Providence Skies On FireTarek Raimo
Ever since Goonswarm associated themselves with the cosplay enthusiast and comedic roleplayer Max Singularity, tongue-in-cheek saber-rattling against the Providence bloc has been a common occurrence in EVE-related media. More seriously, The Mittani had declared that the newly rebranded Imperium would use Providence as a test-case for large-scale warfare under the new sovereignty system. When the Aegis update came, nothing happened initially, but then the war against Providence was finally declared for the last week of August. It was supposed to be a quick campaign of destroying jump-bridges and burning all sovereignty related infrastructure in the region to the ground. The result was not quite what The Mittani had outlined in his battle plan, but it nevertheless became a positive experience for both parties, probably against the expectations of many.
The Imperium vs. The Empire
This conflict was fought between two unique antagonists. Goonswarm and their Imperium are currently the undisputed superpower in EVE, while the Providence bloc around their core of Curatores Veritates Alliance (CVA) and Sev3rance is nothing less than the oldest still existing power in sovereign nullsec.
Before Goonswarm even existed, CVA had conquered space in the nullsec region bordering the Amarr Empire. With “Operation Deliverance” they did not only write themselves into player history but even became part of New Eden’s lore. CVA and the other Providence Holders did not simply want to claim space, they sought to establish a new province of the Amarr Empire where peaceful neutral players could move about safely while aggressors were hunted with impunity. Over the years the Providence Holders weathered many storms and even lost much of their space on occasions, but they always rebuilt, and eventually their proverbial sandcastle became a massive fortress.
For years, the amount of outposts, stations and sovereignty structures that had been built in the Providence region acted as a deterrent against any serious invasion. Under the previous sovereignty system, an invader would face a mind-numbing grind that could even wear out the supercap fleets of major powers. Adding to that was the factor that none of the more pragmatic nullsec alliances desired to live in that region. It offers mediocre opportunities for income generation through PvE and the proximity to lowsec meant a constant exposure to hit-and-run attacks from opponents who can stage in the safety of empire space. Attacking Providence would inevitably mean occupying it too, because the mindset of the Providence Holders would virtually require them to come back and reconquer “their” space. As a result of their well-established position, the Providence Holders were viewed as arrogant, corrupt and outdated by the younger powers of EVE, and quite a few would enjoy being able to break their hold on the region.
All those factors played a role in The Imperium’s choice of Providence as their test-case for post-Aegis sov-warfare. It would be a sufficient challenge albeit that actual conquest would not be a goal. The Holders were rich and determined enough to rebuild their region after an invasion, and few—if any—would come to their aid. With Max Singularity as the figurehead who provided an entertaining narrative, The Imperium’s war machine was ready to grind into gear.
Order Of Battle
The battle plan of The Imperium was well tailored to the new system and very different from their usual strategic doctrine. In past wars, the coalition would deploy to a strategic staging system and then move from one TiDi-plagued massive fleet battle to the next like a steamroller. In this deployment, individual alliances would be assigned a constellation or two and tasked with devastating the local sovereignty infrastructure. The time of the attack was well picked with an initial strike planned on the monday before the Galatea expansion would be deployed. That meant any Entosis hacks of the first offensive could be done with the existing mechanics which strongly favoured fast ships and generated a high number of command nodes to fight over, but the defensive response would already be subject to new rules which nerfed the maximum speed of hacking ships and reduced the number of spawning nodes. Based on that advantage, The Mittani predicted that the objective could potentially be reached within a week or even less.
That announcement made me raise my eyebrows. Traditionally Goonswarm and their coalition were not particularly successful with blitzkrieg tactics. During the initial stages of most conflicts, their fleets were regularly plagued by failures. What usually decided wars for them was the dogged endurance their forces maintained throughout a campaign. In this invasion, they would not only have to act quickly and decisively, but they could also not use their “bloc level FCs” to full effect. Without having all forces concentrated in one place, fleet commanders of the individual alliances had to lead their own members into battle. Many of those “junior FCs” were not necessarily experienced in fighting the running battles they would be confronted with under the new system. Although The Mittani spoke with his usual high level of confidence, the results of spreading out the coalition across a whole region were far from certain under consideration of the Imperium’s previous achievements.
The Providence forces, on the other hand, have long dealt with constant small-gang action and mid-size battles occurring in their region. For years, people have come to Providence for the PvP content that was possible in that nullsec environment, and the local forces would regularly engage them according to their anti-pirate doctrine. Despite the fact that Providence collectively applies an NRDS (Not Red Don’t Shoot) policy, they have a very extensive list of “reds” which could be engaged on sight. One thing Providence FCs had less experience with was large coordinated fleet battles, and it had been a long time since they faced an attack by a force that outnumbered them as significantly as The Imperium. Of course, they were also just as new to the Aegis mechanics as everyone else. While the threat of an Imperium invasion loomed over them, I had asked different members of the Providence bloc whether they were worried about the prospect, but the responses ranged from confidence to cautious enthusiasm about the opportunity to fight a major battle.
Since nullsec had lacked any major sovereignty related conflict for a considerable time, it was only natural to expect third-party involvement. Also in that respect The Mittani expressed confidence. According to him, the serious contenders didn’t “get Fozziesov” and would apply the wrong strategy. Because The Imperium would only be deployed for a week or even less, he was also not worried about any attacks against their home regions. As it turned out, none of the traditional enemies of The Imperium made an appearance, but Brave Newbies (BNI) announced their deployment to Providence, not necessarily to support the locals, but definitively with the intention to fight against Imperium forces. Following that, Test Alliance Please Ignore (TEST) declared war on BNI and would deploy to the region as well. On the Imperium side, Legion of xXDeathXx announced their support. Mostly because they hoped for this conflict to expose the flaws of the new sovereignty system which they are strongly opposed to.
With the stage set in that way, the first region-wide attack under the Aegis mechanics began.
Not Quite What We Expected
Collectively, Providence had a reputation of being the home to docile PvE players and less than stellar fighting forces. However, it turned out that they could hit pretty hard when dealing with mid sized fleets. They immediately claimed first blood by devastating a Goonswarm Machariel fleet. The response from Goonswarm was the usual nonchalant declaration that neither ISK nor individual battles matter to them in the larger scheme of things, but that initial engagement soon became a pattern. In the first larger conflict, Providence also relied heavily on attack battlecruisers capable of high-damage alpha-strikes while The Imperium employed interdiction-nullified Tengus, maneuverable heavy assault cruisers and even that old staple of nullsec fleet warfare, the Drake. Third parties like xXDeathXx and their Geminate allies, a fleet of Pandemic Legion and a contingent of BNI also participated in that fight which spread out over ten systems.
When the Infrastructure Hubs across Providence became vulnerable, the fighting intensified. On the 26th of August fights spread across twenty systems and resulted in the destruction of hundreds of ships worth in total over 100 billion ISK. What became clear by that day was that the invasion of Providence would not be quite as swift as The Mittani had intended. After four days of fighting not even half of the IHUBs in Providence had been destroyed, and while a few systems changed hands, Providence forces quickly regained them. While Imperium hecklers were already starting to play their “We are not winning fast enough” card, something else emerged that was rather more interesting than a quick one-sided victory.
People were having fun!
During the last few years, the prospect of fighting a war over sovereignty was not high on the list of preferred activities for many veterans of the game. In fact, avoiding it seemed to be a higher priority for many. Grinding through Providence was considered to be particularly tedious, and fighting against Goonswarm was also everything but popular due to their relentless use of demoralisation tactics which had the declared goal of making a fight against them as terrible as possible. In this case, however, commentators from both sides expressed their positive feelings about the experience. Line members and FCs on the Imperium side were impressed by the effective defense from Providence members and many complimented the fighting spirit of their opponents. The defenders were no less positive. Contrary to widely held belief, there are quite a few enthusiastic PvPers in Providence, and they loved the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the Imperium one fleet at a time. Personally I can not remember the last time anybody expressed enthusiasm about having been in a sovereignty war with Goonswarm, but apparently this is what happened here.
“…apparently fighting a war under Aegis mechanics is not quite as horrible as they predicted.”
The different third-parties also had their fun, and even those who were not engaged in the conflict itself gained something from it indirectly; Out of Sight and Mordu’s Angels managed to trap and kill a Ragnarok and a Wyvern in Goonswarm’s home system while the more proficient fighters were occupied down south. If there is anyone who potentially walks home dissatisfied from this week of fighting, it’s probably Legion of xXDeathXx, because apparently fighting a war under Aegis mechanics is not quite as horrible as they predicted.
In this week all involved parties have gained valuable insights what sovereignty warfare will look like with the new mechanics, but we can all take something away from what can be called the first actual test of this new system. Other than the immense brawls of the past, we saw varied doctrines fielded by several different combatants. Certainly numbers still count, and it is unlikely that any organisation except The Imperium can even attempt to cover a whole region in a few days. They may only have destroyed half the IHUBs, but that is still rather impressive in such a short time, especially when considering that this deployment went completely against any established strategy previously applied by Goonswarm and their allies. However, this fight has also shown that even an outnumbered defender can be successful if they apply themselves and mount a proper defense. In this way, sovereignty warfare has become much more similar to Factional Warfare where multiple fleets have to fight against each other at different times and with varied tactics.
I am sure that theorycrafters are already evaluating the results, but one thing I learned from the many comments on the conflict is that high-speed artillery fit Claws appear to be very effective against the infamous “trollceptors” and Entosis Svipuls. We can also see that battlecruisers are not quite as irrelevant as many have made them out to be. Providence relied heavily on attack battlecruisers and if one side unironically fields Drakes then I am confident that we don’t have to write off the battlecruiser class as completely useless. When looking over the battle reports, we still see battleships and capitals vastly underrepresented in comparison to the past, but at this point the last word is not spoken yet. This particular exercise did not involve the complete destruction of all Providence assets, and with the Citadel structures coming up, I feel confident that there will be a place for powerfully tanked siege warfare ships.
What surprised me the most was the generally positive response from many involved players. If this new sovereignty system can produce fights that keep people genuinely entertained for several days, it can’t be all that bad. Certainly it isn’t perfect yet, but Imperium and Providence have done us all a big favour by testing it out in a way that comes very close to an actual sov-warfare scenario. I hope that the right people from both sides take their conclusions to CCP and discuss the merits and flaws of the system with the developers in a constructive way. Unfortunately Corebloodbrothers has left the CSM, it would have been great to have a Providence member who was at the forefront involved in an internal discussion about potential changes to the system, but at least the Imperium still has their representatives on the CSM.
In the end, I also want to express my compliments to The Imperium strategists for thinking out of the box and coming up with a way to use the new system instead of following the trend of just complaining about it. Although I am not involved in this part of the game anymore, I was quite sceptical about this new system, but when it works in such a way that even a war instigated by Goons is enjoyable for all involved parties, it can’t be all that bad.
As I close my commentary of the most recent chapter of EVE history, I invite you to listen to this nice piece of music which inspired the article’s title and undoubtedly many Providence pilots.