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Toxic Fangs from China and Flame Tyrannosaurus from the UK duke it out in Episode 1 of Clash Bots. (Picture: iQiyi)

China’s latest obsession: Watching robots fight

BattleBots-inspired reality show on iQiyi had nearly 80 million views on first day

This article originally appeared on ABACUS
Remember BattleBots? First seen on Comedy Central in 2000 and revived this spring by Discovery Channel, the reality show featured elaborately-armed homemade robots fighting each other to the death.
Watched eagerly by children and adults across the US, the show became such a hit that the robots were made into Happy Meal toys, starred in a Super Bowl commercial for Budweiser, and appeared in the TV show Malcolm in the Middle.
Nearly two decades later, combat robots are now making a splash in China. A 12-episode online series called Clash Bots debuted on Baidu’s video streaming site iQiyi on March 29.
Within the first day, it was watched by more than 78 million people. In comparison, the most recent season finale of Game of Thrones had 12.1 million viewers.
Toxic Fangs from China and Flame Tyrannosaurus from the UK duke it out in Episode 1 of Clash Bots. (Picture: iQiyi)
But as the review site AwksNerd pointed out, Clash Bots is more of a celebrity-driven show rather than a robot combat tournament. Redditors noted a sizeable chunk of the show was celebrities talking (with product placement by KFC), interspersed with a few actual fights.
But unlike the original BattleBots, which notoriously cast B-list celebs as hosts, Clash Bots has some of China’s hottest stars -- including Angelababy, who starred in Independence Day: Resurgence. That might explain why it’s doing well with viewers, despite criticism from robot enthusiasts.
Devourer from the UK looks pretty mean -- but didn't make it past the first round. (Picture: iQiyi)
Another show -- King of Bots, which debuted on Zhejiang TV in January -- showed more of the actual competition, with robots spinning around furiously, driving blades into each other, while trying to avoid traps laid across a bulletproof arena. It consistently ranked within the top three variety shows in dozens of provinces when it ran earlier this year.

One thing that stood out for me about Clash Bots was that despite the amazing technology we have today, fighting robots still look pretty much the same as they did when BattleBots first came out.

But there is one exception: This robot from King of Bots really stands out.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.