Sunday, March 17, 2013
Professional gamer gets into ‘Robot Combat’ on new TV series
Thornton, 29, who originally is from Dearborn Heights and grew up mostly in Oakland and Macomb counties as her family moved around, is a professional video game player, as well as half of the team that operates “Drone Strike” in the SyFy channel’s new show, “Robot Combat League.”
The show is basically a combination of giant Rock ’Em Sock ’Em robots and real boxing. Each of the 12 robots is operated by a two-person team. One person, the “robo-jockey,” operates the fighting aspect of the robot, while the other, the “robo-tech,” deals primarily with controls and other aspects.
The show also is a takeoff of the 2011 movie “Real Steel,” starring Hugh Jackman.
“That was an amazing movie,” Thornton said. “Even though it’s not quite the same, that movie is what got me even more excited for this.
Thornton is the jockey for her team and Fazlul Zubair served as the tech person. Zubair holds eight degrees from the University of California-Irvine, including a doctorate in aerospace engineering.
Like most of the teams on the show, Thornton and Zubair had never met before they were paired with each other.
“We found out that we had some mutual friends afterward, but we had never met,” she said. “They were spot on with matching us up. He totally understood me, and we had a really great connection.”
The teams each were assigned a robot at the start of the competition rather than spending the resources for each to build their own.
“It’s so expensive and so time consuming,” Thornton said. “That would have been amazing, but we just wanted to get in there and fight the robots.”
According to its official biography, “Drone Strike” is based on bleeding-edge military hardware, and features stainless steel armor laminated with ballistic nylon in a digital camouflaged pattern.
The midsection includes shock-suspended armor bands that completely encircle the critical valve and hose assemblies. The large multifunction head/turret pans and tilts, and the barrel weapons are devastating to opponents.
The show is set up with the robots fighting in a bracket-style tournament. Team Drone Strike went up against Team Robo Hammer in the first round Tuesday night, and came away with a first round knockout when Thornton landed a blow that ripped several actuators and hydraulic hoses out of Robo Hammer’s midsection.
Team Robo Hammer members are electrical engineer Saura Naderi, the tech, and mixed martial artist Amanda Lucas, who is the open weight champion for the Japan-based mixed martial arts league “Deep,” who is the jockey.
Thornton said that because Lucas’ dad appeared on the show, Team Robo Hammer got some extra practice time, and a bit more screen time than the other teams.
“I wanted to fight her before we found out who we were matched up against,” she said. “Some of the people were very intimidated of her because of her past, being an MMA fighter with only one loss.”
“When you have someone with a celebrity status, more practice and more experience, and on top of that she is a fierce competitor, no one wanted to fight her. I was like: ‘I’ll do it. I’m not scared.’”
Then, after the qualifying rounds, the two robots were seeded sixth and seventh, pairing them with each other in the first round.
“I was so excited,” Thornton said, adding that fighting was the highlight of the experience.
“There is nothing quite compared to the rush you get when you are in there and fighting,” she said. “I’ve never been in a real fight, so I’ve never experienced anything like that, but this is crazy intense.”
Joining the show
Thornton didn’t realize what she was doing when she first applied for the show. She responded to a craigslist ad that asked for “people with a competitive mindset.” From there, she went through the process of getting on the show.
After she responded to the ad, Thornton was invited to the interview process.
“I had to talk to people on the phone, test in front of the camera and answer a lot of questions,” she said. “They were looking for someone with personality, a good back story and that is comfortable in front of the camera.
“The last thing they would want is someone who is really super awesome but shuts down in front of the camera.”
The network didn’t have to worry about Thornton shutting down on camera; this was far from her first time.
Becoming a gamer
StarSlay3r also serves as her gaming tag when playing online and in some tournaments.
Thornton has been competing as a gamer since 1998 on games such as “Dance Dance Revolution” and various fighting games.
Her big break came in 2006 when she became one of the best “Guitar Hero” players in Texas by placing in the state tournament.
“After going to a state competition like that I just kept going,” she said. “Placing higher at a national level, then I was invited out to represent team USA at the Pan-American Championships.”
Thornton said the first game she can remember playing was either Super Mario Bros. or Duck Hunt — which came on the same cartridge. Later on, she got into role-playing games where the story just “sucked you in.”
“I loved playing video games with my dad when I was younger,” she said. “He got me a Nintendo and a Sega. Once we got to Playstation, it became a little too complicated for him.”
It was getting a computer with a processor that could play games that turned on the competitive edge, though.
“I wanted to kick butt,” Thornton said. “Once we had a PC to play games, I wanted to be the best. It started off as just a fun thing, but it quickly got to be very competitive.”
“Robot Combat League” airs on the SyFy channel at 10 p.m. Tuesdays.
For more information on the show, check out its website, syfy.com/robotcombatleague.
Follow Thornton on Twitter @StarSlay3r or on her website at starslay3r.com.