Why ‘Robot Combat League’ might now be the dumbest show on TV

2013-02-28T17:00:00Z 2013-03-01T07:32:49Z Why ‘Robot Combat League’ might now be the dumbest show on TV Herald-Review.com
February 28, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

It’s not tough to sell a show like “Robot Combat League” to a TV audience, particularly when the audience is that of SyFy, formerly the sense-making “SciFi Channel.” Giant robots wailing on each other in the style of “Real Steel?” That’s all you really need as far as advertising for the new show is concerned. What else matters? Certainly not the motley crew of people assembled to pilot and shadow-box the things. And yet somehow, SyFy manages to get this wrong.

I tuned in to watch the premiere of “Robot Combat League” this Tuesday on SyFy for a variety of reasons. First: robot fighting. Second, the show is hosted by Chris Jericho, one of the best pro wrestlers of his generation. And third, I wanted to see if it would turn out as ugly as I expected it might. And I was not disappointed on that front.

Pace is the first big thing. I know that you have to introduce all the people who will be competing in this season-long tournament, but did it really have to take up the first 45 minutes of the hour-long program? Is it safe to hope that future episodes will be more about robots slowly waddling around and ineffectually punching things?

Speaking of the actual robot combat, it’s, ummm … a little herky jerky. The range of motion conveyed to the bots by the human combat controllers seems quite limited, especially in terms of their striking motion. Having watched the first fight, I’m not certain the robots’ arms are long enough to hit each other in the “head” area. They mostly have a tendency to lock up against each other and just dig in body shots over and over, presumably giving the win to whichever robot is gifted with the best torso armor. And what is up with these ratings of the robots?  “Endurance?” It’s a robot, guys — it doesn’t get tired.

This clearly doesn’t sound quite as thrilling as the TV producers were probably hoping for, so they decided “Screw it, let’s just fake it then.” Great gouts of sparks fly out of the midsections of the robots as they are hit. How, exactly? At one point, I watched a robot smacked in the torso five times in a row, and each time an identical shower of sparks came flying out. Was anything broken or malfunctioning with it? Of course not. Instead, it seems clear that there are the equivalent of “spark cannons” on the robot’s body, presumably activated when it is hit hard enough, to make it look like the strikes are “doing more damage.” To recap: This is a television show about giant fighting robots, and the producers had to rig part of it for not being exciting enough.

To be perfectly honest, though, it was the people on the show that killed me more than the robots or the combat. In true American reality show fashion, they went out and got that ideal mix of people with actual qualifications and others willing to show a lot of cleavage in every shot of every episode, or otherwise be cast as sexual objects first and competitors second. Go ahead and point out the backgrounds of these women as MMA fighters or computer technicians or science teachers: what factors do you think were primary in choosing this competitor? This one? Okay, how about this one? Yeah. I think we probably know. The only female pilot who isn’t overtly sexualized is the one nerdy-looking one who is there specifically to be part of a father-daughter angle with her dad.

…you know a show is on shaky ground when the promise of robot combat takes a backseat to father-daughter relationship building.

I will probably be curious enough to watch one more episode of “Robot Combat League” next week, just to see what they do with their hour timeslot when they don’t have to spend most of it introducing people you’d rather not meet. After that, though, I have to doubt the prospect of 8-foot tall hunks of metal lurching around and walking into each other as something that will hold my attention. Of course I might be in the minority—ratings for the show set a two-year high for a new SyFy program. 

What do you think, sirs? What do you want out of a robot combat show?

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(28) Comments

  1. Spaceman
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    Spaceman - February 07, 2015 4:24 pm
    This is just another staged "reality" TV show. Anyone with an IQ above 90 can see how fake the fighting is.

    I've watched 5 fights now, and every one had the same lame story. One robot looks to be dominating, then critically wounds the other. The wounded robot's team rallies together in their 20 min break, then come out and break the favourite in half. Hydraulic fluid bleeding everywhere. Oh, the drama.

    It's just a less expensive form of WWE. Notice there is no real crowd though. Wonder why that is...
  2. strutz73
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    strutz73 - June 15, 2014 9:09 am
    Totally hoping for a season 2 havent heard the word yet though:(
  3. Musicmaker
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    Musicmaker - December 21, 2013 11:17 pm
    You obviously do not have a background in engendering or robotics. I, having designed and fought robots in several competitions, would like to clear up a few things. A robot is a machine that carries out a pre determined function controlled by an out side source. A robot as most people understand them do not exist (not yet). Also the robots in "real steel" run on a technology that dose not exist. To compare these robots to the "Atom" bot in the movie is like comparing a toddler to a fully grown adult. These robots are some of the most advanced bots iv seen. Sure there clunky and have a verry limited range of movement but the power these have is truly amazing for there size.
  4. jvorel Staff
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    jvorel - July 22, 2013 9:46 am
    I agree with you. I'd like to watch that show.
  5. mac2nite
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    mac2nite - July 17, 2013 6:51 pm
    Technically, these are remotely controlled devices, not robots. As long as there are bimbos and flakes participating in this show, this is how far this entertainment genre will go. People will tire of the cleavage and the inane banter, let alone the clumsy devices, known as robots in name only and stop watching. Yes, I watched some episodes. Only by seeing something awful can one appreciate awesome machine competition, when it comes. Now, a true fight between battling automatons created by engineers and software developers -- that would be something to see.!
  6. youngbroker
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    youngbroker - June 01, 2013 12:08 pm
    Tuned into this and caught the third round of a "fight". I loved it... I laughed the entire time. It's so painfully fake that any merit it deserves is drowned by how staged it is. Two "robots"awkwardly having seizures and flopping against each other isn't good tv.
  7. oknilem
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    oknilem - May 20, 2013 12:11 am
    My friends and I got together and watched this show like it was the superbowl. I'm a big fan of the numerous robot fighting shows, but it's great to see something something different. 8ft. robots are way more exciting than RC cars with razor blades.
  8. Not Perfect
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    Not Perfect - May 13, 2013 9:11 pm
    I think you hit the nail on the head. It doesn't matter how good the robots get, so long as they give 75% of the screentime to those vacuous contestants and adhere to the bland reality TV format.
  9. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:36 pm
    I am so with you!! Hopefully they'll have another season!!! Bc Crash is my favorite and its my wish to meet Team Crash and get an autograph from them. OH and maybe even a picture with the season one champion, and the robot I look up to for ideas..........CRRRRRRAAAAAAAAASH!! GO TEAM CRASH!!!
  10. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:33 pm
    LOL about the super hot thing, but I'm gonna be one of those future engineers and this show has given me some super good ideas for new robots. What some people don't understand is that robots help us, the potential of robots. They're loyal, amazing, generous( according to how you program it), and they could be, our best friend.....
  11. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:25 pm
    You, my friend, have reached my point! Some people just take things too detailed!! its VERY entertaining!! Its inspired me to become a robotics engineer even MORE than what I want to!!
  12. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:23 pm
    Apparently you don't know entertainment when you see it!! Robots fighting robots is the first step in helping us save other human lives, and robots, in what way you put it, can be your best friend or your nemesis for the rest of your natural life! Robots are my best friends!
  13. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:20 pm
    I so disagree with it,too. Robot fighting is the first step in robot boxing. In doing this, humans lives can be spared from extreme injuries, and even though it costs ALOT to make a robot, its well worth to see you create a piece of work that'll make you proud of yourself for the rest of your life!
  14. Laura Bach
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    Laura Bach - April 28, 2013 1:17 pm
    LET ME TELL YAW PEOPLE SOMETHING! THAT SHOW IS REALLY INSPIRING TO ME!!! NOW THAT I'VE SEEN IT, ITS ENCOURAGED ME TO TRY AND BECOME A ROBOTICS ENGINEER!!! YOU SAY ITS FAKE, THEN YA DON'T KNOW WHAT ENTERTAINMENT IS!!!
  15. bonehead55
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    bonehead55 - April 16, 2013 9:59 pm
    I must agree with the side that likes then show.

    These people who are talking about the show and say it sucks and is completely stupid, I say you should be smacked by one of those robots. You people are going too detailed into the show. You are missing the main point of the show. This show is meant to entertain the audience in a way we haven't seen before. Yes I know the robots move a little slow and the arms are apparently too small but what do you expect! You can't automatically think that these robots will move as fluently as a human.

    You also say that the sparks are fake and pointless, would you rather them not have the sparks and make the show less interesting?

    I also agree that this show helps show future engineers how these robots function and how they fix or make them. If someone is unable to get a hold of the show, then the should try and find it on a computer, friend's tv, or just record it. If they can't record it ask someone you trust to record it.

    Finally, If you are a person who thinks this show is lame, stupid, waste of time, or misinformative. Then don't watch it and stop bothering us who do like to watch it.
  16. kradrol
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    kradrol - April 13, 2013 4:33 am
    I'd also like to point out, I really don't think anyone picked ciji for her looks. she is a professional gamer, and appeared on a syfy reality show in the past. you have a point with heather phillips, and ashley nunes. ashley is a cosplay model. hard to argue she was chosen for anything but fan service, and a sob story about being a single mom.
  17. kradrol
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    kradrol - April 13, 2013 4:05 am
    I might as well hop on the "create a profile to comment on this article" band-wagon. atleast one commentor (I'm talking to you robotgimmicks) doesn't understand how the show actually works. he mentions the first power up challenge as if it were fights in the tournament. he then says one robot is eliminated without any explanation from the show.
    well, the show explained everything just fine, the team with the fastest time would face the robot with the slowest time. no robot was "eliminated," they simply said crash had the slowest time, and therefor "lost" the challenge. you either weren't paying attention at all, were drunk, or are just too stupid to understand this simple. given the fact that you didn't realize that it was the "eliminated" team fighting in what you called "the last round of the fights" I"m going with the latter.
  18. Haelth
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    Haelth - April 09, 2013 8:47 pm
    If I wanted to watch "robot" combat, I would watch Robot Wars, Battlebots, or Combots.
    Besides, the robots in the competitions I mentioned are wheeled and not rigged. Each one is actually unique, thus making for an exciting battle. I mean who doesn't want to see robots being thrown across the arena by a flipper in the floor?
  19. stargirl
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    stargirl - March 15, 2013 12:39 am
    I love the show. Yes, the robots are not like the Real Steal movie. But Real Steal is not real. This is real machines. Real people. The contestants compete in battle with powerful machines. The robots are limited in what they can do. How they can move. So it is up to the contestants to overcome the limits of the robots. Work as teams and win.

    The sparks add allot to the action. So do the lights, camera movements, and commentary. All part of show.

    I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the competitions. Thanks Sy Fy.
  20. supernovamike11
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    supernovamike11 - March 14, 2013 4:32 pm
    While the show is quite a few leagues behind Real Steel, it's a step forward. I wouldn't waste too much of my energy criticizing my infant child for crawling just because I want it to be able to walk. I respect RCL for good effort, despite the flaws.

    Besides, I am not one that demands the very best of everything in order to be entertained. I enjoy the show for what it is. Although the spark showers are obviously not genuine, I like that they didn't do a lot more than that in attempting to falsely glamorize the combat (e.g. they didn't add special weak spots that cause the arm to explode or something like that). In other words, part of why I like the show is precisely because the combat is relatively genuine. The limited range of the robots' movement adds to that.

    Don't get me wrong, I would love to see some future show featuring fighting robots capable of maneuvering like ninjas, but I am definitely satisfied with RCL's application of modern robotics.
  21. RobotGimmicks
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    RobotGimmicks - March 12, 2013 1:55 pm
    Seriously? I just watched two robots "walk" (because the show producers couldn't really make the robots walk, so they put them on long arms instead) into each other. One of them was eliminated, and they never really explained how they came to the decision of which team was eliminated. The show is full of corner cutting like this. The showers of sparks that have nothing to do with the impacts. The long pneumatic arm that is the sole means of locomotion for the robots, rendering the legs only marginally useful as an extra source of stability. The show designers even made the legs move back and forth as if the robots were walking, but the feet clearly have no part in the movement of the robots. It's a terrible concept, design and execution. The central failure of this show is the goal of every fight - a single plate affixed to the chest of the competing robot. Break the plate, win the fight? Clearly another corner cutting technique, I'll bet the show had much more complex conditions on winning the fight when they pitched the idea to the SyFy channel. Once they realized they couldn't pull it off, they decided to just glue on a plate. Given the limitations of the arena and robots, we aren't going to see much variety in challenges going forward.

    Comparisons to the old Robot Wars show are entirely unfounded. People designed and built their own robots to compete in that show. The robots were not limited by some arbitrary 'break the plate' goal, destruction was what they were trying to accomplish and the arena contributed to that! There is no real variety to the Robot Combat League robots, they are essentially the same frame with fancy skins. Robot Wars was only limited by the imagination, budget and capabilities of the builders.

    It looks like they take the plate off for the final round of the episode. So they just wail on each other for two minutes, and judgment is arbitrary - probably just based on the number of faked spark showers and pumped fluids. Was rock em sock em robots your favorite game as a kid? Is it still your favorite game? Then you might enjoy this, it's essentially the same thing, no different at all. Disgusted.
  22. RobotGimmicks
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    RobotGimmicks - March 12, 2013 1:53 pm
    Seriously? I just watched two robots "walk" (because the show producers couldn't really make the robots walk, so they put them on long arms instead) into each other. One of them was eliminated, and they never really explained how they came to the decision of which team was eliminated. The show is full of corner cutting like this. The showers of sparks that have nothing to do with the impacts. The long pneumatic arm that is the sole means of locomotion for the robots, rendering the legs only marginally useful as an extra source of stability. The show designers even made the legs move back and forth as if the robots were walking, but the feet clearly have no part in the movement of the robots. It's a terrible concept, design and execution.

    The central failure of this show is the goal of every fight - a single plate affixed to the chest of the competing robot. Break the plate, win the fight? Clearly another corner cutting technique, I'll bet the show had much more complex conditions on winning the fight when they pitched the idea to the SyFy channel. Once they realized they couldn't pull it off, they decided to just glue on a plate. Given the limitations of the arena and robots, we aren't going to see much variety in challenges going forward.

    Comparisons to the old Robot Wars show are entirely unfounded. People designed and built their own robots to compete in that show. The robots were not limited by some arbitrary 'break the plate' goal, destruction was what they were trying to accomplish and the arena contributed to that! There is no real variety to the Robot Combat League robots, they are essentially the same frame with fancy skins. Robot Wars was only limited by the imagination, budget and capabilities of the builders.

    It looks like they take the plate off for the final round of the episode. So they just wail on each other for two minutes, and judgment is arbitrary - probably just based on the number of faked spark showers and pumped fluids. Was rock em sock em robots your favorite game as a kid? Is it still your favorite game? Then you might enjoy this, it's essentially the same thing, no different at all. Disgusted.
  23. gpburdell
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    gpburdell - March 06, 2013 5:22 pm
    I too am creating an account on the interwebs to respond to this article as well as to let you all know of a free event going on in honor of the Robot Combat League Show.

    Now, I haven't seen Reel Steel, so I can't make much of a comparison in that arena. However, I am familiar with Rock'em Sock'em toys, which is basically what Robot Combat League is. Beyond the glitz and allure, RCL is essentially a show with super smart and capable minds teamed up with super strong and/or super hot physiques to battle giant expensive robots already pre-made.

    Though entertainment and capitalizing n on the "Reel Steel" movement may most likely be the whole premise behind the show, I hope that the show can grow into becoming an inspiration for our next generation of young engineers. Perhaps changing the time and allowing the robot techs to customize their robots could increase TV ratings and viewer interest.

    Anyway, on another note, just want to let you know of a RCL Premiere Party this Saturday night, March 9th from 7-10pm. The event will be held at Rolling Robots at The Americana in Glendale. Some RCL guys will be there to do some robot battles as well as watch the first 2 episodes of the show. For more information, check out: http://rollingrobots.com/blog/robot-combat-league-party
  24. Klaatu01
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    Klaatu01 - March 06, 2013 12:30 am
    The show "Robot Combat League" has potential to teach engineering concepts to a younger crowd, but I think the one area where Syfy's Producers have failed is in the time slot. It is simply on to late in the evening to reach the demographic audience that is going to be THE MOST impressed or influenced by its somewhat contrived "action". Yes, the flying sparks may be an added effect, but hydraulic lines getting popped off is not unrealistic; though I hope there is not two thousand pounds per square inch (psi) pressure when anyone is near them! The Air Force taught us to keep well away from aircraft hydraulic lines with three thousand psi because a pin-hole leak could cut skin like a razor blade.

    Other than the "made for television" special effects, the premise of Robot Combat League is solid and appreciated by this viewer. I do sort of agree with Mr. Vorel's assessment regarding the contestants for the show! How were these people selected? In some cases it seems as though the have qualifications clearly related to mechanical engineering, while in other cases the choice of a former Olympic class athlete is clear "overkill". Any seventeen year old teenager could operate one of the battling-machines-by-proxy, except for the fact that the motion-sensing harness the operator wears would need to be downsized a bit.

    It is apparent to me that next season's installment of RCL will need more diversity in the forms of the robots themselves, different types of weapons and a few more Point of View cameras attached to the arms or legs to give the audience better views of the action. A few well angled high-speed camera shots detailing to moment on impact of a solid hit would be an improvement, as well as a few less pre-rigged spark effects! Many of the members of the viewing audience can imagine a pummeled robot must look like a wrecked automobile, so just let us see the damage itself.

    The predecessor show featuring smaller, remote controlled robots often powered by electric wheelchair motors and swinging axes and blowing flames at each other was EQUALLY entertaining; if not in fact better than Robot Combat League. Is the other show still on the air?
  25. Swoop132
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    Swoop132 - March 05, 2013 10:23 pm
    I also created this account to join in this conversation, and I have to agree with FO21 and the author about how the show was made.

    From the beginning, I was a little interested since I am an engineer student and wanted to see how the robots were made. I also was hoping to see how accurate they were in imitating the persons motions. After the first episode, I simply had the recollections of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Another disappointment about the show was that there was only one guy that made the robots and no one else. Therefore, the repair times is not really the contestants repairing their robot, but gawking and hoping that the creator and his team gets the repairs done in time.

    Tonight I watched the second episode giving the show another chance to impress me, but instead making me more upset about what was happening. The fighters that competed were more so shifting their arms hoping that they would have some sort of contact with the other robot. When they did get contact sparks came off when there wasn't any actual damage done. Therefore, after viewing the show I realized that the whole thing is nothing mere than a gimmicky and a fake imitation of "Real Steel" and literally a larger version of "Robot Wars."

    Due to its great concept and impressive hardware my hopes were high. Its downfall was the actual show itself. From the aspect of the long introductions of the puppeteers to the fake and showing combat itself.

    I give this show a 2 out of 5.
  26. Gaddez
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    Gaddez - March 05, 2013 10:18 pm
    I found this to be much more entertaining then your average UFC match, since we as viewers can actually see damage on the bots, and watching hydraulic lines tear is rather spectacular.

    Further, of the three fights that have aired as of this posting, all three had spectacular results; the number 1 and 2 competitors were not only defeated, but KO'd with authority (The much touted "strategists" forming team commander were not only crippled in earlier rounds but actually torn in half) while the third bout ended in a disqualification due to a fighter ignoring the end of the round much to the consternation of her more experienced fighter.

    Is it a brilliant, thought provoking treatise on mans inhumanity to man? Of course not. Is it big stupid fun? Yes indeed!
  27. techie17
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    techie17 - March 05, 2013 12:21 pm
    I created an account just to tell you how much I disagree with this article.

    This show may have taken a little too much time in the first episode to set up all the participants who are competing BUT the robot fighting was awesome. You can absolutely tell that these robots are extremely powerful and really are getting destroyed to a certain extent by the other robots. The robots may have a little added spark by the producers of the show but I think all in all these robots are amazing technological pieces of work. I can't wait to see how the technology advances in future seasons of the show.
  28. FO21
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    FO21 - March 01, 2013 6:55 pm
    I created an account just to respond to this article and tell you how much I agree.

    While the trailers looked a bit shaky (overly excited staged audience?) I had hopes. Fighting robots right? I was really, really disappointed. But, as you said, it is the channel that has been adding more ghost shows that actual interesting Sci-Fi stuff for a while.

    I watch "Face-Off", the movie makeup show, which is on right before this travesty of a show, so I think I will make it a weekly ritual to see how much I can endure of the Robot Combat League before I have to shut it off.
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