The Strategy of World War Bee – Part 2: Proving GroundsMelos Exelion
For some time I have wanted to explore the grand strategy of World War Bee. Due to the size and scope of the subject I quickly found it could never be contained within a single article (or the writings of a single author), so I broke my ongoing work into several pieces: “Preparations,” “Proving Grounds,” “Guerilla War,” “Invasion!” and “Conquest.” Each piece covers what I identify as a distinct phase of World War Bee.
“Proving Grounds” covers the situation from December of 2015 to January of 2016, focusing on the events surrounding the rise of Lowsec Voltron, and the first attacks on SpaceMonkey’s Alliance in Fade. This article draws heavily on correspondence with Lemba and Kyle Aparthos, as well discussions with Seraph, Boson Dubstep and previous interviews with Lenny Kravitz2 and Sabre A.
Due to the complexity and scale of the conflict, and the secret backroom dealings that were continually running in the shadows, any account by an outside observer will necessarily be woefully incomplete. Part 1 generated a great deal of commentary, and hopefully part 2 will do the same. If a reader has important information that they feel was missed, or a different perspective on an event that they feel has been misinterpreted, please feel free to contact me in game via convo or Evemail. My intent is to go back and integrate all the corrections once the series is done, and then publish a v.2, which hopefully will be a more accurate account.
December 2015 – Into Lowsec
On 19 November 2015 The Mittani ordered the Imperium to invade Cloud Ring, but that same State of the Goonion address he also made it clear that the war would not stop there. With the purge of Cloud Ring as phase one, the Imperium would then take the fight into lowsec as phase two. At the time Mittani framed this invasion as equal parts terrorizing and training. “The biggest problem we have is that we as an organization have been afraid of going to lowsec,” The Mittani told his assembled troops. He made it clear he did not expect the campaign to be easy as the Imperium’s fleets would be operating in an unfamiliar and hostile environment; “We will suffer, we will fail, we will not falter, but we are going to fuck up and faceplant repeatedly.”
The program was essentially a protection racket
Then on 30 November The Mittani announced the beginning of the Viceroy Program in an article on his site themittani.com. The program was essentially a protection racket in which other alliances would pay the Imperium so that the Imperium’s fleets didn’t burn down all their stuff. This mob-like analogy was made explicit in the article’s several linked videos, and the taunting challenge to the intended targets was unmistakeable. The Viceroy Program had apparently been in discussion on the Goonfleet forums for several weeks prior, and The Mittani chose to announce it just prior to the Imperium’s invasion of lowsec.
Moving on from the disappointingly content-less invasion of the “Content Ring,” Imperium fleets began pushing into the lowsec region of Black Rise to attack the various moon-mining Player Owned Stations (POS) there. On 2 December the Imperium got its first serious response at the battle of Iralaja. A combined Snuffed Out (SNUFF) and Psychotic Tendencies (TISHU) Machariel battleship fleet inflicted a one sided defeat on an Imperium dreadnought and Proteus strategic cruiser fleet. The lowsec forces killed 42 Imperium ships worth more than 25 billion ISK for no losses. On 5 December a second much larger battle broke out in the system of Nisuwa, this time against an Imperium fleet led by AUSTZ FC Lemba. Again the Imperium received by far the worst of the exchange, despite having substantially more ships engaged than the lowsec powers.
In a worrying development, Shadow Cartel (SC) the long-time enemies of SNUFF and another powerful lowsec alliance, showed up to the fight at Nisuwa. SC was present as a third party since they were not invited by SNUFF, but by their own admission they were mainly there to shoot Goons. The battle of Anchauttes on 6 December highlighted the growing collection of lowsec alliances, although the Imperium managed to secure a costly victory in that engagement by “dropping the hammer,” and bringing its supercap fleet into the battle.
By 15 December, members of the growing band of lowsec alliances, which was already starting to call itself Lowsec Voltron (LSV), were crowing on reddit about Imperium fleets fearing to engage them.
Lemba detailed the problems of fighting the lowsec powers at length: “Lowsec entities are ridiculously good at fighting with smaller numbers but with more proficiency. The Imperium’s idea of nullsec fighting is far different from what is needed for lowsec fighting. The first few times (including a fight I FC’d) we got fucking wasted. We didn’t have the Slaves [expensive cybernetic implants], the faction/DED mods, nor the ships to fight in lowsec. It doesn’t matter how many numbers you bring, if the enemy brings a fat-ass comp with perfect logi and Slaves and out plays you, there is nothing you can do but die.”
the Imperium had very a hard time figuring out how to deal with the qualitative superiority of their lowsec enemies
According to Lemba the Imperium had very a hard time figuring out how to deal with the qualitative superiority of their lowsec enemies as its nullsec tactics based on numerical superiority weren’t working. Lemba felt the solution was to improve the quality of the Imperium’s fleets. “Most of the line members wanted to get in Machs [Machariel faction battleships], but we didn’t change doctrines. We finally switched to faction battleships, but it was too little too late.” The reason for this, Lemba says, is that they were told that supply of Machariels was too low. Instead, the Imperium resorted to dropping supercaps into every fight, because it was the only way to gain the upper hand. This drove the lowsec forces from the field, but was not a true solution to winning the actual fights.
Circle-of-Two (CO2) was an Imperium member alliance with a great deal of experience fighting in lowsec over on the Lonetrek region, a skill The Mittani specifically referenced in his 17 November State of the Goonion address. Lemba had nothing but praise when asked about CO2, saying; “CO2 is fucking fantastic. They were one of the allies that had been using Machs and faction BSs before GSF and the rest of the Imperium. They saw no problem in using Machs as a doctrine for the entire coalition but GSF wasn’t hearing it.” It seems that the Imperium did not fully leverage its ally’s experience. Initially CO2 was staged at D2-HOS with the rest of the Imperium forces invading Black Rise, but tensions began to build as members of CO2 became frustrated with how the campaign was being run, and eventually the alliance returned home.
The Imperium had entered lowsec with the stated goal of “figuring it out,” but its attempts to do so were sluggish and frustrating enough that they alienated both its primary AUSTZ FC, and its second most powerful alliance. Under normal conditions the Imperium might have had the time to eventually adapt and smooth any ruffled feathers, but with the accelerating pace of events it would not be granted that luxury.
Executing the Viceroy Program and the lowsec invasion side by side was a PR disaster. On one hand the Imperium was confidently declaring its invincibility – and on the other it was waging a war in which its leaders had recognized from the start it would do very poorly. The end result was that the Imperium dared its opponents to resist it – and was then promptly and repeatedly smashed in the face when they did so. Since getting smashed in the face was the expected result of the lowsec campaign, it is difficult to understand exactly why The Mittani chose to set his coalition up for such public embarrassment. The full answer will likely have to wait until he is willing to speak candidly about events.
Certainly, the threat of the Viceroy Program was an important factor in the lowsec unity. Various LSV leaders and members have referenced it in terms similar to those of a glorious myth of national resistance. And indeed the narrative of the outnumbered few of lowsec, once enemies, now forced to band together as unlikely allies to save the rest of EVE from an unstoppable empire was incredibly powerful. The fact that they were actually winning several very lopsided victories made the narrative that much sweeter.
The value of a strong propaganda narrative to an alliance and a coalition is hardly unknown in EVE. The Mittani regularly talks about the value of propaganda and the narrative metagame, and wrote in a 2009 column that; “In a galaxy full of would-be space knights following e-bushido, reputation and ‘face’ are themselves resources which can be built up or destroyed. In any given war, a significant amount of attention must be paid to what keeps your pilots motivated and logging into the game, losing ships for your alliance’s banner, and maintaining a positive cultural identity so that defectors and spies are not bred.”
In the same column The Mittani presented a previous example of Goonswarm propaganda failure, recounting an event where the Goons were winning a war against the smaller and fractured NORAD alliance, until the then-leader of Goonswarm made a “laughably awful callout thread” on the official EVE forums. According to The Mittani, this thread had the unintended effect of bringing extra attention to what had previously been a little noticed conflict. The member corporations of NORAD found new unity and were able to band together and survive the Goon onslaught.
Yet by “calling out” his opponents with the Viceroy announcement, the Mittani made exactly the same mistake. If his intent was primarily to generate fights so the Imperium’s pilots could learn how to fight in lowsec then it certainly succeeded, but at a disastrous cost to the Imperium in reputation and “face,” while breeding a director level spy, and drawing unwanted attention to a conflict which was never destined to be one of the Imperium’s finest hours.
Although they had no hand in these events, the hidden leadership of the preMBC was delighted by them. According to Mercenary Coalition leader Sabre A, most of the preMBC’s early moves were just reactions to the Imperium’s mistakes. Sabre was worried that it would take an incredible amount of work to convince people to fight the Imperium; “And then [The Mittani] goes and declares war on the rest of EVE!” Sabre called the Viceroy program, “The single greatest gift he could have given us.” Not only would it generate several of the allies the preMBC would need, but it would be another means to cloak their coming actions.
The Brain Drain
One of the other problems revealed by the lowsec campaign was a shortage of skilled leadership on the side of the Imperium, particularly in GSF. Fleet Commanders make or break alliances in EVE, which after all is a game that is fundamentally about fighting with spaceships. FCs skilled in bloc level warfare, able to lead fleets of hundreds of members and co-ordinate with multiple alliances, are worth their weight in gold.
GSF has a well-established military hierarchy with the Skymarshal(s) at the top, the Skyteam of senior FC’s beneath them, in charge of bloc level, capital, and supercap fleets. However, by the time of the Viceroy campaign, Goonswarm had seen a great deal of turnover in these leaders. In June of 2015 the Black Omega Security corporation was kicked from Goonswarm, taking with it Shut Up And Shave (Suas), a highly respected Goon leader (and talented lounge singer) who would play a prominent role as a front commander for the MBC. In November of 2015 Vily, considered by Lemba to be GSF’s best FC, left that alliance and joined TEST Alliance Please Ignore. In fact, Lemba saw the movement of several skilled bloc-level FC’s into TEST as a warning sign that the CFC’s “ultimate ex-girlfriend” was becoming dangerous again.
On 13 December 2015 Blawrf McTaggart, Skymarshal of the Imperium, announced his departure from the Imperium over conflicts with other members of the alliance leadership. Blawrf was followed by the corporation Bat Country, which left to join Pandemic Legion. Bat Country was a small corporation, but it had been one of the cornerstones of the alliance. Bat Country took Endie with it, the former head of the Goonfleet Intelligence Agency, who was also dissatisfied with the alliance’s political leadership.
Fighting in Cloud Ring and lowsec, Lemba felt GSF’s depleted leadership keenly, and put in extended hours trying to run the campaign while feeling increasingly abandoned by those above him. Lemba would later publicly cite these frustrations as the reason he betrayed the Imperium and began leaking internal logs of its high level discussions to the public.
The lack of senior and mid-level FC’s also affected the more numerous skirmish level FCs. At the start of the lowsec invasion, junior skirmish FCs within GSF were unable to send out pings on GSF chat channels for fleets to form, and required the assent of a mid-level or higher FC. Limited numbers of high level FCs and limited timezone coverage meant that many fights were missed because a skirmish FC couldn’t get a ping to get a fleet formed. This particular issue was later fixed during a “lessons learned” overhaul of the Imperium’s FC program, but it caused problems in the early days.
On the other hand, those FC’s who were active worked tirelessly to try and achieve the invasion’s goals. Lemba has particular praise for Sothrasil, an under-appreciated mid-level FC who was always on to hit towers and conduct operations, and often covered for Lemba in the early EUTZ. He also has praise for his second in command, Tiberizzle, who was on at all hours of the day, and ran the super fleet when Lemba was doing subcap ops. In fact, while running the super fleet, Tiberizzle scored a significant victory over an attempted ambush by OSS dreadnoughts in Placid on 29 December.
A military truism is that no one is irreplaceable. General Colin Powell famously had an American Civil War quote by President Lincoln framed and hung over his desk, recounting an exchange between Lincoln and a telegraph operator after a battle in which the Union lost a brigadier general and a hundred horses. Lincoln bemoaned the loss of the horses, but when the telegraph operator asked “Mr. President, what about the brigadier general?” Lincoln replied, “I can make a brigadier general in five minutes, but it is not easy to replace one hundred horses.”
Lincoln’s quip aside, it does take time to train new commanders, and skilled bloc level commanders do not grow on trees. Given time, a coalition as large as the Imperium should have been able to find and train up new leaders, and grow others into their new roles. Unfortunately for them the war came at the unhappy midpoint between the departure of much of the old leadership, and while the new leadership was still finding their feet.
As an aside, the corollary to this – for those dismissive of the Imperium’s performance in World War Bee – is that the Imperium has had several months and a large war in which to train up new leaders and give its existing ones more experience. Along with the Goons general preference for attack over defense, the MBC may find that GSF is a very different beast when it finally launches a serious offensive.
Early January 2016 – Lex Wants His Monkey Scalps!
Throughout December a feud had been bubbling up between the online casino I Want ISK (IWI) and the SpaceMonkey’s Alliance (SMA). IWI accused SMA members of stealing large quantities of ISK from the casino, which SMA was disinclined to force them to repay. SMA in turn accused the IWI bankers of real money trading or RMT, a practice banned by EVE’s terms of service. By January of 2016 this feud had boiled over with IWI banker Eep providing a list of demands which SMA director Winet dismissively refused. The story is that Eep then hired TISHU to target SMA in their home region of Fade, with the mercenaries going to work in the second week of January.
Lenny had pre-selected SMA as the MBC’s “jumping off point”
In fact, TISHU was under contract with Lenny to attack SMA. Lenny had pre-selected SMA as the MBC’s “jumping off point,” with D-Day set for some time in late January or early February. The explosion of the Viceroy/Voltron affair moved the timetable up. In the short term, SMA was seen as a large but vulnerable and “low-risk” target to attack (as per general guidance from Manfred Sideous or “Manny” – more on his input in part 3). In the long term, it guarded on one of the gateways to Deklein and had to be weakened so that it could eventually be removed.
According to then-TISHU fixer, Boson Dubstep, the initial plan had been to hide the fact that TISHU was under contract and just play the attack as part of the ongoing lowsec war, but with a 1.2 trillion ISK contract (at the time one of the most lucrative in EVE history) the details quickly leaked. The preMBC conspirators then came up with a hasty cover story and convinced the other IWI bankers to go along with it. In this cover story the ISK and the motive for the war came from Eep, with Lenny only acting as a “mysterious broker” to put the parties in touch with each other.
TISHU was an alliance of just over 800 pilots, while SMA was at the time the second largest Imperium alliance with over 5,000 members. However, events would show Lenny had picked the perfect band of psychopaths for the task. Despite the mismatch in numbers, TISHU diplomat Seraph IX Basarab says the campaign was never a contest; “TISHU are not builders or industrialists. I know it sounds cheesy but we’re very much pirates, in that we play to break things. And when that sort of mentality hits an entity like SMA which is basically playing Farmsville in space…”
Rather than target SMA’s space (which they had nowhere near the manpower to hold), TISHU targeted SMA’s members. They conducted a ferocious “blopsing” or black ops campaign where multiple cloaked special operations battleships would drop in suddenly on lone SMA players. They also established roving gatecamp ambushes at chokepoints, and infiltrated large numbers of alts into SMA, conducting regular insider attacks known as “awoxing.” These attacks wreaked havoc on SMA members attempting to make ISK throughout Fade by ratting (killing PvE pirates for their bounties) and mining. In a call out to Tarantino, TISHU’s leader, Lex Arson, offered his pilots a 500 million ISK bounty for the first 100 frozen SMA corpses delivered, which quickly caught the imagination of the /r/eve subreddit. Aside from the ISK being paid to the alliance, many TISHU pilots also made a great deal of money.
TISHU likely required no additional incentive to shitpost on reddit, but Lenny specifically asked Lex to make his invasion as loud and obnoxious as possible. The intent was to draw as much attention as possible onto Fade, while distracting from developments on other fronts, including Venal and Lonetrek (which will be discussed further in part 3).
According Seraph, the thing that hurt SMA the most was the infiltration, the awoxing, and the continual leaks of internal SMA coms, which were then posted on reddit where they were then subjected to merciless mockery. “Killing a ship is only the first step in breaking someone in this game. You have to grow and cultivate that little seed into them crumbling,” Seraph said with some relish. “They actually compared us to terrorists. And I guess to a certain extent that’s fair. But it’s also fair to remind them that the CFC invaded lowsec first, so deal with the consequences.”
The TISHU blopsing campaign had an immediate effect on SMA’s member activity, while the SMA leadership posted confused and often contradictory directives on how to handle the attacks. By 17 January SMA leader River was publically calling the campaign “a war,” and resolved to get serious about dealing with it, but by then a great deal of damage had already been done. According to Suas’ assessment, the Imperium was large but, “incredibly flabby,” and SMA was likely one of the main alliances Suas was thinking of when he made that statement. By the time the TISHU campaign concluded three weeks later, the attacks had pared away some of this flab, and over a thousand of SMA’s pilots departed the alliance. Luckily for SMA, TISHU ended its contract after it found it had “over fished” in Fade, and was running low on targets.
Former senior SMA diplomat Kyle Aparthos agreed that the TISHU campaign hit SMA very hard. In fact, SMA’s losses were so heavy that there has since been some controversy over why no help was provided to them by other Imperium alliances. Some have blamed the Goons for being slow to assist an ally in need, but – at least regarding the events in January – Kyle Aparthos laid most of the blame on SMA’s own leadership; “When it was just TISHU blopsing us, SMA never actually sent out any formal requests for aid, although Theta Squad (GSF’s carrier ratting/bait dropping SIG) did offer assistance, which we accepted… As for why we didn’t, that would be a more complicated answer and one that’s outside my purview. If I had to take a stab at it, maybe a touch of hubris, mixed with not realizing how seriously the situation would escalate.”
On the Sidelines
But the actual reasons why SMA faced TISHU’s onslaught alone were perhaps less important than how the campaign was perceived by the Imperium’s enemies. Although the fighting in Fade was publicly seen as a localized feud between SMA and IWI, Sabre felt that it was extremely useful both in showing that individual Imperium alliances could be subjected to extended attack without triggering a coalition-wide response, and in keeping a great deal of GSF’s attention fixed firmly on Fade (despite their low level of physical involvement), where it would regularly return in the coming months.
On the other hand, the campaign against SMA did have some unintended negative effects on the forces fighting against the Imperium in Black Rise. The deployment of TISHU into Fade removed a powerful member of the lowsec coalition, and with the Imperium “dropping the hammer” more and more often, the remaining lowsec alliances found themselves increasingly on the back foot, forced to surrender moon after moon to supercap forces they could not match. Although the moons were not considered vital by the lowsec alliances, the inability to contest the Imperium supercaps was wearing on LSV morale. According to CZ writer Alphabet morale was becoming strained enough that there were worries that the fledgling coalition might break up.
drawing the interest of others willing to take a shot at the Imperium
Luckily, the battles in the proving grounds of Fade and Black Rise had caught the attention of at several other alliances. In particular, Lenny believes that TISHU’s propaganda did much to “grease the wheels,” increasing the visibility of the campaign, and drawing the interest of others willing to take a shot at the Imperium. One of the new groups that Lenny reached an agreement with was The Culture, a Fountain-based nullsec alliance. The Culture agreed to hit Imperium possessions in Cloud Ring, and while they did not want to be bound by a full contract, they were offered financial assistance and capital SRP if required.
Although they were not yet on contract with Lenny, the “heavy hitters,” Pandemic Legion and Northern Coalition. were also active in Imperium space, through the magic of wormholes. On 8 January wormholers from WE FORM VOLTA, part of a group called the “Therabois,” caught a Ragnarok titan from Imperium ally Fidelis Constans (FCON) in the Branch region. Fleets from PL, NC., OSS, and HAX. as well as several other alliances were called to help. After over an hour of fighting the Titan was finally destroyed, along with a large number of FCON ships which had attempted to rescue it. A day later the Therabois conducted another wormhole raid into Goonswarm’s home region of Deklein, and with the assistance of PL, OSS and HAX destroyed a large fleet of ratting carriers. Whenever a fabulously expensive Titan dies in EVE it is news, and in these two battles the wormholers had actually destroyed more ISK in Imperium ships than those lost in all the major battles reported during the past month of lowsec fighting. The success of these attacks raised more doubts about the Imperium’s military power, as well as some public musing by reddit posters about how great it might be if all these forces would really work together and seriously attack the Imperium. This was music to the ears of the preMBC plotters.
The Reddit Factor
A vital factor in the fighting in December and January was how it played out in the forums of public opinion, particularly on the /r/eve subreddit. EVE Online has its own game forums, as do many alliances, but the largest single place where EVE players congregate is /r/eve. LSV and TISHU made good use of /r/eve to trumpet their victories and mock their opponents, and Lenny and Sabre considered the reddit PR offensive a key part of the preMBC’s strategy. That said, at that point in time getting /r/eve riled up against the Goons was not a particularly difficult task. After the Fountain War Kickstarter debacle, hostility towards the Imperium became particularly marked on the EVE subreddit – an attitude often summarized as “Grrr Goons,” to indicate a reflexive opposition to all things Goonswarm.
“/r/eve is not a community.”
This attitude was not helped by an article titled “Community Matters” on TMC by GSF’s top diplomat, Sion Kumitomo, which included the inflammatory line, “/r/eve is not a community.” Writing in response to the turbulent Cloud Ring and post-Kickstarter furor, Sion labelled the anti-Goon attitude on reddit as stemming from a naked political play by the Imperium’s enemies, and called out unnamed /r/eve “badposters” for attempting to use exclusionary tactics against GSF and the Imperium. At the same time he explicitly set the Imperium apart from /r/eve as a distinct community, and painted the posters of the EVE subreddit with his own broad brush. In the end, he dismissed the subreddit with the words; “The greatest trick /r/eve ever played was convincing people its opinion mattered.”
The problem for the Imperium was that /r/eve had a large number of participants – over 60,000 subscribers, and some 460,000 unique visitors in the month of December – and posts on /r/eve influenced the opinions a large number of EVE Online’s players, including many of those newly arriving to the game. Regardless of their veracity or honesty, the opinions posted on /r/eve certainly mattered. If Sion truly thought that the enemies of the Imperium were making a political play for this platform, then he had hardly done anything to stop their advance. In fact, with his own words he had effectively surrendered it to them.
Kyle Aparthos, a respected poster on the EVE subreddit, considers this kind of thinking flawed; “Several individuals within the Imperium (including friends of mine in SMA) expressed the idea that r/eve was somehow akin to a territory that was ‘controlled’ by the enemy, rather than a platform which was nothing more than the rough sum value of its participants.” Unfortunately for the Imperium, in early 2016 those participants did not include many of its members.
Endie, a former contributor to TMC, disagreed with Sion’s approach. In a private discussion about TMC and the Fountain War Kickstarter, Endie said, “The thing I hope nobody tells [Sion and The Mittani] – the thing I would have opened my dumb mouth and told them if still in there – is that they need to swallow their fucking pride and gall and seduce r/eve.” Endie was in no doubt about the relevance of the subreddit, adding, “There is one major Eve community – r/eve – which large numbers of players frequent and which shapes opinion.”
The Imperium could perhaps have maintained a presence on /r/eve with a concerted effort, but Kyle believes that this would not have addressed the fundamental problem. “The fact that we even have to speak in terms of ‘a concerted effort to be present on public forums such as r/eve’ suggests that, deliberately or no, a cultural rift occurred between the Imperium, specifically GSF, and the rest of EVE. This is also reflected in statements publicly made by some GSF members about how ‘Goons are pariahs and we play the game our own way separate from the pubbies.’ “
Talk of a “cultural rift” between players in a computer game, with many of the players hailing from the same real-world nations, may seem a bit strange on the surface. Certainly the list of cultural grievances between the Goons and other EVE players seem rather minor to an outsider, with the alleged targeting of players outside of the game being perhaps the only really serious issue (and one blamed more on individuals rather than the whole alliance). The claim that “Goons are assholes,” hardly makes them unique in a game where TISHU gleefully accepted the title of “terrorists,” and won applause from the Goon’s enemies for collecting scalps. Perhaps the Goons biggest crime was their overbearing pride and smugness; well earned perhaps, but there’s still nothing people like more than bringing down the prideful.
once someone sets themselves apart and above, there will always be others willing to tear them down
The reality is that people are quite quick to categorize each other and actively set themselves apart, even when the actual differences may be quite minor. And of course, once someone sets themselves apart and above, there will always be others willing to tear them down. The Mittani laid out this Goons vs EVE position in a “hurfpost” on the Goonfleet forums on 15 December, citing the their intrinsic civilized superiority over their “barbarous,” opponents.
The Imperium’s leaders accepted and embraced Goonswarm’s position as outsiders, apart from, and superior to, the “upvote-hungry mob,” but the problem with being a cultural outsider is that outsiders are very easy targets to whip the mob up against. In his hurfpost The Mittani wrote, “Our enemies would cross the galaxy in a heartbeat if they thought for a second they could end us,” This is exactly what would happen in only a couple of months, but predicting the future is not the same as preventing it. Perhaps The Mittani did not realize just how many enemies he had, how existing enemies were growing in power, or how close they were to thinking they could, indeed, end the Imperium.
In the past, the Imperium might have had the strength to defeat all likely attackers by its lonesome, but by early 2016 the political landscape of New Eden was changing. As warned by Lemba, TEST Alliance had rebuilt itself and was a different and dangerous beast, while the Pandemic Family’s new player alliance Pandemic Horde was quickly establishing itself, providing PanFam with access to the large subcapital fleets it had lacked in the past. The addition of the previously fractured lowsec alliances to the Imperium’s list of enemies threatened to further tip the balance against it, to say nothing of the hidden binding force of IWI’s exceedingly deep pockets.
The potential forces these rising powers could add to the fleets of the Imperium’s already established enemies suggests a more conciliatory and less zero sum diplomatic strategy by the Imperium was warranted. Whether such a strategy could have succeeded is an open question. Certainly it is hard to see how an attempted rapprochement or secret deals with PL, NC. or TEST would have prevented them from taking advantage of any moment of weakness by the Imperium, although it is not hard to imagine that pre-Viceroy the Imperium could have driven a wedge between the lowsec powers with a little diplomatic finesse. But even if a conciliatory approach failed, the results could hardly have been worse than those that came from the Imperium’s chosen course of coercive gangland diplomacy.
By early 2016 the Imperium had entered a very dangerous period of political isolation, partly through its own actions, and one that its enemies could now capitalize upon.
Summary of Proving Grounds
In December 2015 and the first half of January 2016 the Imperium had the initiative, while the preMBC was still mostly reactive. But despite initiating the lowsec campaign, and going on the diplomatic offensive against the EVE subreddit, Imperium actions were largely counter-productive, serving to unify additional enemies against it. The territorial gains made by the Imperium in this period in Cloud Ring and Black Rise were overshadowed by the weaknesses the military campaign revealed to the Imperium’s enemies, and its growing public isolation.
While they had not been acting as part of the preMBC, the lowsec forces had accomplished some of its initial goals and helpfully advanced its timetable. Voltron proved that smaller, qualitatively superior fleets could face the Imperium in lowsec and win. In Fade, TISHU proved that serious and prolonged attacks could be conducted against an Imperium member without triggering a coalition-wide response. Although these were hardly new revelations, they were a timely emphasis for those arguing to convince the necessary alliances of the viability of attacking the Imperium. All of these developments were amplified to the wider EVE community by a flurry of posts on the /r/eve subreddit, on which the Imperium no longer maintained a serious presence to contest the narrative. In turn, this control of the public narrative made it much easier for Lenny_Kravitz2 to recruit additional alliances to the cause.
The preMBC now had the forces and the public support it needed to take things to the next level.
Continued in Part 3 – Guerilla War.