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"I'd like to thank Marc for everything. He's the the godfather of robot combat."
BattleBots co-founder Greg Munson on Marc Thorpe[1]

Marc Thorpe was an electronics expert, engineer and model designer from San Francisco who founded Robot Wars in 1994. Widely considered the pioneer of combat robotics, his early events ultimately evolved into the creation of BattleBots in 1999. He was one of the first two inductees into the BattleBots Hall of Fame in 2022.

Having thought up the idea of fighting robots in 1992, Marc Thorpe began advertising his plan for a combat robotics event in 1993. The inaugural competition took place a year later, under the name Robot Wars. Three more Robot Wars competitions took place, enticing builders who would become key figures of what would ultimately become BattleBots, including but not limited to Donald Hutson, Mark Setrakian, Carlo Bertocchini and Gage Cauchois.

Robot Wars 1997 color poster

A color poster for the 1997 Robot Wars event.

Following legal pressure, Marc Thorpe ultimately relinquished ownership of the Robot Wars name to Profile Records co-founder Steve Plotnicki in February 1999, who holds the name to this day. However, among the competitors in Thorpe's events were cousins Greg Munson and Trey Roski, who piloted La Machine with assistance from future championship-winning builder Gage Cauchois. In the face of adversity from legal action taken by Steve Plotnicki, Trey Roski convinced his cousin to close his company Impact Media and join him in developing their own competition in Las Vegas, BattleBots.

A legal case followed against BattleBots, with Plotnicki believing Trey Roski and Greg Munson were simply staging Robot Wars, the concept of Marc Thorpe which he now owned the naming rights to, under a new name. He also believed Thorpe was conspiring against him with Trey Roski, and attempted to sue. However, this was unsuccessful and BattleBots would ultimately continue for a second 1999 event with Thorpe in attendance. Robot Wars would ultimately become the name of a separate televised show in the United Kingdom, which ran for ten series in total and saw multiple spin-offs.

Marc Thorpe at BB

Marc Thorpe present at the Long Beach 1999 BattleBots event.

Marc Thorpe initially voiced his distaste for BattleBots on Comedy Central, singling out the show's sexual innuendos and lack of focus on the robots and their builders for criticism.[2] This was something that Greg Munson himself opposed, but ultimately tolerated for the sake of BattleBots remaining on the network. Munson also credited Thorpe for teaching him and Trey Roski how to brand BattleBots as a sport more than simply just an event.[3] Thorpe's appreciation for BattleBots would later develop with the rebooted seasons, however, especially as the show grew in popularity in its years on Discovery. He held a Reddit AMA in September 12, 2016, answering questions from a number of fans and reminiscing on his early involvement with the sport.

"I am proud of being able to create a new sport that is home to so many great talented and creative people."
— Marc Thorpe speaking on the evolution of combat robotics[4]

He later hosted a viewing party for World Championship IV with help from Gary Gin of Free Shipping, inviting numerous competing teams to his workshop as well as Greg Munson.[5]

On February 3, 2020, a fundraiser was established to assist Marc Thorpe with his battle against Parkinson's disease, which he had been fighting for over two decades. Over $10,000 has been raised, with a number of BattleBots crew and competitors expressing their gratitude for Thorpe's legacy.[6]

"Marc, the opportunities that have been afforded to me in this life, the doors that have opened, the jobs I have been offered, all because of my relationship to robot combat. A relationship you started. Thank you for creating a space for this crazy group of talented and creative people to play."
Pete Abrahamson's message accompanying his donation

In 2022, Marc Thorpe was unveiled as one of the inaugural members of the BattleBots Hall of Fame, inducted alongside Mark Setrakian.[7] His death was announced by BattleBots judge Lisa Winter via Instagram on November 24, 2023.[8]

Outside BattleBots[]

Marc-thorpe Team Razer RW presentation

Marc Thorpe presents Team Razer with the International League Championship trophy.

San Francisco-born Marc Thorpe lived in the East Bay area throughout his childhood. He attended Cal State University in 1969 before moving to Davis, California to earn his Masters in 1971 at UC Davis.

Eight years later, he began a fifteen-year stint at LucasFilm where he worked as chief model maker and animatronic designer. There, he worked on many projects including those in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film franchises. He would then design toys for Lucasfilm.

From 1994 until 1995, he would work as a lecturer for San Francisco University's department of art while holding multiple art-related positions across the late 1990s and early 2000s. From November 2004 until October 2005, Thorpe was a mechanical engineer for Electronic Arts. His latter working years were spent as a concept designer for Stupid Fun Club, as well as holding various engineering roles. He then ran a design company for corporate and outdoor signage until 2012.

Marc Thorpe made a rare on-camera appearance during the special international episodes of Robot Wars which followed The Third Wars. He presented Team Razer with the trophy for the International League Championship, footage which was reused as Razer also won the First World Championship.

"I fell in love with Razer the first time I saw it and I always thought of Robot Wars as an art sport and this clearly demonstrates, you know, how that's clearly true."
— Marc Thorpe on Razer

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