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Attack, Pulverize, Destroy, Fundraise

MegaBots Inc. paves the way for a giant robot fighting league — at least if the money holds out.

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"The power as you embody a Powerful Giant Mech is exhilarating," Lenarcic wrote of his experience. "You simply BECOME a 15-foot-tall, two-ton giant that can smash things with huge fists!" MegaBots provided Lenarcic with a La-Z-Boy recliner and an old big-screen projection TV to smash for his first booking. During his return trip, he smashed dishwashers and a car.

"Arm-smashing is by far the best," said Lenarcic, who said he enjoyed the bounce, the power, and the ground-shaking feedback from this. "The chainsaw is more of a continuous destruction," he noted, recalling the fun he had tearing the roof off a car by forcing the running chainsaw through its windshield.

When asked whether he'd book time again in the future, he replied, "Of course!"

Oakland software product manager Justin Quimby had a similar experience. "It was everything I hoped for, and an absolute blast," recalled Quimby, who had grown up watching TV shows and reading science fiction about giant battle robots. Once the safety protocols and training were complete, Quimby's dream of robotic destruction came true. In his case, the victims included a washing machine, a few pieces of furniture, and a car, all provided by MegaBots.

"Matt and the team gave me a briefing beforehand, talking me through the various controls and how the robot operates," the 44-year-old recalled via email. "Once we got into the robot, we went through a pre-flight checklist and then they walked me through how to operate each part of the robot. Once I was comfortable with each part, they let me loose to wreck a car!"

Quimby was impressed by the safety measures in place beyond the roll cages, emergency shutdowns, and fire extinguishers that he expected. "The other key safety measure was the MegaBots crew," he added. "Not only was a team member in the robot and able to take over should something get squirrely, they were also communicating with two team members on the ground, who made sure that nothing happened which might have caused an issue."

"I was grinning ear to ear the entire time, when I wasn't yelling out in joy."


As Oehrlein and Cavalcanti dreamt of giant robot combat while raising money and perfecting their machines, they weren't alone. Upon noticing that the Japanese firm Suidobashi Heavy Industries had built its own giant robot, the two went to work crafting a challenge video from the Oakland warehouse space they were renting at the time.

They donned matching black sunglasses, wore American flags as capes, and walked past bursts of flame as patriotic music surged in the background. Their message was simple: "Suidobashi, WE have a giant robot. You have a giant robot. You know what needs to happen ..."

The challenge video went viral.

The next stage involved about 1½ years of negotiations between MegaBots and Suidobashi Heavy Industries, with initial negotiations taking about a year, and the next six months devoted to various amendments. While certain points were more formal — such as number of rounds in the match — Oehrlein noted that this was brand new territory for both parties. "Because this was the first-ever giant robot fight in history that we are aware of, the rules were basically negotiated by us asking each other 'we're going to build this, is that OK?'" he said. The major point of contention was that Suidobashi wanted to fight Iron Glory first, and not Eagle Prime.

To help pay for the contest, MegaBots lined up a streaming deal with Twitch.tv, the Internet-based gaming platform, where viewers watch elite video game players do the things they're best at. Through the Twitch platform, top gamers can make more than a million dollars per year via subscriptions, sponsorships, and a share of ad revenue. Oehrlein said MegaBots coordinated the Twitch deal on its own and owns all rights to the duel itself.

When the contest was streamed, more than 286,000 viewers tuned in via Twitch. And since the contest, videos of the fight have been viewed on YouTube more than 8 million times. Indeed, social media marketing is a big part of the MegaBots business model. As of this writing, the company boasts more than 153,000 YouTube followers, 217,000 Facebook followers, 25,000 Instagram followers, and 9,000 Twitter followers.

Looking back at the Kuratas fight with the benefit of hindsight, Oehrlein sees both strengths and weaknesses of the match, with an eye toward how future contests could be improved.

"I think the strength was the novelty of it, first and foremost," he said. "The fact that no one had ever seen two giant robots battle each other in real life, pretty much ever. It was a historic moment to witness that for the first time. That fact that we have a nation-on-nation narrative also makes it very interesting.

"We truly didn't know what was going to happen when these things started hitting each other. When two giant robots that were made on two different sides of the world met together for the first time and started hitting each other, no one knew if they would fall over, would they not move at all, would they get pushed around? Would they just hit each other and lock up and shut down? It was incredible."

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