Alliance Tournament XVII: A Community Introspective

Dirk Stetille 2019-02-23

Art by Major Sniper

On February 13, CCP Falcon posted to the Eve Online forums regarding the future of the Alliance Tournament. Many players, upon seeing that it was titled “Alliance Tournament XVII – An Update”, thought that for the first time in recent years, CCP would be giving an update on specific dates and deadlines well ahead of what has been common. This was not the case.

Instead, Falcon’s update was the announcement of a “hiatus” for the Alliance Tournament, marking the first time since it began in 2005 that there would be a year without an iteration of the AT. In his post, Falcon cited a need to “look at how [CCP] can better support competitive PvP and capsuleer tournaments in the future”, and also to “fully focus on improving quality of life in New Eden” as reasons for this break, and he also made sure to state that the Alliance Tournament would return.

The Community Response

As you may expect from the EVE community, the announcement was not taken lying down. Within minutes of the initial post, players from every part of New Eden, including some players currently unsubscribed and not playing EVE any longer, were visiting the forums to express their anger and disappointment that they would be deprived of the AT this year, as well as sharing their stories about how the AT has impacted them. At the time of my final edit, the announcement post has received more than 9,300 views and 249 responses, making it the second-most viewed and most commented-upon thread in the Tournament Discussion subforum.

It wasn’t just the official EVE Online forums, either. Reddit saw multiple AT related threads spring up within hours of the announcement, and commenters again overwhelmingly shared stories about what the AT had inspired in them, how they enjoyed it either as competitors and spectators, and their dismay at this cancellation. Discord also lit up as the CSM heard players’ complaints, while tournament competitors and organisers discussed the ramifications of this announcement in the +10 Gaming Discord among others. The discussions largely centred around it being good that CCP had told us early on, but also a massive letdown, at least for those community members who make the AT a part of their yearly calendar through hundreds of hours in practices, theorycrafting, research, and of course playing in and watching the Tournament itself.

The fact of the matter is that a year out will have a huge impact on the both the tournament-focused community and the wider audience, and create a shake-up for the AT in more ways than one. I discuss the potential upsides to this hiatus a little later, but within the community we have already seen a serious decline in player-run competitions, and we have also already begun to see tournament veterans leave EVE Online, with more to follow in all likelihood. With them goes institutional knowledge, and not just knowledge of the tournament ship setups and meta, either – we will see a reduction in commentators and historians, arena streaming staff, even the background staff whose only role is making sure that the AT format runs as smoothly as possible. We will not lose it all, but we will lose a noticeable percentage of that knowledge and experience.

Developer Replies

One thing CCP is always good for, however, even in the midst of a dark time for parts of the community, is that they will try to engage with us in a conversation. Not only has CCP Falcon provided a response to the initial community reactions and a further response to later reactions in the comments of his dev post, but he and CCP Fozzie both engaged with players in the +10 Gaming Discord, and Falcon also went live on the Talking in Stations Twitch channel with Matterall and Elise Randolph. We should always be glad of any interaction from CCP, however, because it provides us with a glimmer of hope that they are still trying to reach out and communicate with us.

Unfortunately, the responses given on forums and Discord were generally short and lacking in any community interaction, very obviously avoiding the vast majority of community concerns. Falcon’s response in particular to the +10 Gaming group was brief and did nothing to assuage the situation there, telling the group of people hardest hit by this decision, less than 12 hours after the post, that he felt there had been a “massive over reaction”, and that they needed to “relax a little”. Falcon also took the opportunity to point out his AT history, emphasising that “there’s not a chance in hell [he] would let it just roll over and die”, but offered no additional comments on what the future might hold, or even if the community would be given any opportunity to provide input or have any impact on that future. CCP Fozzie’s Discord response, while also brief, at least showed that he sympathised with tournament participants about the impact of AT cancellation, telling players that “the AT has had a big impact on me as well (and not just in the obvious way of getting my foot in the door for my current career). I doubt I’ll ever have another gaming experience that means more to me than participating in the tournament has”.

Moving to CCP Falcon’s TiS conversation, Matterall, Elise and Falcon spent an about an hour and a half discussing Fanfest and tournament history, as well as the current decision to take a hiatus and what exactly that will mean for the future of tournaments.

On the tournament history front, they discussed the best bits of both the AT and the New Eden Open – for anyone not intimately aware of CCP’s tournament history, the NEO was a cash-prize tournament with teams comprised of simply groups of players, often friends, without requiring any alliance affiliation. The NEO ran for two series, in 2012 and 2014, with a total of $35,000 given out as cash prizes, though when it came time for a third series, CCP apparently decided there was not time to run one in 2015. Just as a notable point, the NEO project reportedly died in the midst of a previous tournament revamp.

Falcon also said of the announcement timing that it would be “a hideous disservice” to have not spoken about this as soon as the decision had been made, given that signups typically occur within the next three months, but many teams also begin their preparations in advance of that, usually in mid-to-late March. Falcon isn’t wrong here, either – for this to have been made public when teams would have already been recruiting and starting to practice would have been a terrible PR and community decision, and we should be glad of this notice.

In turn, though, Falcon also commented that community teams and events “run at a net loss, that is budgeted to give a return on investment“. He caveated this by saying that “running things like [Fanfest and the AT] give a return on investment in community sentiment, and that it’s fantastic to see people so happy”. His further elaboration on that comment left something to be desired though, with Falcon mentioning that he knew this would be negatively received, and it appears that he and/or CCP as a whole are not working to cushion that with any sort of positivity – Supposedly Falcon, around the office, approaches bad news that needs to be put out by “‘kicking that bitch out of the bomb bay’ and seeing what happens”. I’ll let you read into that what you will.

Community Alternatives

It would be remiss of me to discuss the lack of an AT this year without also mentioning that players have stepped up and tried to offer their services in running player-oriented tournaments. Within an hour of CCP’s announcement, Sothrasil stepped into Discord with an announcement of his own – that he was in the early planning stages of a new Anger Games series as a reaction to the lack of an official tournament.

For those of you unaware of the Anger Games, it is a seven vs. seven double elimination bracket, with teams going unseeded and starting out in a random draw. Previous iterations of the Anger Games have seen teams comprised of multiple alliances and corporations, up to a set number of individual pilots per team, and no particular cap on numbers of teams submitted per alliance. Due to allowing mixed alliance teams, each team is required to have a unique name or title. Finally, ship fittings allowed are up to Tech 2, with no flagship mechanic or other exceptions.

Additionally, CSM member Suitonia asked for feedback from previous tournament competitors on a new and more unique tournament; a five vs. five structure he’s calling the “Guardian Games”, styled a little after the current Angel Cartel/Serpentis-based ‘Guardian’s Gala’ event. In this format, eight teams would be split into two groups and entered into a round-robin playoff, with the top two teams in each group progressing into a best-of-three elimination round, and finally the remaining two teams facing each other in a best-of-five finale. The twist? That every player in the team will be flying in a specific role, and only certain ships will be allowed. The available ships will be cruisers and smaller, with further ship restrictions on each role, in an attempt to make commentary and audience comprehension much simpler.

Both of these tournaments take a modified Alliance Tournament ruleset as the basis for how they are structured, taking the relevant sections and altering them as necessary. The Anger Games runs a modified points structure to account for a lower pilot count, for example, while the Guardian Games concept has different fitting rules and allowances for each ship “role” within a team. Banning procedures are also somewhat similar, with Anger Games taking bans almost exactly from the AT ruleset but removing flagship ban evasion, while Guardian Games makes the allowed faction ships entirely unbannable in their proposals.

With all that said, both of these proposals would require at least some support from CCP, and while I am sure that both organisers have reached out to enquire if such support is at all possible, we shall have to wait and see.

Hiatus Upsides

It has to be said that taking a break from running or supporting the Alliance Tournament during a year when CCP will have devs flying all over the globe has benefits. Not only will the Community and Live Events teams be exceptionally busy, but there is a chance that if used correctly, this time could be used to bring the AT back with a real bang.

Falcon mentioned in his first reply to the forums that Alliance Tournament viewership and interaction has significantly dropped recently, and this is true. 2017’s AT iteration saw the most alliances ever to compete, with a hugely popular feeder round running before the actual competition, only to have 2018’s version see some of the smallest participation ever. AT XVI, in fact, did not even fill a full roster of 64 alliance signups, meaning some alliances did not have to fight in the first round at all. There are reasons for this -the loss of CCP Logibro was a huge hit to tournament organisation at CCP, and the need for interaction with the community crew that stepped in and helped out only added another challenge for an already stretched CCP team. This potential lack of resources somewhat justifies a break while CCP decide where their priorities lie.

Falcon also commented in his TiS stream that “the community deserves something awesome, and if we’re not in a position to deliver that for whatever reason, if we want to decide to switch things up and do something differently and we want to take some time off to do that, we would rather do that than deliver something not up to par”. This is an admirable sentiment, and many people would agree that yes, if you have to take a break in order to come back bigger and better than ever, you should do so. It worked for Glastonbury Festival, right?

Should the AT be Permanently Cancelled?

As always, though, there are two sides to each story, with some players suggesting that the Alliance Tournament is a luxury that only benefits a very small percentage of the playerbase. This isn’t false, honestly. One thing Elise Randolph said on a TiS stream with Matterall and Carneros is that Pandemic Legion used the AT as a funding source, back when PL were winning the AT every year, or nearly every year. This is also the case for smaller, less prominent alliances – one good example would be the Tuskers Co, who have only won a single AT, but also have a number of podium finishes to their name as well, and while second- and third-place prizes are not as large a cash injection, it is also not insignificant for a primarily low-sec group.

The actual numbers: AT prize ships have long been considered worth 100 billion ISK simply as a starting point, with older or more tournament-usable ships like the Etana and Rabisu going for much more than that. Based on those numbers, a first-place win, if all 50 of the prize ships are sold, is easily a 5 trillion ISK cash injection for an alliance, not counting additional prize SKINs received for winning each match. That amount of ISK can easily negate a few major losses for an alliance, especially as EVE has progressed and larger capital ships, up to and including titans, have become significantly less expensive to purchase and replace.

These noticeably large ISK injections to alliances are in vast contrast to the way empire-building groups earn their income to afford to run their ship replacement schemes and incentivise their objectives. Groups like the Imperium and Legacy coalition have large alliances at their head, which create smaller but more regular income sources through taxation and investment opportunities, taking proper advantage from their broad player base and the current game mechanics. On the other hand, players need funds in order to fuel conflict, and conflict is the major reason most people typically play EVE Online – we fight on scales unimaginable in other games. For the traditionally more nomadic alliances, the AT has provided that capability to generate conflict throughout the EVE universe.

There is also the question of dev-time given over to the Alliance Tournament. Many devs volunteer to help referee and commentate over the AT weekends, but there is also additional time taken to create the SKINs and prize ships that are given out to successful teams. Furthermore, devs are needed to ensure that the Thunderdome server is patched properly and teams have correct access to it, and also to ensure that all the associated advertising and forum posts are in place and correct at particular times.

It’s no small endeavour, and for a number of years most of the Thunderdome maintenance, forum management and community interaction surrounding the AT was run by CCP Logibro with others helping out. However, since CCP Logibro’s departure in late 2017, others have had to step in and take the burden, further stretching the limited resources at CCP. So there is absolutely a dev-focused reason to take stock of resources and prioritise which community programs get the best return for their efforts.

A Need for Transparency

CCP Falcon also claimed that “for now, it is all about transparency” in his original dev post. However, this was one part of the post that received almost universal disbelief and disdain, as far as I could tell – many individuals can only question where, exactly, the transparency he referenced existed, or if it was another promise that we will have to wait for fulfillment with bated breath.

On the topic of general transparency about EVE Online and where it will progress, EVE Updates has not seen any roadmap updates in some time, contains no planned updates beyond the current February 12 release, and did not even see that update until a week or two before the patch dropped. Meanwhile, the new CCPlease quality of life (QoL) tracker is a confusing image that seems like a progress bar but is in fact a calendar, and also launched with two of its four items checked off. Adding to this odd and rather baffling state of affairs, the CCPlease page currently appears to have more up-to-date information on the major news of a 64-bit EVE client than EVE Updates, alongside a continuous effort to “improve chat systems”. So what exactly are they working on in the QoL space?

Furthermore, we have seen two new devblogs in the days since this Alliance Tournament announcement dropped. One was a standard-fare Monthly Economic Report, and the other was a mid-quarter Team Security update on 2019 ban numbers, an update to their fight against botting, and an upcoming change to level 4 & 5 missions, which will no longer be accessible to alpha accounts. Curiously, this marks the third Team Security Update we have seen in roughly two months, and two of those have been entitled a “Q(x) Update”. I cannot help but wonder if this most recent post isn’t meant as a quarterly update, but simply an attempt to shift news coverage away from the Alliance Tournament.

The kicker for the collective tournament scene, though, was the fact that nowhere in any of CCP’s communication on the hiatus was any sort of promise or even mention that CCP would want to work with the community on their improved alliance tournament. There was also no initial reasoning presented as to why this was necessary, nor was there any indication of the intended process for designing this new tournament that they have bought themselves a year or more to create. Nowhere did they present more than a sentiment of ‘we have to figure out what we want to do first’. This is not transparency, this is CCP making a decision and not caring enough to include or even justify it to the community.

Winning EVE, and the Allure of Other Games

Every day, someone somewhere will discuss “winning EVE”. The thought of unsubscribing and focusing in on real-life opportunities, or simply moving onto other, less time-consuming games is one many of us have, and will continue with. This is also something of a long-running joke in the community – you win EVE by leaving. The thing I find myself amused by with this joke, though, is that nobody can ever fully win EVE. The experiences you have are so different to anything you get in any other game that you will always remember them, and in fact those experiences can change you quite profoundly sometimes. You can put so much emotional and time investment into EVE, and nobody ever leaves without looking back – the forum posts from people who no longer play EVE but watch the news and keep track of what is happening just goes to prove this point.

Recently, I have been partially winning EVE myself – logging in occasionally to do some mining, build some things, run a few fleets, and just enjoy the company of friends. However, most of my gaming time, going back before Christmas, has been spent playing other games that I feel have more to offer than EVE does at present. Now, with the cancellation of the AT, I will not be returning to EVE in a few months in the same way I had planned to. I am quite happy to say that I previously intended to return to the Goonswarm team this year, and to spend a not insignificant number of hours and weekends theorycrafting new compositions, helping to setup and run practices, and actually flying in the matches. I would have considered that time a good investment in a hobby, and many other individuals within our community would have loved to undertake that effort once again, both alongside and against me.

At this point in time, I am sure there will be many people who also will not be coming back to EVE in the way they had intended to this year, even if they continue to subscribe and log in occasionally. Personally, that feels like a huge shame. I mentioned earlier that conflict is one of the biggest drivers for people to play EVE, and the Alliance Tournament has provided a microcosm of conflict. In recent years, the AT has been where you go to test raw pilot skill and theorycrafting capability in a small-gang environment, especially as in that same timeframe, the move away from passive income and the influx of botting to Faction Warfare has made sustaining smaller lowsec corporations and alliances more difficult. CCP is only making this harder at present.

Final Thoughts

In the face of everything that is occurring, I would say this to CCP: if you expect us to believe that you want transparency, if you want us to be aware of what is going on, and if you want us to accept the decisions you are making with the game in mind, then you simply need to do better. You must actually talk to us.

This entire article would have been unnecessary if you had just come out and said “Hey guys – we know this will hurt, but with everything else going on this year, and how the last couple of AT’s have gone, we need to take a break. We’re reassessing how we do the AT, and we want you to be a part of that. Here’s a forum thread for you to talk about your feelings on this blog, and here’s another forum thread, where you can contribute your ideas about how we can change the format to help us bring the tournament back better than ever”. That did not happen, a lot of people were let down, and there has been no further attempt to reach out and fix that. You need to do better.

Ultimately, the decision to take a break from the AT may be a wise one. But I for one am not convinced that it is the correct decision, and I don’t yet believe it will all turn out well – there is a huge amount to lose if this hiatus isn’t managed properly. The only thing I am willing to say with any certainty at this point, though, is that should the Alliance Tournament return, in any format that CCP may come up with or agree to, it will never be the same again.

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  • I wonder if, instead of trying to invent a new AT, CCP should provide tournaments as a completely players’ self-service capability. From what I read there is a definite demand for fights in a controlled environment.

    February 25, 2019 at 4:07 AM