Whether you’re a builder or a fan, it’s always hard to watch the teams you support do badly. Worse still if by ‘badly’ you mean ‘didn’t win a fight all season.’ First comes the disappointment; because things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. Then comes the empathy for the team you support; it’s hard to watch someone’s hard work perform disappointingly.
The final stage of this process depends on how much time you’ve spent on Reddit, or other such platforms which produce a fine fetter of salty ‘fan’ bois armed with a winning combination of keyboards, arrogance, and questionable vocabularies. If like me, you love a good old’ troll, the final stage of this process involves a lot of eye-rolling, face-palming, a few choice clap-backs, and of course, the inevitable existential crisis of ‘why do I do it?’
If you’re a sensible person who avoids the comments sections of the Internet, you’ll probably just shrug and move on at this point.
For the record, I’m not referring to my own robots’ performance here. Even I’m not facetious enough to write an article about how I’ve inspired myself. I’m talking about the robots I love which I’ve seen do badly sometimes, and how that inspires me. As amazing as success is, it’s also kinda easy to deal with. I mean, the hard work paid off! It was worth it! F*ck the haters! – It’s not difficult to go forwards with a positive attitude after a win because winning alone feels good. The fact that the hard work has paid off and you can go home with your head held high is a bonus shot of dopamine on top of that.
What’s much harder is finding the inspiration to carry on in the face of failure. As both a fan and builder, it is particularly hard to watch the teams and bots I love perform badly. Empathy for my fellow builders kicks in; not just for how it feels to lose, but also because I know all about stressful repairs, and I know that everyone on that team will have worried about what the reaction online will be like at least once. As a fan, it’s hard to watch other ‘fans’ react badly to a loss and throw abuse at builders – mostly because I simply don’t understand it. I can’t imagine a life so care-free and privileged where the win-loss record of a Battlebot was what I got angry about that day, but there we go.
All right, I DO understand it, but I’m not here to analyse the inner psyches of the lesser spotted incels. I’m here to talk about why failure inspires me to keep building, not why it inspires others to be d*cks.
In case anyone hadn’t noticed, I’m a woman. No, really. Who’d of thunk. I’ve spent most of my working life in “male dominated” jobs, so I am no stranger to the concept of working twice as hard to gain half the validation or respect of my colleagues, and I’m very well-acquainted with some good old fashioned goalpost movement. I’ve had my fair share of times in both my working and bot-building lives where I’ve come close to giving up because of those things. I’m human, after all, and different humans have different tolerance levels of how much bull shit they’re prepared to put up with. Who better to inspire me to learn from my failures and keep trying than those who have been there before me? (Note to self: “Gonna need to see some Goalpost Movement needs to be a meme).
Let’s take the likes of Chomp for example. (Buckle up keyboard heroes, we’re doing this). In season 3 of Battlebots, Chomp didn’t do so well. And because its’ Captain Zoe Stephenson has the absolute audacity to be a woman who enjoys the sport, and would like to inspire other women and girls to enjoy it too – this warrants a veritable salt mine of abuse directed at her and the robot. From the robot itself being compared to a flailing Magikarp Pokemon to Zoe’s inbox receiving messages the likes of which I won’t repeat, this team has had the works. But they still get back in the arena after every loss, and the team meets the online adversity with a level of grace that people with a malfunctioning brain-to-mouth filters like me can only dream of.
Also, Magikarp evolves into Gyrados. #wewantseason5
Example number two; Hypershock. Also had a sucky season three, likewise enjoyed the elaborate lexicons of salty armchair builders, and was forced to adopt the mantra that they must suck less in future. Enter season four, and, suck less they did! (And they didn’t commit first degree burgercide this time! I’m still mad about that, Bales!) Although it ultimately didn’t claim the Giant Nut, its’ performance in season four certainly showed that giving up was not the answer.
Now I’m not your average fan. I’m one of those idiots who thought it looked fun and to Hell with anyone who says I can’t give it a go. (I believe the correct term is “fan-turned-builder,” but I prefer idiot, so we’ll roll with it. If you listen carefully, you can hear Al Kindle nodding in approval). I was fortunate enough to have my daft idea accepted onto the show, and this posed the slightly awkward problem of my inner fangirl: meeting my heroes.
I was THERE for Hypershock’s streak of sucking less. I was mere tables away from them while they stuck middle fingers up at last seasons’ sucking and got that bot on a much better run. I was the first at the pit-screens with a front-row seat to all its’ fights – and that’s not just because I’m short!
Zoe made an appearance at filming too, and, came over to my pit table to allow me to fan girl. She had time for me, made me feel part of the hammer crew, and was basically everything you want your heroes to be in real life. In that moment I gave zero f*cks that Chomp went 0-4 last season, stopped caring about my own win-loss record, and was motivated to roll my sleeves up and get repairing.
For me, failure makes the sport seem that bit more accessible and relatable too. Imagine you’re a first time viewer; you’ve never heard of the sport, nor the show, and you’re round a buddy’s house one night and they put on BattleBots. The inner workings of the robots probably seem like wizardry, the builders are ‘celebrities’ and totally NOT real-ass humans with regular jobs for the other 50 weeks in the year, and as exciting as it is; it all seems a bit…intimidating. Until your team loses.
You see the disappointment on the teams’ faces and you relate to a time where you felt like your hard work had all been for nothing. You watch the pit footage and see that the loss was down to a small, frustrating oversight and you relate, because there are plenty of times where a dumb oversight cost you something important. You see the teams learn from their mistakes and come back stronger, and you can relate because you’ve been there too. Even when all hope seems lost and your team might not make it; they get back in the arena and remind you that from rock-bottom, the only way is up.
I prefer to think of failure as a journey rather than a destination. I have only ‘failed’ if I give up – otherwise I have just simply found lots of ways which don’t work. The failures of my favourite bots and teams, for me, are a cause for admiration, not condemnation. I admire all the creative ways that teams meet their challenges and fix their machines, I admire their determination, and I admire their strength in not giving up. It inspires me not to give up, not just on bot-building but in other aspects of my life. I dare say I’m not the only fan who feels that way.
And maybe someone needed to hear that it’s okay to f*ck up today.