TV Review: Robot Combat League, Season 1 Episode 1 “Rise of the Machines”

ROBOT COMBAT LEAGUE -- Season: 1 -- (Photo by: Tommy Garcia/SyFy)Genre: Reality | Competition

Air Date/Time: February 26 at 10/9c

Network: Syfy


A gripping new reality series which reinvents gladiatorial combat for the 21st century, Robot Combat League will feature tournament-style battles each week between eight-feet tall, state-of-the-art humanoid robots controlled by human “robo-jockeys”. Hosting the series is Chris Jericho, the wildly popular WWE wrestler and multifaceted performer.

This extraordinary new series will feature twelve teams consisting of a fighter (a “robo-jockey”) and a robotics engineer (a “robo-tech”) from myriad backgrounds including a race car driver, an Olympic athlete, a National Guard helicopter pilot along with a mix of professional fighters and software engineers. Each team is paired with its own unique robot and will fight in a first-of-its kind competition using a high-tech exo-suit that translates their movements to their robot. Each fight consists of three rounds of intense action, with the winning team advancing in the competition.

In his role as host, Jericho will set up each week’s fight and provide viewers with a play-by-play commentary of the fighting action.

The robots of the Robot Combat League were designed and created by robotics expert, Mark Setrakian, a leader in the sport of robotic combat. In his distinguished career, Setrakian has developed life-saving robotic systems, and pioneered cutting-edge creature effects, animatronics and control technology for such films as Men In Black, The Grinch and Hellboy. Setrakian combines a keen study of biology with innovative engineering to create robots with uncanny organic movement, earning his reputation as the man who brings machines to life.

Robot Combat League is produced by Smart Dog Media, with Craig Plestis serving as executive producer.

When I first heard about Robot Combat League I presumed it was one of those small automated robot competitions we’ve seen over the years. I was so wrong. This is much more like a live version of a fighting video game played by Aliens‘ Ripley in an exosuit. It is really cool.

As it says in the synopsis above, there are twelve teams of two; the fighter and the tech. (Don’t be deceived though; the “fighters” range from a couple of MMA fighters to a woman who plays Wonder Woman as a street performer.) The tech person operates “the maneuvering” (the feet) and is in charge of any tech issues, while the fighter operates the arms; both operators are in a stand above the arena so they can see the action and yell to/at each other.  Between each round, the teams are given 20 minutes to make any repairs necessary.

In the first episode we meet the teams – did you know that George Lucas’s daughter is a professional MMA fighter? – from a variety of backgrounds. It appears that, except for one father-daughter team, the teammates didn’t know each other before being brought together for this competition.

Robot Combat League meeting

We also meet the robots, and like players in fighting video games, or, you know, Pokemon, they have strengths and weaknesses. They are all giant, and cool. Some have strong protection but are slow, others have quick movements but a shorter reach. There are a lot of design differences that help, others that hinder, but they are clearly designed to be, on balance, equal. This is the first time the teams see the robots, and it’s interesting to note their various reactions. Some of it’s a little fake-ish, like “is this how we’re supposed to act?” but they’re still early in front of the cameras and it can be excused.

Once they make it through a ranking exercise, the first official battle of the Robot Combat League begins. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s a great battle, and a terrific start to the series. The trash talk is a little funny and forced, the commentary is the same, but maybe it’s meant to mimic wrestling, which I’ve never really watched. The crowd and their excitement is likewise a little forced feeling, but hopefully that settles down as everyone gets used to the setup and has a few more episodes under their belts.

I’m going to keep watching, at least until my favorite robot is eliminated, and hopefully that means I’ll be watching til the end. This is a fun show with a good combination of geekiness and destruction, so I say watch it live or record it, but either way, check it out.

I give Robot Combat League, Season 1 Episode 1 “Rise of the Machines” Four Out of Five Stars.




Erin Willard
Written by Erin Willard

Erin is the Editor In Chief and West Coast Correspondent for