interviewed in the pits, their eyes glaze over a little, leading us to believe many fans just aren’t engaged with the non-fight content. We were asked a few times about seeing more fight damage or repair footage. A couple of people wanted to know what had happened to the Pit Reporter content from previous seasons. I think the conclusion we can draw from this is the non-fight content needs to be more engaging. Talking head interviews about “strategy” just don’t hold the audience’s attention.
What stood out to us in contrast to our experiences at Orlando Maker Faire and the South Florida fair is the difference in familiarity. At OMF, we’re standing just 50 feet away from heavy and insect weight fights alongside a dozen other teams. Many visitors specifically attend that Maker Faire specifically to see the robots. At the South Florida Faire, we also have always had a competition going on with us as the interactive backdrop. At Lexington Comic and Toy Con, we’re just another booth. We were completely on our own to draw in fans. We did meet a few fans who told us they’d specifically come to the Con to see us and the robots, a few were amazed to find “The Will Bales” in attendance from Miami. I make sure the fans that rush up to the table and call out “HyperShock!” immediately get to see Will. Their reactions are priceless. Con etiquette kinda dictates that fans ask before taking pictures as many exhibitors fund their displays through paid photography. We’re just there for exposure, so many fans light up when we tell them they can take whatever pictures they want.
I think the critical aspect of this experience has been interacting with the more casual part of the fanbase. We met a few people who were exclusively aware of BattleBots through YouTube or TikTok. Repeatedly we heard people say they didn’t have cable, but we also encountered a few who said they’d specifically subscribed to Discovery+ just to watch BattleBots. Something that has always stood out to me is how many of the invested fans are over sixty. More so than the younger fans, they’re really into the human-interest parts of the show and love hearing about how builders got into the sport or what we do with the rest of our lives.
We met a lot of fans who had no idea the show was back on. It's another one near the top of the list of opening remarks. Sometimes it's “I remember watching this when I was a kid.” or “Is that still on TV?” In some ways, those comments can feel pretty disappointing, but so often their excitement at finding out the show is not only still on, but actively airing for a few more weeks blasts that shadow away. Another source of pride for us this weekend was telling fans (mainly parents) that a HyperShock toy is due to hit shelves sometime soon. We had a highlight reel of fights running on a TV in our booth, we’d see groups gather for a minute or two to watch a fight play out. Of course, we’re only showing fights we won. One suggestion we had a few times as we should be selling/distributing signed team photos. It’s something we’ve considered before, but we’re so reluctant to manage any merchandise and shipping ourselves. I think we’ll take that up for any future display events though. We handed out a lot of stickers, signed a couple while we were at it.
Here are some other common questions and takeaways that I can’t put into a narrative. We don’t ever get tired of answering basic questions, we just get better at answering them.
Tombstone is the most common “favorite bot”
Many of these fans also said Tombstone needs wheel guards. (ok)
“Is Ray/Jake actually a jerk?” - They’re not, but damn are they good heels.
“Does Faruq write his intros?” - no, a team of writers do, but the energy and delivery are all him.
“How much of the announcing is scripted?” - between fights is almost entirely scripted, fight commentary is probably 80% live.
“How long do you have between fights?” - at least a day during the fight night portion, progressively less during the tournaments.
“How much does it cost?” - enough to be a problem.
“Do you get paid?” - HA! No.
“Can I pick this up/hold this/spin this?” - varies, usually “sure, but watch your fingers”
“Do the giant nut and bolt thread together?” - yes
We had a replica of the Giant Nut with us since Collin makes the trophies. Many fans called it a giant bolt though. Regardless of their hardware knowledge, many men wanted to pick it up.
“Can I buy one of these?” - for the price of a luxury sedan, sure.
“How much of it is custom?” - almost all of it.
"How does Blip work?" - uhh, flywheel spins up, clutch engages and twists up a bundle of plastic string, yanking on a lever making the flipper go.
“Put a gun/taser/drill on it!”, “Pneumatic spike”, “C4”, “EMP”, etc.