Remember the MegaBots? Of course you do, because they've been talking about this EPIC ROBOT BATTLE for more than two years, or what feels like several eternities.
Last night, all that hype culminated in an hour-long Twitch livestream showdown of Japan versus USA, where giant mech suits faced off in a battle as real as any WWE wrestling match. Team USA brought its 16-foot-tall, 12-ton, chainsaw-wielding "Eagle Prime" bot to the fight, while Japan's "KURATAS" mech by Suidobashi Heavy Industries stood at 13 feet and was half as heavy and gaudy. Both look like towering versions of the free Transformers knockoff toys you'd get in a fast food kid's meal, with humans operating them on the inside.
More than 22,000 people tuned into the livestream, a YouTube video has since garnered roughly 900,000 views, and the fight has been blogged by dozens of publications. Many of the top comments on YouTube suggest that the video is "FAKE," and Motherboard has confirmed with the fight's promoters that the livestream itself was not live and little of the production could be considered "real" in the traditional sense of how fights are usually fought and adjudicated.
I asked MegaBots' co-founder Matt Oehrlein about the allegations from commenters that the whole thing was "more scripted than wrestling." He told me that the duel took place over several days and cut for repairs.
"The duel was filmed over a number of days, but all of the repair time was cut out," Oehrlein said in an email. "The action was real and we aimed to create the most entertaining fight possible. We're letting the video speak for itself!"
Eagle Prime's fighting moves were pre-programmed, so the driver just needed to push a button to execute uppercuts and punches. Sticking people in these metal deathtraps seemed like an effort to crank up the danger factor—why not fight them remotely? Why is everyone so physically winded climbing in and out of these things?
Following several rounds of generalized prop-knocking by the two sides and their bots, Eagle Prime and KURATAS met. They made contact with one another briefly, and watching Prime's chainsaw slice up its opponent's fingers was kind of cool—until they tipped some suspiciously-placed scaffolding into what viewers were led to believe was the judges' table and the fight was called, somewhat inexplicably, for team USA.
Overall, the livestream featured the usual amount of "people in jumpsuits standing in a line with arms folded, shot from the ground" and "men yelling things like 'UNBELIEVABLE' into a headset microphone" before getting to the actual battle. It had the feel of early-2000s BattleBots, but with a lot more money and sincerity injected into the show, and none of the garage-made kitsch that made watching robots duel fun.
We're not opposed to the idea of giant battling robots, but nothing about this event felt "futuristic" or like anything more than an endless publicity grab. The "robots" are essentially souped-up cars and don't appear to push the envelope on anything, really. That the whole thing was designed for entertainment value and was heavily edited before being aired "live" means that the giant robot battle says very little about the current state of robotics and much more about creating a viral video.