FOZZIESOV AND ASPIRING SOVHOLDERS: A LOOK FORWARD

2015-07-30

Sovmageddon is well underway. Though a glance at a sovereignty map shows little change, this hides a more tumultuous reality. With the deployment of Fozziesov, the name on the map is determined by a Territorial Claim Unit (TCU). However, that is completely divorced from improving the space for player use. The Infrastructure Hub (Ihub) and station, if one exists, in a system are far more important to the residents and therefore are likely to be the first things targeted by an attacker.

At the time of writing, almost four hundred timers are counting down across the game, ticking away to the potential destruction of valuable assets, according to timerboard.net. This number has grown steadily since the launch of Fozziesov; the timer count was below 200 a week after the changes went live. Also, the board makes no account of what has already been lost. This kind of turnover would never have occurred outside of a major bloc level war under Dominion mechanics.

Is seems then that Fozziesov, at least in the short term, is working. Sov is as combustible as a California hillside and every child has been given a pack of matches. But in a few weeks the orgy of flame and anarchy must end; everything that is not strongly defended will be burnt to the ground. The question then becomes: What green shoots will try and grow from the ashes? This article is an attempt to answer that for potential newcomers to space ownership by summarizing discussions with a number of the old hands at the sov game.

First off, the changes caused by Fozziesov have altered the fundamental equation for holding space. Before Fozziesov a supercap fleet was the gold standard for taking space. Now the number of engaged pilots who log in and fight to defend what they own matters more. Under Dominion mechanics, if a power could hold one system in a region they could hold the region; under Fozziesov, this is no longer even close to true. With that in mind, the big players in the Sov game have already made their moves to adapt. The Imperium has pulled back to a high density footprint, and so far seems to be weathering the storm extraordinarily well. Pandemic Legion has declared itself uninterested in Sov and become nomadic along with other members of the former N3 coalition. The Russians have made peace and are currently hunkering down and defending their holdings.

Other, smaller entities are trying to hold on to what they have with varying degrees of success. Cracks are showing around the edges of many occupied areas as the owners stop trying to hold space that is no longer tenable. These gaps may not be visible from the sov map, since the TCUs are often left intact, but a quick trip to a system will reveal if the Ihub still stands. If the Ihub is gone, it’s a fairly safe bet that the “owners” of the system have, at best, a shaky hold on the place.

Before going on it is important to define what is meant here by “own space.” In the past it meant having an anchored TCU in the system, but with the TCU now decoupled from the benefits of space, this definition no longer works. Instead, owning space is defined here as exercising effective military control over a system in order to use it for economic purposes. In game terms, this means holding the station for docking rights and owning the Ihub.  While anyone can run anomalies that spawn as a result of an upgraded Ihub, a group whose space was being used by an enemy would likely stop paying rent, causing their Ihubs to explode. It is also worth asking if anchoring a TCU would even make sense for an aspiring Sov owner; with an Ihub they can get all the benefits of Sov. Anchoring a TCU and putting their name on the map might draw unwanted attention for no gain.

None of this means it will be easy though. For starters, there are likely to be fewer new powers looking to take space than the layman might think. On multiple occasions over the past few years the CFC has tried to give away space it did not want, literally offering to hand it to any takers on a silver platter. It was often unable to do so, even with no strings attached. There are two reasons for this. First, it was easy enough to get into one of the big blocs that everyone who wanted to move to null had already done so. The need for more players in a smaller space under Fozziesov is likely to have accelerated this trend as the existing powers stepped up their recruiting. Second, the economic case for owning space remains fairly weak. Comparable income for individual players is available in highsec from missions or incursions at much lower risk. There is not likely to be a large pool of organizations looking to own corners of the map at the moment.

Therefore, the new sov-takers are probably not going to be fully formed alliances like Goonswarm, Brave, or Pandemic Legion. For the most part, they will be smaller entities, perhaps lowsec PvP groups, who notice some real-estate next door is recently vacant and decide to dip their toes in the water. If they are successful at first they could collect allies, industrialists, and increase their numbers in order to take larger amounts of space.

Unfortunately, when they try to go for a swim it will probably seem like the water is full of Great White Sharks and Candiru. For a smaller group, the process will be an uphill battle, and once they get a toehold it only gets harder. The reasons for this are rooted in the inherent difficulty of holding Sov under the new mechanics and made far worse by the fact that the existing powers aren’t going away.

First, the mechanics.  A system that is truly “unused” will, when first taken, have a huge vulnerability window of 18 hours, leaving the owner’s Ihub at considerable risk. A few points in any index, strategic, industrial, or military, will go a long way to reducing this. Alternately if the system is the first taken by an alliance it will get an automatic +2 to the defensive multipliers because it will become their capital, making it much easier to defend. Regardless, since indices are now independent of upgrades, a smart attacker would prepare for taking the space by mining and ratting in the system extensively before dropping an Ihub. Of course, strategic ratting and mining operations go against the cultures of most PvP-oriented organizations, so they may end up having to recruit industrialists and carebears to fill the gap. This results in the need to find miners who are willing to undock when told, “We’re going to go mine Veldspar in a belt in null while people try and kill us. For six hours. Procurers only, Red pen CTA.”

Even if they can accomplish some preparation, a group with single time zone coverage will probably need to guard their new possession for between six and ten hours a day at first. A corp with a couple hundred active players would likely strain to cover the far ends of that window in numbers high enough to hold off a twenty man roam, no matter how active they are during their prime.

If the investment needed to take the space was trivial, this would not matter very much. Unfortunately, the up-front investment required for an Ihub, a ratting upgrade, and a POS to base out of comes out to well over a billion Isk and, more importantly, several hours to move and set up. For an asset that can be lost in a matter of minutes when nobody is online, or must be defended over and over again at the cost of blueballs and alarm clock ops against an out-of-timezone opponent, this could be a significant burden.

If a new organization manages to entice enough PvP, industrial, and ratting players into their organization to hold off petty harassment from their immediate neighbors it would become possible for them to hold a system or two. Mining, ratting, production, all the economic benefits of holding Sov would open up, and the hard work needed to get there would suddenly start to seem worth it. Towers would be anchored, indices would climb, wallets would fatten. And then reality would come crashing back in.

There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates to, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” Any smaller outfit that managed to take and hold space long enough to start to enjoy the benefits would probably have cohesion. It would have leadership and FCs. It would have players with hopes, dreams, plans, and investments in the future. And most importantly, all these things mean it would make hilarious noises as it was tortured to death.

The big powers of Dominion Sov are still here, still dangerous, and they’re bored. Money doesn’t motivate them anymore; even the poorest has considerable sources of passive income. In a post-supercapital era the need to constantly expand capfleets is gone, and much of the need for huge sums of Isk at an alliance level went with it. They don’t want space; most just finished getting rid of what they had. With no need for massive income and no space to lose they are all but impossible to retaliate against, even discounting the still overwhelming local power of their capfleets. The one remaining motivation, the one reason a five year bittervet will undock once every three months, is the quest for the single truly priceless commodity in Eve: tears.

As soon as a smaller power got established they can expect a larger, older one to come knocking, looking for content. “Knocking” here means hundred-man fleets, supercap escalations, and days-long hellcamps. No effort would be spared so long as the victims continued to cry in local, rage on reddit, and make “CCP plz nerf blob too strong” posts on the Eve forums. By the time the attackers left, nothing would remain of the once rising power’s work save ashes and salt; the moment they began to rebuild it would happen all over again. Much like what recently happened to Brave, any aspiring power would probably be farmed to death long before it could reach the scale and coordination required to stand toe to toe with a major power.

So how can a small power make Sov work under the new system? The first and most important thing is to understand leadership in Eve and have engaged and effective leaders. Good leaders, a clear narrative, and solid communication down to the lowest level are crucial to line-member buy in. Engaged and active line members, in turn, are the bedrock on which any other successes must be based.

With the pressures described above, it seems likely that there are only two viable options for an ambitious group looking to break into the sov game. The first might be called the Sov Hobo model, and the second the Sov Yeoman. The Sov Hobo is fairly straightforward. It centers on not holding space for any great length of time, instead sliding into niches in the sov map until forced out. To prevent catastrophic asset loss, a Sov Hobo organization would likely base out of lowsec or NPC null. Their central narrative would focus on short, intense bursts of exploitation and smaller scale PvP before moving on when confronted with an overwhelming force. Making sure that members understood this would be key to success since without the context, they would seem like they are running away a lot. The use and cultural acceptance of mobility, evasion, and content denial would be key to the success of this type of organization.

The Sov Yeoman would work toward owning Sov in the long term, and might even base out of a conquerable station. In order to survive the attentions of bigger fish they would probably be loosely affiliated with a major power, one close enough to provide them some support in a do or die fight. “Loosely affiliated” in this case does not mean that the group would be a formal subject or take orders from somebody else. Instead, it would mean an understanding that the Yeoman would provide content in the form of fights. In return the bigger power would not crush them, and would prevent other major powers from doing so. Other details like moon ownership would also probably be agreed upon through negotiation since moons remain highly valuable assets. Given the bloodthirsty nature of the existing blocs, this may seem a bit far-fetched at first glance. However, such agreements have worked in the past.

Arrangements like the one described above can work because while FCs are responsible for providing entertainment to their fleet in the short term, Diplomats and the higher levels of command can, and will, take the long view if approached correctly. Creating a blighted wasteland devoid of content around their home is not a good long term choice. Creating a relationship like this, call it a non-extermination pact, could give a smaller entity a chance to grow, learn, and build until it could strike out on its own. As well, the experience gained through constant fights with its larger neighbor (and probably everybody else) would provide invaluable experience with sov mechanics. On the other hand, this course would undeniably involve ~kissing the ring~, something which many will be unwilling to do on principle.

Regardless of how they decide to make the attempt, any group trying to own space in null without joining an existing power bloc needs to understand that it will not be smooth or easy. A clear vision of what they are trying to do and how they plan to get there, along with a massive tolerance for setbacks on the way, will be the real key to success. Fozziesov represents such a fundamental shift in game mechanics that the results will not be apparent for months, as players adapt incrementally and changes in their behavior begin to accumulate enough to have a major impact. Still, throughout human history times of intense and chaotic change have always been opportunities for ambitious new organizations to make a name for themselves. For a smaller outfit with big ideas, right now represents the biggest opportunity in years to take a little piece of real-estate, get rich, and die trying.

Author’s Note: This article took shape over many discussions with many people about how the new Sov system will look in practice. In particular, I would like to thank Mukk Barovian of Pandemic Legion, Innominate of Goonswarm, and Aryth of Goonswarm for their contributions.

Editor’s Note: This article is an opinion piece and, as such, any opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TheMittani.com or its staff.

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