Judges decisions in any form of competition are prone to some controversial shenanigans, but what we’ve seen in BattleBots this season is bordering on something of an epidemic.
Six episodes into the season, there have been at least four fights with decisions that have caused some level outrage or questioning on the internet, including two in the most recent episode, when one of the tournament favorites, Stinger, fell in the round of 32 in a shoving match against Mega Tento, and Brutus was awarded a snoozer over Lock-Jaw in one of the highlight fights.
In the discussions of any of these controversial decisions, the new rule changes to the judging criteria this season always get brought up, particularly the change to the aggression scoring which strongly promotes the use of a bot’s active weapons.
The rulebook is readily available on the BattleBots website, so I thought I’d take a look and then score some of the most controversial fights myself using the official criteria, and examine how my evaluations stack up to the actual results.
I’m going to copy/paste this directly from the rulebook, so there can be no confusion about what the rules are. I’m going to put some of the parts I find particularly notable in bold text.
The judging criteria uses four factors, each which is assigned a point value, as follows:
Aggression – 2 Points
Aggression is judged by the frequency, severity, boldness and effectiveness of attacks deliberately initiated by a Robot against its opponent using its powered weapon(s). If a Robot appears to have accidentally attacked an opponent, that act will not be considered Aggression. Consideration is also given if the attacking Robot is risking serious damage on each attack. Attacking with a wedge or other passive armor is considered to be a defensive action and does not count toward Aggression. Continuous attacks without using a powered weapon can reduce a Robot’s Aggression score.
Control – 1 Point
Control means a Robot is able to attack an opponent at its weakest point, use its weapons in the most effective way, avoid Arena Hazards, and minimize the damage caused by the opponent or its weapons.
Damage – 1 Point
Through deliberate action, a Robot either directly, or indirectly using the Arena Hazards, reduces the functionality, effectiveness or defensibility of an opponent. Damage is not considered relevant if a Robot inadvertently harms itself. Also, if a pressure vessel or a rapidly spinning device on a Robot fragments, any damage to the opponent will not be considered “deliberate”.
Strategy – 1 Point
The Robot exhibits a combat plan that exploits the Robot’s strengths against the weaknesses of its opponent. Strategy is also defined as a Robot exhibiting a deliberate defense plan that guards its weaknesses against the strengths of the opponent. Strategy can also involve using the Arena Hazards to gain an advantage.
The most notable thing here is that attacks with wedges do not gain you aggression points, and continued attacks without a powered weapon lower your aggression score. It’s also very important to note that aggression is the most heavily weighted category, being worth two of the five points that are up for grabs.
Disk O’ Inferno vs. Chomp
Aggression: Disk O’ Inferno.
It didn’t end up doing a whole lot of damage, but when I look at the criteria for aggression I see “frequency” and “effectiveness.” Even though the spinner broke early, Disk O’ was utilizing its lifter throughout the entire fight, and since Chomp was flipped over again and again, I’d argue that it was pretty darn effective.
Control: Disk O’ Inferno
Disk O’ Inferno was perfectly in control over its lifter, using it both to attack Chomp and to protect its spinning disc from overhead attacks. It also did a great job of avoiding hazards, while Chomp was wedged into the screws at one point.
This doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Disk O’s primary weapon was disabled, and while Chomp was bossed around a lot, it didn’t seem to suffer much damage.
Strategy: Disk O’ Inferno
Disk O’ Inferno had a clear strategy, using its lifter to protect its primary weapon. According to the rules, utilizing the arena hazards counts as strategy points, and Disk O’ Inferno did that when it slammed Chomp into the screws.
My Score: 4-1 Disk O’ Inferno
Judges Decision: Chomp by split decision
Comments: The only explanation I have for this is that the judges did not consider Disk O’s lifter to be an active weapon. I don’t understand how this is possible, considering the rules use the term “powered weapon,” and the lifter is clearly powered by a motor of some sort, so it should count. I can see Chomp winning the control point, since I thought that one was pretty close, but ultimately the judges got this wrong.
SawBlaze vs. Razorback
SawBlaze pushed Razorback around the arena for the entire fight, but it used its active weapon one time. Once. Right in the rules, “Continuous attacks without using a powered weapon can reduce a Robot’s Aggression score.” There’s no way the aggression points can go to SawBlaze. This is an easy decision.
This one could probably go either way. SawBlaze did a better job of avoiding hazards and minimizing damage, but it certainly didn’t use its weapon in the most effective way, since it didn’t really use its weapon at all.
SawBlaze’s weapon appeared to not be working for most of the fight. While there wasn’t much damage to the wedge, it can clearly be seen that Razorback’s drum hit it several times throughout the fight. Meanwhile, all of the pushing from SawBlaze didn’t seem to hurt Razorback at all.
SawBlaze recognized that Razorback’s drum wouldn’t be able to do much damage to the wedge, so that’s how it chose to attack. It managed to push Razorback all over the BattleBox, and it also served as a good defense plan at the same time.
My Score: 3-2 Razorback
Judges Decision: Razorback by split decision
Comments: Based on the rules, this seems like the correct decision. I scored the fight very close, with Razorback taking the win 3-2, and that closeness shows in the result being a split decision.
Stinger vs. Mega Tento
Aggression: Mega Tento
This is a situation where I wish that aggression didn’t count for two points, because I feel like this could maybe go either way, and two points is a big swing for something that was actually pretty close. In the end, I come back to the word “effectiveness.”
Mega Tento was simply too big to flip. Every time Stinger tried to lift Tento off the ground it just ended up flipping itself, and while Tento’s drum didn’t do a lot of damage, it did get a few solid hits in, particularly at the very end when it flipped Stinger over.
Control: Mega Tento
I give it to Mega Tento, but this is another one that I feel like is very close. Stinger’s weapons weren’t used effectively, but it controlled the fight more often, frequently slamming Tento into the walls. Mega Tento, on the other hand, did a better job of minimizing damage. Both bots got hit by the hazards, but I keep coming back to the one moment when Stinger drives itself straight into the screws, resulting in damage that ultimately caused it to lose a wheel. Because of that, this point goes to Mega Tento.
Damage: Mega Tento
Mega Tento was relatively unscathed. Stinger lost a wheel. Easy decision.
Strategy: Mega Tento
Moving the drum from its original position underneath the sandbox to the rear of the bot was a genius decision by Lisa Winter that very well might have won this fight for Mega Tento. With the drum in the original position then I think its very likely that Stinger would’ve earned the control point, and possibly the aggression points as well.
My Score: 5-0 Mega Tento
Judges Decision: Mega Tento by split decision
Comments: First off, I want to say that I definitely did not expect to give Mega Tento a 5-0 victory, and I still don’t feel good about it. I think the aggression and control points were relatively close, and could’ve gone the other way, but at the end of the day this is Mega Tento’s victory by the rule book.
Brutus vs. Lock-Jaw
“Continuous attacks without using a powered weapon can reduce a Robot’s Aggression score.”
Lock-Jaw used its wedge exclusively until about the last 20 seconds. Under the current rules you cannot win aggression like that.
The wedge was used effectively to minimize damage and push Brutus around, and even pinned it to the screws at one point.
I really have trouble giving this point to either robot, but I suppose I have to. Brutus’ weapon stopped working very late in the fight after it went up in white battery smoke, but I think that falls under a bot “inadvertently harming itself,” which isn’t supposed to be relevant for the damage point. Still, Brutus did even less with its weapon than Razorback did against SawBlaze, so I have real trouble giving it this point and I don’t know how else to score this.
This is another area where this is a whole lot like the Razorback vs. SawBlaze match. Like SawBlaze, Lock-Jaw used its wedge to minimize damage. It worked, so I’m giving the point to Lock-Jaw.
My Score: 3-2 Lock-Jaw
Judges Decision: Brutus by split decision
Comments: I’m assuming that the judges who scored the match for Brutus had score cards that are mostly the same as mine, but awarding the damage category to Brutus. The rest of the categories seem pretty clear, especially aggression. You could argue that the judges got this wrong, but again, it’s very close.
By my scoring, the judges got half of these right, and at least one of the remaining two was so close that I can’t fault their decision.
My biggest takeaway from all of this is that there are some inconsistencies with how the rules say battles should be scored, especially with the aggression and strategy categories, which seem to contradict one another.
In the aggression category, it is made very clear that active weapons are promoted, and the use of a wedge offensively will lose you points, but then for the strategy point you gain favor with the judges for a defense plan that guards your weaknesses against an opponent’s strengths. In cases like SawBlaze and Lock-Jaw, primarily using a wedge to attack a spinner will earn you the strategy point, but lose you the aggression points, to my understanding.
I totally understand why the producers want to discourage shoving matches. Just look at those two fights with SawBlaze and Lock-Jaw to see why. They’re borderline unwatchable. It’s not good TV. But still, the rules could be made more clear, because the same strategy should not win you some points and lose you others. It doesn’t make sense.
That being said, it’s still hard to feel sorry for the Lock-Jaw and SawBlaze teams, because they knew how heavily aggression is weighted and decided to employ their pushing strategies anyway, but hopefully we’ll see some more rule changes next season to straighten things out a bit.