At times in EVE Online’s history, game changes or new pilot strategies have made such a breakthrough that they were the equivalent of a paradigm shift in physics or medicine. Everything in the game changed during these moments and the game’s meta changed as well. Have we recently seen another such moment, but we just haven’t recognized it yet? Before I answer that, let’s look at some past paradigm shifts from EVE’s history.
In the early days of EVE, CCP had not unveiled titans or even supercapitals, but in July of 2005, CCP introduced the dreadnought and that ship rocked the EVE world. In those years, these ships were seen as game-changers (literally!), because they could enter into siege mode and attack structures, meaning that capsuleers could have their home blown to bits with them inside it and vice versa, blow up enemies’ base structures. Strategists went to work to take advantage of the new firepower, but they also worked to learn how to destroy such a powerful weapon and defend against it. The changed meta took some time to develop, but eventually the game restablized, having incorporated these new wonder weapons into the gameplay.
Similarly, in 2006, CCP introduced the titan into the game, and several alliances went hell-bent-for-leather into an arms race to produce what they thought would be the ultimate weapon. Some alliances had dreams of controlling all nullsec (sounds like a blue donut to me) if only they were the first to build this super weapon. CYVOK, the CEO of Ascendent Frontier, had his alliance working to create the game’s first titan, while simultaneously working almost as vigorously to keep its creation a secret from others. Eventually, the titan “Steve” was born and Ascendent Frontier had their super weapon, complete with the capability of destroying dozens of opposing ships with a single mammoth blast. According to Andrew Groen’s book, “Ascendant Frontier’s shockingly quick construction of Steve the Titan threatened to bring a new paradigm. What if the alliance could just keep building Titans? . . . Everyone was afraid of what Ascendant Frontier’s now over 3,000 players were capable of if they committed to building an entire fleet of Titans” (Groen, Andrew. Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online . Kindle Edition.)
Other alliances had to discover the way to destroy the titan, while scrambling to also build their own. But only a very few alliances had the industrial might to attempt such a feat, and smaller alliances lived in fear that soon there would be only one great power in all of nullsec, Ascendent Frontier, the creators of “Steve.”
Another paradigm shift came with the introduction of Upwell Keepstars – seemingly such powerful citadels that they might shift the power structure in nullsec. Players got a huge defensive bonus while tethered to the KS. The meta had to adjust. Eventually, a combination of Pandemic Legion, NC dot, and Pandemic Horde destroyed the first Keepstar, one anchored by Project Mayhem. By 2018, killing Keepstars was not exactly routine, but was common enough that the Imperium succeeded in destroying multiple Keepstars in a single day.
And that’s how New Eden has been: the paradigm shifts, pilots adapt, and a new phase of equilibrium is eventually reached, though along the way, alliances rise and fall – the latter if they fail to adapt to the paradigm shift.
Dreadnought, titan, Keepstar. With the introduction of each change, the paradigm shifted, but each of these previous changes took place when CCP introduced something new into the game. Now, with the recent battle in M2, we may have seen a player-driven paradigm shift – a technique or strategy created that may result in a paradigm shift of equal magnitude to these other three.
Pre-loading the Server
Before the second battle of M2, Goons flooded M2 with pilots, some 4,500 Imperium capsuleers who arrived at the impending battle scene four hours before the armor timer would start counting down. Most streamers commented that such a load of pilots, already in the server, would cause problems for PAPI, should they decide to enter the fray. Some believed PAPI would gladly pass up the fight, but as we know, PAPI tried to enter the battle, right on top of the Keepstar, literally in the midst of Goons, and the server buckled and misbehaved, with the PAPI titans (left logged off from the first battle) still on the field, trapped.
We don’t know what might have happened had PAPI gone about the battle differently. What if PAPI had jumped to their Fortizar and then warped to positions on the battle grid? Had that move taken place successfully, the second battle of M2 would have eclipsed the record for simultaneous people in a battle. Over 12,000 people would have been on grid. We know that 35% of all people playing EVE at that time were located in three adjacent systems, and we have reports that even in the PAPI-controlled staging system, the server was behaving strangely, as some pilots undocked into ghost ships, not quite materially there – and that was happening in a system containing no enemies. In brief, we don’t know what would have happened had the Fortizar strategy been put into effect. Speculation is little better than guesswork.
Accounting for the Weather
We do know that server malfunctions are nothing new and that alliances have learned to adapt to space “weather.” As Groen notes, “In a game where the results of a battle are irreversible, lag is roughly analogous to weather in the real world. Everybody knows there’s a chance there could be a rain storm, and if your army isn’t prepared for that then you’re a fool. Every decent fleet commander in EVE knows lag may be a problem, and a good battle plan will take that into account” (Groen, Andrew. Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online, Kindle Edition). Earlier in WWB Goons tried a somewhat similar technique, the now infamous Operation ENHO. It ended in an epic fail and the loss of some 16 Goon titans. It was a brilliant strategy that failed to take “weather” into account.
Therefore, we may have seen a paradigm shift in EVE large-scale warfare. If, by pre-loading so many pilots into the system early, Goons prevented PAPI from properly loading the system, perhaps the same technique is repeatable. Since PAPI wants to destroy all structures in 1DQ, what happens if Goons get wind of the attempt and pre-load 4,500, or perhaps 9,000 pilots? If you are a PAPI member, are you going to even attempt to load the grid under those conditions? To re-quote Groen, “Every decent fleet commander in EVE knows lag may be a problem, and a good battle plan will take that into account.” So, what will PAPI do? Forge ahead and hope for the best? Is PAPI busily testing similar conditions on the test server, like Asher did before ENHO? Has PAPI tried it 50 times, which in Asher’s case obviously wasn’t enough to get an accurate reading of what would happen during the live event?
The paradigm may have shifted. Now, in very large-scale battles, especially involving defense, perhaps all it takes to win is to flood the grid with enough pilots that the other side won’t even consider going in, and hence there will no longer be mammoth record-breaking battles. And since Goons loaded M2 four hours before the battle, will the next phase of escalation involve how long pilots are willing to sit doing nothing on grid? Five hours before a battle? Six? Nine? From downtime to downtime? Will the next paradigm actually involve pilots’ willingness to not do a damn thing except load grid?