asakai VI Moon 141 1 620x348 Bright Lights of Asakai  Explaining one of the largest Player vs. Player battles in gaming historyOn January 27, 2013, nearly 3000 men and women fought one another in a battle in which both sides combined to lose over $15,000 in materiel. For comparison, this was a fight on a scale with Washington’s surprise dash across the Delaware or Custer’s fatal blunder at Little Bighorn. It was was bigger than the legendary Battle of the Alamo and the naval engagement at Hampton Roads, when the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia fought to a standstill.  But you know what the biggest difference between 2013 and 1776, 1862, or 1876 is?  Nobody died in the Battle of Asakai; they simply logged off.

EVE Online buzzed for days after the fight. A large part of the interest in the battle was the unparalleled scale–Player versus Player (PvP) battles rarely reach this size.  Asakai is almost certainly one of the largest PvP battles in the history of gaming (yet, amazingly, it’s merely the second largest fight in the history of EVE Online). Players flocked to Reddit to give their accounts of what had happened. Nearly every major gaming news site reported on the battle. CCP Games, the developers behind EVE Online, filled their blog with posts trumpeting the event as uniquely possible in EVE Online. One of the players responsible for starting the affair was told by a CCP employee that news of the battle drew nearly 20,000 new players to EVE Online.

However, much of the coverage of the event was contradictory and unspecific.  While most news outlets had at least some idea of what happened–a player misclicked to put an expensive ship in the line of fire and his enemies pounced on it–very few had any idea why the fight had started, or why so many players committed themselves.  Posts on EVE-focused websites and blogs offered more detail, but were often so thick with jargon as to make them incomprehensible to non-players.

So, what did happen at Asakai?  Who were the players and factions involved?   How did the fight get to be so large?  What effect did the battle have on EVE Online’s volatile in-game politics?  Let’s find out.

Concerning New Eden I: Astrography

It is impossible to discuss the Battle of Asakai without first discussing EVE Online as a whole. EVE Online is an MMO of sorts, trading the traditional fantasy environment of World of Warcraft for a far future science-fiction galaxy known as New Eden.  Roughly circular, New Eden’s populated center is the home of 4 interstellar empires that constantly war with one another for control of the core systems.  The curious can find more information regarding each empire here, but the important thing is to note that these empires are run by the AI, and for all extents and purposes they serve as part of the environment.  Players can group themselves into corporations, alliances, and coalitions, with bigger groups fighting for territory on the galactic periphery.

One of the unique things about EVE when compared to other MMOs is that all players log on to a single server–facetiously named “Tranquility.” With PvP and player-killing rampant around the galaxy, New Eden is anything but tranquil. To help ease noobs into the PvP side of the game, CCP assigned each system a numerical “security rating.” As a general rule, security ratings are highest for planets in the galactic core and grow lower as one moves toward the edges of space. Security levels are grouped together as High Security (hisec), Low Security (lowsec) and Null Security (nullsec).

  • 1.0—0.5 Hisec. Player-killing is punished swiftly, and attacking player takes a large penalty to their reputation–which will increase the hostility of the AI controlled “police” in each system. Highsec is where a lot of mining operations operate, to be free from piracy and raiders, despite lower value minerals.

  • 0.4—0.1 Lowsec. Player-killing is punished, but “police” response time is low, leaving plenty of time for attacking players to escape. Penalty to reputation is small. Lowsec is the denizen of smaller factions and corporations, as well as pirates. Most players will attack non-friendlies on sight. Asakai is a lowsec system.

  • <= 0.0 Nullsec. The purview of large alliances and coalitions. Essentially lawless, but rich in valuable resources. Non-friendlies are attacked on sight. Many high-tech ships have abilities that can only be used in nullsec.

 

Concerning New Eden II: War

Looking at the screenshots and videos around the internet, one might be forgiven for assuming that EVE revolves around spaceship battles, but one would be wrong. CCP designed EVE Online as a sort of economic sandbox, not as a combat simulator. Many players focus on earning a living through mining, or through trade. In a design choice that is unique to EVE, nearly every weapon, shield, engine, and ship in EVE Online is created by players using resources gathered from the environment. Without this vast engine powering EVE’s economy, battles on the scale of Asakai would not be possible.

That said, combat is still a major factor in EVE Online.  This is largely because—much like in the real world—military might can be used to secure access to natural resources. Large groups of players fight wars over the rights to mine the most valuable minerals. Pirate factions scour solar systems in hopes of finding vulnerable mining operations. One quirk of EVE Online is that kills are considered a valuable resource in their own right—many Corporations (EVE Online’s name for clans or guilds) require a minimum number of kills before accepting players.  As a result, there’s no shortage of hostility between players in EVE Online.

Full scale warfare in EVE online generally takes two forms. The first is called Sovereignty Warfare, often called sov-war or sov for short. Largely a factor in the conflicts between large nullsec alliances, sov-wars are occasionally seen as necessary, but are universally despised. Wresting control of a system requires an incredible commitment of time, manpower, and materiel. On top of that, sov-war is often seen as boring, requiring long periods of time where players need to inflict massive amounts of damage on heavily armored buildings that don’t shoot back. The tedium results in strained alliance morale, and players devoting their time to other games.  One player I spoke with recalled how the month-long campaign to conquer a relatively small cluster of systems nearly brought his alliance to its knees. To avoid the boredom of sovereignty control, many large, powerful alliances do not attempt to hold their own territory.

In hopes of getting a good fight without incurring the tedium of a sov-war, many alliances will contact their enemies to arrange non-occupation pacts. Essentially, the goal is to destroy the enemy army, not to occupy his territory. These wars are wildly popular for the exciting battles they encourage while avoiding the tedium of sov-war.

Located in the Black Rise region on the northern edge of the galactic core, Asakai is a part of EVE Online’s third kind of war. “Faction warfare” provides smaller corporations and new players the opportunity for regular PvP fights and territory control without requiring the time commitment and massive resources required to engage a full-scale nullsec sov-war. You can learn all you’ll ever want to know about faction warfare here, but for the sake of this article you need only know that the Caldari and Gallente empires were are war, and that Asakai was a Caldari-occupied system at the time of the battle.

 

Dramatis Personae

The Battle of Asakai was a massive affair, involving over 270 different alliances of various sizes, but many of those were called in—or just showed up—as reinforcements. The responsibility for putting the wheels in motion can be laid at the feet of five or six alliances.

The first of these, the Liandri Covenant, is also the weakest. A small alliance dedicated to Caldari faction warfare, the Liandri were the “owners” of Asakai at the time of the battle. They pride themselves on being a noob-friendly, relaxed alliance with a dedication to PvP. At the time of the battle, the Liandri controlled a small Player Owned Station (POS) in orbit around the 14th moon of Asakai VI.  The POS served as a defensive station and as an outpost for raiding.

On the opposite side of the faction warfare divide of sat a pair of alliances with a history of cooperation: Drunk ‘n’ Disorderly and Lost Obsession. Like the Liandri Covenant, DnD and Lost Obsession focused on faction warfare, however, both DnD and Lost Obsession operate under the auspices of the Gallente Federation, and therefore were at war with the Liandri Covenant. While not so powerful as the large nullsec alliances below, DnD and Lost Obsession are reasonably powerful factions in their own right, taking pride in punching above their weight.

[ed:Lost Obsession is not Gallente. Thanks /r/eve.]

Any discussion of EVE would be incomplete without a mention of the Goonswarm Federation. Originally formed in 2006 as an alliance for denizens of Something Awful, Goonswarm quickly became one of the most (in)famous alliances in New Eden by breaking nearly all the conventions of war. Utilizing massive fleets of small, low-tech ships to overwhelm their enemies (whence comes the name “Goonswarm” and bee mascot) the Goonswarm also sponsored new and innovative efforts to troll other EVE players. After surviving two of the largest and most prolonged sov-wars in EVE history—known in game as the First and Second Great Wars—Goonswarm emerged as one of the largest, most powerful factions in EVE. Though they now have access to large high-tech ships, the Goons have retained their fervent militarism and continued love of trolling, giving many players in EVE a particularly strong dislike of the Goonswarm and its members. Goonswarm is the largest faction and the de facto head of the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC), a huge group of alliances spread across the northern sectors of EVE space.

Founded in 2010, TEST Alliance Please Ignore (nearly always referred to as “TEST”) is a Reddit-based version of the Goonswarm–so much so that the Goonswarm “adopted” the budding TEST alliance in it’s infancy. Despite early cooperation, recent frictions between TEST and Goonswarm drove TEST to join the Honey Badger Coalition (HBC), which exists as a counterbalance to the Goonswarm-led CFC.

The last important faction in the battle of Asakai is the Pandemic Legion.  Founded in 2007 and known for its rigid discipline, PL is one of the most powerful military forces in New Eden. As a general rule, PL will be found in the center of almost any big fight in EVE using large, powerful ships–including capital and supercapital class vessels. Unlike TEST or Goonswarm, PL does not attempt to hold sovereignty in space, though they do control and mine natural resources throughout nullsec. Despite a history of cooperation with Goonswarm, PL/Goon relations have soured of late.  To help balance CFC power, PL joined the HBC as an ally of TEST Alliance.

Despite the tensions between them, Goonswarm, TEST, and PL are among the main players in a cartel controlling and regulating access to a valuable natural resource: technetium. Technetium is required for nearly all upper-tier technology in EVE, which means that there is always a fairly high demand. Whether by coincidence or by design, nearly all of the naturally-occurring technetium is found in space controlled by Goonswarm, TEST Alliance, and PL. Realizing what they had, Goonswarm and CFC leaders formed OTEC, the Organization of Technetium Exporting Corporations (yes, just like the real world oil cartel). Managing this cartel has made its members incredibly wealthy, as they can restrict the amount of technetium on the market to drive up prices.

I want to stress that the above should not be read as a complete history of the factions mentioned.  There’s an incredible amount of history in the EVE universe—especially with the Goonswarm, who seem to delight in creating as much trouble as they can. Go ask a Goon or TEST pilot to explain “Jita Burns” or “Hulkageddon” if you want to hear Master Trolls perfecting their craft. Furthermore, there are many other factions, coalitions, and alliances in EVE, and most of them made an appearance at Asakai. The above should serve only to provide the context for the battle, explaining why alliances chose the sides they did when the lasers started flying.

 

The Kindling

It’s fairly rare for a battle or a war to suddenly force it’s way onto the scene. Nearly all the wars I’ve ever read about were precluded by posturing, saber-rattling, and rationalization.  Even surprise attacks like that at Pearl Harbor were preceded by months of diplomatic tension.  The same was true of the Battle of Asakai.

TEST Alliance and the Goonswarm have a long, generally friendly history. When the Goonswarm attacked a fledgeling TEST Alliance, the ferocity of the Redditors’ riposte so impressed Goon leadership that Goonswarm all but adopted the TEST Alliance. As one TEST member put it, TEST “started out by crashing on Goon’s couch.” The Goonswarm even engaged in a large scale sov-war for the express purpose of carving out a space for TEST in the Western fringes of the map. Before the Battle of Asakai, however, Goon/TEST relations had fallen to near hostility. Despite being one of the largest alliances in New Eden, TEST have a reputation for being Goonswarm’s “pet”—a reputation they resent. To get out from under this onerous label, TEST joined the Honey Badger Coalition, instead of the Goonswarm-headed CFC

In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Asakai the head of TEST ,a player named Montolio, started making serious overtures towards war with the Goonswarm.  Montolio went so far as to reset TEST Alliance relations with Goonswarm to neutral—meaning it was fair game for TEST ships to attack Goonswarm ships. When Goonswarm retaliated in kind, Montolio essentially severed diplomatic ties with the CFC—a clear prelude to war.

Goon leadership was—in a word—flabbergasted. They recognized that there had been some tension between the two alliances, but hadn’t expected Montolio’s hawkish aggression. According to one CFC Fleet Commander, the only explanation was that “[Montolio] kind of lost his mind.” The Mittani,  head of Goonswarm, quickly responded by distancing himself from Montolio’s warmongering and extending an olive branch to rank-and-file members of TEST.

“We like TEST. We helped bring them safely into a nullsec that tried to kill us, in the same place….We have no quarrel with the line members of TEST.”

The whole of EVE buzzed with anticipation for the upcoming war. GoonSwarm and TEST were two of the largest alliances in EVE, and both were critical members of their respective coalitions. A Goon-TEST war had the potential to be one of the largest, bloodiest affairs in EVE history. But then something strange happened: Montolio backed down. Not only that, he resigned from his position as the head of TEST. The EVE community was nearly as baffled as it was outraged—it had been robbed of a big dust-up and it looked like nullsec would continue to stagnate. As people searched for a proper explanation, one answer kept popping up: Fellow OTEC and HBC members Pandemic Legion had refused to back TEST, because a Goon/TEST sov-war would disrupt technetium production.

Everything points towards technetium. Goonswarm and the CFC hold most of it. They do not want war. Pandemic Legion holds many moons of their own. They do not want war. Executive Outcomes, ally to both the HBC and CFC, holds technetium moons, they are willing to vacate HBC space so that their CFC holdings remain secure. They do not want war. The parties with the most to lose economically are the parties fighting hardest to avoid conflict

When I first started writing this article, I had planned to compare tensions between the HBC and CFC to the Cold War, but the more I researched the situation, the more I realized the proper comparison was not 1981, but rather 1914. In both EVE and antebellum Europe you had large armies glowering at one another, each ready to call on their myriad allies to escalate the fight. All it would require is an ignition source. In 1914, it took a Serbian youth assassinating an Austrian noble. 99 years later all it took  a single misclick.

 

The Spark

In mid-January 2013, a Goonswarm Fleet commander named Dabigredboat (ubiquitously called DBRB for short) had been camping near a DnD/Lost Obsession controlled system. Because they didn’t particularly like DBRB and thought  it’d be good for a laugh—half the events in EVE are rationalized this way—DnD and Lost Obsession jump onto DBRB’s fleet and attack it. DBRB calls in Titans for reinforcements, and so DnD/Lost Obsession retreat back to their home stations with some heavy losses.

DBRB is—understandably–a bit annoyed by this. He decides to spend some time campaigning in the nearby lowsec region of Black Rise, attempting to find and destroy a DnD/Lost Obsession fleet in retaliation. While searching through the region, DBRB was contacted by ambassadors of the Liandri Covenant with an offer of intelligence.  As a Caldari faction warfare alliance, Liandri stood to benefit from a weakened DnD/Lost obsession—both were Gallente-alligned, and were vying for control of the same systems. With this in mind, Liandri agreed to provide information on DnD activities, if DBRB would provide his CFC fleet as backup should DnD decide to attack them as retaliation.

DnD leaders quickly learned of Liandri’s spying, and quickly decided that retaliation was indeed the proper response. However, as they were setting up to launch their attack, they learn from a spy inside the Ishuk-Raata Enforcement Directive (I-RED)—a small faction allied with Liandri—that the Liandri had CFC carriers on call. With this in mind they alerted their compatriots in Lost Obsession, and made a call to a nearby Pandemic Legion fleet. Under the direction of Sala Cameron, Hedliner, and Elise Randolph, PL made the commitment to provide backup for DnD and Lost Obsession should the CFC capital ships show to the fight. To add one more layer to this matryoshka doll, the CFC commander, DBRB, was aware of Pandemic Legion’s willingness to join the fight against CFC and had arranged for a very large force to wait on standby in case they were needed.

This can be a bit confusing, so I want to take a moment to restate: what we have here are three separate traps layered on top of one another.

 

  1. Liandri will call DBRB’s carrier fleet when DnD attack them.

  2. If the CFC carrier fleet shows up, DnD will call Pandemic Legion to attack.

  3. If Pandemic Legion enters the fray, DBRB will call his powerful reserve force.

 

The opening salvos of the battle go almost exactly as planned. DnD begins by attacking the Liandri POS in orbit around the 14th moon of Asakai VI with Battleships–powerful sub-capital class ships. Liandri quickly responded with a fleet of smaller, faster cruisers. Though they received backup from I-RED, they quickly found themselves outgunned and called to DBRB’s CFC fleet for help. DBRB launched his fleet into the fight, but made a crucial error—a single misclick that would cause the fight to spiral out of control—when he jumped his Titan-class Leviathan into the fray.

In EVE Online, Titans are essentially equivalent to the Death Star. They’re immense, they have vast amounts of health and armor, and they’re armed with the most powerful weapons in the game— literally called  Doomsday Devices (DD). A Titan’s DD is devastating, capable of destroying most ships smaller than supercarriers in a single hit. The DD is what makes Titans the feared monstrosities they are. But the DD cannot be used in lowsec systems like Asakai. Without access to its DD, a Titan becomes an incredible liability—capable of roughly the same amount of damage as the smaller Dreadnought, but at approximately 70x the cost.

So the question arises: how did DBRB make this mistake? The general assumption is that it was a matter of “jumping” vs “bridging.” When bridging, a Titan creates a portal that allows allows smaller ships to travel to a distant point very quickly, but does not require that the Titan itself travel. Jumping, on the other hand, transports the Titan–and only the Titan–to the destination. You might think it’s a big difference, but the buttons for jumping and bridging happen to be right next to one another—anybody who’s mis-clicked with a mouse can relate.  DBRB had intended to warp onto the field with a supporting group of sub-capital ships, and instead left the smaller ships stranded and put his Titan at risk.

When I spoke to him, DBRB himself claimed that he had indeed intended to jump, but that he’d intended to jump a supercarrier-class ship in an alternate account, not his Titan (running multiple accounts at once is par for the course in EVE–DBRB claims to have played as many as nine at once). Whatever the error, the Titan appearing on the scene is what really set Asakai ablaze.

 UgplSKwh 620x394 Bright Lights of Asakai  Explaining one of the largest Player vs. Player battles in gaming history

The Conflagration

With the appearance of DBRB’s Leviathan in Asakai, DnD called on their reinforcements in Lost Obsession and Pandemic Legion. Lost Obsession appeared on the scene almost immediately, jumping in from their home base in the neighboring system of Prism. Pandemic Legion, however, hesitated. They had not expected to encounter a Titan, and though less dangerous in lowsec it was still capable of dealing and absorbing a fair amount of damage. After almost a minute of deliberating, Hedliner–the PL Fleet Commander–made the call: “Let’s go and see what happens.”  The hesitation nearly proved fatal.  When they did jump onto the battlefield, they found that the situation was nothing like what they expected.

After mistakenly appearing in the fight,  DBRB’s Titan was quickly targeted by DnD and Lost Obsession. Knowing that the chance to destroy a CFC Titan would attract the nearby PL fleet, DBRB made the call to escalate the fight beyond what anybody had predicted, putting out the call to the entire CFC navy on jabber, a messaging service used by most dedicated EVE players.

“ALL CAPITALS SUPERS TITANS EVERYTHING LOGIN JUMP TO MJI3 THEN JUMP TO FIGHT SIEGE GREEN 20K FUEL”

DBRB’s Titan remained vulnerable until help arrived, so he set to work on extracting his ship from the fight. Destroying a large enemy ship in EVE is a challenging prospect because the enemy can simply engage it’s FTL drive and escape whenever it’s threatened. Tracking enemy ships—even massive ones like Titans—is incredibly difficult in deep space. To solve this problem, fleets that expect to engage large ships travel with Heavy Interdictors. Heavy Interdictors—universally called HIC’s (“Hicks”) by players—are sub-capital sized cruisers with the ability to prevent another ship from engaging its FTL engine. Once caught by a HIC, an enemy ship can be focus-fired to ashes without a chance to escape. DnD, not expecting to engage such a juicy target as DBRB’s Leviathan, had brought only a single HIC to Asakai, which the CFC fleet quickly destroyed.  As DBRB warped his Titan to temporary safety, reinforcements arrived for both sides.  Realizing the lack of HICs at Asakai would allow CFC ships to escape, Lost Obsession and DnD pilots return to Lost Obsession’s bases in neighboring Prism to switch to HICs.

As Hedliner’s Pandemic Legion arrived on the battlefield, they found that CFC reinforcements had beaten them there. Hedliner’s fleet consisted of something on the order of 20-30 Carriers, but found itself face to face with a much larger CFC fleet–including more than five Titans. At this point in the fight, Hedliner and PL are vastly outgunned.

I instantly saw that it was nothing like what had been described to me. It was all very quiet for about 30 sec on mumble [ ed: a voice-chat software popular with gamers], at which time I was thinking ‘well this isn’t good; I’ve probably made a mistake here.’ And then I thought “Well, we have to do something ” so I flipped over the default “let’s kill everything we can before [time-dilation] screws us over,” and started pinging IRC for more dudes. –Hedliner

Time-Dilation is a system introduced in 2011 after another large battle—even larger than Asakai—as a way to address massive spikes of activity on server nodes. Lag, the developers found, was often caused by the servers receiving more commands than they could process per second, causing commands to be dropped, and servers to crash. To fix this issue, CCP introduced an incredibly elegant solution: reduce the number of commands being sent to a server by slowing the game down. By slowing down the game, Time-Dilation—called tidi (“tie-dye”) by the players—reduces the number of commands the servers receive. It’s one of those “so simple you can’t believe nobody thought of it” solutions, and as a general rule, CCP have found it fixes many of the lag issues when bigger battles get going. The system has a quirk, though: it only affects the system the battle is taking place in—the rest of the EVE universe goes on at normal speed.

Asakai was the first time that the tidi system was tested on a battle of this scale, and as the battle ground down to 10% of normal speed, it bought Hedliner the time he needed for reinforcements. Elise Randolph, a PL pilot with extensive contacts in other Alliances, started putting out the word: “If you want to come help us destroy this CFC fleet, we promise not to attack when the fight is done.” Perhaps not the most generous offer, but the call was answered. Nearly every major alliance in EVE Online gathered its forces to go to Asakai. Not only that, but they were coming at a speed ten times that of the battle being waged.

As players flocked to Asakai from all around EVE, DnD and Lost Obsession returned to the battle in their HICs and coordinated with Hedliner to determine which targets to trap and destroy. Hedliner divided his command into three sub-commands, sharing the responsibility of calling targets with two other commanders. This allowed them to avoid wasting time and damage on overkilling targets, potentially bringing down three CFC ships for every PL ship lost. The Liandri Covenant, realizing what they had helped spark, retreated into the protective shield of their POS to watch the fireworks, occasionally venturing out to score a few kills. Meanwhile, more and more calls were going out to the HBC—and nearly everybody else—with the same message: get to Asakai.

An early example sent to HBC:

FYI IF YOU GET YOUR ASSES IN FLEET AND GET UP TO THAT [FUCKBALL] OF A LOWSEC FIGHT YOU WILL BE GETTING IN ON THE WHOLESALE MURDER OF THE *ENTIRE* CFC SUPERCAPITAL FLEET

GODSPEED AND GOOD LUCK  o7

[ed: edited for content.]

Another HBC message:

FRIENDS RAGE LOGIN EVERYTHING, IF YOU ARE JUST JOINING GET INTO DINGOGS FLEET WITH A SHIELD TANKED SHIP AND START BURNING,

Montolio, the former head of the TEST Alliance whose saber-rattling had nearly sparked a war between the two factions weeks earlier and had put him on a forced vacation, offered advice for noobs and sent TEST pilots off with a simple message:

Make me proud.

Realizing that essentially all of EVE was coming to destroy their biggest, most expensive toys, CFC set about trying to extract themselves from the fight. This wasn’t a small task, due in large part to the continued harassment of DnD and Lost Obsession. The use of DnD HICs would be keys to assisting Pandemic Legion in destroying two CFC Titans, including the Leviathan that sparked the whole affair. Two other keys in turning the fight to the HBC’s favor was the arrival of a 500-strong TEST Alliance fleet, mostly sub-capitals but trained in their use by Goonswarm itself, and the arrival of a fleet of 60 Black Legion dreadnoughts who—by pure coincidence—happened to have been performing a logistical exercise in the region. Before the end of the battle, Black Legion would destroy one of the three Titans the CFC lost at Asakai.

Throughout the battle, DnD and Lost Obsession’s HICs were key to trapping CFC ships in Asakai. As HICs are soft targets for heavily armed capital and supercapital ships, DnD and Lost Obsession quickly found themselves dangerously low on ships—nearly all of their HICs had been destroyed. At this point a member of Lost Obsession devised a clever plan to get more—travel to Jita, the trading hub of New Eden, buy as many HICs as they could stuff into the hold of the fastest freighter they could find, and park them in the neighboring Prism system. Before the end of the battle, DnD and Lost Obsession would purchase every HIC for sale in the regions around Asakai and in Jita. According to DnD head Sajuk Nigarra, they lost well over 20 of them before the battle was over.

By this point, tracking the arrivals of new fleets and alliances onto the field becomes nearly impossible. Suffice it to say that a full 10% of all players logged in to EVE at the time made an appearance at Asakai, either as part of their alliance or individually, just to score some credit for kills. At it’s peak the battle 2754 players were active at Asakai—and most of them were there to destroy the CFC.

The Ashes

The Battle of Asakai didn’t so much end as peter out. Once the CFC leaders realized that they weren’t going to be able to win the fight, they set themselves to extracting their most valuable ships.  Some were lost, but a lack of interdictors to pin CFC ships meant that most would escape.

Once the CFC managed to extract what they could, DnD and Lost Obsession decided it would be better to vacate the premises than stick around in a system shared with a number of aggressive alliances like TEST and Black Legion. Pandemic Legion would be one of the last alliances to leave the field, waiting until tidi and lag were low enough to allow them to jump out of Asakai as a coordinated group– a decision made to prevent leaving an isolated ship behind.

Despite playing a central role in sparking the fight, the Liandri Covenant did not lose much of value. Their POS survived the fight intact and was largely unmolested once DBRB’s Titan appeared on the scene to draw DnD’s ire. When the large capital ship fight was over, Liandri space was flooded with looters and scavengers skrimishing over the valuable wreckage of CFC and HBC casualties. Eventually they were able to gather enough force to make a few salvage runs themselves. From the scrap collected on the battlefield, the Liandri Covenant was able to provide each of its members with free EVE Online subscriptions for several months. Drunk and Disorderly and Lost Obsession did not wait around to collect salvage, despite being based in a neighboring system.

Shortly after the battle ended, CCP put out the statistics they’d generated on their servers. You can find that post here, and it’s well worth the read if you want to see some awesome graph porn.

The Pandemic Legion forces lost one supercarrier, four dreadnoughts, eight carriers, and several smaller sub-capital ships. While not small losses by any scale, they pale in comparison to the spectacular losses suffered by their CFC rivals. Before they were able to extract themselves from Asakai, CFC lost three Titans, six supercarriers, 29 carriers and 44 dreadnoughts. Taken together and converted to USD (something easily done in EVE, relative to other games), that totals nearly $15,000 in losses.  The vast majority of that comes from the loss of the Titans–each valued at roughly $3000.

In addition to the capital ship losses, both sides suffered nearly 850 sub-capital casualties—the majority of which were free “rookie frigates” provided to players free of cost if they don’t have a ship. This suggests that as players lost their ships, the jumped to the nearest station to refit themselves with their free newbie frigate and get back out into the fight.

Analysis

Given the large advantage that the CFC had in the early stages of the fight, one has to wonder why everything went so wrong for them. As near as I can tell, two things caused the battle to swing wildly in the HBCs favor. I make no claim to be an expert in EVE Online, so I stress that these are merely my opinions. If you have ideas of your own, feel free to post them in the comments.

The first of these was time dilation. When he warped in, Hedliner, the PL fleet commander, worried that tidi would “screw” him. Ironically, tidi was his salvation–buying his fleet enough time to begin making contacts with both other PL pilots and outside alliances. Without the space that tidi bought him, it’s very unlikely that PL would have emerged from the fight with as few casualties as it had.

The second factor in the CFCs loss was the universal willingness of other players to show up to destroy Goonswarm supercapitals. When they first appeared in New Eden, Goonswarm was incredibly disruptive and universally loathed—those grudges do not appear to have died.

CFC has been the been the entity with bigger numbers through all the years, in this particular opportunity everybody was happy to team up against them.”–Sajuk Nigarra, head of DnD.

Would such a large group of “neutral” alliances have shown up if it had been a TEST or Pandemic Legion supercapital fleet on the line? Probably. Kills are viewed as a valuable resource in EVE Online, and a fight of this size provided players with an opportunity to score a lot of them to boost their stats. But Goonswarm’s abrasive history and past bullying certainly didn’t do them any good–nobody refused the opportunity to come destroy the CFC supercapital fleet.

The location of the battle was an important factor as well.  That the fight occurred in a lowsec sector created a host of tactical issues for both factions. Had the fight occurred in nullsec, casualties would almost certainly have been higher on both sides. Early in the fight the CFC Titans would have used their Doomsday Devices to wreak havoc on Hedliner’s outgunned fleet. On the other hand, in nullsec HICs can be used to generate large interdiction “bubbles,” denying warp to all ships in large radius instead of merely to a single targeted ship..  This would certainly have trapped many CFC capitals and supercapitals in the system.  Hedliner estimated that if the fight had occurred in nullsec, the CFC would have lost nearly 60% of their forces deployed at Asakai.

Asakai’s central location also allowed rapid reinforcement once the entirety of New Eden began flooding the system. Near to both CFC and HBC controlled space, neither side had a distinct advantage approaching the system, meaning that the HBC could match CFC numbers until everybody else arrived. Aside from the main fight, many smaller side-battles were sparked in systems near Asakai as rival factions attempted to prevent the other side’s reinforcements from reaching Asakai. Enough of these battles raged that time-dilation was reported in nearly every system surrounding Asakai.

dOPa0aXh 620x348 Bright Lights of Asakai  Explaining one of the largest Player vs. Player battles in gaming history

Aftermath

In the end, what’s most surprising is how little the battle changed EVE Online. Despite taking a real drubbing, Goonswarm remains one of the wealthiest, most powerful alliances in all of New Eden, able to rebuild their losses with their technetium-derived wealth. DBRB, the Fleet Commander who’s misclick precipitated the massive escalation on both sides, was briefly banned from piloting Titans.  His Titan privileges were returned within a few weeks.

Ironically, despite winning a distinct victory on the battlefield, the Honey Badger Coalition did not long survive Asakai. In early May, the TEST alliance—the largest member of the HBC—announced that was leaving the coalition to strike out on its own. It remains to be seen what teeth the HBC can bring to bear without TEST Alliance’s muscle, or how the move will affect Goon/Test relations.

As I conclude this account, it’s tempting for me to attempt to create some sort of meaning, or lesson out of the events at Asakai, but I think that would be better left to others. I have attempted to merely present the information I was able to gather in as objective and clear a manner as I can—whether or not I have succeeded remains for the reader to decide.

Special thanks go out to the members of /r/EVE, /r/EVEdreddit, Gorky, Elise Randolph, Hedliner, Dabigredboat, the Mittani, Admiral Dovolski, Sajuk Nigarra, Sokor Loro, Sala Cameron, Shadoo,and Anonymous (a specific player, not the 4chan group—you know who you are) for their patience and willingness to explain the game, and to CCP for making EVE Online in the first place.