What a difference three years makes.
In the first month of 2014, EVE Online saw what was then the largest battle in online gaming history. It lasted almost from downtime to downtime. Over the course of the battle, the participants inflicted incredible damage on one another. Losses of that scale had never happened in EVE. Alliances fought entire wars without as much destruction. And the next day, I got up, got back in harness, and went back out to war, alert, rested, and eager.
Today, I’m thinking it’s possible I don’t remember ‘the next day’ as well as I think. Maybe I slept through it?
I should warn you about one thing: This article may run long. By the end of this, you may be wondering if the article takes as long to read the fight took to happen. All I can say now, I’m still pretty fried from the fight, so in the early stages of writing it, is ‘Fucked if I know. Maybe?’
Prelude to War
One January 1, 2017, the conflict between TESCO and Stainwagon began in earnest. The invasion of Stainwagon’s territory by CO2 and TEST marks the beginning of “The Traitors’ War”. They have support from many alliances, including FCON. During the Casino War, Stainwagon was an important ally to the Imperium. They were the only large force willing to travel across New Eden to come to their friends’ defense. FCON and CO2, as members of the Imperium, both benefitted from that.
Of course, CO2 has long claimed that no-one aided them. When they announced their withdrawal from the Imperium, their leadership stated very clearly that none of their allies had supported them at all. A day later, Sebastien Saintfrusquin, CO2 Skymarshall, explicitly stated on EN24 that, “I have heard that people in CO2 blame the CFC for not making a good show to defend our sov. They are wrong.” And yet the claim that no help ever came persists. It was used to justify CO2’s original betrayal of their allies. It seems likely it will be trotted out to defend this new attack on those who fought to protect them.
When FCON departed the Imperium, the MBC forced them from Branch, as well. When they relocated to the Galactic East, FCON continued to rely on Stainwagon’s friendship. That warm relationship soured, though, when FCON sided Triumvirate. TRI has long been an enemy of both Stainwagon, and FCON. When pressured, though, FCON sided with old enemies, and turned against their friends.
With their eviction from Tribute, CO2 and TEST have repeated that pattern. Though they fought hard, they lost a war that only GigX ever seemed to think they would win. In the process, they took heavy losses, both in funding and materiel. And so they too have come southeast. And they too have put pressure on FCON to go to war with their former allies.
In his recent alliance update, Tarkinius of FCON explained why he sided with TESCO:
“Stain could have offered TEST/CO2 our space in return for helping them beat us.”
As a result, TESCO’s planned invasion corridor was to take them through F4R2-Q . F4R is a critical choke point near their staging systems of Sendaya and Jamunda. Its position just inside Catch allows power projection deep into the interior. TEST and CO2 each began anchoring a Fortizar citadel only about 2,000km apart. This set the stage for a massive battle. The Imperium and CVA came to assist their Russian allies in repelling the threat. NCdot and MC, Alliances who had recently been fighting CO2 now rushed to help them. FCON called in support from Legion of xXDeathXx and TRI. The result was eleven hours of fleets fighting in Time Dilation (TiDi).
For those unfamiliar, TiDi is a mechanism the servers use to handle heavy load. As TiDi drops, time expands, until 1 second of action takes 10 seconds to process. That occurs at 10% TiDi. Below 10% Time Dilation (TiDi) is the nebulous and often incomprehensible realm known as “The servers are doing WHAT now?” Lag takes control. It distorts everything, like the irresistible gravity well of a black hole. And like a black hole, fighting below 10% TiDi sucks.
Almost every moment of the battle took place well below 10% TiDi.
A Red Day, a Sword Day…
The day began with schedules. Schedules are lovely things that let people know what to expect. They should also be torn apart, burned up thrown out, and stomped on during wartime. The TEST Fortizar finished anchoring at 23:30 EVE-time. The CO2 Fortizar, 2 hours earlier at 21:30. Each of them would have a 15 minute window in which they could be attacked and their repair timers paused. Only as long as those timers remained paused would the vulnerability window remain open. And those timers, unlike everything else in EVE, are not affected by TiDi.
TEST had a ‘move op’ scheduled for 19:00, two and a half hours before the first citadel would be online. Nobody I’ve spoken to believed it was that simple. Imperium pilots, TEST line members, or neutral parties, all felt sure this was to be a combat fleet. Their leaders just changed the name to get as many people to come who wouldn’t want to sit in TiDi as they could.
In response to the 19:00 move op, the Imperium scheduled fleet form-ups for 17:30. A wartime State of the Goonion (SotG) address from The Mittani would come at 18:00. The plan was to get on-field a full three hours before the first Fortizar could be attacked.
At 17:45, the schedule began to go out the window.
Word came in that TEST had moved up their timetable. At the time, Imperium FCs were sorting out who would be leading which fleets. Yes, this is already 15 minutes after the ‘scheduled’ form-up. Nobody ever said we could do anything in a timely or well-organized manner early in a war. Scouts kept watchful eyes on enemy staging, trying to determine just how fast TEST would form. Others watched CO2 and their allies as well. Without actionable movements, though, the Imperium continued on their extant timetable. The SotG began on time, and ran for about 20 minutes or so.
At about the 15 minute mark, 30 or so TEST bombers slipped into the target system. Imperium fleets formed up and got in motion. At the same time, TEST, CO2, Mercenary Coalition, and others began to move into the system. They set up on the ZXIC gate, the gate leading from the Imperium staging system of EX6. The initial gate camp was impressive. TEST flew Nightmares and Hurricanes, while the Drone Walkers contributed T3 cruisers (Lokis, Proteii, and Legions), Mercenary Coalition fielded Machariels, and FCON brought another fleet of Machariels. Meanwhile, TEST Maelstroms, CO2 Legions, NCdot (in yet MORE Legions), xXDeathXx’s forces (Legion and Shadow) in Machariels, and Triumvirate with their own Machariels, all got underway.
I think. It’s a little hard to remember just exactly who was where are the beginning now. The killboards would usually help. Unfortunately, they’re still crapping their own pants and flinging feces at whoever tries to pull up a battle report of the whole fight.
Vily ran TEST’s Nightmare fleet, and the eternal question of ‘Where’s your Progod now?’ would be answered when he got first a Hurricane, then a pair of Tengus shot out from under him. One of them was named ‘Rigs in Cargo’. I’ll let you guess where the rigs actually were. GigX ran the CO2 T3 fleet, while FCON’s Machariels were of under the command of Nour Samy. Beyond that, I have no idea who was in charge of the other fleets. A+ reporting skills, right here.
Interesting thing about a gate camp, though: it requires camping the gate. That means you can’t always react and respond fast, especially with a lot of people in system. So when cynosural beacons went up near an Imperium POS, there wasn’t even any point trying to send fast tackle to kill them. In short order, the Imperium forces piled in, bypassing the camp completely. In poured Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—No, hang on, that’s not right. Asher Elias had control of the first Imperium Yacht (Machariel) fleet, with Apple Pear leading the companion Proteus Fleet. Meanwhile, famed EVE Streamer, Shrimp Boat Pirate, and Man Who Has an Admiral’s Hat™, Dabigredboat led his beloved Bomberwaffe into the fray once more. Esildra would bring in the second Yachtfleet during the first round of reinforcements. The Imperium’s uncontested Most Personally-Murderous Alliance Leader, Sister Bliss, brought in a fleet of Apocalypse Navy Issues, as well. With that move, the Initiative’s shiny hulls and fresh supply of super-bright lasers ensured that nobody would have to fight in the shade.
Riding to battle alongside our
suicidalbrave heros upon St… uhm… lemme check. January 1st: The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Ok, that doesn’t work for the St. Crispin’s Day thing. So, whatever
While the Imperium forces formed the bulk of the defenses, they were by no means the only ones there. Stainwagon FCs Raven7032 and Vurionek led their T3 cruisers in the defense of their space. CVA’s Jin’taan also brought a fleet of Cerberuses that would provide critical support. (No, really, spellcheck, how the hell do you want me to pluralize the Latin form of a Greek name? Kerberoi? Boat, something for CCP Please! CCP, Please give us the actual plurals for all these damned hulls.)
Have I mentioned I’m still pretty fried? If not, well, I just did. This was a long, long fight.
The Charge of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight
I’m going to be really up-front here: what happened next was a colossal cock-up from the defenders’ POV. Short form: Mistakes were made, lessons learned, blah blah blah. Long form: The enemy fleets repositioned to the 1P- gate to link up with their reinforcements. We thought we could catch the Nightmares at close range and warped everything in to take the fight on the gate. Why is that a mistake? Because TiDi. Because fighting on the gate when you’ve got 2 clocks ticking down nowhere near the gate is a mistake. And because the Nightmares warped the hell away and we missed them. Worse, the fleets had been in slightly different spots on the POS, so landed in different places amidst the bubbles on the gate.
What bubbles? The bubbles we didn’t get the Nightmares in, obviously.
Our fleets engaged, with Esildra’s Second Yachts coming in to reinforce. Enemy reinforcements were pouring in as well. At one point, eight enemy fleets began attempting headshots on the Imperium’s Asher Elias. Only combination of well-timed overheating, a ridiculous number of logistics ships, and an equally ridiculous Legion fit allowed him to stabilize at 20% armor. The save had taken the efforts of at least two fleets’ logistics. That combined logistics work would be repeated time and again as enemy forces attempted to headshot both Asher and Apple Pear throughout the long night.
Unfortunately, the massive amount of bubbles on the grid had meant that there was a difference in positioning. Esildra wasn’t near the other fleets. Second Yachts bore the brunt of the massed firepower, and his Proteus was not in range of the other fleets’ logistics cruisers. After half an hour—three minutes of ‘game time’—Second Yachts was declared KIA, and the survivors folded into Asher’s fleet. The enemy guns turned back to the other fleets, intent on continuing their murderous work.
As the first timer began getting short, the fight on the gate began to look like a tar pit. Progodlegend had reinforced the TESCO forces with a Hurricane fleet, and the combined firepower only seemed to be increasing. We’d need to get out, and get out fast. If we didn’t, there was no way we could get the subcaps to the citadel grid in time to pause the CO2 Fortizar’s repair cycle. But trapped in the center of all those bubbles, with less than 20 minutes on the timer and in 10% TiDi, extraction would be impossible.
So we went the other way.
Turning the Map the Right Way Up
The decision was made to bring in the first wave of carriers, under the command of the one and only Jay “DIdn’t Want That Revenant Anyway” Amazingness. The Hero of the D-W Beacon quickly set to work reversing the course of battle on the 1P gate, and shortly after, Imperium Supercarriers entered the fray as well, under the joint command of Jay and Tiberizzle.
Meanwhile, on the citadel grid, a lone Pilgrim-class force recon cruiser decloaked and lit a cyno beacon as the CO2 Fortizar entered its repair cycle. Imperium dreadnaughts jumped in, entering siege mode, and began to pound away at the structure, pausing the repair timer as Volkswagen-sized artillery shells began to tear away at the hull. The invaders were not without their own eyes, however, and the TEST Nightmares and Hurricanes began maneuvering to escape the 1P gate grid. Unable to prevent it, the relatively slow-moving Imperium and Stainwagon forces could only watch as the Nightmares withdrew to begin hammering at the vulnerable dreadnaughts.
Jin’taan and his Cerberus fleet, however, were more mobile. The Provibloc FC quickly marshalled his pilots, and descended on the citadel grid like avenging angels. As the DPS on the Fortizar began to dip, the CVA fleet rushed in to defend the stricken capitals, and push the Hurricanes off-grid.
The move bought badly-needed time. Though the timer unpaused, it had been held long enough for the Rus to light their own cyno. Living up to the name, dreadnaughts from Stainwagon leapt into the meatgrinder on the citadel grid and locked themselves in to a one-way trip. In moments, the heavy shelling resumed with renewed intensity, and the clock froze once more: 6m 31s [PAUSED].
With dreads in combat, all of the action on the Fortizar grid looked poised to focus around the CO2 Fortizar. There was another ticking clock, though, a bomb that could destroy all of the defenders’ work if left alone until 23:45.
At 23:29, a cyno directly beneath the TEST Fortizar lit up, and another wave of Imperium suicide-dreads jumped in. On the 1P gate, fleets from both sides continued working themselves free of the bubbles. TESCO forces began immediately withdrawing to the Fortizar grid, while Imperium fleets hung back to cover their carriers’ recovery and withdrawal operations.
With over a thousand invaders in-system, the defenders waged a desperate battle to hold two citadels paused at the same time. Jay and Tiberizzle warped their supercapitals to the staging POS to reposition. With the supers clear, Imperium subcaps on the gate grid rushed to the battle grid while Stainwagon continued to sacrifice waves of dreadnaughts to hold the timer paused.
Imperium fleets arrived on the CO2 Fortizar. Apple Pear’s Proteus fleet quickly moved to try and hold down the invading subcaps for the Machariels’ 1400mm artillery punch to the face. Though most of the more mobile enemy fleets were able to remain clear of tackle and bubbles, the subcaps’ arrival had again disrupted their attack, and kept the timer paused. At the same time, though, Just Let It Happen (FUM8) and FCON dropped dreads of their own, hammering at the Imperium dreadnaughts on the TEST Fortizar. In response, the Imperium would jump in wave after wave of reinforcement dreads over the course of the fight. Each group jumped in, sieged, and endured heavy pounding before lighting a cyno to bring in the next.
After only a few ‘minutes’ of adjusted game-time, the Imperium supercarrier and carrier groups landed with reinforcements. The Swarm’s massive ships immediately began to belch out wave upon wave of light fighters, buzzing around like angry little… somethings. Hummingbirds, maybe, streaking across the void toward the TEST Fortizar. Heavy fighters launched moments later, and engaged the nearer structure of CO2, picking up the slack from the ever-shrinking dread-ball.
As Imperium supers took control of the CO2 Fortizar timer, the focus of the fighting shifted to the TEST Fortizar. A TEST carrier fleet jumped in, launching space superiority fighters of their own to attempt to thin out the ranks of the brave AI pilots of the Imperium’s VF-666, “The Hummingbirds”. Subcapital forces on both sides repositioned, and the grid bloomed once more with the brilliance of dozens of overlapping Interdictor bubbles. The battle re-engaged full-force, and exploding ships lit up the night sky for anyone who wasn’t already eight hours into potato-mode on their graphics.
Denouement and Dead Supers
It was during this phase of the fighting that the Imperium would suffer their biggest losses. Multiple supercarriers, including one undeniably pricey Aeon, suffered an e-warp bug on disconnect. Rather than warping off the normal ‘1,000,000km’, the ships returned to the point where they jumped into system. According to reports on reddit, this affected disconnected pilots on both sides. However, it proved far deadlier for the defenders than for their enemies, as the attackers had regained control of the 1P gate grid.
As the CO2 Fortizar died, Imperium FCs considered the situation and the choice before them: Focus on the objective, or sacrifice dozens of subcaps trying to rescue the five trapped supers. As the number of surviving supercarriers on the !P gate began to drop, a decision was quietly relayed to the pilots:
“Sorry, man, try to petition it.”
With that last decision point behind them, the defending forces refocused their efforts on the Fortizar grid, including a renewed Stainwagon presence. The fight had gone on long enough that a new wave of Russians was now getting out of bed to fleet up, and many of the pilots on both sides were feeling it. Entire alliances on both sides had withdrawn due to time constraints, as the night ground on. The timer was frozen, unchanging. The hull percentage of the Fortizar was not. The attackers reached a decision point of their own, and began warping off to get on the supercarrier kills.
By the time the TEST Fortizar died, fleets had been active almost eleven hours. The battle itself raged for over nine, all of it in TiDi, most of it in severe leg. Reconstructed battle reports using Zkill’s 2-hr window place the combined losses at over three quarters of a trillion ISK, with the defenders taking the brunt of those losses at 537.78b ISK lost to 319.95b destroyed.
These numbers are almost certainly low. But the objective was won, and TESCO’s ‘Plan A’ staging option in Catch had been destroyed. Progodlegend took to reddit to claim that ‘Plan B’ was already active only 2 jumps away. Some claim this is the TRI Fortizar in Jamunda. Others believe in a more secretive plan.
Some just think that was a long damned day of fighting. It wasn’t the longest we’ve seen, though, and it may not be longest day in the war ahead of us. One thing is certain from the perspective of this fried and tired writer: Three years sure makes a hell of a difference.