Header art by Quendan Comari.
Much has been written about the current World War Bee and its historical analogues. Authors have looked to the actual past (as distinct from the fictional or gaming past) to provide some enlightenment regarding what we might expect in the current war. Topics have ranged widely across history, too, going at least as far back as 61 AD up to the Vietnam War. Especially popular have been the analogies to WWII, which have included the Battle of the Bulge, the Soviets’ massive moving of war-time production, Japan’s awakening of the sleeping giant, and so on.
Warfare Throughout History
These historical analogies have been very insightful, and many of the comparisons have been apt, but all of them (including the ones I have written) have failed to account for the main weakness in analogies: every analogy breaks down eventually because no two things are exactly the same. Therefore, we should try to use analogies that compare things very closely aligned.
Real-life historical analogies can’t be pushed very far because real life and gaming life differ in a very important respect. In online warfare, combatants aren’t really wounded (except maybe emotionally) and they aren’t really ever taken out of the game. The phrase “I live, I die, I live again” only applies to video games; it certainly doesn’t apply to real life warfare. So, I want to begin a series of articles that look back on wars in New Eden itself. In doing this, I hope to omit one of the greatest weaknesses of historical analogies and perhaps provide some insight into World War Bee. Perhaps we’ll find parallels that put WWB into the broader context of warfare in New Eden.
For my understanding of EVE history, I use Andrew Groen’s fine book Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online, Lightburn Industries, 2015. I recognize that Groen’s work is not the final authority on events in EVE Online. Some of you reading this article may recollect things differently than they are presented here and in Groen’s book. One of the problems the historian faces is that people remember things differently. Even our memories may “spin” actual events. So, if my presentation of events differs from your understanding and your memory of these same events, feel free to make comments and include evidence that demonstrates where this article misses the mark.
For this article, I start with what Groen calls “The Siege of C-J6MT, ” which occurred in 2006. The Red Alliance (RA) had fallen on hard times. This group, once the most dominant in the southeast of nullsec, made their home in Insmother, but had spread out considerably and had incorporated many different groups under its large umbrella. Originally made up of Russians (by language, not nationality), the alliance came to include French and Americans as well. They had moved into Insmother while kicking out other corps that had previously lived there, causing warfare and friction. Those displaced pilots banded together into the Coalition of the South, composed primarily of four corps: Lotka Volterra, Knights of the Southern Cross, Chimaera Pact, and Veritas Immortalis.
Setting the Stage
As war initially began to burn, RA suffered losses. They had spread themselves too thin. They couldn’t hold all the space they occupied, and eventually they lost two entire entire regions, Detorid and Immensea, which were too far away from their home base to easily defend. They suffered desertions as well, as some corporations under the umbrella didn’t want to fight over territory they had not conquered themselves. As the war entered its final stage, RA was reduced to only the original core Russians. They were grotesquely outnumbered, by as much as 6:1, as they holed up in a system that they deemed absolutely vital, a chokepoint into other systems still under RA control. The once huge alliance was now reduced to only about 100 pilots.
The Coalition of the South thought they would easily roll up the remaining stragglers. Indeed, for a time, the aggressors left RA alone, considering them almost too insignificant to bother with. Coalition forces saw them more like gnats that perturb one during a summer barbecue than a real threat to home and hearth. But the annoying RA pilots just never went away, and the Coalition of the South’s losses to guerilla attacks reached the point where a final showdown had to come to pass.
The Coalition of the South still thought the Russians would just roll over or would be rolled over, for they didn’t fully understand the importance of culture to RA. The outnumbered defenders weren’t just fighting for space in a video game anymore. Things had grown more personal. First, the Russians shared a culture and a language; those very things were mocked by their enemies, who made insulting jokes about the “Russians dogs,” the “vodka,” and financing ships by selling Russian brides. These xenophobic insults stung RA to the point where they would rather die together as kin than continue to play the game by disbanding their corp and assimilating into other groups.
The Siege Itself
After the initial “glassing” of systems, the Coalition’s invasion slowed to a virtual halt. They shifted gears a bit and prepared to “grind” down the Russians with a siege followed by a overwhelming attack. As Groen puts it: “It had defeated the Reds weeks ago and believed exterminating it here was key to stopping future attacks.” Three times the Coalition of the South assaulted the system of C-J6MT and three times they were repelled, despite vastly outnumbering their opponents. RA had strategy on their side. They used mid-sized ships, all fitted the same, and divided into very small packs of ten. Small and fast, these ships swarmed the larger Coalition ships and killed one after another after another, while taking very few losses. While the Coalition adopted new strategies each day, and the Russians began suffering greater losses, RA still stood. Sleepless, exhausted, unable to swap out for fresh players, they held on.
Morale fell for the Coalition of the South. They had tried to wipe out RA, but couldn’t finish the job. They knew they should have been able to, thanks to their many advantages: endless mining opportunities, production behind the lines unhindered by attacks, a huge numerical disparity. The Coalition of the South fighters got sick of battles that led to . . . nothing. Some corps wanted to return home and begin making money again instead of prosecuting a seemingly endless campaign to rid the game of the Russians once and for all. Coalition groups began to fade away.
Eventually, those remaining fighters who had RA pinned down and besieged no longer outnumbered the defenders; RA struck back viciously, broke the siege, and took their place in EVE’s history as some of the greatest fighters the game has ever seen and certainly among the bravest as they fought against enormous odds.
Now, As Then
What parallels to the present war might we draw from this historic fight? Here are some of mine, though you, no doubt, will form your own.
- The Imperium, like RA in the past, is one of the most feared and hated groups in New Eden. Enemies felt the Goons had to be “exterminated” for the good of the game, because no other alliance could really plan other ops without taking the Imperium into account. Its power had spread over four complete regions, almost certainly a greater area than it could easily defend. Also, like RA, it was “rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”
- Further, once the Imperium faced a huge coalition, the largest such “blue donut” ever assembled; it has suffered tremendous initial losses: Fountain (at least for a time), Querious, and Period Basis. The walls have closed in tighter and tighter.
- The Imperium has now retreated to the point where it considers one system, E3OI-U, as crucial, much like RA did with C-J6MT.
Some uncanny parallels. But there are more:
- The Imperium hears constant slurs against Goons and Goon culture. Goons are despised, bad for the game, in need of “extermination.” These claims may not be made in the xenophobic way that RA faced, but nevertheless, the anti-Goon propaganda attacks Goons at the level of their own self-identity. Much like RA in the past, Goon culture is one of the strongest things the Imperium members share. When the Horn of Goondor sounded, retvets responded, many of them having not played the game for a decade. That kind of loyalty might be the greatest asset that the Imperium shares with RA from the past. And that culture is not something others can easily understand.
- PAPI outnumbers the Imperium 3-1; not quite the 6-1 advantage of the attackers against RA, but still a sizable number. Nevertheless, the war goes on. As I write this, we are in the 20th week of war.
- Like the Coalition of the South, PAPI is facing some internal turmoil. Some groups are leaving the front lines. Some FRT troops are making their way back to protect Venal, for example. Requiem was infiltrated and got disbanded, with a fortune stolen. Some groups have actually switched sides: RA itself, still in the game after all these years, left the “safety” of the PAPI donut to live and die and live again with the Imperium.
Parallels aplenty. But the end of the story hasn’t been written. Will PAPI lose morale, the way the Coalition of the South did in 2006? Will the Imperium, vastly outnumbered, survive through superior strategy and at times sheer determination? Will the Goon culture prove stronger than PAPI numbers? When histories of EVE are written about the summer and fall of 2020 and World War Bee (and those histories will be written), will you look back and know you were a part of it?