On Sunday and Monday, the Hyatt ballrooms came alive with the raging metal sound of Robot Battles, the second-oldest robot competition in the world and a hearty way to stave off post-con depression. Remote-controlled creations sporting every attachment and decoration—from circular saws to dandelions—sparred for supremacy on a square platform that was much like a boxing ring without the ropes.
The two-part competition features a robot-e-robot tourney and an all-robot rumble. In the tourney, the robots battle to drive each other off the stage, while the rumble is a crowded effort to remain the last robot still running after all of the individual fights. Each match begins with a countdown, a room-wide “FIIIIIGHT!” scream, and the blast of metal—in both the musical and physical sense.
In Sunday’s “Microbattles,” the two smallest weight groups faced off: Thomas Kenney took the one-pound “Antweight” tourney and rumble, and Ben Hanson was the three-pound “Beetleweight” victor in both the tourney and rumble as well.
Monday’s main event featured 12-pound and 30-pound robots, and an audience that grew as the rest of the con shut down. Host Kelly Lockhart kept the competition rolling with his comic introductions of builders and fighters, as well as frequent cracks at the audience; “If you’re in the room, you’re fair game,” he boomed.
The tourneys gave each robot fighter’s strengths and weaknesses a chance to emerge–and there were surprises. Crowd favorite Porcupine of Doom, renamed Furbot on the spot by Lockhart, never managed to vanquish its competitors despite the vocal audience support. Builders came and went in a flurry of engineering exhilaration; when one contestant stopped to tweak his bot, Lockhart asked, “You’re actually making repairs?” “Every second,” the contestant answered. “It’s like Windows XP.” In the end, Jason Brown took the 12-pound rumble with Tetanus Shot, and Dale Heatherington the 30-pound tourney with Overthruster.
The power of the bigger robots turned out to be an Achilles heel in terms of battery life. It was in fact the tiny one-pound Sporkinok, built by Seth Specht, that whirred its way to victory in the 12-pound rumble. The gargantuan Überclocker, championed by Charles Guan, became the last surviving robot of the 30-pound rumble.
As the crowd grew larger and the robotic clashes more intense, it wasn’t hard to see why this event is a Dragon*Con classic. (Psst: A ten-minute highlight video, shot by competitor Dale Heatherington, is up at YouTube.)