Battlebots Playoff Week 1 Recap: Six Killings and a Funeral

Battlebots Playoff Week 1 Recap:          Six Killings and a Funeral

Well, umm, most of that was very straightforward and predictable! And then there was that other fight…

Nine fights in week 1, two were ignominously kicked to YouTube and briefly summarized near the end of the episode. And a shame too, because one of those was very interesting and should not be overlooked. The other…gee, I dunno, if Lucky and Copperhead fought twenty times, would Lucky win a couple of them? One maybe?

So yeah, we’re going to skate through seven of the matchups with minimal commentary, then spend some time breaking down the violence of Huge-Uppercut, and then really dig into what might have been the most interesting match of the season to date. The twists, the turns, the incredibly reckless decisions, all of it. It was wild.

Riptide over Shatter!

An upset seeding-wise but not in reality. Riptide is Good! More significantly – I initially predicted this would be the year of Durability, that Durability would be the premier quality that determines matches and leads us to the winner. That definitely didn’t happen! Instead this is the year of Power Weapons, where pretty much the bigger weapon wins 90ish% of the time. You can look at the playoff seeding, if you remove Whiplash and Sawblaze (although Jesus, that saw is vicious! Might be a top weapon anyhow) and then Blip in the 7 slot pretty everyone else has a SUPER POWERFUL weapon, all the way through to like seed 19. In most matches this year the bigger weapon wins, period. That’s the current trend. Not super interesting or notable! But that’s it, that’s current climate of the sport.

Anyhow, Riptide’s high-energy weapon is a mismatch against Shatter!’s archaic hammer, that’s why they won. To nit-pick: I didn’t like Shatter!’s gameplan/approach (what was it?), went without forks and a straight wedge at the front…I dunno. Seemed sub-optimal. I think you should try something different next time.

P1 over Hypershock

We’ll come back to this one.

Skorpios over Malice

Ok, I guess this breaks the “Power Weapon” rule I outlined a couple paragraphs ago. Skorpios breaks the mold, they’re in the Sawblaze-Whiplash family. But also Malice’s weapon breaks all the time!

Skorpios is good, against a lesser opponent the fight is never in doubt, and he puts on a good show too. That’s exactly the right strategy here to beat Malice – lead wedge first, break their weapon, then drag them around and embarass them. I gotta say – the saw looks good this year too! Maybe the year of Hammer-Saw is not a pipe dream! Anyhow, Malice had an ok season taking part in some notable fights (Blacksmith) but overall their design needs some re-evaluation.

Minotaur over Bloodsport

Well, at least it was fun to watch!

Minotaur on a good day is an absolute blast, what a fun robot. They’re definitely better than Bloodsport, still that was a very bad matchup stylistically for the boys out of Boston. Bloodsport needs space, they need to be able to drive around and spin up the weapon, then land a shot, than repeat the process. Minotaur was never going to let them do that, Minotaur always stays on their adversary like a shadow. It was not to be.

(I’m certainly not kicking dirt on Bloodsport, but I do wonder – can we get the weapon to hit harder, be more deadly? Seems like it lost a bit of punch after last season when they earned the two seed)

Sawblaze over HiJinx

“Sawblaze, baby, can you not only dominate this match, but refuse to let it end? To the point that you’re dragging the innards of HiJinx across the arena and the refs are letting the match continue, because technically a rolling battery pack constitutes movement?”

“Sure thing, Battleblogger!”

And he did. What a dominant, DOMINANT showing for the my pick to win it all. Four fights left, the first one was perfect. Let’s do this.

Also, holy guacomole, that weapon looks TERRIFYING. Have we ever seen a hammer/saw/hammer-saw that was doing this to other robots? Sawblaze never had offensive juice like this in the past. (You can see why I believe it’s THEIR year)

Witch Doctor over Mammoth / Glitch

Kraken didn’t have much (anything really) to smile about this season, until now.

Glitch could boast at being the only robot in years to knock out Kraken, and look what it cost him!

They couldn’t get their weapon running for the next match and eventually ran out of time. Gee, isn’t that interesting! Call me crazy but I think breaking Kraken’s back Bane-style was a bad decision for them. The weapon literally couldn’t recover and Glitch misses the playoffs. Brutal luck sure, I feel for the kids. But still, for the Kraken fans out there it’s been a cold winter. At least he can say he affected the playoffs! Glitch may have KO’d Kraken in the last fight, but Kraken’s indestructibility appears to have KO’d Glitch’s season in the end.

Anyhow, they subbed in Mammoth as the next man up (the right pick), but they couldn’t do anything to stop the Witch Doctor, who is now gathering a lot of momentum. I mean wow, they were supposed to fight the 9 seed, and they got to fight the 35th seed! Lucky Ducks! They killed Mam in seconds, it was hardly a fight, and WD really has a chance in their next two matches against Copperhead and, yes, End Game. The table is set for them, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to come down to driving and strategy, but it’s doable! Very doable! Can’t wait.

End Game over Skorpios

The editing and long buildup to this main event really made me think Skorpios was going to win! He didn’t!

I didn’t like the fork choice for Skorpios here, not sure what that was supposed to do. Confuse him maybe? Skorp never really got going, End Game looked great, and this one was over fast. Still, another matchup where End Game fought a non high-powered weapon, that’s 3 out of 4 this year. He will NOT be so lucky in the next two fights (Minotaur and winner of Witch Doctor/Copperhead). End Game’s mettle will truly and thoroughly be tested, starting in two weeks.

Uppercut over Huge

So I guess I see why they pushed this to YouTube – very quick fight (under 50 secs) that had a lot going on, then a weird confusing resolution…I get it. The real cost would have been how much time it would have required to give it proper treatment, explaining what exactly happened and how we should feel about it. They didn’t do it on the show, so I’ll do it here! But yeah I thought this was a very interesting fight, very close obviously (Double-KO Judges’ Decision) and tells us a bit about both robots.

Also, here’s the fight! Right here! Watch it!

In the pre-fight Mr Uppercut mentioned he was feeling confident because his robot was tall enough to hit Huge’s body. I was not expecting that to be the case! That certainly would have made me pick Uppercut, not that anyone cares about these picks.

The fight starts, Uppercut pursued a little bit (not the quickest bot on a box rush) and Huge dodged him easily. Both weapons got up to speed, then they tried to meet in the middle, dancing and evading a little bit. Finally they connected, and WOW. I mean, obviously this was the

HIT of the Week

An absoulely concussive blow. Kenny seemed to give credit to Uppercut, I don’t know about that. Look at how far UC went flying! We haven’t seen them respond like that. I think this was more Huge (who also flew backwards at great speed, but he’s on giant wheels and that is going to happen!) and/or just two very high-powered weapons colliding. I was impressed with Huge’s weapon this year, I thought it took a big leap forward, but that was against lesser competition. Not in this case! Huge’s weapon held up in a big spot.

So both robots are on their backs for a moment, it appeared Uppercut recovered quicker and Huge might have already been compromised. Nevertheless they’re pushing each other around in the middle of the box and here Huge scored some real points. The undettered vertical blade took off Uppercut’s self-righting arms (this will be VERY significant in a moment), this looked pretty intentional. Again, good weapon work by Huge. Uppercut seized the moment though by (very astutely IMO) deciding to push Huge into the short corner. Uppercut was going to be able to push Huge around anyhow, and in this situation with both robots already limping and Uppercut having trouble with the weapon-on-weapon exchanges, this was a brilliant idea. It won them the match.

Huge took a big hit between the bullying Uppercut and the back wall, at this point they were basically out. But maybe they had a little movement lef, or maybe Uppercut just followed up a very good decision with a very poor one. He continued to attack Huge, who still had their blade going full tilt. Dude! I get it, you’re sticking to your strategy by staying aggressive and trying to wrap things up, trying to take a wounded robot down. But you just lost your self-righting mechanisms ten seconds earlier, it just happened! You HAVE to be careful! Low and behold, Huge gets in a good shot, Uppercut topples, and…we have this.

Crazy crazy stuff. It did seem like Huge was incapacitated first and then UC foolishly re-engaged a moment later, but the refs, probably giddy at the thought of calling this one again, counted out a double-KO and sent the fight to the judges, less than 50 seconds after it began. Wild. That was the right call IMO.

Uppercut moves on, and they’ve certainly tightened things up with their strategy and general robustness this season. Their gameplans have been good (usually aggressive), they’re moving a little faster, their durability is improved. I mean damn, they could have died on their first exchange, they went FLYING into the back wall. The team and robot are more mature. Still, there’s this comical and blunderous cloud that this robot cannot escape…first there was the BRUTAL upset loss to Ribbot ending last season (looks better now with Rib in the 2 seed) and then he’s barely moving after the Free Shipping explosion (thankfully the other guy got it even worse), and here he’s essentially has the fight against Huge locked up and yet manages to let an immobile robot pin him. If Huge moves at all after Uppercut got flipped, then Huge moves on! That’s how close it was! And obviously Uppercut thought they were still alive or he wouldn’t have charged in with that attack. So yeah, I will be rooting for Uppercut in their future matches, they’re maybe the wildest show in the sport with the best KOs of anyone…but I don’t think they are possibly durable enough or even adept enough to win four more matches. SOMETHING, not someone, will eventually take them down.

I thought it was a nice semi-bounceback season for Huge, who followed up a very-forgivable loss to Riptide (who is currently alive and in the Sweet 16) with strong wins over Retrograde and Switchback (rookies but not complete bums) and then a representative showing against one of the elite bots in the sport. This was a 28 versus a 5 seed fight, it shouldn’t have been close. It was.

Alright, now it’s time to have some fun, a whole lot of fun, talking about a historic loss, a very surprising upset, and one of the most stunning moments I’ve ever seen as a Battlebots fan. “In which Hypershock tries to fly out of the arena, and over the moon…”

P1 over Hypershock

Oh boy………

Hypershock…baby…darling…are you ok? Do you need a hug? I mean yeah, of course you’re not ok, of course you need a hug. I watched the fight, along with everyone else.

Even now I continue to question the right way to frame this match. Was it a major upset? It was and it wasn’t. Should Hypershock have been considered a major favorite here? Again, yes and no, I think. Hypershock had beaten Slammo and Lock-Jaw, I don’t have their schedules in front of me but I believe the two were a combined 0-20 this season. P1 has been in some wars this year – they beat Valkyrie in what seemed like a serious upset at the time (FWIW Valkyrie won their other two fights) and then lost a close one to Ribbot where they almost lasted 3 minutes. Heck, last year P1 was 2-1 and Hypershock was 1-2, but HS was seeded higher and made the playoffs over P1. Honestly it’s perfect that these two robots of similar caliber ended up in this match together, and it ended up being such a modern classic. Anyhow, the reason why it ultimately does qualify as a serious upset is two-fold. First, Hypershock is a veteran of six(?) seasons now, the entire length of the Battlebots reboot, and while their success has been lacking in recent years they certainly have a lot of experience and (should) know what they’re doing out there. On the other hand this is P1’s second year, they’ve hardly played any matches of all and very few of consequence. But the second reason Hypershock should be favored is so screamingly obvious I feel stupid repeating it again – They Have a Weapon! P1 has no violent weapon, Hypershock has a very serious spinner (especially this year), there’s no comparison on that front. The whole point of the sport is knockouts! So if I tell you there are two robots fighting, and they’re of similar toughness speed and agility, but one has a weapon and one doesn’t…well duh, which one are you taking? Which one do you think is going to win?

Alright, haha, the fight. It starts off and it’s all Hypershock, it looks like a complete mismatch and HS is going to run away with it. Hypershock is getting under P1 with ease (surprising, I thought) and yeah, the weapon is kicking ass and P1 has no counter, beyond being pretty damn durable of course. So P1 gets completely flipped on an especially bad knock, he has to use his flipper to get himself righted, and for a moment P1 is there before Hypershock completely twisted around as he’s finding his footing.

(pic)

Hypershock decides here to rev his engine and drive at his opponent at top speed.

It looked good at the time!

Now, as I’ve noted a few times now, P1 has no weapon. Of course technically he does a “weapon”, it’s a flat lifting arm that extends off the top of the very sleek robot. But that’s not really the key part of P1’s anatomy, focusing on the idea of a weapon misses the point. The robot is flat and slanting, the body itself is a ramp. Or a jump. What P1 wants to have happen, in an ideal case, is for the other robot to drive over him and flip itself over. He mentioned this in the introduction to the fight that he was hoping for this. In a Bounty Hunter match last season P1 was fighting Skorpios (a far superior robot, I think most would agree) and near the end of the fight Skorp made a driving error, drove over P1’s front and slipped over, he couldn’t recover. P1 celebrated but time was too short for a knockout, he lost a judges decision. Had fights been 3 and a half minutes instead of 3 P1 would have won that match with a KO. The point is – it’s a tricky strategy, mostly because you have to depend on the other robot cooperating with you. But it can be successful.

On the other sideline, if you are Hypershock’s coach, you are repeatedly drilling one fact into him before the game: “The one mistake you can make is driving fast over P1 and flipping your robot, which will cost you control points and time for you to flip it back over. Under no circumstance should you be hitting P1 from distance at top speed.”

Sadly Bill Belichick does not coach Hypershock. Hypershock revved his engine as hard as he could, getting up to full speed, and zipped in there at a hundreds miles an hour with the weapon likewise humming at full power. He was going to land the deathblow on P1. His weapon never touched the other robot.

“The Evel Knievel of the Battlebox”

A moment later Hypershock is essentially airborne and I wondered for a moment if he was going to clear the wall and fly out of the arena in the most majestic self-Knockout of all time.

It was such a shocking moment as a viewer, because I’ve seen this moment many times before, one robot cocking back and firing a major hit, and I know the resulting physics – the attacker stays put and the attackee gets launched ten feet in the air. Yet here it was like Hypershock went through his adversary, instead of stopping from the hit Hypershock flew away, like Wile E Coyote having his painstakingly conceived master plan shredded in an instant. For the next minute (as Hypershock flopped around on the floor was a fish that jumped into the boat) I sat there stunned, trying to make sense of how this could happen. Of how the one thing P1 needed for a victory, the one thing Hypershock needed to avoid the most, had somehow transpired, and almost immediately. Again, have we ever seen a robot drive off something like that on this show before, seen someone truly soar through the air by their own volition/accord? This ain’t Motocross. It was simply unfathomable. P1 could only win if Hypershock made a huge error…and Hypershock gave it to him. Right away.

Anyhow, Hypershock spent maybe two minutes upside down, at one point P1 pushed him onto the upper deck. HS was having a terrible time righting himself, and I hadn’t realized it before but I guess his weapon doesn’t work when he’s inverted? That’s no good. He did get back on his feet for the home stretch and did deliver P1 a massive, MASSIVE hit that sent him just reeling. But of course, typical Hypershock, can’t have something positive with a corresponding issue – this broke his vertical spinner and he didn’t have his weapon down the stretch. Still it was a lot closer, the fight began and ended with P1 getting kicked around, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the victory.

It wasn’t all bad!

I still thought HS would pull the victory, but in hindsight I shouldn’t have. Two robots came into the match with a gameplan (well, I assume Hypershock had a napkin at least) yet only one of them was able to execute. P1 needed everything to go perfectly for them to take the win…it pretty much did (outside of probably taking too many big shots from Hypershock at the beginning or end). That type of execution and “imposing their will” is impressive and should be rewarded. P1 is an outlier, they always will be, it makes for a much better narrative and much more excitement when they succeed. They should feel great about this win, and while I do not like their chances against the 4 seed I’m sure they’ll show us a stellar effort and a great fight in two weeks. I just like to see someone succeeding the other way, the hard way, it’s good for the sport. A modern classic, it’s the fight of the tournament and upset of the tournament so far in 2021*. Luckily the night is young.

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