Header art by Cryo Huren
When the music stops, whoever has the most [Titans and Supercarriers] wins.The Mittani
Five years ago this May, the Imperium was in the midst of a strategic collapse. In the space of a month, one of the most dominant coalitions in the game went from holding hundreds of null systems to holding zero, and the entire coalition was hellcamped in a single lowsec station. Yet just two years after that low point in the Casino War, the Imperium was able to launch and win a war of revenge in the North that saw them smash a fully-contested staging Keepstar and take home forty faction Fortizars as the price of peace (most of which decorate the Imperial throne system in 1DQ1-A to this day).
That dramatic turnaround was built on a simple foundation: the Imperium’s Titans and Supercarriers—the strategic forces that are the root of power in EVE.
Although the Imperium lost all its sov in the Casino War, because its supercapital fleet survived, the coalition itself was able to survive, rebuild, and seek revenge. The story of how the Imperium carefully and deliberately protected and shepherded their supercapital fleet during the collapse of 2016 is perhaps the single most significant story of the entire Casino War. Now—as PAPI forces close in on 1DQ1-A and the Imperium finds itself on the brink of another moment like that of May 2016—both sides consider the lessons of that story.
The Fight that Never Was
During the Casino War, the attacking forces of the Moneybadger Coalition (MBC) were never able to kill the Imperium supercapital fleet. The Imperium fleet’s survival was not an accident; it was the result of deliberate Fabian strategy: avoid direct confrontation and fight a defensive war of endurance and attrition. Though Deklein and the Imperial North fell, the MBC was never able to force a decisive supercapital engagement—and it wasn’t for lack of trying; it was the result of the Imperium’s commitment to not engage and risk its most critical assets. “What makes these guys have fun is big set-piece battles, and they also want to blow up our supercaps,” said the Mittani in one of the weekly Firesides at the time. “So they’re not going to get either of that.”
For many in the Imperium, the most critical moment of danger for the Imperium supercapital fleet came on March 28, 2016 as a result of treachery by one of the Imperium alliances, Circle of Two (CO2), who suddenly flipped sides in the middle of the war. The events are disputed to this day, but at the time it was widely believed and reported that “the events of March 28th, 2016 were designed to ensnare [the Imperium’s] entire supercapital fleet and murder it, satisfying vengeance for [their] victory of B-R5RB,” as Goonswarm’s then Finance Director Querns said at the time. Shortly before switching sides—so shortly in fact that negotiations for the switch must already have been ongoing—CO2 tried to arrange a travel route for a number of Imperium Titans and Supercarriers through their POSes. The Imperium FC leading the move op, kcolor, made a spot decision to use another route and no ambush materialized. (That one was ever intended has been strenuously denied by many involved in those events on the MBC side.)
Regardless of what MBC intentions and plans may have been, it is undeniable that throughout the Casino War Imperium leadership explicitly sought to avoid losing the supercapital fleet in a trap or disadvantageous engagement and took careful precautions to prevent such events.
The Imperium’s Trail of Tears
But though survival of the ships themselves could have been as simple as just not logging them in or taking fights, actually preserving the fleet as an effective strategic fighting force required much more as it came time to evacuate the fallen North: Titans and Supercarriers had to be gathered in secret from the old, lost systems; a safe line of passage from the gather point to the new homeland where the Imperium aspired to rebuild had to be established (all without revealing that location prematurely); and then the necessary move ops had to be actually executed (in a context where no home base existed and where almost everyone could be presumed a potential enemy on the way).
“Our first task was to quietly regroup everyone into Ashitsu,” recalls Goonswarm FC Director Jay Amazingness (who at the time was compared to Moses leading his people through the wilderness for his role in coordinating the migration and leading move ops). “This was the most risky as it was in direct range of the hostile staging and was mostly done one by one and in private. Luckily the hostiles didn’t run any locator agents on our supers or didn’t notice they were no longer in [the Imperium’s capital staging system] Tartoken.”
Preparation of the route involved dropping citadels (Astrahauses) at all the waypoints along the way to allow tethering after each jump, an activity that continued throughout the move as the fleet got farther and farther South. “Tensions were pretty high since citadels cost a decent amount and were the new hotness of stuff to shoot,” said Jay. “We were kinda poor too, so losing them was a bit hard to swallow.”
Citadel mechanics were a decisive aspect of the move. Citadels were completely new to EVE at that time—having been in the game for barely three months when the move kicked off on July 23, 2016—and the tether mechanic they brought with them was a critical part of the planning. Tethering after a jump was instant at that time and provided nearly undefeatable security for a jumping super fleet as soon as they landed on the new grid. “Before citadels you would have to cyno 200km+ away from a POS then warp to the POS once you jumped in,” explains Jay. “This left you vulnerable. It would have taken a lot more effort and time, and solo movers would have been more vulnerable to attack. We would need a subcap fleet and bridge titan [at every jump] along the route.” Former MBC and current PAPI FC (and TEST military director) Progodlegend agrees. “We couldn’t have stopped [the Imperium] from moving with instant tether as a mechanic,” he says. “All that mattered was getting [the Citadels] online. Once [they] did that, it didn’t matter how [they moved].” (Instant tether was removed from the game in March, 2018. Ships that jump to a Citadel now experience a 30-second delay before they tether.)
Despite the advantages conferred by Citadel mechanics, there were still many challenges to be overcome, including an incursion that popped up in the middle of the route (an automated PvE event that institutes a constellation wide cyno jam until the incursion is defeated); supercapitals with insufficient jump range to follow the waypoints due to low skills; and simply the raw grind of the work. “These move ops would last for 10-16 hours a day, and it was mostly me, Tiberizzle and Lux Libertas running them,” says Jay. But far from being a demoralizing moment of defeat, the retreat from the North became a defining moment of good spirits and camaraderie in the Imperium supercapital community, with many jokes originating at that time still showing up in comms to this day. “I have fond memories running those move ops—lots of people really stepped up and contributed,” says Jay.
A Lesson to be Learned
The Imperium escaped the North in 2016 with 60-70 active Titans (a significant portion of which were captured in this video during the migration). Two years later, they brought nearly 200 to the field for the decisive X47 Keepstar fight in their revenge war in the North (this video shows something of the difference). By 2020, the claimed number was more than 1000. For members of the former MBC, the lesson is unmistakable: Tenacity is as important in victory as in defeat. “The thinking from five years ago was definitely shown to be wrong,” says Progodlegend. “[The MBC] didn’t think it mattered if [the Imperium] lived because [they] could just be beaten again later, which was obviously dumb.” But for Progodlegend the decisive factor was not simply the survival of the Imperium supercapital fleet. He believes that fleet by itself could not have saved the Imperium if the MBC had just kept fighting. “Having your supers with you is always important, . . . but [the Imperium] guys were getting less than 150 in fleet while taking Delve. The only reason [they] lived is because nobody chased except for a TEST subcap deployment. If MBC had chased, it wouldn’t have mattered if [the Imperium] had their supers, and [MBC] easily could have; they just didn’t want to.” At a high level, Jay Amazingness’s view of what it takes to win a war is similar. “[It] all comes down to stamina,” he says. “How long can they keep going.”
In 2016, the MBC did not have the stamina to chase the Imperium to Delve and break their power backbone. The current war is reaching a similar point. PAPI has glassed most of Imperium space and looks to be able to finish the job unopposed—except for the Imperium’s home constellation and throne system where today’s successor to that supercapital fleet of 2016 waits in readiness. Imperium space has fallen, but the backbone of Imperial might remains unbroken; indeed it is stronger than it has ever been. And no matter how many Keepstars PAPI destroys, if in the end they—like the MBC before them—take space but do not crush the Imperium’s supercapital might, one might reasonably suspect that they will in time lose all that they have gained.[Bonus video: A testimony of what the Imperium has lived through before, and one of Jay’s favorite EVE videos still to this day.]
Coming next: “Fortress 1DQ isn’t like Saranen”