Header art by Cryo Huren
In early August, 2021, World War Bee entered a new phase. After 13 months of PAPI offensive moves, the former mega-coalition members are now pulling back from Delve and are breaking into their separate coalitions once again and even forming some new ones (like PIBC). You might wonder, then, how we got here. The events of these recent days have moved very rapidly. Even though PAPI is currently pulling back and various PAPI leaders, including Vince Draken, Gobbins, Dunk Dinkle, and Progodlegend have made public statements about the pullback, it also seems only days ago that Gobbins announced that he was seemingly satisfied with the “equilibrium” of stalemate.
Similar to when we see the guy on the street corner holding up “The End Is Nigh” sign, we could recently see the signs of an impending sea change. Noraus gave the clearest early signals that the war was wrapping up, one way or the other. But this leaves us begging the question: why did the war last such a long time and why did PAPI’s offensive fall apart without the “Final Push” that PAPI leaders had been touting?
When Your Words Come Back to Haunt You
If you’ve followed the war’s rhetoric at all, you know that when the war was only two months old, Polygon published an interview with Vily, an FC and a leader of the Legacy coalition. In it, Vily declared the war one of “extermination,” going on to say, “We are aiming for the removal of Mittani and The Imperium from Eve Online. . . . We are here to purge them.” These were some of the most baffling statements ever spoken by a leader of a gaming faction, simply because the goal was literally impossible to achieve.
It did, however, fuel Imperium’s narrative machine. Any time things in the war seemed to be going poorly for the Imperium, someone could always rally the troops by saying, “We are winning, actually, because we are still logging in – therefore PAPI has not won and cannot win!” I won’t belabor this misstep, because I’ve written about it already multiple times and we all understand what a disaster that Polygon article was for Legacy and, by extension, all of PAPI, that had to fight a war with that “extermination” albatross hanging around their necks.
When You See The Cowpile, Avoid it!
What is perhaps more difficult to understand is why Gobbins would make the same mistake, having already seen how disastrous Vily’s “extermination” rhetoric had proven to be. If you see a guy walking ahead of you step in a giant cowpile, you make sure you don’t step in it yourself. And note: Gobbins saw Vily step in the cowpile, as he made clear in his Horde Townhall in December, a full three months after Vily’s Polygon article. As Moomin Amatin noted in INN’s coverage of the December Townhall, “Gobbins clearly stated that his objective for World War Bee revolved around causing economic harm to the Imperium. His justification for this objective was that the Imperium had gotten too far ahead of other coalitions economically. This current war addresses that problem, but also provides opportunities for revenge. He noted that deleting goons from the game would be ‘unwise.’”
So, for a time, Gobbins was playing a perfect strategic game: he avoided saying anything that would trap his alliance into something they could not achieve. He saw the cowpile! He waves off the discussion of extermination, saying that PAPI should not “delete” Goons from the game. With this recognition, he contrasts himself to Vily – a wise move, since Vily’s statement had been almost universally derided and walked back. Further, the phrase “economic harm” can be interpreted in so many ways that by the time Gobbins delivered the speech in December of 2020, Horde had already achieved that war goal. Therefore, the speech is clever and well thought through.
Except that one phrase, right? The war, he said, also provided opportunities for revenge. It’s an old saying, but has validity: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The desire for revenge is a strong emotion, and often emotion can trump reason.
Like Marley’s ghost all laden down with the chains he forged in life, perhaps Gobbins became laden down with his obsession over the 40 fortizars the Imperium got from Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2018. Had Gobbins continued to frame the war-goal narrative of “economic harm,” he could have declared a victory any time after smashing Fountain, Querious, and Period Basis, depriving Goons of three of their four regions and having wiped out dozens of citadels.
But I think Gobbins wanted those 40 fortizars destroyed and maintained that Horde wasn’t leaving Delve until retribution had occurred. But, that war goal, when you think about it, is tantamount to destroying 1DQ because that’s where the fortizars were located – in the most heavily defended area in space. Horde could not destroy the 40 fortizars without invading and destroying 1DQ. And to destroy 1DQ, PAPI would have to eliminate the Goon presence in nullsec. Therefore, despite seeing the cowpile, Gobbins proceeded to step in it himself. Extermination or 40 fortizars. Potato, potahto.
What Not Losing Titans Will Do for You
I don’t believe TEST or Horde would be leaving Delve now had not Noraus, leader of Fraternity, started spreading his ever-growing wings. He laid out plans in his pre-final push Townhall, noting that WinterCo line members were bored and that the war had to end one way or the other. He did all this despite his announcement coming right on the heels of Gobbins stating that the “equilibrium” was just fine for PAPI. Clearly, the “equilibrium” of containment wasn’t fine for WinterCo. Their line members were bored. Something had to change. And that message became the PAPI clarion. One Final Push. To those outside of PAPI, that lack of continuity in narrative – equilibrium versus Final Push – was one of the first apparent cracks that became very noticeable.
So, our next question should be, how did WinterCo gain such power? First, we should remember that Fraternity lost no titans in M2-XFE, and therefore, in comparison to other PAPI members, they had grown stronger all war long. At times notably absent from Delve and other Goon regions, WinterCo looked after themselves at all times. They took additional regions near their homebase, even getting assistance from other PAPI members to help thwart Toilet Paper and other Freemen of the North. They expanded and solidified, while other PAPI members, especially Legacy, uprooted and moved, costing themselves billions in lost structures and massive morale hits. We see, now that PAPI has broken up, that Legacy’s move into Delve, while perhaps really gutsy, has had disastrous consequences that Fraternity just hasn’t experienced.
Another thing that clearly factored into the recent meltdown concerns the general welfare of the game. The Online Status Monitor has shown a large drop in concurrent users. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the concurrent users drop to about 50% of what it was last January. Players were unsubscribing, and PAPI (in particular) was having trouble getting enough people to log in to make up a significant and battle-worthy force. One of the most egregious moments came when Imperium reffed some structures in PAPI’s staging of T5Z. The last straw occurred in the aftermath of that battle, when The Mitanni himself was seen salvaging wreckage in T5Z, with no PAPI interference.
We see, then, that in EVE rhetoric matters. Controlling the wartime narrative is the key to morale, and maintaining morale is often the key to winning wars. PAPI, via Vily and Gobbins, made two gigantic rhetorical errors from which they could never recover, unless they came through on their promises to “exterminate” Goons or destroy the 40 faction fortizars. Further, WinterCo began putting increasing pressure on PAPI as a whole: the equilibrium narrative was not acceptable to Noraus and his crew, and he made that clear. Finally, the player base was voting with their subscriptions – or lack thereof. They were no longer logging in as they were when the war was only six months old. So, once cracks started to develop, the dam gave way very rapidly. Too many stressors were active, which led to Manic Monday, August 2, 2021.