The Fate of Brave and HERODunk Dinkle
A year ago, Brave Collective was entrenching itself in Catch, making GE-8JV it’s capital, and bursting at the seams with pilots and content. Today, Brave finds itself in lowsec space, still undocking, but in greatly reduced numbers. What happened? How did the newest player in the Great Game of Null find itself playing station games three gates from highsec?
As a long time member of Brave, I’ll try to shed some light on what went down. While I’m not formally a part of Brave Leadership; I have helped fulfill some informal roles and had access to discussions and information that most members did not. I was party to some of the behind the scenes drama and decisions, but there was plenty that went down that I was blissfully unaware of, even today. Read this as my caveat if someone more knowledgeable steps up to speak. This is my personal view of what happened. Some in Brave might be unhappy with what I write, but I tend to think Matias would appreciate the transparency and honesty.
So what happened to Brave? Here’s the tl;dr:
- Failure of leadership and communication
- Lack of a counter to supercapitals
- Inability to employ diplomacy
- Lack of focus: Fountain or Duality?
- The role of the infamous middle management
- Loss of the narrative
Failure of Leadership and Communication
First and foremost, Brave had repeated critical failures of leadership and communication. In the hyper-connected world of Eve, events don’t wait until leaders get a break from real life to update the rank and file. The clock is always ticking and fleets wait for no one. Time after time, the failure of Brave’s leadership to explain decisions and plans in a timely manner has caused chaos with long lasting effects.
Video by Peter Merkelis
The fall of HED-GP is an example. After a bitter struggle against Pandemic Legion, HERO and Brave found themselves with their backs against the wall in HED-GP after retreating from GE-8JV. A “mercenary deployment” several regions away had been announced, which made little sense to most as our homeland region of Catch was being roflstomped by PL. Billions in assets were lost in GE-8JV as an incomplete evac left huge amounts of assets stranded.
If HED-GP fell, there was nowhere in Catch to fall back to and regroup. The old guard of Brave knew how long it might take to truly evacuate HED-GP and realized that we were up against a timeline that looked like even more assets would have been stranded. PL’s campaign had been continuous, with small Brave victories that slowed the onslaught from time to time, but the drain on pilots’ morale was increasing.
“…lack of communication lead to the fall of Catch and the chaos that ensued.”
Despite the mythology about what actually happened with the evacuation order of HED, the reality was quite different. Open discussion in general comms about the need to contract stuff and get it out of station was raging. Several of us got pulled into Command Comms, the part of Mumble not open to all members, invited in by Brave leadership. Several of us, including the department leads of freight and logistics, were asked when the latest date to declare an evac could be before we would get stuff stranded. The answer was: “It’s too late already”. So in the room with several of the department leads, the head diplo, and the second in command of Brave, the group decision was made to announce an evacuation. From what I’m told, there was a Lychton deal in the works to avoid the loss of HED, but it wasn’t communicated to anyone else in Brave. Hence, lack of communication lead to the fall of Catch and the chaos that ensued.
Lychton is a good person that only wants the best for Brave, but he must share some of the blame for the cascade of drama that has ensued over the last year. I like Lychton a lot and look forward to hanging with him in person, but his RL simply didn’t allow for him to act like the leadership that Brave needed. People joke about “AFK leadership” at critical times, but this is exactly what Brave faced and it hurt us tremendously.
Lack of a Counter to Supercapitals
Close on the heels to blame is the inability to counter titans and supercarriers with anything other than titans and supercarriers. Repeatedly, Brave would find itself out-escalated, facing enemy supers and getting our carriers and dreads doomsdayed into wrecks. IMHO, this is a fundamental problem for nullsec and those who have dreams of owning sov. The entire map of New Eden can basically be drawn by identifying which supercapital fleets can protect which regions. Even in the Aegis sov beta on Duality, supers were a key deciding factor on PL winning the contest.
Brave, at the time the largest alliance in Eve, could bring over 500 pilots to fights, but simply had no counter to 20 supers logging in and reinforcing objectives in 10 minutes. With the Phoebe jump changes, supers could be used with almost no risk of being countered by another enemy super fleet. The PL FCs knew exactly where possible opposition was and it was on the other side of the universe.
Fast forwarding to today, with Aegis sov, not much has changed in this regard. Supercaps remain the must have requirement to hold sov against determined attackers. People don’t like losing fights and will continue to escalate until they reach a point they can’t escalate more. Yes, there are some areas where smaller groups don’t go to supers, but if you face off against a major group, you have to have your own super fleet or they will crush you in rapid order.
Our ill-fated time on the Duality server showed that supers can play a powerful role in Aegis sov and continue to be a factor in Brave’s ability to stand against groups in nullsec. Perhaps the upcoming capital and supercapital changes will change this, but can Brave really wait until those changes occur before trying to tackle nullsec again? We thought we could wait until Dominion sov was done and be saved by our numbers and that didn’t work out so well.
Inability to Employ Diplomacy
When military might failed, the recourse is diplomacy, which unfortunately Brave failed to employ well. If you mentioned the “blue donut” within Brave you would often hear that we wanted an “orange donut”, meaning no real allies besides our own coalition, HERO. Great in theory; terrible in reality. With no one to call upon when help in needed, life is rough. With no ability to negotiate a way out of a losing war, life is even rougher.
“Brave’s refusal to “play the metagame” didn’t work to our advantage.”
Brave’s refusal to “play the metagame” didn’t work to our advantage. At no time in Brave’s history have we lacked someone to shoot at, nor someone shooting at us. The decision to reject the kinds of deals and agreements that were commonplace among other nullsec coalitions just added to the deeper and deeper hole that Brave found itself in, with no respite from the beatings.
While Catch was burning, Goonswarm and Pandemic Legion reacted to the problems shown in Brave by creating their own newbie-focused groups; Karmafleet and Pandemic Horde. These smooth running newbie corps leaned on the strong infrastructure and leadership these groups already had in place. Suddenly Brave was no longer the obvious choice for new players. Karmafleet and Pandemic Horde offered much of what Brave offered, and the tantalizing addition of a group of big brothers and sisters that meant they wouldn’t routinely get their asses kicked. Brave started to bleed numbers into these new groups.
As Catch collapsed, a move to Aridia lowsec was undertaken. HERO moved, mostly intact, with TEST having left before the fall of Catch. Once in Aridia, the politics of Brave got worse. Disarray, disillusionment, and distrust continued. After losing/booting popular FCs from Apathy that expressed concern about Brave’s direction and leadership, several CEOs in Brave were feeling that they might have been right to want Lychton to step aside. Lychton’s speeches and limited involvement didn’t help, with line members starting question him. Soon plans were made and the coup in the middle of the night took place. I woke up to the news and Skype full of people wanting to converse.
While there were some spectacularly nefarious people involved, others (like Malanek) truly had Brave’s best interests at heart. People chose sides and things were handled poorly by many, buying into propaganda and making villains of each other. The coup was reversed and promises were made of change and improvement by leadership. Brave bled even more people as many in favor of the coup decided to leave even though only a few were kicked.
HERO was offered the region of Fountain by Goonswarm and the decision to take it was made. Personally, fresh off the beating we took in Catch (which nobody wanted), moving to Fountain (which other groups wanted) seemed like a bad idea as a way to recover. I was told to be quiet and that we were going to be rich. So Brave moved again into Fountain, blue to the CFC (they weren’t the Imperium at that point), and we set up shop.
In the beginning, life seemed good as moon goo towers were installed, Brave corps staked claims in various systems, plans for jump bridges were laid, and I even started building carriers to replace those lost in Catch.
The good times didn’t last long as Black Legion did a little math in their heads:
- Brave couldn’t stand up to PL.
- Effectively BL is as strong as PL when compared to Brave.
- BL can take what they want in Fountain and get rich.
And so BL began grinding Fountain away from HERO. June Ting had planned for this and had realized early that we couldn’t really hold the entire region, so she had drawn lines around what we would defend and what we wouldn’t. BL quickly rolled up all those areas, including the choke point system of 7BX-6F. For those that don’t know Fountain, since the Phoebe jump changes, 7BX-6F is a chokepoint for moving capitals in and out of Fountain from Arida. Once 7BX-6F was lost, HERO’s capitals had no escape and replacement capitals had to be sourced locally.
Faced with a situation we were unable to win militarily, the inability to use diplomacy to improve our position lead us into worsening situations that no amount of spin or morale boosting could counter.
Lack of Focus: Fountain or Duality?
As the endless debate raged on about what to do in Fountain, CCP was testing Duality and the decision to participate heavily was made. Brave leadership pushed hard for people to log into the test server and spend time there. For a second time, the line members were asked to go off on some sort of quixotic crusade while their home systems burned. As before, division and anger bubbled up and neither home defense nor Duality was adequately attended to. In the end we failed at both things.
Soon, BL was taking all the money moons and HERO/Brave was unable to stop them. Even when employing triage carriers, BL was able to bring in titans and doomsday them quite easily. Even when bringing dreadnought fleets to fight BL capitals, BL’s ability to escalate to supers led to losses of entire dread fleets that were not easy to replace due to the supply chain issues.
In a pattern similar to what happened in Catch, once Black Legion ran out of strategic objectives, they began trolling for fights, putting structures into reinforced. Supercapital Ship Assembly Arrays, previously covered under a non-interference pact, became targets. Once again, the pressure on pilots built and morale weakened.
The Role of the Infamous Middle Management
A common refrain among the critics was that Brave’s “space democracy” and middle management was to blame for all the problems and that getting rid of this middle management was the cure to all problems. The truth was quite different. While never a formal part of the middle management, I did see much more into what was going on than the typical line member. This topic will probably be the most debatable one amongst Brave and former Brave members.
In reality, most of the backend of Brave was being handled well. The IT team had a strong working infrastructure that held up to the huge loads. POS and structure management was smooth and quietly run by a small dedicated group. The logistics of moving ships and cargo was operated at low cost with a strong backbone of jump freighter pilots tackling huge amounts of courier contracts. These areas ran well, with a small group empowered to do what was needed, without a ton of oversight.
“At the core of the middle management debate is the Council of Newbie Management”
At the core of the middle management debate is the Council of Newbie Management (CNM). Consisting of the corp CEOs, the various department heads (and people who served as their seconds and thirds and etc), and four elected representatives of line members, the group often had over 20 people in comms. This quickly became unwieldy.
The real issue was the endless debate and discussion that was allowed. Meetings stretched on for hours. Everyone in the room felt they could hold the floor and pontificate on every issue. I would get convos from participants mid-session complaining about the long and often toxic discussion that would drag on without end. When every person on comms feels like they can talk at length about every issue ad nauseam everything grinds to a halt and progress reverses. Combined with the inherent long-winded pontification that some enjoyed, this became the central problem with the CNM meetings and in large part, making decisions and getting stuff done.
The discussion usually surrounded FC issues or diplo issues. The management and training of FCs has always been a difficult issue for Brave. Elaborate systems sprang up and crashed to pieces in succession. Rather than adopting other models, we kept trying to invent something new, with great complexity. Central to these models was what FCs and what kinds of roams would qualify for the ship replacement program (SRP), the minutiae of which stretched into the nonsense zone of bureaucracy.
“Brave’s ability to negotiate deals and even short term agreements became near impossible”
Diplomatic issues were another area where discussion and lack of empowerment lead to chronic failures and endless talks. Diplomacy is a real time activity and requires the power to make agreements, power to have members live up to agreements, and the backing of leadership to enforce the decisions of the diplos. The diplo process became contorted and difficult, particularly when combined with the lack of communication from leadership. Brave’s ability to negotiate deals and even short term agreements became near impossible, leading to even more drama over trivial events.
In hindsight, both the FC and diplo operations should have been handled much more like IT or logistics: Areas with small, empowered groups who act as needed without needing to bring issues back to the CNM for discussion. Brave’s weakness for allowing endless debate was a key factor in the chaos that led to repeated problems. Contrary to the popular meme, Brave needed a small group of empowered middle management to focus on getting things done, rather than somehow removing this critical layer.
Loss of the Narrative
As this was going on, the pressure of social media and whisper campaigns grew outside of the Eve client as well. These had huge impacts on the outcome of Fountain. Lacking proper forums, Brave relied on the /r/BraveNewbies sub-reddit as a main conduit of information and coordination. In hindsight, this left Brave open to attack in a way that did a huge amount of harm. Some will say that the openness of Reddit allowed discussion and criticism, but it left us unprepared for a concerted effort to further destabilize the already unstable Brave community. Shitposting and serious brigading began to occur on the subreddit. Personally, I was for banning and deleting most of it since we lacked forums, but the decision was made to let people post whatever they want. A huge mistake, IMHO, as Brave lost control of the main communication tool to those that were seeking to break Brave. The number of actually helpful outsiders was tiny compared to the number of those working hard to hurt Brave morale. Excuses of “just wanting to help” were just a smokescreen.
At one point I posted a ‘Cringy Morale Post‘ that got ripped apart and brigaded downwards. It was a poor decision on my part to post it. It came across as “everything is fine” when that was clearly not the case. After that I reached out privately to several other leaders in various Eve groups, both friend and foe, to get their opinion on what they would do. Many took a good amount of time to discuss the situation and offer valuable advice. It didn’t stop anyone from reinforcing structures, but it did give me a chance to check my blind spot.
Losing control of the narrative helped lead to a destructive time as poaching of individual members and entire corps ramped up. It was a critical failure to have our main communications method completely public and basically unmanaged. Once the “I’m leaving” posts started and those individuals got upvotes from the brigaders, the internal pressures reached boiling points.
“Like hyenas circling a wounded wildebeest, various groups angled for people, corps, and schadenfreude.”
Outside of social media, various groups were reaching out to both cause division and poach groups; “Bovril is the cancer in Brave” and “Bovril, come join us…” Like hyenas circling a wounded wildebeest, various groups angled for people, corps, and schadenfreude. When TEST arrived with their relentless trolling, this accelerated even more rapidly.
A word about TEST: When HERO began, I made a point to be on TEST comms and get to know them. I was warned by many that TEST was a mistake that Brave was making and would poison our culture. I like most of the individual TEST members and defended them on several occasions, but something happens when they reach a certain critical mass. They form a strange sort of Asshole Voltron and love to be the biggest annoyances possible. After the help and framework that Brave provided when TEST was still reeling from almost failscading themselves, with a shadow of their membership logging in, I never would have imagined the vehemence at which they came after Brave members. Again, I like many individual members, but TEST as a group are a bunch of assholes, just as I was warned. Lesson learned.
Lychton resurfaced as things really got bad, and after a lot of honest discussions behind the scenes, made a State of the Alliance to pull out of Duality, focus on defense, and somehow regain our footing in Fountain. But it was all too little, too late.
We still had no answers to Black Legion’s attacks, no allies on the horizon, and morale waning when promised changes didn’t appear in a timely fashion. Lychton, once again, inexplicably went AFK.
“All the signs of an imminent failscade appeared.”
Within a short time, leadership of the alliance was handed to Nancy Crow, who did the only reasonable thing and tried to get as much of Brave out of Fountain as possible to avoid even further chaos. HERO fell apart at this point and large, important corps like Bovril and J3B peeled off to join new alliances. Brave began hemorrhaging members as the evacuation took full effect. All the signs of an imminent failscade appeared.
A few weeks later Brave finds itself in lowsec, a shadow of it’s former self, often unable to clear the undock of hostiles. Many in Eve were excited about Brave being in lowsec and the the idea of “good fights” so many lowsec entities converged on the reeling Brave, who was unable to muster the kinds of fleets that were commonplace only three months ago. The pressure and frustration continues, and even more pilots are bailing out, hoping to find something fun to do instead of the constant feeling of being punched in the face.
Eve Online is a tough game. The strong prevail and the weak die.
Brave Newbies brought a new kind of attitude into the game and changed it. Where new players were once mocked, they are now coveted with groups like Karmafleet and Pandemic Horde fully supported by the strongest groups in the game.
But Brave Newbies also brought out an old attitude of punching someone when they are down. The weaker Brave got, the more other groups joined into the pummeling. Brave talked about facing an orange donut and not entering into the kind of agreements that many on the interwebs complain about. By taking this position, Brave opened themselves up to having all of Eve pile onto them and grind them down in-game and out-of-game.
What happens next?
Honestly, I have no idea. If you expected an inspiring “rah rah” speech about rising from the ashes, I apologize. Numbers of pilots are terribly low and Brave remains without a long term objective. For new players, the other starter corps look far more attractive, with Brave no longer offering the numbers, access to nullsec, or constant activity of the past that once made it the obvious landing spot for newbies.
Most recently, the decision to move into Faction Warfare with the Brave Newbies corp is being positioned as our step toward healing. The Brave Collective alliance is being used as holder for wormhole corps and other groups not enthralled with the promise of orbiting a button. At least one critical corp, Jebediah Kerman’s Junkyard and Spaceship Parts Co., was so frustrated over this decision that they’ve decided to leave the alliance completely.
Lychton Kondur has formally transferred the CEO role to Nancy Crow, and a huge purge of inactive members is underway that will likely drop the member count from over 10,000 to under 2,000. A sad sign to be sure, but probably a necessary step.
Listening to Lychton give his farewell speech, I was struck by a way he phrased an early Brave concept. Repeatedly, he mentioned “undocking and getting blown up and having fun”. He didn’t mention winning. He mentioned getting blown up and not caring about the loss. This was an early Brave sentiment that made sense when we were truly newbies with only frigates and destroyers to fleet in. Two years later, that sentiment is deadly to Brave. We are not flying arty Thrashers anymore. We need to move past this thinking and work on doing things well and winning. Let other groups wear the “we are bad at Eve” mantle, it has no place in Brave.
Stay Classy. Have Fun. Be Brave. These are the mottos of our group and they don’t include intentionally whelping fleets and trying to convince pilots that it’s fun. No one likes losing. Perhaps moving past these early rationalizations will help Brave avoid the fate of some many other groups that have failscaded into history previously.
Will Faction Warfare be the thing that reverses the trend? Mercenary work didn’t do it. Lowsec (twice) didn’t do it. Fountain didn’t do it. And they were all promised as the solution to our issues. Not to be Debbie Downer, but I’ve heard “this time will be different” before.
There is a core group of players that remain that are Brave at heart, but New Eden is a harsh place with no gifts. To rebuild Brave is a hard task, as some have done after facing similar collapses, but realistically, most have failed.
Some argue that Brave should simply disband and avoid a slow spiral into oblivion, calling an end to this experiment. I have to admit, I’ve pondered this more than I ever thought I would. I will continue to undock and fight, but I can’t help but wonder where we will be this time next year.
For now, Brave struggles on, trying to find a new objective and new niche that once again makes it a place attractive to pilots. Only time will tell the answer.