EVE Online has just started its first big war in years
Eve Online’s largest and most successful coalition is under siege. Since 2012, the Imperium (formerly known as the CFC) dominated Eve’s nullsec space, a region where player organizations can own space and build the game’s largest structures and ships. At the peak of its influence, the Imperium held nearly three quarters of all sovereign space in the game, led by the autocratic player ‘The Mittani’ and a loyal cadre of directors and commanders. Today, what started as two distinct, small conflicts threaten to unravel an empire years in the making.
An expedition and a squabble
The Imperium grew so fast, and was so dominant, that it ran out of other nullsec (sovereignty-holding) alliances to fight. No one wanted to take on the 800-pound gorilla in the room, so that gorilla decided to go pick a fight where it hadn’t been before: lowsec. There are a lot of differences between nullsec and lowsec, but the truly important issue is one of ownership. In null, an alliance may claim ownership of the star system they occupy; in low, ownership is in the hands of NPCs.
The target for the Imperium in lowsec, then, was not conquest - they could not take ownership of the systems. Instead, it was for treasure. The moons of lowsec can provide great financial benefit to whomever farms them, so the Imperium set out to destroy the various owners of the moon harvesters in lowsec and replace them with their own. Unfortunately, they found themselves soon outmatched in terms of skill, and occasionally in numbers of pilots, as the usually Balkanized lowsec entities began to team up to take on the outsider, the interloper, the Goon.
As the Imperium began to experience significant losses in lowsec, a member alliance (called SMA) ran into trouble of a different sort. SMA antagonized the bankers behind IWantIsk.com, an Eve gambling site. While the existence of Eve gambling sites are a fascinating example of truly emergent gameplay at work, the relevant bit of knowledge to take away from this is that even the most humble Eve gambling site rakes in ISK (the currency of Eve Online) hand over fist. The people behind IWantIsk.com, then, are tremendously rich - rich enough to hire an alliance to hound SMA in their home systems.
Individually, these events are somewhat minor - a failed expedition for the Imperium and a squabble between scammers and gambling hall overlords. However, the Imperium - thought of widely as an unstoppable, undefeatable institution of Eve - soon began to run into real trouble, as the two separate conflicts began to attract attention from alliances long since vanquished by the Imperium. Test Alliance, defeated soundly almost three years ago, resurfaced and joined the lowsec residents (collectively referred to as Voltron, or Lowsec Voltron); another alliance, Brave Newbies, also latched onto the conflict; then IWantIsk figured “hey, why not help the enemy of my enemy?”
All of a sudden, the Imperium was facing a foe with both axes to grind and a bank roll to fund it. As the forces arrayed against them grew, Easter weekend rolled around, bringing with it the loss of two regions in three days.
On Saturday, the day before Easter, The Mittani announced on his weekly Twitch stream that Imperium alliances The Bastion and Get Off My Lawn (Bastion and Lawn, respectively) would be evacuating their space, effectively ceding all of the Vale of the Silent region to the enemy. This was to be done to consolidate their military forces, ease logistics, and help create a more defensible border (according to the Imperium). The other side effect? The Tribute region, held primarily by the Circle of Two alliance (CO2), would be the new front line in the war.
On Easter Sunday, the CO2 capital system of M-O in Tribute came under attack in earnest from the enemy (an enemy that is so fragmented that it cannot even agree on a catch-all name for itself, though most either call themselves the Allies or the Moneybadger Coalition). The Imperium formed up as best it could, mustering around 1300 pilots for the engagement that would take place the next day. The enemy brought 3000.
The Imperium was destined to lose this battle, but a loss would not signify the end of the war or anything close to it - it was just one system in the Tribute region. However, the leaders of CO2 could see the writing on the wall, and decided they did not fancy being the front line of a war aimed not really at them, but at their overlords within the Imperium - Goonswarm Federation.
And so, at the end of eight consecutive hours of fighting, when the system was finally lost, CO2 announced their independence from the Imperium, breaking all ties with their fellow alliances within that organization. In effect, after ceding the region of Vale of the Silent, the Imperium then lost most of the Tribute region. Three days, two regions, and an explosion of rhetoric and propaganda.
First came the recriminations. The Imperium labeled CO2 traitors immediately, with one of their senior commanders vowing revenge no matter the cost against the leaders of CO2, due in large part to the fact that those leaders cited a laundry list of complaints about their treatment at the hands of Imperium leadership, rather than the more pragmatic ‘yo, there’s 3000 people camped out in our front yard, burning down our garage - we gotta go’. CO2’s lead diplomat, a player called TheJudge, stated both on Reddit and in a podcast interview that the Imperium never took care of CO2, that it was full of hypocritical leaders who broke rules whenever it suited them, and that the removal of Bastion and Lawn from Vale of the Silent was as good as a death sentence for their space in Tribute.
“Back when CO2 first joined, they were only getting 30 or 40 man fleets. Today they had 300, because of the Imperium - they’ve grown to a huge size,” said Lazarus Telraven, senior commander for the Imperium, in an interview with streamer Crasskitty immediately following the fall of M-O and subsequent defection of CO2. When asked about what the day’s events meant for the Imperium going forward, Lazarus continued: “Tribute’s most likely done. We have to get ready for the push into Pure Blind and Deklein.” Deklein is the home region of Goonswarm Federation, the very core of Imperium space, unthreatened for years. “The opposing force has so much momentum right now. Unless we can give them some losses, this is going to be a very quick war.”
Unsurprisingly, the leader of the Imperium believes differently. Following the defection of CO2, The Mittani held a ‘fireside chat’ in which he addressed the events for his members and began to lay out the future. In short, The Mittani declared a sort of half victory, namely for not falling into an alleged trap that would have seen their supercarrier fleet destroyed by CO2 and the Allies - essentially stating that the day could have been much, much worse for the Imperium. Meanwhile, he painted a positive picture, stating that while Tribute is expected to fall to the enemy completely, and regions neighboring Deklein will no doubt come under attack, the process by which the Allies must march on Deklein itself will be too arduous for them.
The road ahead is uncertain, which in and of itself is news in Eve Online. For four years, Goonswarm and their allies dominated the game, but they may not make it to five. One of the leaders of Pandemic Legion (the game’s most elite PVP alliance and member of the Allied forces fighting the Imperium), Jeffraider, said “I didn’t really believe until six days ago they [the Imperium] could be beat...the Goons seem very killable now, honestly. They’ve never been outnumbered in subcaps before.” Historically, the Imperium’s strength in the field lay in their ability to field massive amounts of sub-capital ships (smaller ships with less fire power but greater mobility in Eve), versus their enemies who could field greater numbers of supercarriers (the largest ships in the game).
Whether the Imperium collapses or emerges from the conflict stronger than before remains to be seen - but for the first time in years, Eve Online’s sovereign space is truly on fire. The fighting on Monday led to a new record for PVP kills in nullsec. And that was just the opening salvo of the conflict.