Almost every piece of strategic advice one encounters on the internet is completely worthless. Every day, I inevitably see some EVE forum denizen bleating about Sun Tzu, a famous WWII general, or the latest overwrought management screed (14 Steps To Be An Effective 4 Hour Rich Dad Millionaire, et al), perhaps hoping that some of this received wisdom will filter through the ether and save their internet spaceship alliance from whatever specific fix they happen to be in. It never works, of course, because Sun Tzu wasn’t writing about a drug-addled Icelander’s idea of an internet spaceship game. Don’t even get me started on the WWII analogies. Never trust the wisdom of anyone talking about what Rommel would do if he had a fleet of sniping battleships at his beck and call.
I’ve had to sift through piles of such offal while reading other people’s forums – honorless spying sort that I am – and there is one principle that has consistently held true in EVE, and yet I’ve never seen it popularized. Here it is: “Wars are not won by the winner; they are lost by the loser”. In other words, between roughly equal forces, things are usually not won through the winning side deploying some stunning tactic or beautiful offense, but rather the loser making a critical error and the winner identifying the mistake and exploiting it. Until the ‘oops’ moment, the strategic situation trends towards stalemate. As an example of this in action, let’s look to the war in Delve.
By now, the war in Delve has reached a denouement of sorts; while Goonswarm’s CEO will not be landing on a mothership and hanging a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner from the bridge deck, every station owned by KenZoku Alliance (formerly known as Band of Brothers, before that pesky ‘disbanding ‘ incident) has been seized by Goonswarm and its allies. The four week race to capture Delve before KenZoku’s sovereignty defenses reached the level necessary to prevent access to capital ships was won with a week left on the clock; despite all the flailing and chestbeating on the myriad EVE forums, this epic conflict appeared to be less of a military campaign than an execution. Why? Which errors in judgement allowed the war to go from here to here with such rapidity?
Before the war began, two critical errors occured on the losing side. First, the much-discussed Haargoth defection and disbanding; this was an error of basic corporate security writ large, where a player who had been absent from the game for four months was allowed to maintain roles in the executor corporation of that now-dead alliance. Had BoB not made this error, I wouldn’t be writing a weekly column here, and Goonswarm wouldn’t own Delve. But enough ink has been spilled on that topic already.
The second failure was made when the KenZoku leadership published the entirety of the BoB secure director forums for the EVE-playing public to rummage through. Two days prior to this, when Haargoth Agamar flipped sides and joined Goonswarm, the Goonswarm Intelligence Agency had set about using his forums access to begin archiving the BoB director forums with an automated system. In order to avoid detection, the entire process would take nine or more hours, but midway through the archiving we judged it more worthwhile to pull the plug, disband BoB, and potentially sacrifice our archiving project for the greater good. As soon as BoB was disbanded and their directorate caught on to what had occurred, Haargoth’s BoB forum account was banned, though the archiver kept running – except that now, each page it pulled had a delightful ‘you have been banned’ notice. While we had successfully acquired about 40% of their director forums, the rest of the archive was a series of useless and identical ‘banned’ pages.
In the spy game, when the technology is lacking, outright lying can sometimes close the gap. When we announced BoB’s disbanding, I asserted the ‘fact’ that not only did we have an archive of the BoB director forums, but that we would publish this archive for anyone to see. On February 5th, while being interviewed on Eve Radio I was paired against Dianabolic (a director of KenZoku); I began to read snippets from the 40% of the archive we possessed while live on the air and promised the imminent release of the rest. Yet we delayed; by the morning of the 6th, KenZoku had decided to release the entire forums to the public. They had checked their server records and detected the archiver had ‘pulled’ every link in their forums, but they evidently did not realize that the bulk of these calls had returned garbage. In order to preempt another public relations disaster, KenZoku’s leader, Sir Molle, elected to throw open the doors and let everyone see the BoB forums – in this way, they could at least ensure that Goonswarm wouldn’t release a ‘doctored’ copy of the archive, with altered and incriminating posts fabricated to create a scandal. Not that we would ever do such a dishonorable thing.
Oops. Naturally, the first thing we did was archive the whole thing, in case Sir Molle got cold feet and took it down. As a hilarious addendum, it seems that this was the juncture where KenZoku decided that I was a liar – it was my partial archive which didn’t exist, I actually had the full archive, and I was making all this nonsense about the bluff up.
So, the archives remained open for all to see. Suddenly, all the slanderous and denigrating commentary about their allies from the BoB directorate was available for the entire eve community to dissect and analyze. Most of the entities being slandered weren’t allies in the traditional sense of equals working towards a common cause, but rather serfs and vassals who had been paying rent to BoB for years and fighting in something like a colonial militia on their behalf, earning the nickname ‘pets’. According to BoB, they were the ‘Greater BoB Community’. The revelation of the insulting commentary from BoB caused a storm of controversy on the forums of the ‘pets’, and many of these pilots privately vowed not to show up to the defense of their disrespectful lord. Even before the war for Delve began in earnest, the support for KenZoku’s coalition had been massively undercut.
Two strikes already, and then the war began.
Sovereignty is the ultimate goal of any war in 0.0, and in the Delve campaign the nuances of the Sovereignty system dictated the flow of the war. ‘Sovereignty Three’ (Sov 3) is the most strategically critical of the four sovereignty levels as it allow a cynosural jammer to be installed, which prevents hostile capital ships from attacking that system unless a tremendous amount of effort is put forth to incapacitate the jammer. Sov 3 can only be reached after four weeks of unbroken control over a system. Capital ships are required to take over a system as only capitals can reliably destroy the control towers which allow an alliance to claim sovereignty, so cyno jammers and Sov 3 have become sine qua non of successful spaceholding alliances.
The war began on February 4th with the removal of all sovereignty in Delve with the dissolution of the Band of Brothers alliance and subsequent reformation under the banner of KenZoku. The moment of KenZoku’s creation (Feb 6th) marked the beginning of the most frenzied four weeks in EVE history; the allied forces had to destroy KenZoku’s ability to reach Sovereignty Three in as many systems as possible in their territory before that timer was over, or else KenZoku cyno jammers would begin onlining and the offensive would grind to a shuddering halt. This made the rules for the war clear: KenZoku must fight a delaying action, holding on to as much as possible until March 7th; the allied forces had to beat them in that time, or else. As a corollary, if the allied forces succeeded in seizing KenZoku’s territory, they must themselves hold on for an additional four weeks to gain Sov 3 for themselves.
In the initial week of the war, there were a number of serious engagements, including a pair of four-hour battles involving more than 1200 pilots. The carnage was unlike anything yet seen in EVE history, and despite their first two errors, confidence on the KenZoku side was high. As one of the KenZoku directors, Waagaa Ktlehr, put it: “With all odds stacked in favor of Goons and their buddies, it’s going to be even more hilarious when they fail to take Delve for the second time. Bring it.” While the invading forces were gradually succeeding, this was a race, and gradual success amounted to total failure. If KenZoku refrained from making more mistakes, they were well on the way to gaining Sov 3.
On February 12th, KenZoku made an error which resulted in the total collapse of the defenses in Delve. In the aftermath of a 1200-pilot slugfest in the J-LPX7 system which was a minor loss for KenZoku, Waagaa Ktlehr warped his Aeon-class mothership, a supercapital ship one class smaller than the mighty titans, to a stargate. Motherships, for what it’s worth, cannot enter stargates; there was no real purpose for the Aeon being there. Unsurprisingly, the invading forces dropped a capital fleet on the Aeon and destroyed it, along with ten KenZoku capitals who had attempted to defend Waagaa. Fighting continued in another system in the immediate aftermath of the mothership’s destruction, but the loss clearly impacted the KenZoku level of control; two and a half hours later, while attempting to defend the system 8WA-Z6, a routine capital jump went wrong, and Sir Molle’s Titan was left out in the open; just as with Waagaa, the supercapital was immediately ambushed and destroyed. Six thousand dollars down the drain.
One might guess that the critical, war-ending error was the loss of the titan and the mothership, but it was what happened after those losses that actually ruined everything for KenZoku. Exhausted, having had a historically bad day, the KenZoku command gave the order to log off the remnants of their fleet in the station in PR-8CA, a system which KenZoku and their allies had been using as a form-up point throughout the war. Except this time, rather than sending the capitals of their ‘pets’ home to a different system, the entire combined capital fleet was docked and logged off in PR-8CA, presumably to make things easier logistically the next day. It wasn’t something that had been chosen deliberately, it was just a slip – a slip which lost an entire region.
As soon as the KenZoku fleet logged off, the invaders locked down PR-8CA and covered the station with warp disruption bubbles, preventing any kind of egress. As I write this, the PR-8CA station has been camped around the clock by invading forces every day for more than three weeks. While individual KenZoku pilots have escaped PR-8CA by abandoning their ships and ‘podjumping’ or using jump clones to get out, 230+ capital ships remain trapped within. Without the use of their capital ships, KenZoku has been completely unable to defend against the marauding coalition capital fleet, or to prevent innumerable Goonswarm control towers from being erected across Delve. With hundreds of invader pilots living in the system, every breakout attempt since February 13th has been foiled, and because of this every KenZoku station in Delve, Querious and Period Basis has been seized. Up until this point, the ‘race’ for Delve was a close thing and KenZoku was doing well; after their capital fleet was trapped in PR-8CA, it became a rout, allowing the invading forces to capture all of the KenZoku stations with a week left on the clock. What had been a slow expansion of control became an explosion.
As a member of the Goonswarm leadership, it might be more traditional for me (from a propaganda perspective) to claim that these victories against KenZoku were a result of superior planning or cunning on the part of my alliance and our allies. However, if one looks at these four turning points in the war with a sober eye, each one can be traced to an error made by the KenZoku leadership which we happened to seize upon. This war, like so many others, was lost by the loser, not won by the winner.
This column, like much of my earlier work, is a bloated mess – 2000 words and full of purple prose. However, it begins to focus on what really interests me in EVE, namely the strategic principles or warfare that cut across all conflicts, in the game and – more importantly – in the real world.
At this point – March 2009 – I’m not sure if I’m writing agitprop for Goonswarm; I’m not even sure if the column could have a real propaganda benefit, but I take an obvious relish in dumping on poor old BoB at such length. But the takeaway of the column – “wars are lost by the loser” is one of the enduring lessons we use in almost every war in EVE. Depending on how you look at it, the principle minimizes the victor’s role in a loser’s demise (e.g. it was BoB’s fault for losing, not GSF’s win) or magnifies the incompetence of the defeated (they didn’t just lose, they did it to themselves, etc).
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by The Mittani.