The BattleBots franchise begins its 11th season Thursday night, with an episode premiering at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery. Ahead of that premiere, play-by-play voice Chris Rose (known for his work for NFL Network, MLB Network, Fox’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period back in the day, and more) spoke to AA on the show and how he got involved with the revival, which started on ABC in 2015 (after the original show ran for five seasons on Comedy Central from 2000-2002). Rose told AA he had no knowledge of BattleBots before getting involved, and his oldest son wasn’t initially a fan of the idea.
“It was originally brought back in 2015, it had been on the shelf for quite a while, a little over a decade since Comedy Central had done it. A friend of mine was up for one of the spots on the show, and I talked to my agent, and he said ‘Listen, they’re still looking for a play-by-play guy if you want to do it,’ and I said ‘Look, I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t know a damn thing about it.’ He said ‘Well, look it up on YouTube,’ so I started checking out the clips, and I’m like ‘Oh my god, this is crazy!'”
“And our oldest son at the time was just finishing up eighth grade, I believe, and he’s like ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m like ‘Well, I’m up for this show, BattleBots, and I’m talking to the producers.’ And he sat down and watched with me and like 90 seconds later was like ‘Dad, you are not doing that show.’ ‘What do you mean, I’m not doing it?’ ‘Dad, I’m going to get laughed out of school.’ I’m like, ‘Hold on, I don’t even have the job yet.'”
But Rose said conversations with the producers convinced him it was worth a go.
“I ended up meeting with the producers, Chris Cowan and Aaron Catling, who are still with it, and they were great. They’re huge sports fans, and we just had the best talk ever, and I was really fortunate that they picked me to host it. And it came out that summer for a short run, six episodes, and long story short, all my son’s friends loved the show. I walked into his room one day and said ‘You’re welcome.'”
He said it was particularly interesting for him in 2015 joining a pre-existing world.
“I think the most surprising thing was that we were walking in as a television production crew to a world that had already been created. And obviously there was a group of veteran bot builders who were part of the old run on Comedy Central, and they had continued the fighting even though it wasn’t on linear television. They had their own world, and we were kind of indoctrinating ourselves into it.”
Rose said one thing that stands out about BattleBots is how the competing teams help each other.
“I remember the first time ever walking into the pits, and it’s like if you’ve been to NASCAR or open-wheel racing, the first time you walk back there, it’s like ‘Wow, this is cool.’ And it’s like that times a billion. Each of the teams are lined up on their own scientific slab table, but they’re all working together.”
“It’s the beauty of the BattleBots community. Yes, they all want to win the Giant Nut, the trophy that you get at the end of the year, and they want to have bragging rights and go kick the crap out of your friends and destroy robots and all that stuff, but it’s such a wonderful community. It’s like ‘Hey, you’re short of batteries? We’ve got extra batteries. You don’t have the right kind of tires? We’ll help you out.'”
“We have had competitions where one team is fighting another, but they had to borrow the other team’s batteries. It’s like even if you’re trying to beat one team, you’re helping them out too. That’s a wonderful part of all this. I come from a world of sports where I cover football and baseball for a living, and it’s not like if someone’s bat is broken on the Yankees, nobody from the Red Sox is going to be like ‘Here, try this one out!’ That’s not how it works. So to understand that while it’s a competition, but at the same time, these people still really care for each other, is the most eye-opening and probably pleasant part of the equation. But don’t mistake that for the fact of how they want to kill each other inside the box and blow each other up.”
He said it was challenging for him at first to pick up the BattleBots world, but that’s gotten much easier over time, and has made it easier for the broadcast team to dive deeper now that they have some knowledge of what’s going on.
“I was starting from zero here. I didn’t know any of the characters. Whereas, I had been a football and baseball fan my entire life, so you’re just building on that history that you have inherently from when you were a 10-year-old kid. Here, I was starting from scratch. But now we know everybody, we know their families, we know what makes them tick. We know who they are away from the BattleBox. And that continues to add layers to our ability to storytell.”
Rose said the story of Dave Eaton is part of that.
“We also love great stories, like that of Dave Eaton, who built Rusty. He’s a guy who doesn’t really have a science background, but just went to his parents’ farm in Illinois and started picking up pieces of junk. His loveable robot Rusty was the 2020 rookie of the year and is back for this season as well, and I knew that…it was interesting because we didn’t really have an audience when we filmed season five, because of COVID, but we did this year in Las Vegas, and I was curious to see how he would resonate with an audience, because he didn’t play in front of one in his first season. He got the biggest ovation of anyone the first time he came out. When he walked out of that tunnel, it was almost like a guy who had won a half-dozen Giant Nuts was walking through there, a guy who had been a part of this sport for 20 years.”
Rose calls BattleBots matches alongside analyst Kenny Florian, the former UFC fighter. He said Florian brings “everything” to the broadcast.
“I’ve got the easy job. You know what I do, for three minutes? ‘Oh my GOD!’ That’s what I do, I just describe what I see. And it’s not fake, it’s real. When I’m sitting up there at the box and watching stuff fly at us at 250 miles an hour, I’m going to react the same way you would at home. But what Kenny has to do, and he’s a fighter by trade, used to hand to hand combat, he has to get an understanding of what each robot has in its arsenal, what its strengths are, what its weaknesses are, and explain it to an audience that may not be privy to that world on a day-to-day basis, and do it quickly.”
“There is not one person I would rather sit next to for this show than Kenny Florian. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s quick. And I like it, because he’s shorter than I am. Those are all wins.”
Rose also said BattleBots is an unusual program that appeals to both kids and adults.
“When you’re a fan watching BattleBots, the first thing you want to do, be honest, is to watch shit blow up. It’s one of those few programs out there that is great for all ages, because, unfortunately, there is a lot of programming out there that’s either for adults or for kids, and there’s very little common ground. Here, we all like seeing stuff blow up, as long as there isn’t a human attached to it.”
And he said that the show has appeal for those who are fans of more conventional sports. After all, that’s how he started.
“I thought, when my agent mentioned it to me for the first time six and a half years ago, ‘What are we talking about here?’ But the minute I sat down, it was like ‘I get it, I totally get it.'”
He thinks there’s also an escapism appeal here given the challenges of the real world.
“We need stuff, in today’s world, where we can just get away. We have been trapped in this pandemic for almost two and a half years now. People’s lives have been changed forever, mostly in not a good way. We need a release, we need a place that we can go, and just laugh, and have fun, and realize that there are good people who care about one another. It sounds a little sappy, but it really isn’t; it’s just people who are following their passion.”
“Let’s remember, these aren’t people who are making millions of dollars off of their robots. Many of them are dipping into their own pockets to follow what is their true passion away from their jobs. A lot of [the robots] are family-created. And there’s something for everyone here. You will be able to identify with some bot-builder out there, even if you’re strictly a sports fan, as I have been my entire life.”
Rose said this show is also a highlight for him each year.
“I will tell you this, and this is no bullshit, the two weeks that we go and tape this show are the most enjoyable two weeks I have each year. It’s like summer camp. You get to see people. And the thing that’s been really hard the past two years is that I don’t get to go hang out with the bot builders because of COVID restrictions, I can’t be in the pits. I can wave from a distance.”
“That part has been hard, because we have really built a wonderful community, and one that I think has given some people, some people who might have been on the outside when they’re younger, thinking ‘Okay, I’m not an athlete, but I’d like to compete in something,’ this has given them an avenue to do that. And I hope we see those people watching that are 12 and 13 years old, I hope in a few years I’ll be calling their name on BattleBots. There’s nothing that would make me happier.”
“I love it, I’m passionate about it. And my youngest son, who’s 16, he’ll come from baseball practice and be like ‘Don’t tell me what happened!’ We just sit there and watch it. And he fills out the bracket when we get into the playoffs. And I know we’ve kind of done our jobs as a show when I get a kid who’s a big athlete, and he’s sitting in front of a TV passionate about this.”
BattleBots Season 11 premieres on Discovery Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT, with further episodes released every Thursday for the next couple months. It’s available to stream on Discovery+.
[Top photo copyright 2021 BattleBots Inc., photographer Dan Longmire]