Even as a 6.5-ton Japanese robot named "Kuratas" was bearing down on Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti and preparing to bash them with its 600-pound metal fist, their strange dream had come true. They were fighting in the world's very first giant robot battle.
It was October 2017. After challenging Suidobashi Heavy Industries' robot to a one-on-one fight to be streamed around the world via Twitch.tv, the two cofounders of MegaBots Inc. were about to find out if the robots they'd spent years building in West Oakland could better their opponent in a three-round fight to the death. The loser would be the team whose pilot surrendered, or whose robot was knocked down or incapacitated.
Having disassembled and transported their Mark II "Iron Glory" and Mark III "Eagle Prime" robots to Japan and then reassembled them at a steel mill converted into a makeshift combat arena, Oehrlein and Cavalcanti were realizing their dream. But it looked more like a nightmare.
As the first round opened, Iron Glory fired a three-pound cannonball at Kuratas, only to have it shatter in the chamber of its cannon. The Japanese robot promptly charged across the warehouse and struck Oehrlein and Cavalcanti's robot with its titanic fist. Iron Glory immediately toppled onto its back, putting the pilots' helmets, roll cage, five-point harnesses, and fire-retardant clothing to the test. Fire extinguishers at the ready, the MegaBots support crew ran over to pull the pair out of the cockpit. Someone asked urgently, "Anyone smell gasoline?" As Oehrlein slowly emerged from the cockpit, he minced no words: "That sucked."
The fight was over almost before it had begun. After only 24 seconds, MegaBots had lost round one to Suidobashi in humiliating fashion. One more loss and the match would be over.
In round two, Oehrlein and Cavalcanti abandoned Iron Glory for their newer Eagle Prime robot, complete with modular weaponry; a double-barrel cannon arm; a flexible steel claw for grappling; and other advancements. More importantly, Eagle Prime weighed in at 12 tons, with 60 percent of that weight centered toward its bottom, as opposed to the top-heavy weight distribution of the 6-ton Iron Glory. Oehrlein and Cavalcanti hoped that Eagle Prime's extra weight would give it an advantage over the 6.5-ton Kuratas.
As round two began, Eagle Prime fired a cannonball, which again shattered in the chamber as it had in Iron Glory. Kuratas took cover behind a stack of oil drums arrayed as props. Eagle Prime fired again, this time destroying some of its opponent's cover. Closing in for another round, Eagle Prime hit Kuratas dead on. The Japanese 'bot then launched an aerial drone to distract Eagle Prime's pilots, who swatted it out of the air with their robot's giant claw. But the damaged drone crashed atop Eagle Prime's cockpit, its smoke obscuring Oehrlein and Cavalcanti's view.
Kuratas charged again. Eagle Prime blocked its advance by knocking a stack of demolished prop cars into its path. But Kuratas simply raced around the blockade, engaging Eagle Prime up close, and bashing it several times with its mighty 600-pound fist. Eagle Prime wrapped its claw around Kuratas' arm to neutralize the giant fist. The Americans fired several paintball rounds into their opponent's exposed midsection before repurposing their cannon as a battering ram, knocking several of Kuratas' armor panels loose. With the Japanese robot seemingly immobilized by Eagle Prime, the second round was called in favor of MegaBots. The score was tied, with one final round to go.
Dismayed at the poor performance of their cannons, Oehrlein and Cavalcanti replaced Eagle Prime's arm with a 4-foot, 40 horsepower chainsaw originally designed to cut through rock. When the third round began, the American robot charged out of the gate, closing the distance with its Japanese foe. In an effort to neutralize Eagle Prime's cameras, Kuratas began firing paintball rounds using a six-barrel Gatling gun built into its right arm. To block the barrage, Eagle Prime pulled down a nearby lighting stanchion with its claw, spinning it on its axis to block the Japanese robot's fusillade of blood-colored paintballs. Oehrlein and Cavalcanti advanced. As the giant robots collided and grappled, the Japanese robot dislodged some of Eagle Prime's front bumpers.
Then the Americans activated Eagle Prime's chainsaw. The blade cut through the Japanese robot's arm like it was a loaf of bread. Red paintballs spilled onto the floor and the Gatling gun's barrels fell to the ground like severed fingers. Eagle Prime redeployed its saw and started dismantling Kuratas' shoulder. As the much larger Megabot pushed the Japanese robot backward, it knocked down another lighting structure in a giant shower of sparks and dust, sending a camera crew and a pair of announcers scurrying for safety. Just after a closed-circuit video feed showed the Japanese pilot mopping his brow in anguish, the round and match were called in Eagle Prime's favor.
After 18 months of negotiations, planning, building, and deployment — but only 204 seconds of actual combat — MegaBots had handily bested Suidobashi before an audience of more than 286,000 streaming viewers on Twitch.tv. It was the online gaming network's second largest non-gaming stream to date. The match can be found in its entirely on YouTube via a quick search for "MegaBots vs. Kuratas."
Viewers of the match had conclusively proven that there is an audience for a giant robot-fighting league.
Yet that left a larger, more challenging question. Is there also a viable business model?