Header Art Provided By Razorien
(Author’s note: This article is for those that might not be familiar with EVE Online. A full, in-depth description of some of the mechanics, specifically the ‘yes, but’ outliers, exceptions, and other peculiarities, will be left out for simplicity’s sake. I have even rounded some of the math…)
CCP Games’ EVE Online is well known for massive battles. Currently, EVE holds two Guinness world records; one for the largest video game multiplayer PvP (player versus player) battle with 8,825 players, and another for the most concurrent participants in a video game PvP battle, with 6,557 participants. The latest battle, in the star system of M2-XFE, will not be breaking either of those records. However, the battle of M2-XFE surpassed the Bloodbath of B-R5RB by more than double in terms of destruction. Over the course of 13 hours, 254 titans exploded in a brilliant flash of light, torn to pieces by doomsday superweapons.
Without context, all the facts and figures of the battle are meaningless to the uninitiated. EVE players already know what happened and the implications by reading a few paragraphs on this site. Their inside baseball is strong. To cut through all that, and to elucidate the significance of the battle to a non-EVE player, some background knowledge is in order.
Unlike other MMOs, a player interacts with the game world by piloting a spaceship. Their character doesn’t matter much, except in the terms of the ships they can fly, based on skills they have trained; skills are trained passively over time. While in a game like World of Warcraft, someone might make an elf mage, gaining more abilities as they level, but they will always be a mage, limited to the abilities of their class. An EVE character with enough time, however, can train every skill and fly every ship.
In World of Warcraft, if a player wants to play something other than a mage, they have to make a new character of a different class and level up again. In EVE, due to the breadth of skills, a player might make multiple characters and focus their skill training in one area to be more effective. They might even make multiple accounts, as only one character can be active at once on any account. EVE’s gameplay lends itself to running multiple accounts to accomplish certain goals. The in-space activities are simplistic, and many players will pilot multiple ships at once on a single computer in all but the most intense of PvP engagements.
Titans and Null Sec
EVE is well-known for its null security game play. The massive coalitions, tens of thousands of different flesh and blood people from across the world, battling in the lawless anarchy of null sec space. These coalitions are proto-empires, seeking territory, prosperity, and dominance over star systems and constellations and regions for their pilots to live in. Claiming star systems also provides opportunities for infrastructure upgrades allowing the production of EVE’s largest supercapital ships, better mining and ratting opportunities, and intersystem travel capabilities. It also plants a flag on the map, which fans of Eddie Izzard recognize as of utmost importance.
PVE activity in null sec consists of two main activities. First, a pilot can mine ore to get the raw resources to build ships. A pilot flies their mining ship to an asteroid belt and sets their mining lasers onto a rock; the laser breaks apart the asteroid and tractors the ore into the hull. It’s very simple. All mining is much the same, however higher-skilled, or larger ships can mine more, faster.
Players call the other activity ratting. This involves players destroying pirate (rats) ships for direct payouts of in-game money from the game’s NPC (non-player character) governments. Pirate ships range from tiny to huge, with larger NPC ships paying out more money. As a pilot’s ship becomes larger and more powerful, it can destroy more powerful enemies, and faster.
In the course of living in null sec, coalitions produce stations to live in, like the Keepstar citadel, or the Sotiyo engineering complex. To protect these assets, pilots build or buy fleets of warships to protect their space. Like the pre-Marius Roman army, null sec pilots till the fields (PVE) by day, and when war comes, they gather arms and fight the enemy (PVP). Conflicts in the form of skirmishes against marauding enemy fleets happen regularly, multiple times a day. Usually, enemy incursions in peace time don’t require the full force of a coalition response.
Conversely, bloc wars see the full might of coalition war machines unleashed. While ‘peacetime’ skirmish fleets are made up of sub-capital warships, a war usually sees the deployment of a coalition’s capital and supercapital ships.
The largest of these supercapital ships is the titan. A titan is a true behemoth – 15 kilometers long, with the largest guns and the only ship-mounted superweapons in EVE. In a Götterdämmerung-esque battle, which M2-XFE was, the superweapons fit to titans make all the difference. Groups of titans can volley other titans to destruction in an instant, rendering their fellows attempts to render remote repairs useless. Titans can also turn their doomsday weapons on other capital ships, which are more vulnerable than opposing titans because of their lower total hit points.
Strong and Powerful
To provide the proper context to these massive warships, it is useful to compare them to other ships. While EVE is a far more complex game in terms of mechanics than this article will get into, some basics will be presented here with some simple math (and rounded numbers!).
During peacetime battles, the largest class of ship regularly fielded is the battleship. The Rokh battleship, as configured by the Imperium—for reference, a ship can be fit with myriad modules that change its attributes once in space—has 110 thousand effective hit points. Its eight 425mm railguns can do 541 damage per second (DPS). It would take over 200 Rokhs to destroy another in a single broadside1.
By contrast, an Avatar titan, as fit by the Imperium, has 31 million effective hit points. The game server would crash if one side tried to field the 57 thousand Rokhs necessary to destroy an Avatar in one broadside.
An Avatar’s 6 dual giga beam lasers can deal 7,149 DPS. However, the main damage dealer of the Avatar is its doomsday weapon. Once every 8 minutes, a titan can fire that doomsday weapon, dealing 1.5 million damage to a single target in one instant. However, the doomsday weapon cannot fire on subcapital ships like the Rokh. The Avatar’s main guns also have difficulty hitting the smaller ships as well, much as an Iowa battleship’s 16-inch guns would have a hard time hitting a speed boat.
Expensive and Time Consuming to Build
The battle of M2-XFE saw 1,300 titans in space. A player made each one of those titans, from scratch, through thousands of hours of gameplay.
Building a battleship in EVE (for example, a Rokh) does not take much time at all. A single character, using 1 out of their 11 possible production slots, can make a Rokh in less than one hour in their respective coalition engineering complexes. The Rokh takes a mere 14.6 million refined minerals to build. Compared to smaller sub-capitals like frigates and destroyers, the Rokh is expensive; compared to an Avatar, the mineral cost of a Rokh is not even a rounding error. There is no comparison to the build time of an Avatar.
Capital ships are not built in a single go, like subcapitals. First, a player must construct quantities of capital components. An Avatar takes 15 different types of components. However, it takes hundreds of each type: over 6,500 total. Each component requires 2 hours to build. As noted previously, a single character can run up to 11 production lines at once, production being a passive, set-and-forget process in EVE. An account can support three characters; so a single account is able to produce 33 different components at once. No matter how players divide the workload up, between multiple characters, accounts, or even a group of players working together, it requires over 12 thousand hours of component production. To produce all these components takes over 4 billion refined minerals.
Once a player has assembled all the components, they can now build the hull. To build a titan hull requires the largest type of engineering complex, in a claimed system, with the infrastructure upgrades necessary to support supercapital building. Supercapitals are always built in structures owned by players, and always in places that are vulnerable to attack. If enemy ships destroy the structure while the titan is being built, all the resources put into production are lost. It takes at least 36 days to complete the assembly of a titan hull, and the work cannot be divided up.
Minerals and Mining
In EVE, players produce all ships. Unlike other MMOs, where players obtain better gear by conquering some PvE or PvP challenge, anyone in EVE can mine ore, refine the ore, and use the minerals to make any ship in the game, with the right skills. There are no ore or minerals in the economy that were not mined by a character out in space.
Recently, the game’s developers made radical changes to mining. A full discussion of those changes is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is reasonable to say that resource production in EVE slowed to a crawl. Before these changes, the time needed to mine all the ore necessary to produce a titan ranged between100 and 300 hours, depending on the small game mechanics tweaks made in the years before.
After the changes, the time to mine enough ore to produce a titan has increased to at least 2500 hours, but likely closer to 3500 hours depending on the conditions. This also assumes the mining efforts are not interrupted by marauding fleets looking to kill them.
In the years prior to M2-XFE, titan production, while not exactly cheap or quick, was plentiful. Now, those titans will be an order of magnitude more difficult to replace.
In EVE, when a ship explodes, it is destroyed for good. There is no respawn mechanic, or even paying a small fee to get back. A new titan has to be built from scratch to replace it. Even if the player has enough of the in-game currency to buy one from another player, someone must mine all those minerals. Usually, if a ship is destroyed, a player can salvage some of the fittings from the wreck, but the hull is a total loss. EVE’s economy is a delicate balance of production and destruction.
Dollars, Plex, and False Equivalencies
Whenever a large battle happens in EVE, various news outlets and CCP try and put a real life dollar amount on the damage. This comes from the ability of a player to buy game time from CCP Games, and then sell that game time on the market. CCP introduced this feature, called PLEX, early on in the game’s lifecycle. If a player has extra money, they can buy these PLEX for real money and sell them to get in-game currency without breaking the rules of the game. Needless to say, this exchange is one way; one can never legally convert PLEX back into real money.
When a massive fight like M2-XFE occurs, the damage is calculated in ISK and then converted using the PLEX to ISK exchange rate, since ISK amounts are meaningless to non-EVE players. ISK might as well be quatloos to the uninitiated2.
The Battle of M2-XFE
Invasion and Casus Belli
The current World War Bee in EVE started when the Legacy Coalition banded together with the Pandemic Family (PanFam) coalition to invade the Imperium coalition. For years, the Imperium had been the big dog in EVE’s null sec, with the largest supercapital fleet and strongest economy. Because of their military and economic might, they became hegemonic, engaging in short, destructive conflicts to punish enemies and ensure their own prosperity. The Imperium had, only a year prior to the current conflict, deployed their supercapital fleet to the PanFam region of Tribute and destroyed most of the infrastructure there. PanFam chose not to fight, but retreated deeper into their space away from the Imperium.
The Legacy Coalition, led by Test Alliance Please Ignore, had been Imperium’s frenemy for years, though always the junior partner of that relationship. A full accounting of the history would take a full book, as complicated as it was.
In short, both of the other two blocs in null sec grew tired of the hegemonic Imperium and realized if they banded together, they could stand a chance of knocking the Imperium back down to a more equitable size. PanFam and Legacy have a complicated relationship with each other as well that would take a novella to fully explain.
The last major war had ended years ago; the virus lockdown was in full swing. If there was ever to be a time for a war in EVE, July 2020 was it.
Since the invasion, PAPI (a portmanteau of PanFam and TAPI, for Test Alliance Please Ignore) has been successful in pushing the Imperium back into their home region of Delve. In the process, PAPI razed dozens of star systems, destroying smaller stations, and multiple Keepstar citadels, the only structure in EVE where supercapitals can dock and stage from. A Keepstar has a different resource gathering and production chain than a titan, but costs a bit more. Attacking forces consider Keepstars primary objectives.
Big’s Disco Palace
Years before, a small corp in Imperium named Discoverings anchored a keepstar in the system of M2-XFE to support their mining and ratting operations. The system of M2-XFE actually has no strategic value. The location is not a major choke point, and the Imperium is not (nor have been) using the keepstar as a staging area for its fleets. By and large, Big’s Disco Palace keepstar was just another thing to destroy along the invasion path.
Multiple accounts referred to Big’s Disco Palace as irrelevant, unnecessary to fight over. Certainly some might question the wisdom of committing such significant resources to defend a keepstar that is irrelevant to the defense of the Imperium’s remaining systems.
However, to Discoverings, this keepstar was their home, one they had built. Because it mattered to members of the Imperium, it mattered to all members of the Imperium, an all for one and one for all sort of thing. PAPI’s previous maneuvering and strategy of attack had forced the Imperium to stand down while PAPI forces destroyed other keepstars uncontested, at least by the Imperium supercapital fleet. This time, when the opportunity presented itself, the Imperium took full advantage.
Each keepstar must be successfully attacked three times to destroy. The initial attack can come at any time and starts an invulnerability timer. The timer, mere hours in null sec, is to allow the defender to plan an attempt at saving their structure. If the attacks succeed in doing enough damage the second time, a final timer will start, leading to a vulnerability window where the keepstar can be completely destroyed.
At 2200 UTC on December 30, the two supercapital fleets, anchored by titans, faced off. Other ship types participated, but as covered earlier, even a fleet of Rokhs is largely immaterial when it comes to a slugfest between titans.
Groups of 40 titans would target an enemy titan with their doomsdays and fire simultaneously, destroying an enemy in an instant. As each side fielded hundreds of titans, dozens of doomsday volleys were firing every 8 minutes.
With so many people present in the star system, the game actually slowed down the internal clock using a mechanic called time dilation, or ti-di. When over 4000 pilots entered the system, ti-di reached 10% of normal. For every minute of real time, 6 seconds passed in the game world. If the game did not do this, that many people in one place would crash the server.
The fighting continued all the way until 1100 UTC on December 31, when the server went down for daily maintenance. As the Imperium held the field due to their keepstar, they were able to salvage what fittings they could from the carnage, including picking over all the PAPI wreckage.
However, for all the destruction, PAPI managed to put the keepstar into its final timer, winning the objective.
The losses were staggering for both sides. The Imperium lost 124 titans. PAPI lost 130 titans. Hundreds of smaller ships and fighter squadrons were lost in the carnage as well, but when compared to the titan losses, they barely matter.
On Saturday January 2, Big’s Disco Palace will come out of its final invulnerability timer. Both sides are whipping up their pilots for another massive battle. If the Imperium can save the keepstar, it resets, and all the PAPI progress is reset. If PAPI can destroy it, not only will they have succeeded in their objective, but the Imperium fleets will not have a structure to tether on or dock at, as they did in the previous fight. Two fleets, in space, without a home field advantage, is likely to see even more destruction.
Records are made to be broken, and the irrelevant Big’s Disco Palace keepstar might just see back-to-back records of destruction.
PAPI publicly stated ahead of the January 2 battle they have 100 titans in reserve to replace their losses. After the December 30 battle, the Imperium started issuing war bonds—exactly like the real world—to help finance their own replacement hulls. Neither side is ready to back down. Round 1 is over. When the bell rings, both sides intend to come out swinging.
1: As pointed out in the comments below, this isn’t technically correct. Due to the math regarding volley damage, significantly less Rokhs are required to volley another off the field. However, turrets are subjected to a variety of other game mechanics, such as tracking, glancing and wrecking blows, damage types, etc., that are beyond the scope of this article.
2: 22.1 trillion ISK was destroyed in the battle of M2-XFE. If you didn’t already know this, I am not sure what you are going to do with this information.