Art by Paramemetic, photo credit Officer Cat.
There is no such thing as hyperbole when referring to the fight over Northern Coalition.’s staging Keepstar in the system of X47L-Q. PC Gamer magazine reported it as “the biggest battle in EVE Online’s entire history.” The fight itself was so big that it broke zKillboard; even now, more than 28 hours after the fight began, attempting to access a battle report yields only the message, “Sorry, there are too many related reports in the queue, please try again later.” Even EVE Online’s official Facebook account had no clue about the total amount of damage done, reporting twenty-six hours after the fight began that “The numbers from X47L-Q are starting to roll in,” to the tune of 56 total titans destroyed (the largest and most powerful ships in the whole game), 21 supercarriers wrecked, and a staggering 406 dreadnoughts down.
When a sequel to the EVE history book Empires of EVE comes out, the battle of X47L-Q will surely receive its own chapter.
Background and Context
Most regular readers of Imperium News will know the context of the battle, but it is safe to assume that even people who don’t play EVE may be googling news about the game after reading that PC Gamer article, so we will cast a wide net. EVE Online is currently embroiled in the Great Western War, featuring the Imperium (largest alliance: Goonswarm Federation) and Legacy Coalition (TEST Alliance Please Ignore) against a wide assortment of enemies, most prominently PanFam (Pandemic Horde, Pandemic Legion) and Guardians of the Galaxy (DARKNESS, Solyaris Chtonium) [Editor’s Note: The Great Western War is a single front of a greater two-front conflict called the Great Plague War]. Northern Coalition., or NCdot for short, is a member of PanFam, who control a wide swath of space in the north and east, as well as the region of Fade, which shares a border with Imperium-controlled space in Cloud Ring.
The southeastern front of this war is messy and complicated, but the western front is comparatively cut-and-dry. One of the largest wars in the history of EVE Online, the Casino War, was fought in 2016 between the Imperium (then under a different name) and numerous enemies who were funded by in-game casinos that were involved in real-money transactions (RMT) – transactions which were supposed to be against EVE’s terms of service. CCP Games, the developer of EVE Online, did indeed shut down the casinos and ban a number of accounts, but not before RMT-funded aggressors pushed Goonswarm out of its home in the north. The goons were forced to relocate to Delve, and have held a grudge ever since. Thanks to two years of mining and ratting in Delve, one of the richest regions in the entire game, Goonswarm Federation has amassed an unheard-of amount of wealth, and is the largest alliance in the game, with more than 30,000 members, with a further 15,000 members of other Imperium alliances.
From Goonswarm’s perspective, the Great Western War is being fought for one purpose and one purpose only: revenge against those who conspired, unsuccessfully, to destroy the goons.
The Imperium has been extremely active on the western front, bashing a number of hostile structures over the past week. For those unfamiliar with EVE, in order to destroy a space station, an attacking fleet must kill it three different times – the shields, then the armor, then the hull – with a gap of a day or more in between. The station owned by NCdot in X47L-Q is significant for two reasons: first, it is a Keepstar, the largest and most powerful variety of space station in the entire game, with a value easily thirty times that of the next-largest Fortizar station; and second, it is a staging Keepstar, meaning it is a central hub for NCdot’s fleet and market activity. This is not a bare-bones station in a backwater system; this is a major structure, and its loss would have strategic implications throughout the region.
The Battle (As Best We Can Tell)
As the post on EVE’s official Facebook page may give away, it is currently impossible to construct the sequence of events in its entirety, and INN is currently interviewing a number of fleet commanders in an effort to piece their stories together. These interviews will run in a series throughout the week. Here is what we do know:
The Imperium was scheduled to form up for battle at 1600 EVE time – and at nearly that exact moment, the server node hosting X47L-Q went down to a DDOS attack. The server has been the victim of several DDOS attacks throughout the summer, usually at the same time of day, but it was lucky for PanFam and GOTG that the server went down just before their staging Keepstar was going to be attacked by the biggest fleet of goons and friends in the game’s history. Thanks to the herculean efforts of CCP’s staff, the server was brought back up quickly, and the form-up proceeded as planned.
Fighting an enemy fleet while attacking a Keepstar at the same time is extremely tricky. EVE’s server does not like when thousands of players gather in the same system, and it really does not like when they start firing off lasers it has to display, missiles it has to track, clouds of drones it has to calculate individually, and so on. CCP’s solution to this problem is “time dilation,” where time slows down for the clogged star system. Each action takes up to ten times longer to execute, meaning the server has ten times longer to process everything that’s going on. However, Keepstar timers (as well as other space stations) run on a different timer that is not affected by time dilation. The attacking army, then, must pour in a massive amount of damage in order to keep the Keepstar timer from ticking down and the station from repairing itself – and it must do so while being attacked by a defensive fleet whose ships can tether up to the Keepstar and receive free repairs.
Thus, the INN live blog of the attack describes the Imperium losing two titans almost immediately, then two more, before finally claiming a few titan kills of their own. By this point, even time dilation could not compensate for the sheer number of ships in system and weapons being fired, and players began to get disconnected in mid-battle. Rhivre, the INN editor working the live blog, described “several hundred frigates doing ECM bursts on grid, which are causing issues for anyone not in potato mode.” Whether causing lag and disconnects was the intention of this tactic or an accidental side effect, only the PanFam fleet commanders could say for sure. (Some Imperium pilots had strong opinions; INN staff writer Guilford Australis stated, “NCPLFam was very obviously trying to crap out the server.”) Around this time is when the server finally shrugged its shoulders and stopped trying to keep up; players who were disconnected from the game began to report difficulty getting back in.
At the same time, a preliminary battle report showed something astounding: the Imperium had 197 titans on grid and the combined defending forces of PanFam and GOTG had 229. The previous “largest battle in EVE’s history” had seen four hundred titans fielded; X47L-Q had four hundred on grid less than an hour into the battle, and the meat grinder had not yet begun.
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
The supercapital ships were not the only ones busy, however. Numerous Imperium “Yackdaw” fleets, composed of Jackdaw destroyers plus support ships, were moving around the grid as quickly as ti-di would allow, taking out smaller PanFam/GOTG ships including the ECM-burst-spamming frigates and more dangerous assault frigates. Yackdaw fleets were responsible for killing 292 of the 383 frigates fielded by PanFam, and the threat of ECM-burst disconnect passed.
Half an hour after the mass disconnects began, Rhivre reported around 500 titans in system divided almost evenly between attacking and defending forces. Titan kills, though, were 9 to 5 in favor of the defenders – again, due to the attackers having to split their fire and the defenders being able to tether up for repairs. Also around this time, The Mittani himself, the legendary leader of Goonswarm Federation, made a personal appeal to his pilots to get logged in and get more titans to the front. Five hundred titans were only the beginning.
For the next hour the fight slowly ground on, those sixty minutes of time dilation representing what would have been only six minutes of real-time fighting. Titans continued to pop on both sides, though as before, the defending forces kept an advantage. Despite the defenders’ best efforts, though, the Keepstar’s health continued to sag, and at a few minutes after midnight EVE time, Thursday August 2, the Keepstar went into reinforced mode. The attackers had won their tactical objective and had sent the Keepstar into its final timer. There would be yet another fight over the station very soon, and this time, if the attackers won, the Keepstar would be destroyed completely.
But the Imperium was not done.
The Tide Turns
At this point, if the attackers had withdrawn with the loss of more titans but having completed their objective, the battle still would have been considered a tactical victory. That, however, has never been The Mittani’s style, nor the style of his people. No, the goons were here to fight, and now that their attention was no longer split two ways, it was time to vaporize some titans. Eight hours had now elapsed since form-up and five hours since the fighting began. Commentators on the INN livestream of the fight also pointed out that having committed titans to the field how they did, Imperium forces would likely not have been able to safely withdraw, even if they’d wanted to.
A battle report from this stage of the fight shows one of the final up-to-date pictures of the situation before zKillboard decided the fight had gotten too big to track. It shows the Imperium losing significantly more ship value than PanFam and GOTG, suffering the loss of roughly 2.6 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) ISK while inflicting only 1.6 trillion on the Keepstar’s defenders. However, the battle report also reveals two crucial facts. First, the Imperium had 286 titans on grid compared with the defenders’ 252, meaning the attackers were no longer at a numerical disadvantage. Second, the Imperium had fielded a whopping 301 dreadnoughts, nearly doubling the defenders’ 176. Indeed, Imperium appeals for pilots around this time began to include the words “No dreads no dreads no dreads” at the bottom.
An hour later, The Mittani began to give regular updates on the status of the titan meat grinder, disclosing that the PanFam fleet commander, Killah Bee, had requested his more expensive faction titans to dock up or otherwise remove themselves from the battle, preferring to do without part of his titan fleet rather than having them tilt the ISK balance away from his team. By the next hour, 0200 EVE time, the Imperium had lost 20 of the 307 titans they had fielded so far in the battle, while PanFam/GOTG were down 13 of the 319 they had brought. However, Killahbee’s withdrawal order meant that the defending fleet only had 172 titans on grid at that moment, while the Imperium still had nearly 300.
Titan Headcount Reverses
It doesn’t take a strategic genius to imagine what happened next. Woefully outnumbered, the defenders began losing titans almost as quickly as The Mittani could send out updates. In the hour between 0200 and 0300 EVE time, PanFam/GOTG forces lost nine titans while killing only four Imperium titans in return.
Indeed, by 0300 Imperium control of the field was so significant that pilots were no longer ordered to log in and proceed immediately to battle. Rather, they were being advised to log in and do nothing – to wait until they were told where to go and what to do. For the first time all battle, unless one counts the PanFam titans withdrawn by Killahbee, one side had a reserve, which they were free to commit or withhold as the situation required.
By 0320 the effects of time dilation were beginning to diminish, which only hastened the rate of titan destruction. At 0337, another triumphant message went out: the Imperium was ahead in titan kills. The Mittani sent all Imperium pilots a link to the Picard song – a classic Goonswarm meme from circa 2007. The message was clear: we’re here, we’re having fun, and we’re winning.
Mopping-up operations continued until downtime, and a small number of Imperium pilots remain logoff-trapped in X47L-Q, either due to an untimely logoff or due to being forcibly disconnected from the server and unable to reconnect. By downtime, though, most of the dust had cleared. The Imperium had killed more titans and sent the Keepstar into its final timer. By any measure the battle was a success.
Aftermath and Strategic Considerations
The implications of this battle are far too numerous to cover in a single article, and readers are welcome to add their own insight and analysis in the comments section below. For simplicity’s sake, we will limit our analysis to two salient points.
The first point is the manner in which the Imperium conducted the battle. By the time they sent the Keepstar into reinforcement, they were losing the ISK battle by an incredible margin. No one would have blamed them if they had extracted their titans, accepted their losses, and contented themselves with the tactical objective. However, that is not the goon way. Rather than withdraw, the Imperium doubled down, determined not merely to win a tactical objective, and not merely to beat the enemy, but to crush them as much as possible. There can be no debating whether there were any potential upsides to this battle for PanFam; there can be no spinning this battle as anything other than an abject loss for the defenders. One must assume that is precisely how The Mittani wanted it. If this war can be properly understood as payback for treachery two years in the past, then the point is to crush the treacherous so completely that it is remembered the next time anyone thinks about crossing the goons.
Of course, this is only an armor timer on a single Keepstar, a station of which PanFam and GOTG have dozens. It might seem hyperbolic to ascribe such importance to a single battle. However, as this writer said in the first sentence of the article, there is no such thing as hyperbole when it comes to this fight. It is the biggest battle in the history of EVE, so large that even CCP haven’t been able to release an official tally of the losses a full day later. The Imperium fought its enemies and won decisively. There is no reason to suppose the same will not happen on the Keepstar’s final timer – and the timers of the Keepstar after that and the Keepstar after that.
Second, an interesting discussion took place in the comments of INN’s live blog, regarding the economics of the battle. The question was whether the Imperium could replace its titan losses (which at the time of the comment were 1.6 trillion ISK) more easily than PanFam and GOTG could replace their losses (at the time 1.2 trillion). The economic output of Delve is difficult to fathom; it is the second wealthiest region in the entire game, after only The Forge, which houses the high-sec trade hub of Jita. Besides Delve, the Imperium also controls nearly all of Fountain and significant portions of Querious. PanFam and GOTG between them control many more regions, but only two of their regions are in the top twenty of CCP’s Monthly Economic Report.
The wealth of Delve means that the Imperium could easily wage a long war of attrition. Those 1.6 trillion ISK of lost titans (again, that is not the final tally) represent a mere 40 “Delve-hours,” meaning enough ISK is generated in the region of Delve in 40 hours – less than two days – to replace the titans lost in battle. Of course it requires much more time than that to physically build a titan, but we are talking about economic might, not industrial. The 1.2 trillion ISK lost by PanFam (which may have doubled or more by the end of the fight) represented 150 “Fade-hours,” just eighteen hours short of an entire Fade-week. PanFam and friends control more regions than just Fade, but Fade is their richest. Do all of PanFam and friends’ regions add up to the wealth generated in Delve alone, to say nothing of Fountain and Querious? Someone with the mathematical chops to wade through the entire Monthly Economic Report may be able to answer that question. Suffice to say that the Imperium’s ability to generate unbelievable amounts of ISK is unquestionable, while its enemies’ ability is most definitely questionable.
The strategic implication of this economic analysis is that the Imperium can most likely afford to throw a massive wall of titans into every battle that pleases them and have no difficulty replacing the ships, while their enemies will likely be more cautious, perhaps to the point of refusing to give battle on occasion if they perceive that the Imperium’s titan force is too strong to reckon with.
It remains to be seen where the Imperium will strike next, but it can be certain they will. It also remains to be seen precisely how – or even whether – PanFam and its allies will defend the final timer on the NCdot Keepstar next Wednesday. The one thing that is certain: there will definitely be more space violence, and INN will provide all the details.