Header art by Cryo Huren
I want to start this article by making a few disclaimers. First, by comparing BoB and Goonswarm Federation I am not trying to say that Goons are “bad” and, in the context of the current war, that Goons somehow “deserve” the assault PAPI forces have directed at the Imperium. Band of Brothers is so associated with evil, in Goon culture, that within that culture making comparisons between BoB and any other group is tantamount to declaring that group the scourge of the earth. It is a prejudice I do not share; therefore, I ask my readers to suspend that prejudice for the duration of my piece. My comparison between Goons and BoB is not an accusation, but merely a neutral – even positive – observation. After all, BoB was one of the most feared and powerful alliances in EVE. Many in EVE would be honored by the comparison.
My second disclaimer is that the comparison between BoB and Goons is not a perfect analogy. These alliances have long histories and to make an observation about one of them at a specific point in time does not mean that the comparison is apt for all of that alliance’s history. Indeed, the challenge of EVE comparisons like this is that the game presents a constantly shifting set of networks and relationships. Cultures change. Strategies change. Leaders change. In sum, a comparison between two such complicated groups isn’t an exact science and does not claim to be exact in its comparisons. Moreover, any comparison between two cultures breaks down around the edges. However, I believe there are patterns between BoB and the current iteration of Goons that are significant enough to note and think about. Finally, I am making a comparison between present day Goons and the BoB of the past, not the BoB of the present under some other name.
BoB and Goons Are Good At The Game
Being good at EVE is going to mean different things to different people. There are, for instance, many different things to be good at in EVE. One can be good at mining, combat, industry, trading, etc., but not necessarily be well-rounded, bringing all aspects of the game together.
One of the things that made both BoB and Goons so successful in EVE, especially at their respective peaks of power and influence, was their ability to bring all the important aspects of EVE together in one pile. Combining a large member count, with diversified interests and skill-sets and phenomenal organization, both these alliances were able to excel in each category of the game. Power in EVE isn’t found by those who can only win on the battlefield; it is found when armies of miners and haulers are connected to an ever-churning industry, supplying endless ships to unified soldiers and good generals under the direction of good leadership. Further, skill at diplomacy cannot be overlooked here. Both Goons and BoB were able to play well with others, so to speak (at least the others that would create mutually beneficial relationships and would strengthen the collective).
EVE is a collectively-constructed game. The greatest alliances are those whose collective strengths combine into a holistic synthesis. Such a synthesis is the key to dominance and influence within New Eden and is a prerequisite for a great and powerful organization. At the broadest and most basic level, both Goons and BoB were able to accomplish synthesis and recognize it in each other.
Goons and BoB Solidified Strong Social Ties Outside of the Game
Compare the following quotes. The first is from The Mittani found in an academic article entitled “We Play Something Awful” by Richard Page. The second is from Groen’s Empire’s of EVE.
“Goonmeets have been a thing two to three times a year since the beginning . . . Goons are by nature more social than random Internet denizens, and especially your average EVE nerd . . . So, Iceswarm, good example. Everyone meets up at the host’s house in Chicago, eats food, gets drunk, and smokes weed. Goes to a gay bar, invades gay bar with a horde of drunk and high goons. Sings show tunes/torch songs with perplexed regulars. Hits a few more bars, then goes to a goth/industrial club. We end up eating at Five Guys at 5:00 a.m. to sober up/get burgers. Good times. That’s a party. Not sitting around folding tables talking about EVE Online” (personal interview with The Mittani, 2014).
“Every year, Band of Brothers held a real world barbecue celebrating good times and unity. For weeks every August its figurehead, SirMolle, abandoned his avatar and socialized with his pilots as Par Molen, a 48-year-old Swede living in Copenhagen, Denmark. For the first inaugural barbecue in 2005, SirMolle rented an entire campground outside Copenhagen, and hundreds of Band of Brothers starship pilots would come to drink beer, eat roasted meat, and gaze drunkenly at the bright rural stars. Amid the drunken revelry they also planned war strategy. They would convene in a large presentation room that looked like a classroom to plot the organization’s future plans” (found inGroen’s Empires of EVE).
Clearly, both Goons and BoB demonstrated social behavior and bonds that took place inside and outside of the game. The borders of EVE and online activity alone did not contain either group, and the bonds and commitment between players were influenced by this shared offline companionship.
Goons and BoB are exclusive
Both Band of Brothers and Goons had an exclusive recruiting system. According to Groen’s Empires of EVE: “SirMolle believed that the key to creating the most effective military force in the game was exclusion. Band of Brothers corporations didn’t accept random pilots into their midst. Players who wanted to join their alliance needed to be vouched for by respected peers and have a track record of excellence in combat. SirMolle wanted to create an untouchable armada of elite pilots with no weak links in the chain.”
Similarly, according to The Mittani, “[Playing with pubbies was just boring as fuck. They mined and didn’t work as a group. A corp of people doing their own thing, chasing ISK, ISK, ISK.” (personal interview, 2014; cited by Page). Page goes on to note that Goon “recruitment propaganda emphasizes the difference between goons and pubbies.”
Contrast this elite recruitment concept of both Goons and BoB with another current power in the game, Pandemic Horde. When I applied to get into Horde, I was in within a couple days; I encouraged my friend to play with me and join Horde as well. He got in about as fast. Applications to KarmaFleet, on the other hand, are strictly monitored and reviewed, and one might wait many weeks before being accepted or rejected. Those rejected by recruitment are told not to apply again. Newly accepted Goons are expected to participate in pings and ops on a regular basis, lest they be kicked out. Both BoB and Goons have wanted members who were dedicated and would contribute.
Goons and BoB Utilize “Ruthlessness” as a Tactic
The following two quotes are from Machiavelli’s The Prince; I see both of them as relevant in recognizing play patterns within both Goons and BoB. I’ll comment on each quote separately.
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
According to Groen, “Band of Brothers saw there was a benefit to [the] type of psychological warfare [done by Jade Constantine] and got in on the action. It sent spies into Phoenix Alliance to start petty fights between corporations and clog communication lines. . . . SirMolle and DB Preacher saw Phoenix Alliance as a weak amalgam of corporations that could be split apart, so they endeavored to create distrust between them. They’d share what the allies of Phoenix Alliance said about one another behind each other’s backs, and every time they did, they’d remind their enemies of ways they could end the war and move on peacefully. [BoB] had enacted a scorched earth policy, and if that meant destroying friendships in Phoenix Alliance then that was simply a casualty of war.” Similarly, the Imperium in the current war aims to break apart PAPI allies through spycraft and other non-combat means; Goons have become famous for their spy networks, with, ironically, BoB becoming one of their most famous victims.
The second Machiavelli quote goes as follows: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because . . . love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
Groen remarks: “SirMolle was a forceful statesman and was one of the best EVE players ever when it came to bending other players to his will. SirMolle cast himself as a ruthless space tyrant: not exactly the bad guy, but a leader with the right balance of control and crazy. . . . He projected an image of the strong dictator his enemies wished they could be.” Likewise, according to Page in his analysis of Goons, he notes that “Goons are authoritarian. . . . [L]eaders of goons have often held cults of personality, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way. Soviet-style propaganda is common. . . . Goons often draw on Communist rhetoric in speech, referring to The Mittani as “dear leader.” The Mittani’s bio reads: “So Mittens is definitely a sociopath. If you’ve ever been around him for any reasonable period of time, it’s super obvious. He has this peculiar mannerism where he watches people’s faces during a conversation, lingering on each one (if it’s a group) for a very specific period of time, like a machine. . . . He’s so manipulative of the people around him (the only thing he’s good at) . . . [that] being around him in a social setting is definitely a battle of wills.”
Obviously, a large part of the “ruthlessness” of either the alliance or the leader is part of a persona. Such personas can keep order within their corp/alliance/coalition, as well as keep other groups on the defensive. Both BoB and Goons have been called “evil” and “bad for the game” and both groups have responded, in the past, by embracing this “bad” reputation rather than trying to refute it. Both SirMolle and The Mittani have been banned from the game at different points in their EVE career. “SirMolle was ambitious. He saw himself as a destroyer of empires” says Groen; The Mittani has declared himself the destroyer of BoB and the future destroyer of TEST. I would argue that the leaders of these alliances are as comparable as the alliances they lead.
Goons and BoB See Themselves as the Best in the Game
Initially I said that both BoB and Goons proved themselves to be good at the game, playing at a high level. But beyond this, each organization also saw itself as existing on a high level, higher than the rest of the EVE community. Groen notes that “[BoB] believed wholeheartedly that [they] had more skill and potential than any other alliance, and they weren’t shy about sharing that belief. They even joked about acquiring enough power to attack empire space and grind the fictional empires under the iron boot of Band of Brothers.” Goons later would actually successfully attempt assaults on empire space in the form of “Burn Jita” campaigns. These campaigns were impressive feats, but they were also boasts: “We are so good at this game we can afford to do this. Who else has ever even attempted a campaign like this, let alone has the power to accomplish it?”
As Groen notes, “BoB leadership had developed a very high opinion of itself, and its pilots believed they were the game’s elite combat force. Logically that meant everyone else was mediocre at best.” Similarly, while early Goons prided themselves on being terrible at the game, Goons aren’t bad at the game and haven’t been for a very long time. Further, all non-Goons have been “pubbies” for a while now, and in the current war many a Goon has voiced “the only reason we are being attacked is because we are the best. In fact, only the best would be able to fend off and survive an assault from all of EVE . . . twice!” Both BoB and Goons have seen themselves as set apart and elite, and this mentality, often vocalized, has contributed to the hatred and assaults leveled at these alliances.
Goons are more like BoB than they want to admit. And I get it. Goons have hated BoB for a long time and have a long, bitter history of conflict. And yet I can’t help but see this rivalry developing in large part by the similarities between the two alliances. I remember someone saying that people often are more incensed at others who are only slightly different than they are than they are incensed by people vastly different. The English Puritans were, in any practical sense, more incensed by their more lax Christian neighbors than someone Jewish or Muslim. The more alike two groups are, the harder they try to distinguish themselves by building their (group) identity upon the smallest of differences.
As I see it, Goons hate BoB because deep down they see a large part of themselves in BoB. They see a drive, a will to compete, and a track record of success that they can identify with. It is something Goons see as threatening (“fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate”) in others because it is something they value most in their own regiments. From someone one the outside the Goon/BoB rivalry looking in, the two don’t look all that different to me. As Goons age, they have become more and more like the BoB of old. But I don’t think Goons should see this as something to be denied or ashamed of. It is true – there are some differences between the two groups; one that is most often cited is the relationship the two have to renting. But I see this as a minor difference overly emphasized in order help Goons distinguish themselves and their identify from an otherwise overtly similar foe. Once you zoom out you see that both groups, fundamentally, aren’t very different.