Rock Em! Sock Em! Sue Em!

Legal battles decked the wildly popular Robot Wars competitions. Now a challenger has arisen to save the sport.

Plotnicki fired back with yet another lawsuit, accusing Roski of unfair competition, interference with the Robot Wars business, and trade dress infringement, among other allegations. He sent an e-mail to robot competitors, claiming that the BattleBots event would cause Robot Wars "enormous economic harm." Roski e-mailed the same people one day later, assuring them that his event would definitely take place. He had powerful lawyers of his own, and he wasn't afraid of Plotnicki.

After more legal back-and-forth, a U.S. District Court judge denied Plotnicki's motion to block BattleBots, concluding that he failed to demonstrate any irreparable harm, and at one point "offered nothing more than rank speculation." Plotnicki immediately voluntarily dismissed his case without prejudice.

Three weeks later, Plotnicki sent out a letter to those people who had registered for Robot Wars '99, canceling the event and returning their fees. Those who had already registered were eligible for a drawing, in which the prize would be the AIBO Robotic Dog.

Don Lewis




Robot Wars

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The saga is still not finished. Although he now owns all aspects of Robot Wars, Plotnicki continues the legal dance with Trey Roski and BattleBots, insisting that Thorpe's bankruptcy is filed in bad faith. Thorpe's bankruptcy, and potential liquidation of his assets, is still dependent on the outcome of this.

Marc Thorpe passes the time creating metal sculptures at his home. He plans to display them at a San Francisco art gallery later this year. He still gets calls from people wanting information about Robot Wars.

Plotnicki sold portions of Profile Records' catalog to Arista, but is still in the music business. He releases a variety of ambient, techno, folk, and jazz recordings through his labels Astor Place and Smile. The British game-show version of Robot Wars -- featuring obstacle courses and tug-of-war competitions -- attracts millions of BBC viewers weekly. Plotnicki is vague about the possibility of staging another live Robot Wars event, but hints that episodes of the Robot Wars U.K. program may soon be airing on American television.

Because of a nondisparagement clause in their settlement, neither Plotnicki nor Thorpe will comment about the dispute.

Many stars of the original Robot Wars, including Mark Setrakian (Team Sinister), Carlo Bertocchini (Team Biohazard), Jim Smentowski (Team Hercules), and Gary Cline, participated in last month's BattleBots event. Biohazard coasted out of the arena, retaining the heavyweight championship for another year. And also in August, Smentowski received a summons from Plotnicki, demanding all documents in his possession that relate to Marc Thorpe, Robot Wars, or BattleBots.

With their recent success, Trey Roski and Greg Munson are already planning another BattleBots later this year in Las Vegas. They say this first event cost them $500,000 including attorneys' fees, but neither will discuss anything that has to do with Robot Wars.

And robot builders are already considering what to bring to the next event. Some will create a beautiful work of art, like Team Sinister's Mark Setrakian, who wowed the BattleBots crowd with a 400-pound metallic crablike robot. And others, like Napa high-tech executive David Chapman, are in the game for the attention, and the chance to entertain.

At BattleBots in the Long Beach Pyramid, Chapman's robot consists of a pink plastic children's jeep, with a dirty stuffed rabbit sitting behind the wheel, and next to it a stuffed bear, wrapped with bloodied bandages. Attached to the jeep's grill is a Barbie doll with multicolored hair, carrying a flimsy battle-ax made of tinfoil. A bumper sticker is slapped onto the back of the jeep, reading "I Brake for Animals." This contraption looks like something a kid left out in the driveway, but unbelievably, it has advanced to the semifinals.

"Losing to Barbie on the initial round is very embarrassing, but getting eliminated by Barbie, that's like the pits!" exclaims Chapman. "I mean, can you imagine? You spend all this time building this ferocious robot with a name like Carnivore, or Scorpion Bot, and a fucking kiddie toy drives you into the saw blades and that's it! It's game over. You're eliminated. It's gotta suck!"

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