I'm not sure what I should write about the current war in #eveonline
. Mostly because it's fought on social media at least as much as it's fought in space; Any statement is fodder for someone's propaganda.
One of the truisms of history is that unforeseen consequences can seem inevitable from hindsight, so I guess I should start with an overview of what led to the war.
The "shots of Sarajevo" of World War Bee was the incident between an Eve Online gambling site called I Want ISK and SpaceMonkey Alliance, one of the member alliances of the Imperium coalition. One of SMA's directors was moonlighting as a banker for IWI. And he stole from IWI. The IWI leadership contacted SMA's, demanding the return of stolen assets and the dismissal of the offending director. SMA leadership dismissed the demand. IWI then hired mercenaries to go after SMA until they relented.
The conflict then escalated when other parties with deep pockets realized how many mercenaries they could hire and decided it was time for payback for past offenses, some reaching back years. But not everyone needed to be paid.
One of the propaganda posters for the war is a riff on the Social Network's "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies", and that is certainly true of the Imperium, or more specifically, Goonswarm; An offshoot of the gaming community of Something Awful. Be it past wars, recent incursions, propaganda, offensive memes, metagaming, suicide ganking, a self-congratulatory book campaign on Kickstarter, recruitment scams or just plain random PvP relying more on numbers than the average player's deep knowledge of the game mechanics. Everyone joining the attack had their own reason. Several of the largest entities had joined together to form the Honeybadger Coalition to fight Goonswarm and it's ClusterFuck Coalition several years ago in the Halloween War, which culminated in the battle of B-R5RB and ended in a decisive CFC victory. And now with IWI's backing and the support of almost everyone who had a grudge against Goonswarm, they formed the MoneyBadger Coalition.
All those separate incidents added up to the point where the Imperium found itself outnumbered. This came to a head in the battle of M-OEE8, one of the staging systems of Circle of Two, one of Imperium's member alliances. Many expected it to be as decisive and destructive as the battle of B-R5RB two years ago. And while the Imperium did not only lose the objective but the support of Circle of Two itself, it was not the battle to decide the war. One of the largest differences to B-R5RB was the absence of the Imperium capital ship fleet, which had been the decisive factor in that massively costly battle two years ago.
During the time the battle of B-R5RB happened, conquering a solar system or a space station required destroying enemy structures. And what better way to destroy said structures than with a capital ship? With a bigger capital ship of course. And if you couldn't go any bigger, you could bring more capital ships than the enemy. While this may resemble the rationale behind the real-world Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine, there was one key difference: Capital ships could be repaired, and the more capital ships capable of repairing you brought, the more firepower your fleet could withstand. So the side with more and bigger capital ships not only would win, but would win decisively and take relatively minor losses. And because their strength would be diminished less than the enemy's, it created an uneven equilibrium. Whoever won would win the next encounter even more decisively. All that was left was cleanup.
This presented a problem for CCP. Not only was the single point battle able to bring their servers to a grinding halt, but the détente afterwards also made the game boring. Unless you could outgun the enemy, only a fool would start a war. A clear pecking order was established. The idea of the Imperium was born. To resolve this problem, CCP reworked their conquest mechanics. Instead of a capital ship, even a small frigate could contest ownership of solar systems and stations. Instead of a single point battle, the points of interest would be spread randomly across the same constellation. And instead of firepower, the ownership of those points of interest would resolved by controlling those points of interest with a single ship for each. And you shouldn't bring a capital ship for that job either; The ship controlling the point of interest could not receive help from other ships, and gaining control would take five times as long as with a subcapital ship. And only someone from the alliance that owned the structure being contested would count as a defender. The Aegis sovereignty system was born.
So, back to the battle of M-OEE8. The capital ships were discouraged from interacting with the core mechanics. The attackers vastly outnumbered the defenders and
had a supercapital ship fleet of their own at standby. The Imperium could not win the objective for Circle of Two, they could only assist. And while capital ships can bring tremendous firepower against a handful of targets, they are much too cumbersome to swat out swarms of smaller enemy ships. That was the job for subcapital ships, of which the Imperium did bring plenty of. But it was not enough; The swarm got swarmed.
Then Circle of Two announced that they were severing their ties with the Imperium, citing long-standing grievances with other member alliances and diplomats. And indeed, the parting of ways had been as inevitable was the war itself. According to correspondence released by Imperium diplomats, there had been incidents about poor finances, unilateral wars against not-quite allies in the northeast, expansionist plans when the Imperium itself was reducing it's territory and most importantly, fundamental disagreements on coalition politics. Said politics revolved around In Extremis, a former member company of Circle of Two who had bad relations with Circle of Two leadership. They departed Circle of Two and joined an another Imperium alliance, the Tactical Narcotics Team. Circle of Two leadership wanted the corporation blacklisted from the entire coalition, but Imperium diplomats refused the request, citing insufficient evidence to warrant blacklisting according to coalition policies. Circle of Two leadership demanded that Imperium diplomats would force TNT to kick the corporation, and after a provocation by In Extremis, shots were fired. Because In Extremis was still officially in good standing with the Imperium, this act caused Circle of Two itself to be in breach of coalition policies. While Circle of Two leadership had to back down on the issue, it was clear to diplomats on both sides that the split would be made official eventually.
Other correspondence shows that Circle of Two had secret non-agression agreements with other alliances hitting other Imperium assets, but the big question is whether the battle of M-OEE8 was intended to be an ambush. Each solar system can have up to three important pieces of infrastructure. There is the Territorial Control Unit, which determines who nominally owns the system. The solar system can have a player-controlled station, and finally there is the Infrastructure Hub, which houses systemwide upgrades and is the primary way of improving solar systems owned by players. Infrastructure hubs can increase NPC spawns or mineable asteroids, allow the use of player-made mini-stargates called Jump Bridges, cynosural beacons or jammers designed to facilitate or prevent capital ships from jumping into the system and so on. Before the actual battle, the space station in M-OEE8 became vulnerable for assault, but no attackers were present and the station was saved without a shot fired. But when it was time to fight for the Infrastructure Hub, the system and everything around it was filled with attackers. Why attack one target but not the other?
One reason was the ongoing evacuation of super capital ships from the Bastion and Get Off My Lawn, two member alliances of the Imperium. Their territory was the sparsely populated Vale of the Silent region (east of Circle of Two's territory), and Imperium leadership decided that the region was indefensible. The route of that evacuation fleet was a closely guarded secret, known only the leadership of each alliance and ultimately decided by the fleet commander. One proposed route would have taken them straight through M-OEE8. Another would have ended in a deadend system. But the fleet commander used his initiative and chose a different route, and the fleet arrived safely to it's destination.
Was the departure of Circle of Two, the late arrival of the attacking forces, and the readiness of the attacking supercapital fleet signs of an ambush? We may not know anytime soon. Andrew Groen, the author of the successfully crowdfunded (and personally recommended) Empires of Eve
book, remarked that he had to restrict the timeline of the book from Eve Online's inception to 2009. Not because he lacked data, but because key figures in conflicts after 2009 would refuse to provide context for the events. When he asked why, they said that certain people who participated in those events are powerful corporation, alliance and coalition leaders now, and revisiting those events could jeopardize the narratives they use to maintain morale and cohesion in their virtual empires.
But while M-OEE8 was not the
deciding battle, it showed that the Imperium was vulnerable. With two regions cut off in short succession, the momentum of the war ramped up. Soon, Imperium alliances at the new borders found themselves under assault simultaneously. The Imperium adopted the Fabian strategy, providing the smallest possible footprint for the MBC to attack. In terms of territory, that smallest possible footprint is still pretty large: Seven regions. In terms of ships, the Imperium moved from expensive pirate battleships and strategic cruisers to stealth bombers, interceptors, cruisers and long-range battleships. The stated Imperium plan is to drag the war on, deny the enemy a major capital ship battle, strike whenever it can be done without being liable for large losses and outlast the Moneybadgers' morale, interest and finances. Goonswarm itself has found itself to be on the receiving end of massive enemy forces before, and their raison d'être was an incident very early on where they pissed off the most powerful player at the time and were forced to hole up in a single station.
And this is where propaganda and game mechanics intersect. Because the Aegis sovereignity system provides a very low barrier to entry, de facto ownership of a solar system, a constellation of an entire region is ultimately determined by occupancy. The political entity that shows most interest for a solar system can just keep retaking it. When the Aegis sovereignty system was introduced, the Imperium organized a week-long invasion of the Providence region. Infrastructure was destroyed, lots of ships were blown up and systems changed hands, but when the week was over the owners of Providence resumed their normal activities and rebuilt. And that is where the propaganda comes in. Destruction, conquest and occupation aren't enough; To destroy the Imperium, the Moneybadger Coaltion need to convince the average line members of the Imperium to quit. Of course, demoralizing tactics are what Goonswarm is known for. Goonswarm, but not necessarily the Imperium.
Which is why it made sense for the Moneybadgers to focus on Goonswarm's allies first. SMA had been under siege for the entire war and Fidelas Constans received newfound pressure from the forces that were no longer attacking Circle of Two. And as of today, both alliances have departed from the Imperium, but maintain positive diplomatic relations nevertheless. The Imperium needs to maintain resolve to see the war to the end, and Circle of Two may have provided them the motivation. Meanwhile, the Moneybadger Coalition needs to maintain their advantage and not succumb to infighting.