I’m going to begin the year by talking about Vertical Spinners.
Pretty much the entire modern history of the sport, and certainly the entire time I’ve been watching, a single weapon type has dominated the field. That is the vertical spinner.
Yes, I’m aware of Tombstone’s existence and that whole crazy thing. Yes he won the title in 2016. And Son of Whyachi won an important title around 20 years ago. I got it.
That’s all old history now. In the modern era the most Perfect Vertical Spinner of all time, Bite Force, won three of four titles (Tombstone won the other). After that End Game, who is basically Bite Force’s son, won a title, and then of course last year was a little different. But still! Look at the regular season records of the top vertical spinners last season.
- End Game: 3-0
- Uppercut: 2-0
- Jackpot: 2-0
- Hypershock: 2-0
- Ribbot (vertical config): 2-0
- Madcatter: 2-1
- Cobalt: 2-1
- Witch Doctor: 2-1
(Ok fine, Lock Jaw was 0-3, I can’t ignore it. I wish I could! It would help to sell the point here, oh well)
- Glitch: 3-0
- Copperhead: 2-0
- Minotaur: 2-1
- Riptide: 2-1
- Black Dragon: 2-1
- Yeti: 2-1
Umm, yeah that’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m not going to do that math but it has to be like 25-9, right? Something like that.
Now, the playoffs last year were wild! The aforementioned vertical spinners did NOT dominate! A lot of them lost to other vertical spinner types but still, there was a diversity of outcomes. It was definitely not as one-sided as the regular season was, and that fact is wonderful. I don’t consider the champ a vertical spinner, they’re a Unicorn (and I will conver this further in a future column). Nevertheless, the vertical spinners were more dominant last year than the previous year, and were comparable to 2019 which was a fun season but was heavily slanted towards this weapon type.
All hope is not lost, of course, even if verticals have a hefty advantage over anything else. Of course the ground/low game is always a big factor in these matches and continues to be so. And! One nice factor that’s really starting to emerge is driving skill and how so many of these matches are a wild driving match before they break into a typical brawl. The sport is in a healthy place! I’m just focusing on the Verticals because they are the current historical trend we are experiencing, and thus the most important question is thus. What is the best approach to combat these Vertical Spinners, and which robot is most well positioned to be the anti-Vertical, and (potentially) claim a very historically significant Championship? Which robot will Zag at such an effective angle that it can buck history and give us something brand new?
(Disclaimer – I made a big deal about Tantrum bucking history with their win last year and that still holds up. But they didn’t win by confronting the Vertical Spinner, they won by driving around it. They fought two verticals on their way to the title – NEITHER LANDED A BLOW on Tantrum. It never touched another vertical spinner. I love Tantrum, they have a lot of skill, but for them or anyone else to accomplish that again seems unlikely)
(Hmm, curiously End Game didn’t face or touch a Vertical Spinner during their championship run in 2020! 2020 was weird tho, the weirdest season on the books. And of course, End Game is the preeminent Vertical Spinner in the sport today.)
Who is best equipped to beat the Vertical Spinners?
I did the math on their matchups from the 2020 and 2021* seasons, counting the extra stuff as well (Bounties and Slugfests). Here are the robots with notable records (over 500). Note – I am excluding the flippers for now! That’s another story, obviously they are very successful against all including Verticals. But that’s not the point today, getting under someone and flipping it is not a novel approach, being ground-scrapingly low is not some sort of unique insight. How are other robots addressing and handling the toughest weapon type in the field?
(Note: if it wasn’t clear – I’m talking about robots with non-Vertical Spinner weapons, that have matched up well with the verticals. And I’m excluding flippers from this, for the reason mentioned in last paragraph. Also, I’m excluding Tantrum, because including them messes the whole thing up. I think I say it below, but just in case, to repeat – what is the point of analyzing a robot that went 7-0 last season, and went 12-2 over two seasons? “Gee, Tantrum matches up well against type X…” – Tantrum matches up great with everyone! They’re a great robot! Thus there is nothing to learn, no lesson to glean, except “Be Tantrum”, I guess…)
Kills: Witch Doctor, Minotaur, Madcatter, Riptide
Losses: Uppercut, End Game, Witch Doctor
The crazy, crazy, crazy thing is that SB basically lost all those matches in the first 20 seconds, due to poor driving/angle/luck/choking. The point is – if a match lasted longer then 30 seconds, if it got into a competitive back and forth where both robots had a chance – Sawblaze never lost the match. The best example of that is probably the playoff win over Witch Doctor in 2020 where WD hit them with some great countershots but Sawblaze never yielded control. The Riptide fight had some good back and forth too. Minotaur was kinda back and forth but Mino was just so wounded from an early strike by the new overhead saw that their weapon wasn’t running properly, and the match against Catter was one of the more dominant three minute displays we’ve seen in modern history. Anyhow.
Sawblaze succeeds because he gets under the other robot (the forks seem to dispel the vertical energy well, I’m no physicist but something is happening there) and once he gets under, he has control and drives his robot around the arena to his pleasure. Oh, and the weapon is overhead and he can carefully choose where and when to drop it on the opponent. The key is control, more so with SB than almost anyone.
Kills: Jackpot, Madcatter, Black Dragon
“Ties”: End Game (special category for the only robot to break EG’s weapon and take him to a split decision in two seasons!)
Rotator is unfortunately becoming the bot that has incredible, heart-breaking losses to the champion every season. He’s a requisite brutal boss for the hero to overtake! Sad.
Anyhow, I’m not 100% sure how he keeps doing it, most horizontal spinners get lit up by the verticals. Maybe it’s the defense-first approach? The durability? Is his spinner tougher or different than others? I mean, damn, he broke End Game’s weapon, during End Game’s championship run! That happened! He still lost of course but still.
It’s probably the defense and the high-end gameplanning by this crafty vet. He’s great at picking a strategy and following through, but also he’s really good at mutating his bot from fight to fight. Rotator can go weapon to weapon against the big verticals and hold up, but also (this is important) doesn’t get flung around the way a Tombstone or a Bloodsport does. I don’t know why that is, but I can see it’s happening! Good stuff from the Golden Boy, as always.
Kills: Uppercut, Deep Six, Lock-Jaw
Losses: Mad Catter, Black Dragon, End Game
Ok, so this might be more speculative than anything, as the robot is only 3-3 and wins over Deep Six (who is good but thoroughly green, and possibly not a true vert) and a now sad and dying Lock-Jaw, are not exceptional.
But the Uppercut victory last year was earthshattering, completely exploded what I believed about the league at the time, it was probably the most shocked and also mentally injured I have been watching the sport. It seemed unfathomable. It was also crushing as a major Uppercut fan (now we know that Uppercut having this stupendous defeats is the norm, not the exception, so I’m “over it”, retrospectively).
But let’s step back further: Ribbot went 1-2 against Verts last season. This season he was 2-1, with the lone loss coming at the hands of End Game, in a match that Ribbot would…very much like to have a mulligan on. That wasn’t a good showing. Ribbot was ascendant this year, they were 3-0 in the qualifiers before suffering a very painful defeat to a very irate (and injured) Hydra. They seem to be a team on the rise. And they are doing with a very special anti-vertical spinner approach. It’s similar to Rotator but more extreme, the wedge is flatter rather than angled, all the armor is concentrated right up front, and the weapon is almost an afterthought. It’s all about building a wall to deflect (and yes, break) a vertical weapon. Ribbot is faster and much more maneuverable than Rotator and the complete lack of forks only plays into this. Here she is.
If this somehow breaks through, if they can get that front armored wedge tough enough or angled properly to reliably break the big vertical spinners…holy crap that would be a seismic shift.
I don’t think it’s ready yet, I don’t expect it to happen this year. I’m not sure Ribbot goes with this B configuration when he faces End Game or a similar bot. But man…it would be seismic, it would be a very exciting and rewarding development, completely flipping the vertical/horizontal spinner paradigm on its head. I really hope it happens. I will be watching.
Whiplash (The problem is he’s really good against Black Dragon and weak against the rest, so…)
Gigabyte (Notably beat Copperhead, also notably did NOT beat Hypershock. Sigh)
Kraken (One very significant win on the books! Credit where credit is due!)
Bloodsport (Well, I mean, EG never loses, and he lost here, so)
Huge(? Isn’t this supposed to be his thing?)
(mention that I’m classifying Tantrum as neither a vertical spinner nor an anti-vertical spinner. They’re just too much of an anomaly! What can we analyze about a robot that is 12-2 over the past two seasons, with one loss being when their machine died in a match when they were leading? It’s like when you analyze the type of QBs that win Super Bowls over the past 20 years and 7 of them were one by one guy. When you win all the time and beat everyone, there really isn’t much to learn about their weaknesses.
Ok fine, I’ll indulge. The problem is the data is “tainted”, in my opinion, because they fought two vertical on their way to the title…and neither opposing vertical spinner MADE CONTACT with them during the fight. They didn’t take a hit!
I got them at 0-1 last year with the loss to End Game (who also beats everybody…you can see why I’m treating Tantrum special here), and then 2-0 this season, and SURE, they did beat Witch Doctor who is amazing, but that seemed like incredible, stupendous luck with that first hit that high-centered and paralyzed them. We need more data here. Throwing Tantrum against Minotaur is a GREAT START!)
Ah, right, I wanted to make a season prediction.
I’m going with Sawblaze, illustrated here as the best hope against the Verts.
Sawblaze for 2023 Champion. Every year he gets better, he ascends another round in the playoffs, he gets closer to the prize. Technically if the pattern holds he’s going to lose in the finals this year but I’ll be bold and say he jumps a step and makes it all the way. Slash and Burn, baby. Good luck.