The RoboMasters battlefield and rules of play may feel familiar to anyone who’s played a MOBA like League of Legends or Dota: two teams working to destroy the opposing base, collecting power-ups that boost their attack, health, and defense, and leveraging the unique abilities of their robots to devise different strategies. DJI outfitted each robot and base with pressuresensitive plates that detect impacts and differentiate between plastic marbles and golf balls. A successful strike drains life points, and if a robot’s health reaches zero, it is shut off. Powerups can be collected by driving over certain areas of the map or completing technical challenges, like a computer vision challenge, where teams have to autonomously track and strike a rapidly moving target. The team with the most health left at the end of seven minutes is declared the winner, and either side can score a sudden victory by destroying the enemies base.
Winners achieve celebrity status among the 6 million fans who watch the action stream live online, as well as a shot at landing a job at DJI, the Chinese drone maker that created this competition. Over the last two years the company has hired around 40 engineers out of the tournament.
For DJI, the stakes are reversed. It is battling to win top talent in some of technology’s hottest fields: computer vision and autonomous navigation. DJI wants to build not just drones, but all kinds of intelligent machines that can understand and interact with the world around them, and RoboMasters is their proving ground.