Last week Sports Editor, Elliot van Barthold, went down to Shock Soc’s Robot Fighting League to witness barbarism the likes Leeds University Union had never witnessed before.
The turn of the millennium was a truly iconic period of British pop culture: S Club 7 were dominating radio’s soundwaves; Liam and Noel hadn’t started fighting; and Robot Wars was bringing in 6 million viewers on primetime BBC TV. Like the ethically devoid species we are, Robot Wars was a ritualistic, violent demonstration of our dominance on this planet. Pitting – sometimes multiple – robots against each other with the sole intent of causing complete disrepair on one’s opponent, it was a barbaric show and arguably the purest form of entertainment that TV has ever witnessed. Jonathan Pierce’s commentary – a melange of bewildered cackles and breathless shouts – reflected the unadulterated joy that viewers throughout the UK experienced weekly. The morning after an episode, kids at school would be vehemently disputing and debating the pros and cons of an overpowered Sir Killalot, after it had systematically taken apart the newest, naivest competitor to challenge the show’s icon in the legendary “Arena of Destruction”. But, as you quickly learn in this cruel life, all good things must come to an end. Robot Wars was laid to rest in the dark winter of 2004. However, the enthusiasm for the sport has not dwindled and at 5pm on Wednesday 23rd November, I was invited along to the grassroots version of the sport: LUU Shock Soc’s Robot Fighting League.
Jonathan Pearce at his breathless best
Set in the bowels of the Union, in a little known place called “Pyramid”, Shock Soc had constructed their very own “Arena of Destruction”. A square cage sat in the middle of the room and had been fitted with bulletproof glass and a pit, a worthy replication of the stage we all know so well from the beloved TV version. Pyramid had been transformed into a coliseum, brimming with bloodthirsty students eager to watch this mindless violence. On my long walk (I was wondering the halls of Fruity for hours) I was tense, worried that my time spent as a simple armchair fan would cause me to feel left out and unwelcome. How I was wrong.
The moment I walked in and sat down, I could hear the presenters gabbering away. What I thought would be quite intense and technical chat was in fact funny, witty dialogue amongst themselves, interspersed with interviews from the judges and the competitors alike. I would say that the quality of the night would not have been so if it were not for the presenters. They maintained a bubbly, jovial atmosphere – covering for the teams struggling to glue pieces of their robots back together – whilst interacting regularly with the audience, including a detailed analysis of the championship belt that was on the line. The presenters were impressive and a vital component in the success of the event.
The robots themselves were varied in ability. This, in part, was down to the fact that some of the competitors had never done any electrical engineering and were simply learning on the job. Nevertheless, we wanted bloodshed and it was somewhat disappointing to have little of that for the first few rounds due to a few worthy but somewhat poor robot designs (Terrible Rex and I Saw You Coming, named and shamed).
Fortunately, we were treated to some good action later, thanks to robots like Drift Knight, who drove head first into the pit, twice, in sacrificial attempts to incite the crowd (it did); Ethel 2, who’s razor took chunks away from multiple opponents; and One Punch Two, deceptively without a punching tool but a horizontal blade that when at full speed spun the crowd into a frenzy of excitement.
The final was between two sturdy but somewhat lacklustre opponents, both able of withstanding blows but unable of dishing any out. Thus, it was up to the judges to decide who had earned the honour of the championship belt. By unanimous decision it was awarded, justly, to Drill Sergeant for its aggression and actual effort in trying to win.
Walking out of the venue I spoke to longtime Robot Wars aficionado, Lewis Dzygrynuk, who was glowing radiantly. He had this to say about the event:
“The crowd’s atmosphere, the tongue in cheek commentary and the consistency of surprises (good and bad) happening in the ring, it all made for a really entertaining evening. I’ve booked my ticket for the next one already!”
It was a consensus seemingly shared by all. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the event and would recommend it to anyone. Being a newcomer to the sport should not deter anyone in the slightest. Shock Soc informed me that there will be another event next term. So, dear reader, if you are looking for a loud, cheesy, violent but thoroughly enjoyable evening, don’t head to Fruity. Get yourself down to the next Shock Soc Robot Fighting League. I assure you, you’ll be in for a blast.
Find Shock Soc’s Facebook page here for all the information about their future Robot Fighting League events.
By Elliot van Barthold