The Grand Chessboard 2014

Due to a rather rushed release of this piece, a few errors and misinterpretations of facts have found their way into the description of events during the Halloween War. It is not the intention of the author or Crossing Zebras in general to distort facts, but to provide an interesting narrative of events that is hopefully enjoyable to read. Corrections have been made where applicable and are marked as cursive text. The original text remains in an effort to be transparent. My thanks as writer of the article to Reagalan and misterzigger for pointing out errors. At the turning of the year it is customary to look back on the past twelve months, and I chose politics and sov warfare as my subject. It was a year that had a dynamic start but the machinery of war soon ground to a halt and the spectre of stagnation haunted many of the big players on the political stage. Still, by the end of the year, the power-relations in EVE ended up changed in ways we have not seen in some time.

The War Of Halloween Past

At the beginning of 2014, the so-called Halloween War was still in full swing but the tide was about to turn. That conflict had begun in autumn of 2013 when Solar Fleet (SOLAR) rallied the predominantly Russian and Eastern European alliances which had consolidated in the southeastern regions of nullsec. They formed a new coalition which included C0VEN, Darkness of Despair, Gorgon Empire, the remnants of Against all Authorities and of course SOLAR itself. Some called it Halloween Coalition and others referred to them by the old name many Eastern Europeans had rallied under before: Stainwagon. I will use the shorter name which came into use at that time: RUS. Their opponents were Pandemic Legion and the N3 Coalition which comprised Nulli Secunda, Northern Coalition(dot) and Nexus Fleet. Many among RUS considered the east and southeast as their traditional homeland, hence their goal to drive N3/PL out. SOLAR in particular may have hoped that they could wrest at least part of the Drone Regions from the renter alliances Brothers of Tangra and Northern Associates, who had settled there after PL drove SOLAR out more than a year earlier. N3/PL conducted a successful defense at first, but the pendulum swung to the other side when the forces of the CFC joined as a third party and later fully allied themselves with the RUS side and hired Black Legion to fight as well. Independents like Unthinkables and The Kadeshi and Black Legion joined on the N3/PL side and the fighting became increasingly fierce without leading to a decisive victory for either side. Then, by the end of January 2014, the CFC/RUS fleets had pushed Pandemic Legion back to the southern Drone Regions and N3 had lost a significant amount of systems in the southeast came the breaking point. The war finally came to an end when a missed sovereignty fee payment resulted in N3/PL losing control over the forward staging system of B-R5RB. CFC/RUS forces rushed in to establish their claim instead, and N3/PL did the same in an effort to regain their sovereignty. The result was the largest most destructive battle ever fought in an online game to date.

Infographic by Elena Melkan

Much has been written about the famous battle of B-R, but its aftermath was overshadowed by the spectacle. PL withdrew from the war after making a deal with the CFC to retrieve their assets from the lost system. RUS forces had sustained losses, but were still able to conquer a good portion of the south-east. had lost a significant number of supercapitals despite being on the winning side. Burned out and eventually abandoned by the CFC, who Eventually the CFC retreated all strategic assets to their northern and western homelands, and shortly thereafter the RUS coalition collapsed. Darkness of Despair disbanded completely and thereby exposed the heartland of the newly conquered territories. SOLAR failed to consolidate their position and Darkness. switched sides to N3. There have been implications at the time that the real-life events in Crimea may have played a role in the problems RUS developed. Whether that is true or not and in their weakened state the RUS forces were unable to stop N3 from regaining all the territory they had lost until April 2014. Only Against All Authorities remained in control of their old home in Catch and a few smaller allies retained holdings in the far south. The CFC had deadzoned the N3 staging system 0-W778 but that move was more useful for political propaganda than it meant an actual military victory over the opposing force. Pandemic Legion had struck a deal to recover their assets from the station and N3 retook the system not much later. The main result from the Halloween War was that the power of the Russian and Eastern European alliances from the south had been broken. For a long time they had been a major player in nullsec politics. Once upon a time there was even the fear that Russian-led alliances would take over nullsec completely, but after the Pyrrhic failing to exploit their victory of B-R their era had come to an end and they retreated to the NPC region of Stain.
The only remaining contenders left were the two power blocs of CFC and N3/PL. The B0TLRD Accords still prevented strategic conflict between CFC and PL, but even without such treaties the two would have found themselves at a complete stalemate. One side had the numerical advantage and the other had superiority in skill-level and military assets, even after the heavy losses they had suffered. Furthermore, no side had any strength or interest left to wage war on such a scale. By late spring of 2014 it looked like major campaigns in sov-nullsec had come to an end. Until a new player appeared on the field.

We Need A HERO

Brave Newbies (BNI) had enjoyed a period of continuous growth since their founding in 2013 and they had outgrown their lowsec home in the Placid region. They began to consider the prospects of moving to nullsec and so it happened that in the aftermath of B-R, NC. offered the Brave Collective a contract. They would be given leave to settle Catch if they managed to drive the remnants of RUS from that region. BNI had no experience in sov-warfare, and so they approached several other parties to form a new coalition. Those who initially joined with them were the former N3 member Nexus Fleet, the NPC Fountain residents Spaceship Samurai – who had also fought for N3 in the previous war – and the somewhat reconsolidated Test Alliance who wished to return to nullsec after time spent in the Caldari – Gallente warzone. Together they formed the “Hopefully Effective Rookie Organization” or HERO. After many years, it was the first coalition to appear in nullsec that was lead by a completely new organisation with a fresh perspective. Many wished BNI well in their endeavour, but there was also much scepticism. Would they be able to maintain their “Fun Per Hour” ratio in an environment plagued by mind-numbing sov-grind and difficult logistics? Could they remain true to themselves in the often overly serious political metagame that had characterised sov-nullsec for so long? Was it possible for them to remain independent of N3, considering that they included Nexus Fleet and Spaceship Samurai in addition to their contract with NC.? Would the problematic internal culture which had afflicted Test Alliance also affect them? Particularly the latter two points were picked up by CFC opinion leaders and propagandists. Apparently well meant “advice” and even dire warnings appeared in reddit threads and on news sites. An ally of TEST and N3 could impossibly count on friendly relationships with the CFC, and as the saying goes: “The CFC can either be your best friend or your worst enemy”. Despite the implied threats, no open hostilities developed and CFC leader Mittani even gave a guest lecture on metagaming for the BRAVE Dojo. Still, while doing so, he also alluded to the difficult relationship CFC and HERO would have in the light of TEST being part of the newly formed coalition. The attitude between the CFC and HERO remained at this level of gazing at each-other warily across a divide that had evolved during previous years of political metagaming history. HERO proceeded to successfully take over space in Catch, as they had set out to do, and they gained new members like the former Providence Bloc alliance Of Sound Mind. That group had earlier seceded from Provibloc because of differences with the leadership of Curatores Veritatis Alliance. That, and the fact that HERO and Provibloc now shared a border, naturally put those two coalitions at odds. During the summer this precarious situation erupted into open warfare when some former RUS alliances allied with the Providence holders to fight against the upstarts. N3 allies, like the Unthinkables and The Kadeshi, supported HERO and thus the border region between Providence and Catch became a war zone.

Summer War?

When the dust had settled after the end of the Halloween War, not only the Russians appeared to have suffered despite officially winning. During the war, the CFC had been forced to spread their forces all over the map besides the main theatre. In the north they had fought Insidious Empire and the N3 renters, who counterattacked with unexpected viciousness. In Fountain they had been subject to incessant attacks from the “Fountain Core” NPC-space dwellers – including Spaceship Samurai. Weariness and organisational problems were the result of that protracted campaign on several fronts. The core of Fountain region had become somewhat unstable as Li3 Federation was unable to contain the constant attacks from NPC space and Fatal Ascension failed to effectively support them either. In the north the situation did not look much better. Black Legion had been freed from their contract with the CFC and returned to their northern NPC-space home region Venal. Together with Mordu’s Angels and other independents they maintained the same level of constant pressure against CFC space that the “Fountain Core” PVPers exerted in the south. Despite there being no war, many CFC members could not find peace. Then, at the beginning of the summer, hirr and The Graduates left Razor Alliance – a prominent CFC member. The circumstances of their departure indicated some major internal drama and the northern holdings appeared even weaker in the light of that. At around the same time, Gentlemen’s Agreement and Li3 Federation both disbanded and reformed into a new alliance called Bastion. Gentlemen’s Agreement had been unable to find new leadership or purpose when their alliance leader left due to real-life issues, and Li3 had previously lost their own leader to similar circumstances. Rumours were abound that the CFC leadership had been meddling in the formation of Bastion to a degree which was bordering on the oppressive. With all those movements, speculation arose that the previously strong cohesion between the CFC member alliances was eroding. Thus the idea was born that several of the anti-CFC forces could band together in an effort to destabilize the powerful coalition even further, potentially to unleash an all-out war against them. In the end, no such thing happened. With the new six-week development cycle of CCP having started, many player organisations took a cautious stance and did not want to risk open warfare. Razor alliance even withdrew from the nullsec stage temporarily to settle in the Gallente – Caldari war zone which offered more enjoyable gameplay to them at that time. During the months of summer, the only war that was fought over sovereign space happened in the south where HERO coalition remained very active. Eventually even that conflict died down. Provi and HERO never were really serious enemies, and for some time the brushfire war they had was mostly fueled by the former RUS members who wanted to regain lost systems in Catch and had allied themselves with the Provibloc for that purpose. When their resolve faltered, so did the war and eventually a peace agreement between Provibloc and HERO was reached. In broad strokes, the political landscape of sov-nullsec remained the same ever since N3 had regained what they lost during the Halloween War. Then everything changed with the Phoebe expansion.

A Jump To Change

The Phoebe expansion introduced the jump fatigue mechanic and reduced the jump range of capital ships as well as jump-bridges. Therefore, a quick succession of long-range deployments became virtually impossible. As a result the political map of EVE changed in ways that never happened on such a scale without a shot being fired. The CFC gave up three whole regions: Period Basis, Delve and Querious. Initially they made a bid to get HERO on their side by offering them Delve. The specifics of that deal are unknown to the public, but reportedly the CFC did not want anything in return. It is a fair assumption that an organisation with some of EVE’s shrewdest metagamers among their leadership does not make such an offer without having an agenda. What the plan might have been is open to speculation. Could it have been to drive a wedge between HERO and their N3 friends? Might it even serve the purpose of potentially creating internal strife in HERO when TEST members would rebel against “being on the take from Goons”? In the end we may never know because HERO rejected the deal. Ultimately, the CFC sold those regions to Darkness, The Kadeshi and NC. who used it to expand their already vast renter empire of the Northern Associates. Ironically, the latter organisation now holds most of the south despite their name. In any case, that marks the first time for the CFC to actually retreat from conquered territory.

Sov map before and after Phoebe

Speaking of renters, another radical move was made in the aftermath of the Phoebe changes. Pandemic Legion announced that they would give up their own renter empire and become a purely PVP-focused nomadic alliance again, like they did back in the day after losing Fountain to IT alliance. This time, they were not forced to do so but voluntarily exchanged income security for freedom. Their former N3 allies still maintain a vast realm of renters by placing strategic resources in every region, but PL simply did not want to take that effort at the expense of being able to move and choose their fights freely. Effectively that meant the end of the B0TLRD agreement and it also changed the conflict in the south significantly. Being free to do what they wanted, PL decided to move against HERO. While the BNI-lead coalition had already made a name for itself in the second half of 2014, the celebrated “This Is EVE” trailer resulted in even more players joining the youngest of the major nullsec powers. Within weeks, Brave Collective became the largest alliance in EVE and as they are concentrated in a small area, nothing could be a more target-rich environment for the forces of PL. Since then, fierce fighting has been going on between those two entities and they already created the first superlatives in the post Phoebe environment by having a major fight in the strategic gateway system of HED-GP. With PL abandoning the east, several other parties began to take over space there. Legion of xXDeathXx – a Russian-led alliance loosely allied with the CFC – has struck a bargain with Brothers of Tangra and occupied some of the Drone Region space. NC. took over some of the southern systems and a newly formed organisation appeared on the map too: Absolution Alliance. They are new in name, but are formed around a core of old White Noise members. That alliance once was part of the Russian-led bloc which occupied the Drone Regions and the north-east before the CFC evicted White Noise and installed Razor Alliance in their former home. While the “Southern Russians” have retreated into obscurity, the “Northern Russians” are now emerging from it. There is even more than meets the eye though. Insmother and Scalding Pass have become targets of Gorgon Empire and the newly created Phoebe Freeport Republic to establish “freeport” systems where docking rights are granted to all who are not explicit enemies and value nullsec PVP over a protected life under the wing of a powerful overlord. Certainly, the N3 renter empire is spread wide and its response forces are limited in range and mobility now. New players may yet establish themselves just like HERO did. The stage is set and the curtain drawn for the next act. Small border conflicts are happening in the southwest between NC. and CFC and the north also remains alive with pitched battles between the NPC-space dwellers and the powers around them. HERO and PL are still actively fighting too, not in the sense of strategic warfare, but their fights are growing increasingly savage and nobody can say yet what will become of the Phoebe Freeport Republic. My guess for 2015 would be that no major changes happen before sovereignty mechanics are reformed. Right now everyone expects that to happen in the near future and remains cautious, but once those changes are implemented, the political landscape will change in ways we have not seen in years.   P.S. Much of the material on the development of HERO in the south came from this reference. My thanks go to the author for providing me with that source material. P.P.S. Thanks to Hendrick Tallardar for pointing me to the title image originally created by Lise Kiel of Pandemic Legion  
Tags: nullsec, sovereignty, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.