BattleBots stemmed from the original robot combat franchise Robot Wars. The brainchild of Lucasfilms toy designer Marc Thorpe, Robot Wars attracted builders from all over the United States, and as far away as France, to build fighting robots and battle them in a San Francisco warehouse. In 1997, legal disputes between Thorpe and his principle sponsor Profile Records reached critical mass, resulting in Profile licensing Robot Wars to the BBC in the United Kingdom without Thorpe on board. A large contingent of Robot Wars US regulars sympathized with Thorpe, and refused to have any more dealings with Robot Wars, leading to the 1998 and 1999 Robot Wars US events being cancelled.
Trey Roski and Greg Munson, the builders of La Machine, decided to organize their own event to end the two-year drought and give their fellow builders an outlet for battling their robots. They decided upon the name "BattleBots" for their competitions. The events proved hugely popular with the local crowd, each one pulling in a nearly-full house. The second event was made available on Pay-Per-View, and proved explosively popular there too. Subsequently, BattleBots was picked up by Comedy Central.
Jay Leno endorsed BattleBots several times on The Tonight Show, and commissioned a robot, Chin-Killa, built in his name to fight in exhibition matches. BattleBots' popularity contained to grow, drawing over 400 entrants in Season 5.0.
Robot Wars meanwhile, held two American competitions in the UK. They tried to entice BattleBots builders with an all-expense-paid trip to London, provided they changed their robot's name and paintjob if it appeared on BattleBots. Most of the prominent BattleBots builders were still unhappy with Robot Wars and declined the invitation, however a healthy contingent of lesser-known teams showed up to take part.
During the 2001 Super Bowl, a Bud Light commercial aired featuring a fictional competition called "Robotbash" and a robot made by Bob and Chuck Pitzer which was essentially Tripulta Raptor with special effects. BattleBots sued for copyright infringement but was struck down in court. Regardless, MTV bought out Comedy Central sometime around Season 5.0 and after Season 5.0 ended, MTV didn't want Battlebots as part of their lineup and ended the contract. For the following 13 years, Trey and Greg went through multiple deals from FOX to even a deal with James Cameron before finally being picked up by ABC.
For the first two seasons of the show's run on Comedy Central, a completely different logo was used even though a logo already existed that was used for everything else. Starting with Season 3.0, the more current logo was used for the TV show and remained until the show was revived for ABC, where it obtained a much more simple logo that lacked the animated claws and gears of the previous logo.
The original emcee was former American Gladiator Lee Reherman, who also did the countdown before each match. In the Las Vegas season, an animatronic robot called Y2K2 gave the countdown, but in later seasons was replaced by a drag race Christmas Tree. At the Vegas PPV event, Mark Beiro was the pre-match announcer, continuing on through the Comedy Central events. Joining in season 1.0 were commentators Bil Dwyer and Sean Salisbury, the latter replaced by Tim Green in Season 3.0. In addition, several arena side reporters interviewed competing roboteers before and after their matches. The current ABC version saw FOX sports reporter Molly McGrath as the emcee in season one. Season two is currently being hosted by Samantha Ponder.
- Long Beach: Lee Reherman
- Las Vegas PPV- much of Season 5.0: Mark Beiro
- Season 5.0 preliminary rounds: Roy Hellen
- ABC Season 1: Faruq Tauheed
- Introduce robots before each fight
- Entertain the crowd in between fights (Preliminary matches only)
- Announce the winner each fight, plus the score if it was by judges' decision, or the match time if it was by knockout (Beiro for all three, Faruq for the first two)
- Long Beach: Lee Reherman
- Las Vegas PPV: Larry Michael & Dan Danknick
- Season 1.0-2.0: Bil Dwyer & Sean Salisbury
- Seasons 3.0-5.0: Bil Dwyer & Tim Green
- ABC: Chris Rose & Kenny Florian
- Introduce each match
- Recap untelevised fights
- Provide commentary
BattleBots competitions were nearly identical to the US Robot Wars format, a straight knockout tournament in each weight class. Everyone who showed up with a rule-compliant robot was allowed to compete, with first-round byes given out as needed. The two untelevised seasons were double-elimination, whilst the rest were just single. In the Comedy Central seasons, matches were televised at the producers' discretion, and every show would typically feature at least one battle from each weight class. In Season 3.0 and beyond, seeded robots would gain automatic entry into the top 32.
A robot was considered knocked out if immobile 30 seconds and completely separated from its opponent. If there was no clear winner after 3 minutes, the judges would determine a winner based on aggression, strategy, and damage.
Also featured in each season was a rumble between the top 32 finishers in each class. The lower 16 would fight in the first rumble, from which the judges would pick two winners. The winners joined the top 16 in the royal rumble, which would end with the judges picking the three best performers and audience applause ultimately deciding the winner. These rumbles were not held during Season 5.0 due to a safety breach during a heavyweight rumble which caused one of Nightmare's teeth to fly through the BattleBox ceiling and into the crowd. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident.
For the 5th season, more comical segments replaced the general builders segments from the past episodes. Some exmaples were Bots in the News and Crossing Over.
For the ABC 2015 Reboot, it was a similar format but four losing robots would obtain a wildcard to return to the competition a second time and the drag racing Christmas tree was updated to a three panel light system that followed the previous light pattern but displayed them on the same three light panels. Also, robots could only hold their opponent for 10 seconds, replacing the 30 second rule used in past competitions. Any clips whereby a robot was testing its movements in the arena shortly before the match were included in the broadcast whereas previously they were left out most of the time. Whereas before, the famous "It's robot fightin' time was said by the commentators around the time the drag racing Christmas tree started the countdown, now it is used by the Emcee before the introductions.
If both robots were still mobile after 3 minutes, a panel of 3 judges would pick the winner. The criteria was aggression, strategy, and damage, with each having equal weight. The judges would score the robots from 0-3 in each category for a score of up to 9 points (later 0 to 15 for a score of up to 45 points and originally just giving a 1 or 0 up to Season 1.0), using the zero-sum method to prevent ties. For the ABC reboot, a Control judging category was added and had the same weight as the other categories. However, instead of using a points total, each judge would cast a vote on the winner based on the criteria.
|Season||Channel||Location||Start Date||End Date|
|Long Beach||Broadcast online on ZDTV||Long Beach, CA||8/14/99||8/15/99|
|Las Vegas PPV||ESPN Pay-Per-View||Las Vegas, NV||11/17/99||11/17/99|
|BattleBots: Season 1.0||Comedy Central||San Francisco, CA||6/9/00||6/11/00|
|BattleBots: Season 2.0||Comedy Central||Las Vegas, NV||11/17/00||11/19/00|
|BattleBots: Season 3.0||Comedy Central||Treasure Island, CA||5/22/01||5/28/01|
|BattleBots: Season 4.0||Comedy Central||Treasure Island, CA||11/4/01||11/11/01|
|BattleBots: Season 5.0||Comedy Central||Treasure Island, CA||5/19/02||5/28/02|
|ABC Season 1||ABC||San Francisco, CA||5/21/15||5/23/15|
|ABC Season 2||ABC||Los Angeles, CA||4/19/16||4/24/16|