On September 29, 2018, the Northern War came to a close. In the weeks that have followed, the political landscape of EVE has changed. Relationships that formed the foundations of the conflict are strained. In some places, they openly stand in tatters.
At the same time, the Northern War marks the first direct, head-to-head supercapital engagements of the major null blocs since the Battle of B-R5RB. In the interval, more has changed than merely politics. The very nature of sov warfare has changed. Understanding these changes, their causes and implications, will be important for any nullsec organization, from the smallest rental corp to the largest coalitions.
Knowledge is power. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. And platitudes are a bunch of filler bullshit you have to get over before the meat of the thing comes out.
Once Upon A Time in New Eden…
To understand how we got here, we first need to go back many years. We look to a time before the Aegis sovereignty system (aka ‘Fozziesov’) was released. The Battle of B-R5RB took place on January 27, 2014, at the height of the Halloween War. As a result of the catastrophic losses suffered, Pandemic Legion (PL) negotiated for an uncontested withdrawal from the combat theater. The N3 coalition, allies of PL in the war, withdrew as well, without assurances or safety. Many ended up regrouping in lowsec.
The battle established the then-CFC as the dominant supercapital power in the game, and dealt a serious blow to PL’s self-image. Pandemic Legion had, previously, been considered the pre-eminent supercapital force in EVE, especially when they were supported by their close allies in Northern Coalition. (NCdot). The battle also reinforced the longstanding animosity between NCdot, at the heart of the N3 Coalition, and the Goonswarm Federation (GSF), the central alliance of the CFC.
That shift in the balance of power, and retrenchment of grudges and acrimony between the major powers, would contribute to motivations in the following years.
Prior to July of 2015, nullsec sovereignty, and thus, sov war, worked very differently. Systems had up to three defensive structures. The first was the Territorial Claim Unit (TCU). This was the essential piece of the puzzle. It put your name on the map and made the system yours. The second structure was the Infrastructure Hub (IHUB), which allowed system upgrades. The third structure was the Outpost. Like modern citadels, these were player-dropped stations. Unlike citadels, Outposts offered no tethering and could not be destroyed. They were conquerable versions of lowsec/highsec stations, and control of these stations could be flipped by shooting them enough. As long as the system’s owner maintained control of either the IHUB or Outpost in the system, the TCU could not be attacked.
Additionally, offensive structures existed, named Sovereignty Blockade Units (SBUs). In order to attack a system, attackers (not necessarily the same ones) needed SBUs online near 50%+1 of the stargates in that system. Only one SBU could be placed on a gate grid, so sov-holders would use so-called “defensive SBUs,” sitting anchored, but offline. This prevented attackers from placing their own.
None of these structures were in any way affected by system indices. In the current sov system, the defensive indices influence the amount of time an attacker needs to entosis an IHUB, TCU, or command node. Raising these indices means mining, ratting, and generally living in that space.
Under Dominion Sov, however, vast tracts of space could lie fallow, de-facto demilitarized zones. They served as buffer systems and forced attackers to nibble at the edges of an empire in order to secure a beachhead before striking deeper.
Time To Make The Donut
By the summer 2014, the CFC controlled 13 regions. Their empire stretched from Vale of the Silent and Tenal in the north, through Branch, Venal, Tribute, Deklein, Pure Blind, Fade, Cloud Ring, and Fountain, to Querious, Delve, and Period Basis in the south. This included holdings by the Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere (PBLRD), the Imperium’s rental alliance.
On the other side of the map, PL and NCdot’s combined rental empire, the Brothers of Tangra (BOT) and Northern Associates (NA) occupied nearly everything else, controlling most or all of the following 18 regions: Cobalt Edge, Curse, Detorid, Esoteria, Etherium Reach, Immensea, Impass, Insmother, The Kalevala Expanse, Malpais, Omist, Outer Passage, Paragon Soul, Perrigen Falls, Scalding Pass, The Spire, Tenerifis, and Wicked Creek. What space in those regions was not used by renters, N3 member-alliances held, with Feythabolis split between Nulli Secunda (NULLI) and Darkness. (DARK).
More than any time before or since, this was the age of the “Blue Donut.” With the exception of Catch, Cache, Geminate, Providence, and NPC nullsec like Great Wildlands and Stain, the entire map of New Eden existed under the control of one of the two major blocs.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’…
Beginning in late 2014, the landscape of sov warfare began to change. The Phoebe update, scheduled for November, included changes to the way capital forces moved around New Eden. As soon as CCP announced the plans for the new “jump fatigue” system, groups around null began making plans for the new realities they would face.
In mid-October, the CFC arranged to sell the regions of Querious, Delve, and Period Basis to their rivals in N3. The CFC alliances with space in the affected regions—The Initiative (INIT), Get Off My LAWN (LAWN), and I Whip My Slaves Back And Forth (J4LP)—received new space farther north. It would not be the end of the western contraction.
Roughly six months later, in May 2015, the second round of contraction hit in preparation for the Aegis release. It saw the alliances Fatal Ascension and LAWN pull up stakes from Fountain, and the region sold to Brave Collective (BRAVE). To the north, Executive Outcomes ceded their constellations in Cloud Ring as well. In just over half a year, the CFC—in the process of reorganizing into the Imperium—had shed four and a half of 13 regions.
Two different changes drove these waves of contraction. In the first wave, jump fatigue significantly reduced the force projection ability of the large coalitions. Prior to Phoebe, capital fleets could bounce through cyno beacon chains. This allowed traversing the breadth of New Eden in half an hour. That mobility contributed significantly to the fighting in B-R5RB.
After Phoebe, while capital ships could now take stargates, moving large capital and super-capital forces in this manner presented considerable difficulties. The combination of low warp speed and long align times means that crossing space conventionally is slow. It takes considerably longer than even traveling the same route in battleships. Traveling via gate also makes a fleet more vulnerable to enemy scouting. Once scouted, interdictors rush to bubble the fleet, to delay its progress even further.
As a result, capital force projection becomes more limited. In turn, defending the far-flung borders of an empire gets harder. So, the leaders of the CFC shortened the borders, trading space for the ability to defend space.
The second wave, ahead of Aegis, served a similar strategic purpose. In Aegis sov, the more ratting and mining in a given system, the better. As defensive indices rise, attackers need to spend more time entosising. As a result, population density and activity becomes critical for defending territory.
So, first the CFC, then the nascent Imperium, reduced their strategic footprint by selling off ⅓ of their territory while increasing their population density. On the other side of the map, N3 shifted all of their territory into the hands of their rental alliances. No need to do the tedious work of making money yourself, after all, when others will do it for you and pay for the privilege.
And then CCP released Aegis.
When Aegis sovereignty—dubbed “Fozziesov” for the dev who described its workings—went into effect, the first result was a whole lot of nothing. The methods of war had to be relearned. Worse, the methods of peace did, too, in some cases. Under Dominion, the owners could unanchor sov structures and then the new owners could re-anchor them. This allowed alliances to transfer systems quickly and efficiently, and only shoot the station, in a peaceful transfer.
In the original form of Aegis, this was not the case. If Alliance A gave a system to Alliance B, Alliance B needed to entosis all of the sov structures. There were no transfers and no self-destructs. Only one person needed to do the initial entosis, but when command nodes spawned for the structures’ reinforcement timers, groups needed ten or more pilots for each structure. Every time.
As a result, a lot of the internal reorganization and shuffling of space under Dominion sov ground to a halt. In addition, the null blocs needed new strategies and ship designs. Instead of massive firepower on a single target, the new capabilities needed were: 1) attacking distributed targets, 2) defending entosis ships spread around a constellation on command nodes, and 3) reacting quickly to enemy hackers. War largely came to a halt for a month or so, as the various groups worked out and refined their ideas.
The Hand of Providence
A test case came in August of 2015, as the Imperium declared an “invasion” of Providence. At no point were there any illusions of taking and holding Providence. However, despite being a full quarter of the map away from Imperium space, Providence Bloc, or ProviBloc, presented the best target for wargames. Provi boasted the most stations per system of any region of sov null. In addition, as a haven for miners and industrialists, the Activity Defense Multiplier (ADM) indices were high.
The Providence campaign was short, lasting less than two weeks, but provided many lessons. Chief among them was a simple truth: fozziesov, even for the attacker, alternated between grinding tedium and sudden explosive excitement. Unappreciated at the time, however, was another important signpost. The way individual alliances performed during this deployment pointed to differences in capability. Considering the limitations of Aegis defense, those differences would soon come to matter.
The Casino War
Many writers have already written volumes about the Casino War. Fueled by income streams that stretched outside of the game itself, the war marked the end of the old northern alliance territories. However, those only focus on the height of the war. Most observers overlook the first months of the conflict.
The entosis war began long before the Moneybadger Coalition (MBC) or PL/CCP-branded “World War Bee” hype happened. The opening skirmishes began with a long campaign of cloaky-camping and solo entosis-harassment by Pandemic Horde. Gobbins ordered his “newbeans” to train cloaking and entosis, then sent them out into SpaceMonkey’s Alliance (SMA) territory in Pure Blind and Fade.
Once there, they spread out into a number of systems, and cloaked up, in the classic cloaky-camper technique of “I am AFK until the moment I drop dreadnoughts on you.” This technique suppressed activity in those systems, as the players moved to other systems without cloaky-campers. Reduced activity meant reduced ADMs.
The same cloaky ships were also fitted with entosis links. When an entosis link is activated on a structure, it needs to cycle once as a ‘warm-up’ cycle. For a T1 link, this takes 5 minutes. For T2, 2 minutes. Only after this cycle ends, and the second cycle begins, does the notification of ‘your structure is being hacked’ go out to the owners.
This meant that given the time needed to respond, the attackers didn’t need to complete the hacks. They only needed to complete their second cycle, stop entosising, and move away again, cloaked up. As any RTS player knows, the defender has to successfully protect against every attack, every time. The attacker only needs to win once.
Between them, the Horde hackers produced dozens of these notifications each day. Each one needed a response fleet, at all hours of the day. By the time the “real” war started, months later, SMA was already highly fatigued.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Delve is Goons
In the aftermath of the Casino War, the Imperium moved into Delve. At the same time, after consulting with their allies, Goonswarm opened their recruitment to corporations from other Imperium alliances. More independent alliances, such as Razor (RZR) and Fidelis Constans (FCON), went their own way, leaving the Imperium in order to preserve their own identities.
Taken together, these moves represented an even stronger consolidation. The Imperium’s structure in Delve allows all Imperium members access to any system in the region for PvE. There are no restrictions based on membership. At the same time, putting the majority of the coalition in Goonswarm itself streamlines entosis defense.
The result greatly increases security in Delve. With well-managed infrastructure, players move around with relative ease. This, in turn, lets them use more of the region, which raises ADMs. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of security.
It would be the height of hubris to claim that Delve is unassailable. Still, the difficulty it presents is enough to have prevented any serious attempts. The same cannot be said of the northern territories taken by the Pandemic Family (PL, PH, NCdot) of alliances—collectively called PanFam—and their allies.
Cue Another Northern War
The Northern War, in many ways, followed the template established two years earlier in the Casino War. Low-level harassment campaigns snowballed into larger military actions, and a wider array of sov-holding alliances, along with lower population density, made defense difficult.
This time, the Imperium were the aggressors. Pushing north from Delve and Fountain, they assaulted Cloud Ring and Pure Blind. Once again, the smaller alliances fell first. Unable to get entosis assistance from their coalition members, the burden fell squarely on French ConneXion. (FXR), then Circle-of-Two (CO2), then Solyaris Chtonium (SLYCE). The attackers had no restrictions limiting who hacked.
French ConneXion was asked to set their sov to EUTZ so that the coalition supporting them could form more numbers to help. However, the timezone they were asked to set to was not their best. Despite putting in amazing efforts to stop the sov grind, eventually it wore on them—a single crack in the wall and their space fell. PanFam was repeating the same mistakes the CFC made. This time, though, it was not small alliances taking the space. Despite fozziesov, it was still giant organizations fighting giant organizations.
Soon after a GotG corporation CEO leaked the existence of the peace treaty that ended the Northern War, new fighting broke out from within the “totally not a coalition.” Even before the peace treaty leaked, Mercenary Coalition made plans to divest their sov holdings in NCdot space, and return to a nomadic, mercenary lifestyle, resetting standings with their former allies.
After the announcement, Pandemic Horde reset GotG in a so-called “hostile” reset of standings. NCdot, in turn, reset Horde. PL, meanwhile, remains publicly neutral so far. Still, sources within PanFam expect to see them move soon to support Horde. CO2 has evacuated out of GotG space, and has resettled in Geminate.
Further, this past weekend on Talking In Stations, NCdot FC KillahBee declared that only the Imperium, and Legacy Coalition, have the manpower and mentality to make use of all of their moons. Killah’s statement, while perhaps somewhat hyperbolic, would seem to indicate that even now, the northern alliances individually claim more space than they can really use—and defensive indexes will suffer for it.
Lessons For FozzieSov
We’ve now seen a number of wars under the Fozziesov system. And there has been enough of a body of evidence to start seriously looking at how effectively it has achieved its aims.
When Fozziesov was introduced, the general reception was great. Everyone was crowing about how great it was—everyone who didn’t own sov, that is.
Surely, this would break up the monopoly of single coalitions.
The attackers were happy. Finally, the “little guy” could attack the “big guy.” They no longer had to commit any real assets to sov warfare. They could fly ships so fast they would never get caught. Eventually, CCP restricted the entosis module to not be useable on ‘ceptors and capped the speed a ship fit with one could go.
Even with the changes, the CFC bled sov. The smaller alliances within the coalition, unable to be supported and helped with entosis duties, began to lose IHubs. Allies from all across the Coalition burned themselves out, futilely chasing cloaky or fast-moving entosis frigates. Soon, the CFC fell, routed by people in 5m ISK ships fit with entosis links.
When the tables turned, history repeated itself. Alliances that were living all over multiple regions couldn’t cover all their space. ADMs in all but a few heavily-used systems were too low. Allies within the same coalition couldn’t help with defensive entosis. And the north fell, again.
From the ashes of the CFC came the Imperium—the same group, but with a different view on holding sov. They had learned their lesson: no more small groups holding sov. They consolidated the entire coalition under a single banner for sov purposes. Eventually, this turned Goonswarm into the largest single alliance in Eve Online.
Just as the creation of the Imperium was the opposite of what CCP wanted, the “north” moved in an undesired direction, as well. Under the CFC, the northern regions were the prime example of a single coalition holding too much space. Many considered the arrangement bad for the game. After the CFC’s eviction, though, it became a larger amount of space held by a single de facto coalition.
Fozziesov may make taking some space “easier” for the “little guys,” but they sure as hell can’t defend it if threatened. This leads to more consolidation of alliances. Small alliances will only exist as minor players instead of real sov holders. They will remain merely supporting members of coalitions. Even then, they are better off being in the same alliance, because it means more people can entosis on defense.
Fewer individual alliances who are part of coalitions will lead to less fighting. Smaller alliances had their own personalities and goals. These would often times lead to fighting in smaller warfare, or create friction within the coalition itself leading to content (see: CO2/BL in the past, GotG/Horde right now). Single, unified alliances will have less of those conflicts.
Thus, Fozziesov’s goal of creating a larger amount of small alliances within sovnull has ended up having the reverse effect. Even with some groups reducing their footprints, others cling to vast rental empires as the way to make money. The game is progressing towards 4-5 alliances controlling the entirety of nullsec.