The Razor’s Edge is a column written from the precarious middle between the forever warring powers, BOB and GOONS (modern day Northern Coalition and The Imperium). This year a third side to the rivalry opened when the Casino bankers of IWANTISK allowed me great access during their struggle to survive and then during their attempt to bring down The Imperium. This was the major narrative of EVE in 2016, and having access to all three sides was helpful for me as a writer. Most of the events during the war were covered by the Meta Show and the Talking In Stations on a week by week basis, but here is a year end recap of 2016 as we transition into the new year.
The Casino War
To explain 2016, I need go a bit further, to the end of 2015. At that time I was a heavy influence at EVENEWS24, writing and editing the writing of others. As a team we were watching our competitor, TMC, struggle through a disastrous layout change. We were high on the prospect of beating TMC to the news while raising our reputation for quality. Then came EVE Vegas, 2015. I was the sole representative from EN24, but I was slated to speak on EVE Media, a plus for our side. TMC was there in force, wearing black uniformed shirts and moving camera equipment back and forth as if they were a mini CCP. They were making preparations to going to do what CCP refused to do; stream the event. Coincidently, TMC had a big announcement: a book deal with CCP, so the cameras were already there. I was amused that TMC was making a big deal of throwing it all together in three days, because ShadowandLight had put together a streaming package in 24 hrs, and was able to capture the elusive round-table sessions.
Inside the EVE universe, players were still pessimistic about the new sov system and worried the announced changes to structures and capital ships would be the final straw – killing EVE for good. The PCU numbers were down, and people were nervous. At the center of discontent was the feeling that null was not worth it, and they were right. Hundreds of hours of grinding by players could not compare to the earning potential of Casino money which was starting to be spread around streamers and media types. Those on the take accepted tens of billions in return for promoting the gambling sites through their medium. “Free money” entering the game at that scale devalued the working man’s grind not worth doing. Only farming C6 wormholes were paying off, and at the time there was a secret war for C6 domination by Quantum Explosion, a Russian alliance. Their conquest created a renting empire that null-sec alts used to enrich themselves while they waited for CCP to fixed the incentives to grind sov.
The Imperium was being crushed under their own weight, with highly visible Goons Endie, Suas, and Blawrf McTaggart, defecting to other groups. Mittani had not adequately convinced them that the Imperium brand name was a worthwhile change from the “clusterfuck” name. The Imperium was seen as a dominate power in the north, a space Rome with its own Pax Imperium. Goons and allies adapted to jump changes far better than their rival N3 coalition, which broke apart when NC reset allies and left sov holding as a practice. N3 could not defeat the Imperium, even with the help of heavy weight mercs Black Legion and Pandemic Legion. Many feared Goons could claim they won EVE if the game closed its doors. The “Empires of EVE” book was about to released. Concerns of legacy were fresh, and Goons wanted to write another book about the Fountain War, a war Goons won.
The book deal with CCP needed funding. The Kickstarter platform was used to crowd source the astronomical amount needed to pay for a professional author. The marketing campaign’s ironic sense of humor was lost on many players. CCP didn’t support the book deal very well and TMC was pretty upset at being abandoned as criticism of the proposed book mounted. That is when I joined TMC. I originally came over to write a few articles and retire, but Sion asked me to take ownership of the EVE news division. Always wanting to build a news organization, I accepted, as long as I had final say on the EVE content published. My marketing and design background got me a seat at the “site development” table, but first I needed to write and shape the news. My first major assignment was to investigate the smoldering beginnings of SMA versus IWI. It was very a very interesting conflict – an alliance versus a Casino.
From my standpoint as a veteran PVPer in null-sec, Imperium’s Space Monkeys Alliance (SMA) were a big alliance with a weak reputation as fighters. My friends in Honorable Third Party would hot drop them as they did Provi, but unlike Provi, SMA had something to prove to their PvP allies in The Imperium. SMA also had a “tendency to put their women on a pedestal,” according to former SMA female player. The need to gain reputation and the tendency to white knight women led SMA to their doom, dragging the whole Imperium into war. Here is how that all started:
One of SMA’s female directors caught the ire of her friend, the owner of IWANTISK (IWI), over the treatment of mutual friends. SMA leadership took a hard line in defense of their female director, stonewalling IWI during grievance negotiations. This started an escalation; IWI threatened to hire mercenaries to disrupt SMA’s farming, the female director used privileged access to IWI to steal billions in ISK then petitioned CCP that illegal RMT activities by IWI existed. CCP froze the accounts of 14 of IWI casino clerks, but did not touch IWI directly. IWI hired mercenaries to attack SMA. SMA gloated publicly at the infiltration of IWI that resulted in the bans. One of their prominent members, Kyle Aparthos, penned several articles about their spy attack in order to upgrade their reputation as a cunning alliance. SMA also refused help from Imperium allies to beat back the harassing mercenaries, which emboldened other mercs to take contracts from IWI and join the raids. The conflict grew, merging into other efforts to defeat The Imperium that were already underway.
Imperium spy channels buzzed as they helplessly watched the perfect storm form. Major rivals, NC, PL, TEST, and others picked up large contracts and moved North to invade the Imperium. N3 may not have been able to defeat the Imperium, but most of EVE was on its way, even drone region renters formed up as Drone Walkers to help invade. Motive met opportunity as mercenaries challenged The Imperium holdings in Lonetrek, then on multiple fronts. The funding to destroy the Imperium came from IWI, Lenny, and 1ronbank, all associated heavily with fortunes made through online gambling of ISK. The Pax Imperium was over.
Imperium alliances mobilized but were spread too far apart to defend all its territory. A plan was made to fall back and fight on a single front. Some Imperium alliances made plans of their own. FCON paid NC to let them escape the north. Co2, wanting to keep their vast holdings, turned traitor and, according to Imperium spies, set a trap for the Imperium’s super capital fleet. The admiral of that Imperium fleet was feeling uneasy when intelligence reports from scouts and contradicted what Co2 was reporting. The admiral detoured the supers fleet at the last second, avoiding a catastrophic trap with hundreds of waiting dreadnaughts and supercapitals from NC and PL, waiting to jump in. The Mittani announced a change of plans, and The Imperium conceded sov and vowed to fight from the borderlands in low-sec.
Then came Citadel Expansion.
Fights with the new capital ships were happening daily. FC’s were figuring out how to use their new powers. In the war, momentum swung back and forth as the Imperium used Hurricanes to shred the new Force Auxiliaries that protected the super capital ships. Most of the fights were meaningless exchanges, but after some time, The Mittani announced the Imperium would reconquer the north by taking and securing space slowly. Pure Blind region was first.
News from wormhole space reached New Eden; an XL citadel (Keepstar) was built by Hard Knocks Alliance. Weeks later, as the Imperium was making progress in Pure Blind, Darkness Alliance put up the first null-sec Keepstar in Deklein, the former seat of power for The Imperium. Intel that Co2, Horde and NC were going to drop their own citadels was spreading. These fortresses effectively ended the hopes of Reconquista. The Imperium could continue on and take sov, but with massive fortresses living in their space, it would be a useless endeavor. Keepstars were the new sov EVE needed. The Mittani called for a massive move to Delve, far away from the north. This effectively marked the end of a strange war. It was more of a collapse and tactical retreat than a war.
Only TEST alliance followed to keep the fight going. Co2 successfully kept their territory, built a Keepstar, and formed a powerful coalition with TEST, called TESTCO, when they returned from the south. FCON settled in the south. SMA retreated to Outer Ring and mothballed out of existence. IWI bankers were unbanned by CCP. At the end of it all, the invasion only had two major battles, but cost upwards of 30 trillion ISK. The ISK disappeared into the coffers of the merc corps, but no accounts of how the ISK was used has ever been made public. It is assumed all that ISK was spent or is controlled by a few individuals from various alliances. It’s good to be king.
IWI made plans to upgrade the Casino website. 1ronbank left IWI to join EVE Casino. Lenny left IWI to focus his efforts on building the New Eden Trading Company, a network of citadels that would serve as trading posts. Then CCP struck: All gambling sites were banned and any variants of “games of chance” were made illegal. IWI, 1ronbank, and Lenny were banned for RMT and their wealth confiscated. The Imperium celebrated.
Meanwhile Project Mayhem, ally of TESTCO, tried to anchor a Keepstar but NC, PL and others destroyed it, marking the first Keepstar to be destroyed. NC and Horde declared war on Co2 and moved on Co2’s home in Tribute. TESTCO and others repelled NC and Horde for weeks as NC evolved their sov warfare tactics. Their new tactics worked and Pandemic Legion joined in the fight, sealing Co2’s fate. The territory Co2 had traded sides to keep was taken away, and their Keepstar was destroyed, marking the first destruction of a fully operational XL citadel. TESTCO announced they would move south in pursuit of space to build TEST a super capital fleet of their own. The long term goal of TESTCO is to rival the strength of NC, PL.
In Delve, The Imperium conquered the surrounding areas, and made some successful revenge attacks against alliances that had a role in taking their northern territory. The Mittani recently declared war against The New Eden Trading Company, run by Pandemic Legion as a proxy for the banned Lenny. The Imperium attacked and destroyed a NETC Keepstar in Derelik while it was being installed. This came days after PL successfully hot dropped several titans and a Revenant deep in Delve space. Then in Placid, The Imperium and NC, PL faced off again over a Keepstar. Tensions remain high.
At the end of 2016, all signs pointed to a war in the south as TESTCO moves into Stainwagon territory with support from Phoenix Federation (FCON) and Vanguard Coalition (Triumvirate). Stainwagon was the only major group that came to the aid of The Imperium when its sov was under attack, and in return The Imperium is now in full mobilization mode to return the favor. NC, PL and others are on the way too. Their intentions are not yet known.
In 2017, scores will be settled in the south.
A year ago the anti-Imperium sentiment from inside and outside was high, fueling a massive mobilization to kick them from sov before citadels could be dropped – something that might have cemented their “win” permanently. Many players hated the idea of Goons winning EVE. Vast amounts of ISK, mixed with the anti-Imperium sentiment made the “Casino War,” as named by NosyGamer, possible. Some want to call it World War Bee and that fits to a degree, but the anti-goon sentiment has been around for years, it was the Casinos that made this invasion possible and unique. I wrote about the conflict as The Mercenary Wars, but NosyGamer’s war reporting was excellent and his analysis on-point.
Themes of 2016
From my perspective, there were some very interesting themes that ran through 2016.
First there was the Justice theme. I read that Lenny wanted to fund his part of the war to bring back the “old Goons, the non-toxic ones.” That is a stunning idea for EVE veterans who developed an allergic reaction to the toxic 2006-2009 goons. The goons of today are mild in comparison. There are more females, LGBT players in The Imperium than anywhere else. You won’t hear Mittani drop Nazi jokes, or use code speech for racist, sexist, misogynistic themes. Years ago goons had a cultural revolution to get away from the toxicity of their past. They are no saints, and at anytime you can find goons that cross the lines of decency, but I know from watching them they persecute line-crossers aggressively.
In contrast IWI hired Psychotic Tendencies (TISHU) as their first merc, a group that put filled their cargo with 1488 canisters of gas, a Nazi “final solution” symbolism during the Alliance tournament. Thousands of EVE fans were watching TISHU’s leader, Lex Arson, openly tells other players to “kill themselves,” and defended The Mittani’s ugly FanFest wizard hat moment – something the Mittani himself has condemned and disavowed. This is just one example of the “Good Guys.” The irony of “toxic Goons” deserving to die hit its peak when Darius JOHNSON appeared to condemn The Imperium. He coined the phrase “ruin your game” that many refer to as the mindset of The Imperium. DJ was supported by Lenny and 1ronback, and even CCP, to break old goons away from the Imperium.
What goons “deserved” had nothing to do with it – 2016 was about winning, or at least not letting Goons win. Justice was a convenient facade, to shield the “pay to win” reality. That’s why the war was disappointing for the winning side. I have never liked what goons represented in EVE, but that baton was passed to others in PL, TISHU, TEST, Snuff, and so on. NC had aspects of it but Vince Draken smashed it before it took hold. That’s why I live in NC. The maturity level is higher than any other major alliance.
The second theme was how gambling ruled the day. While alliances struggled to find ways for players to enjoy making ISK while actually playing, gambling sites made ISK while players were not playing. It monetized boredom, which EVE has loads of. Gambling had been around since the beginning EVE, but when the ISK became politicized it changed gambling’s relationship to EVE. It represented “unassailable wealth.”
No side of any conflict should have an untouchable income source, especially if a network of trade hubs exists like the New Eden Trade Company. Lenny, the visionary, was a magnate of gambling, moving it towards creating safe logistics to null-sec. Unlimited gambling money generated by the masses bored by EVE would buy endless ships from Jita for whatever groups the trade federation favored – a permanent, reliable logistics program. Why would any alliance fight for a home in null-sec? Why would anyone work the land? Especially if the Casinos had PL on contract, ready with supplies and forts all across EVE. This was not a reality, but it could have been. The banning of gambling, and the banning of Lenny along with the trillions of ISK ended this path, even if Lenny and NETC wanted to create something for the purest reasons. History shows us countless examples where good intention paved a road to hell.