Header art by Quendan Comari.
On Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, the Imperium coalition successfully attacked and destroyed a Keepstar, the third such Keepstar to be destroyed in Delve within a week. The attackers consisted of the largest coalition ever to come together in New Eden, over 100 alliances, but they could not press their numerical advantage to successfully defend the Keepstar planted in 319-3D against a relentless Imperium attack, despite outnumbering the Imperium by over 1,000 pilots during the battle.
About 14:30 UTC on Sunday, Pandemic Horde dropped the Keepstar, which they named Roll Initiative, prompting pilots from the Imperium to quickly undock ships and race to the grid, as the Keepstar’s anchoring timer started ticking from down from 15:00 minutes. If the timer had reached 00:00 the structure would become invulnerable to damage for 24 hours, and even when it became vulnerable again it would be much harder to destroy. According to Apple Pear, an Imperium FC, the PAPI drop was unannounced on their own comms: they were “Trying to sneak it by us and hoping we didn’t find out.” But Imperium scouts reported the drop and the battle was on.
The First and Second Strikes
On Monday, Fraternity had dropped a Keepstar in FWST-8, another system within NPC Delve. During that fight, while the Imperium met its objective of destroying the structure, they also lost 929 billion ISK.
The Imperium then killed a second Fraternity Keepstar the following day, again in FWST-8, this time spending 1.5 trillion-worth of ships to destroy it. The Imperium wanted to avoid repeating that cost-benefit scenario and so brought a new strategy to the table this time around.
Kocicek, an Imperium FC, noted, the “strategy was quite a bit different [in the 319 battle], but still used a lot of the lessons learned from Tuesday. The most obvious change was the use of the Ravens to apply DPS early to the Keepstar, starting the initial pause and doing about 50% of the Keepstar’s HP before the bad guys started arriving on grid.”
With the KS timer paused at 7:28 kocicek said “We maintained our dread strategy that we’ve been using for the last few Keepstars with a lot of good improvements to protect against their innovations. We also had quite a few other new tricks in play, but I’m not going to talk about them specifically.” At this stage of the fight tidi hit 10% and the rest of the battle slowed down considerably. The grind began.
The Imperium brought damage with fleets of Ravens, Feroxes, and bombers. The PAPI coalition, led by Panfam, Fraternity, TEST, and Brave, brought defenders in the form of carriers, supercarriers, and a variety of subcaps, especially Harpies, Munnins, Nightmares, and Eagles. The Imperium bombers kept their runs going while also bringing damage from long range sniping ships, which warped in at different angles across the grid, making it difficult for the defenders to kill more than one at a time.
As the fight progressed, the damage to the Keepstar was so consistently applied that the timer never restarted, unlike the fight in FWST where the timer ticked down on several occasions and came within three minutes of becoming invulnerable. In 319-3D, once the tidi was at 10%, the attackers took off about 5% of the KS’s health every 20 minutes. When an Imperium ship was destroyed, the player directed his pod toward the “pod-me-home-express,” a special Imperium unit whose job was to shoot the pods so that the player would respawn back to base where they could reship and return to battle very quickly. Imperium pilots also warped back to the battle solo or in very small groups and then landed on selected “perches” rather than warping to a large fleet. The technique required PAPI to go after the perches one by one with roaming bands of ships. As a result, the battle coverage showed the Keepstar almost completely surrounded by PAPI ships, with seemingly very few Imperium pilots in the mix.
PAPI tried a few strategies to slow or stop the damage. They warped in Wyverns, though this technique did not slow the damage to the KS. They tried putting bubbles on the Imperium’s Fortizar rendezvous point, but the Imperium had multiple structures in the system to use for warp angles, so the bubble technique also soon proved ineffective.
The cost of the battle was high, with losses almost exclusively on the Imperium side, though the costly Keepstar itself didn’t appear on the Battle Report. PAPI lost 233 ships for 25 billion ISK while the Imperium forces lost 2245 ships for a cost of 553 billion ISK. The Keepstar’s cost is estimated at around 180 billion ISK.
The Third Strike
This battle lasted for five hours, far less time than Tuesday’s marathon engagement. The cost was also far less for the Imperium than the 1.5 trillion ISK lost during the second Keepstar battle. But this fight saw fewer combatants, with PAPI fielding 2921 pilots while the Imperium had 1619 pilots engaged. Although outnumbered, the Imperium faced better odds in this battle as they were only outnumbered by about 1,000 pilots. Kocicek, in reference to the reduced PAPI participation, noted “First it’s a new drop which means they weren’t pre-hurfing max formups for a full day in advance of the timer. Their members just weren’t prepared for it on a random Sunday afternoon. Our dudes were hyped for a fight as soon as they realized what was happening so they showed up in droves. The other part is that as a PAPI line member it’s tough to lose two major objectives in a row within 48 hours. Sure, your leadership is cheering ‘isk war’ but at the same time anyone who’s watching can see a distinct lack of forward progress.” Another Imperium FC, Apple Pear, also noted the drop in PAPI participation: “I think for our enemy it was a combination of getting burned out on these fights and it also was an unplanned op.” Killah Bee, FC for the Northern Coalition (NC), also confirms the op was unplanned. In response to whether the low PAPI turnout was a concern he said, “No. Our people were completely unaware. Goons were anticipating another drop.”
With the timer paused and the damage very consistent, the discussions on comms and in various Twitch streams turned to what constituted a “win” in this particular battle. The stated goal for the war is the complete extermination of the Goons. But individual battles have their own objectives. Imperium members saw the destruction of the Keepstar as a clear win. Moomin Amatin, Imperium line member, said, “Three times we have stood against overwhelming odds. There is still no enemy KS in Delve. PAPI wanted the old goons back and it seems that is exactly what they are getting.” On the Talking in Stations livestream, thunderkitsune7, in reference to the number of ships being killed by PAPI, noted in chat, “You’re not killing goons. You’re killing ships.”
During the fight, rumors abounded on comms and Twitch streams that PAPI would drop at least one additional Keepstar somewhere in NPC Delve, which would prompt another response. No such drop came, however, and the battle effectively ended with the fiery explosion of the Keepstar at 19:33 UTC, five hours after it was dropped. Fifteen minutes later, 3,300 combatants were still on grid, with each side staring each other down, but no escalation took place.
The Shape of the War
The last week’s events have fallen into a predictable pattern: PAPI drops a Keepstar in NPC Delve and the Imperium destroys it at a high cost in ships. As Brisc Rubal noted on the INN Twitch livestream, the overall Imperium strategy in these Keepstar battles is “a process that is a bit of an iteration on the old Raven doctrine . . . . We warp Ravens and Torpedos in, shoot things until we die. It’s ship intensive. But at the end of the day, the Imperium has a lot of ships, a lot of liquid ISK.”
For PAPI, the Anaconda technique seems to have given way to a war of attrition, hence the increased attention to the “ISK war.” Regarding the war of attrition, Killah Bee noted, “The ISK differential is big but that alone won’t win anyone the war.” In response to the idea that the Imperium may run out of funds sometime and therefore be unable to continue the war, The Mittani said, “Bring it, bitch.”
In baseball, after the third strike you are out. But EVE isn’t baseball and win conditions may depend as much on human resources – morale, willpower and participation – as on material resources, ships, and strategy.