Battlebots 2021* Finals Recap: Revolution

Look at that stat-line.

Battlebots has never had a champion that looked like this before.

The obvious – there was never a champion before that didn’t possess “the strongest, hardest-hitting weapon” at the time of the Championship. Debates could be made that Tombstone was better than Bite Force in 2015 or 2018, but Tombstone has NEVER beaten Bite Force so I think history has bore out this truth. The biggest weapons (and most reliable of the biggest weapons) always won in the modern era, until today.

  • 2015: Bite Force
  • 2016: Tombstone
  • 2018: Bite Force
  • 2019: Bite Force
  • 2020: End Game

No, this was a completely different kind of champion. This champion invested their $ and weight in armor first and foremost (holy moly did they ever take visible damage?) and the second priority was that ridiculously strong drive train. Tantrum didn’t drive into other robots to hit them, they drove into them to push them around. The third top priority surely was their design and GETTING LOW. They weren’t the absolute lowest (Hydra can attest to that) but they were in the top echelon for that quality, and their design very effectively drew the opposing robot up and over them, where they could either push them around and punch with the disk spinner. The weapon, while still awesome and key to their success, had to be the fourth priority after these first three. Also, worth mentioning, they were a Runt! But a thoroughly steadfast runt

That weapon – I kind of pooh-poohed it before, because it simply doesn’t compare in intensity or impact strength to many of the others, and certainly the champions before them. It is a mediocre spinner in terms of size and concussive power. But! It also can never be jammed up! This is because it can be retracted essentially back onto Tantrum’s body and out of harms way, then pushed to the front when they want to make contact with their adversary. That is a huge deal – if Tantrum drives into another robot and pins them in the corner, in almost all cases the other robot will be unable to use their weapon, because Tantrum is blocking it from spinning up. At the same time Tantrum’s weapon is fully live! The punching feature was obviously important in deliving bigger shots that sent the opponent out of the arena (see the conclusions of the Rotator and Cobalt matches) but the retractability was just as important in protecting it and allowing it to work in close quarter fighting. Look at the final minute of the INSANE Rotator match, the only thing Tantrum had going for it was to keep Rotator pinned and keep delivering the small but effective shots that ultimately broke their enemy down. Apparently in the offseason they worked hard on the reliability of the punching mechanism, something about new tracks. It showed! I remember the weapon breaking down multiple times last playoffs, against Fusion (didn’t cost them) and then against End Game (that might have cost them the title).

Tantrum worked for their title, they were a colorful champion that endured a lot of crazy, wild fights from many different robots and robot types. In order: Gigabyte, Rotator, Cobalt, Hydra, Witch Doctor. That is a varied cast of killers. None of those fights were easy, none of them. They were all different opponents requiring different strategies and Tantrum got through them all. I’ve got them at 7-0 this season after a 5-1 finish last year, that’s a 12-1 stretch. Ridiculous! Further cementing their dominance (and deserved title) is the fact the only loss in that stretch was to End Game, their predecessor as champion, and Tantrum “had them in the first half, not gonna lie” before things came apart from them after a bad strategic decision and they got KO’d.

(Also – we need to add Dylan and Tantrum to the list of Elite Drivers. Their performance this playoffs was legendary, especially in the final 3 fights that aired in this episode. The precision required to avoid Cobalt’s weapon, and then Hydra’s, and then outdrive WD so badly that they didn’t land a single shot (and Tantrum didn’t have to worry about their spinning failing against a much bigger spinner). The robot’s toughness and lowness were huge contributors of course but it came down to driving at the end. Dylan(Dillon?) is phenomenal, especially in those two fights today when it mattered most. That part of their championship should not be overlooked.)

Anyhow, the fights! I am going to rush through the ones that weren’t particularly significant or interesting, so we can dwell on the significant ones. Here goes

Sawblaze over Riptide

This went pretty much exactly how I predicted, Sawblaze’s forks were of an angle that would cause Riptide’s weapon to bounce off of it. That put them on their head, which is a major handicap, and eventually Sawblaze assisted in flipping them to an extent that they could not recover from.

I think Sawblaze was nervous, there were a couple moments that made me wonder if Riptide was going to flip the script, but ultimately he held up and rode his innate advantage to a solid victory. First time in the Final Four!!! That’s worth celebrating…even if it didn’t end up going very well. That comes later.

Tantrum over Cobalt

Again, pretty much exactly how the Battleblog handicapped it. Tantrum had to stay low, stay conservative, and completely avoid any possibility that Cobalt could hit them with their weapon. They got the job done. This was the first of three high-wire acts by Tantrum this evening, each fight had a different shaped robot with a different weapon that had to be carefully avoided. The driving by Tantrum all night was amazing, and while the team itself were overwhelmed with the anxiety of The Most Dangerous Weapon lurking right in front of them, to the viewer this was a nice easy romp, and it was just a matter of time until (a fully healthy) Tantrum would disable them. The tossing them out of the arena for a Knockout was a nice surprise a welcome twist (Great Shot Tantrum!) but the end was inevitable.

Cobalt will be back and I expect expectations will be sky high. They were the wildest story of the season IMO, a stumbling bumbling killer, a blind man holding a chainsaw. I mean, they really have the BEST WEAPON in the field right now, and probably a top 10 overall design. They are incredibly exciting to watch. It’s been a wild ride, the Whiplash upset is a historic one, and yet I wasn’t ready to honor them as the Champion, they have too many warts. This is the right outcome. Thank you, gentlemen, the best is still ahead of you. Thank you.

Hydra over Blip

Three for three on the matches, all going the way I prescribed. Hooah!

I don’t want to waste words here, Blip had a nice season but needs more experience and more tough matches. They faced, in order

  • Rusty
  • Overhaul
  • Lock-Jaw
  • Valkyrie
  • Jackpot
  • And then Hydra

What a step up here, the rest of their opponents are fine but flawed. Rookies aren’t supposed to win the title and go very far at all, we are lucky to have three keepers in Blip Riptide and Glitch (RIP).

The final thing I’ll say – Blip you Idiot, you need to have a working self-righting mechanism when you are FIGHTING a Flipper, and also FACING a Flipper. This is kind of Robotology 101. I couldn’t help but notice that while Blip was experiencing their frenzy of flips Hydra was getting stuck on the floor, struggling to move. That’s exactly the kind of moment that Blip needed to take advantage of. And there they were, repeatedly flinging themselves into the air, only to eventually pin themselves on the Upper Deck and die there. Not great! No tears for them, Hydra has a fellow flipper and a rival. The sport continues to expand.

Witch Doctor over Minotaur

I’m not a person that likes to dwell on controversy or drama/scandal or whatever word wants to apply to what happened in the Minotaur-Witch Doctor match, and then leaked over into the next fight (Hydra-Tantrum). That’s not what I’m here for…I really just want to be happy with my sport and trust it’s on the right track. Things won’t always be perfect. This night a lot of people seemed upset on Twitter (and booing live in the audience), at the end of the day I think the “right” robots won and nothing particularly dirty happened. These fights are close! People do have different perspectives! But also sometimes crazy, crazy things happen and a weird sequence of events plays out. That was 100% the case here, it was nuts.

Here are the facts as I see them:

– Minotaur was absolutely dominating the first 90 seconds and was, at that point, skating their way to an easy win. However, and this is important, Witch Doctor had absorbed all the damage and…really didn’t seem to bear any negative effects from the beating. They were moving fine (if a hair slower), weapon was working, they were missing a wedge but that was it.

– THEN, something happened. What happened was a horrible, horrible self-induced error by Minotaur, and/or a terrible bit of luck. What appeared to happen was Minotaur tried to do their weird side-rotation move where they get up on one wheel (and I believe use the energy of their weapon to make the move?), and it completely flopped. They lost control of their bot, they were helpless on their side for a moment, and then they landed in the worst possible spot for this robot – onto the screws on the sides of the upper deck.

I could make an inference here and say that Minotaur made a needlessly risky move in a match that was just about sown up, and it cost them EVERYTHING. It might have been the worst in-game decision we’ve seen this year (though that category gets more competitive each week!). Or maybe it was some weirdness with the robot (who was taking and deliving many big shots) that caused the glitch, I don’t know. I’m not going to bury Mr Minotaur for this, they’re already buried. Anyhow…

– Minotaur went from full control of the match to being helpless and thoroughly stuck. An excited Witch Doctor shock off their latest trauma and came flying over to assist in Mino’s demise. WD helped pushed them up, they were fully stuck on the top of the screws for a moment, and then they were pulled up. They managed to land on their feet on top of the upper deck and get down, but the disaster had occurred by then. One of their two wheels was gone. They would never move properly again.

At this point in time, the match was over. Witch Doctor (unless they managed to self-sabotage themselves, and getting stuck doesn’t count) was going to win.

Sure, there was a lot that happened after this, but I think it’s immaterial. At this point with 90 seconds to go one robot can drive successfully and one cannot, the End Result of that is that the functional robot wins and moves on. That’s what was going to happen. Now…

– Should the refs have counted out Minotaur instead of letting the fight go the distance, thus unfairly placing the onus on the Judges to “make good”? Yes. I think so. That was not translational movement. It was only one wheel!

– Witch Doctor did get stuck in the wall there and was freed from the predicament, per the Battlebots policy. Was that handled correctly? We don’t see that happen a lot, Time being called, but if that’s the policy than that’s the policy. I didn’t think they called it too quickly, Minotaur had around ten seconds to find and attack Witch Doctor when they were stuck (Minotaur had just gotten off the upper deck). It couldn’t find and attack WD, because it had one wheel and could barely move! So what are we supposed to do, sit around and watch a limping, spiraling Minotaur try to circle around and “find” Witch Doctor, so they could (attempt to) attack them? I don’t have a lot of interest in watching that (and how long could they possibly wait to free WD). I do think that if Mino had hit them WD would probably have been freed, and then they could have settled the fight then and there, at least avoiding the break that seemed to kill momentum and piss everybody off. Either way though, my stance is the outcome was determined once Mino got caught on the screws and lost a wheel.

– Yes, Witch Doctor should have engaged rather than making a mockery of the fight and joy-riding around the arena for 90 seconds as if allergic to phsyical contact. That was a bad look that served to get everyone more worked up and more angry about the outcome. But whatever, it’s not their job to “do the right thing”, they were trying to win and not risk anything crazy happening. I can’t put any blame on them in this case.

– I will throw blame at Minotaur’s team for, at the very least, having bad sportsmanship. The captain tried to get things back on track and tried to be gracious…none of them were as polite as they should have been. Tough loss, tough luck, I get it, but nothing is more sacred at Battlebots than Sportsmanship, in my opinion. When Hydra spoke after his loss a few minutes later it couldn’t have been more disparate, that’s how you do it. The Brazillian Passion finally overflowed and this was the result.

Anyhow, I was rooting for Mino but Witch Doctor won fair and square. The real story here (buried beneath everything else) was the showcase of durability by the Voodoo Children. That was ridiculous! How did they keep everything working after enduring that punishment? What a performance, that was incredible.

Now, before we get to Tantrum-Hydra (and whatever controversy lies there), I found this very interesting…

“How I spent my summer vacation”

ok this one is ridiculous

I thought there had to be some advantage for Blip and Tantrum, some bit of shared knowledge that would make a difference. Well, it wasn’t an insight or something that happened in the Hydra-Blip match. It was the fact that last year, while Blip were being developed, the Guinea Pig for all that flipping was Tantrum.

And look at that, Tantrum held up better than ANYONE I’ve seen take a high number of flips. I counted 9, a few were really weak but the others were serious, this wasn’t the Hydra/Whiplash fight last season where the potency of the launcher was diminished. Hydra was in prime form, but they couldn’t damage Tantrum. That was the key.

Tantrum over Hydra

This is definitely one of the hardest Judging decisions I’ve seen in the show’s history. Here’s my breakdown

Control, 3 Points

– for flipping Tantrum ~9 times I would award Hydra 2 points here and Tantrum one. Tantrum did take control a few times. Still, flipping someone is a clear demonstration of control. This is the easy one! All Judges agree with this.

Aggression, 3 Points

– in the official ruling this was the contested decision. It really comes down to how one defines aggression.

Well, Tantrum did 70% of the driving (maybe more), they were circling and weaving around Hydra like a predator, trying to find an opening. They were not often avoiding or running away from Hydra, but certainly could have initiated contact more. They were flipped 9ish times and grabbed Hydra 4 or 5 times…I don’t know. Hydra at times was definitely pursuing them, at times they just rotated in place (the Turret approach). I will say it did seem like most of Tantrum’s flips were one-offs, it didn’t seem like Hydra was chasing him down the way he has in past fights, even some this year (Ribbot and Gruff come to mind).

I don’t know! If one robot is doing all the moving, both engaging and avoiding the other, and the opponent just sits there pointed at the other one but doesn’t really pursue…it’s a tough call. And epistimological question, perhaps. What truly is aggression?

Well … and I don’t want to throw the Judges or anyone under the bus … but it was clear to me the previous week that the Judges were getting sick of ‘Hydra’s Act’, by which I mean they didn’t like the strategy they were employing. The fight that got the Judges annoyed was the one against Black Dragon. In case you’ve forgotten – Hydra flipped Black Dragon 17 times and was barely touched by BD. Black Dragon famously employed a strategy of “just keep driving onto the flipper until something good happens” (nothing good happened). I thought it was one of the clearest victories we’d seen, Hydra completely dominated the match. Here are the scorecards

Yup, they were unimpressed with Hydra’s lack of mobility (and probably annoyed that Hydra was hiding their own limitations by being “patient”). The point is, whether fair or not, the Judges were ticked off with Hydra and were going to rule against them if there was a close match and they weren’t being aggressive enough. That came to pass against Tantrum, and here’s the result.

Damage, 5 Points

– This one is even more interesting and subjective, but I keep thinking about it. What should the damage numbers have been here? Judges all said 3-2 Tantrum. That’s fine…but…I mean…did Tantrum take any damage whatsoever?

I’m 100% on the fence here, half of me thinks that Tantrum won this 4-1. They broke Hydra’s flipper, first screwing up the alignment and then chewing the front part right off. That wasn’t an extreme amount of damage, Hydra otherwise seemed fine (and could still flip, if they got the robot to climb onto their head!) and Tantrum never got around to attack the sides as Jake pointed out. But on the other hand, did anything happen to the other guy?

Tantrum looked healthy to me. Drive was fine and unaffected, weapon was working perfectly, no scars or visible damage. Someone (Chris?) mentioned they were smoking at the end, I didn’t see anything (not saying it wasn’t there). Still, can’t you see how a 4-1 split for Tantrum would be defensible here? Tantrum messed up Hydra’s main weapon, Hydra didn’t really damage anything on Tantrum at all. Flips are not Damage! Flips are Control! Damage is Damage, and Hydra just didn’t deliver any. There wasn’t much damage here for either side, I think the bulk of it belonged to Tantrum.

I’m not saying that Tantrum should have gotten 4 out of 5 points here, I’m not sure what the right ruling is. My point is, Tantrum had a good argument for 4/5 points, and for 2/1 aggression points, and I think their argument is stronger than the argument on the other side. Thus, I am perfectly happy to say they deserved the win.

How about the unsettled Battlebots crowd, still worked up from the Minotaur-Witch Doctor debacle, throwing out all kinds of boos during the Hydra decision and interviews thereafter? What a lively and spirited group! I’m glad we dodged a riot today but if they want to throw one this summer when I’m in Vegas watching live I’m all for it. Will bring bloody knuckles.

Witch Doctor over Sawblaze

After all that drama, after too straight matches of booing by the shockingly rowdy and riled up Battlebots Audience, what everyone needed was a laughably inept performance by a high-profile robot in a big spot, to relieve the tension and allow the crowd to unite in laughing at some poor soul falling short of accomplishing his lifelong dream.

Thankfully Sawblaze was up next.

I don’t want to spend much time here calling him a Choker or whatever. He had a great season. He took another step forward, this was clearly and undeniably the greatest permutation of the robot we’ve ever seen, and momentum says he will keep climbing and be on the top of the mountain soon. I think the Paradigm Shift this postseason broke against him and in another mix of bots he could have closed and secured the Nut.

Still…the bottom line is he had 7 matches this year. Five of them he won, almost all with impressive displays of domination. In the other two (against Former Champion End Game and Perpetual Runner-Up Witch Doctor) he didn’t have his robot facing the right way when the other robot hit him and he lost both matches immediately as a result.

…I don’t know what to think here! Does this mean he had two bad moments, either driving mistakes or just bad luck, and otherwise is a near perfect robot? How much does 2 matches in a sample size of 7 matter? It’s not like it happened once, it happened TWICE! But that’s hardly enough to say it wasn’t more random than anything else. There will be no answers to my Sawblaze questions now, maybe next year can clarify things for me. The Battleblog needs an offseason too.

(Speaking of things I don’t know what to think about, let’s revisit my somewhat prescient comments on Witch Doctor before the Finals episode.

“Though I’ve been riding WD correctly for a while now…I have no idea what to make of their ceiling. How do they far in the new crowd of ‘Bruisers and Flippers’ that remain in the Final 8? And how do they match up against Minotaur? Right now I have no idea. They made the finals in 2019 before losing to Bite Force, who is not present in the remaining tournament (nor is his son End Game). Witch Doctor’s season did end last year to Sawblaze, so that fact is pretty relevant now, and they lost to Hydra last year in the regular season (it was a split decision and I think a rematch could go either way). But seriously, how will they do against Minotaur? Would they have a chance against Tantrum or Blip? I don’t know!!! They’re old school (vertical spinner and speed), the new school has arrived and its short and tough and very unrelenting. We’ll see.

“Did you see that backflip though?”

Ummm…I don’t know if anything is settled! They beat Minotaur in a match that they got completely dominated in for 90 seconds, and then they won this (probably?) flukey win against Sawblaze. Then they got completely owned by Tantrum and lost that one. So I will also hold my hands up at the Voodoo Children, while congratulating them on a great season and a wonderful and rather surprising playoff run to the finals. They are a true reliable contender, every season)

Tantrum over Witch Doctor

And then we had the Final, for the entire season, and it was over pretty much as soon as it began. There was only one significant moment, and it happened to be…the

HIT of the Week

Tantrum’s weapon has really grown on me over the tournament, and while it’s still a less powerful tool than most other robots it is quite effective. There’s something about the combo of spinning and punching that launches opponents into the air. In this case Witch Doctor got tossed easily (they aren’t big on the “ground game”, it finally hurt them right here) and then Tantrum ran the spinner over their soft belly, and something got messed up. Some bit of armor must have been bent downward, it kept Witch Doctor high-centered and unable to move with deliberation. And that was basically it!

Overall, while not perfect (nothing ever is) I loved this season, and I thought the field of contending bots was by far the most numerous, diverse and interesting that the sport has ever seen, culminating in this very unique champion and a REVOLUTION. It was great fun to watch.

Battleblog will be closing up shop for at least a little while (what’s up with the Bounty Episodes and all those extra hours of content the contract promised? Something is coming but the Twitter account is silent and I’m not sure when to expect more BB). I have a few more posts I’d like to get out there, some fun stuff (Postseason Awards, tracking Power Rankings of the eventual Champion and other playoff winners, breakdown on my Weekly Picks) but overall the important things have been covered here. Go Tantrum! Thank you Battlebots!!!

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