War doesn't always start with a carefully planned attack – sometimes all it takes is a single mistake. On the afternoon of January 27th, 2014, a single pilot in the game "EVE Online" forgot to pay rent on a space station in a strategically valuable star system. His negligence started one of the biggest battles in the history of online gaming, lasted 21 hours, involved over seven thousand players and saw $300,000 worth of ships destroyed.
"EVE Online" is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game where players can pilot a wide variety of spaceships. The game has very little structure and encourages players to do almost anything they want; raiding helpless ships for quick cash is just as legitimate as working as an independent trader. To build ships and unlock better technology, players need to mine ore and invest time and interstellar kredits (ISK). However, the process is time-consuming and usually requires dedicated players banding together into corporations and alliances to unlock the game's most powerful ships and technology.
The average player can achieve moderate success in small corporations by performing various jobs such as trading, raiding, and mining. But only large corporations, and alliances composed of corporations, are capable of vying for control of entire star systems. Wars between these groups can last for months and are fought for different reasons, but at the core of each fight is the accumulation and consolidation of resources.
EVE's in-game economy is so complex that CCP Games, the game's developers, hired an economist to manage it. That they took on Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson, a PhD holder with 15 years of experience, is testament to the complexity and depth of EVE's economy. According to Hilmar Pétursson, CEO of CCP Games, "‘EVE Online' may be set in the future, but the skills needed to play are rooted in the real world of today. Players operate vast corporations whose shares are traded in-game among players so economic strength and agility is key to their success. Just as entrepreneurs and executives rely on real-world economic indicators, EVE Online players need timely information and analysis of the in-game economy."
The center of Monday's conflict was a region called B-R5RB, which had been recently taken over by the H A V O C corporation under the flag of the Pandemic Legion alliance. Around noon, EVE's servers did not receive payment from H A V O C for their space station, thus opening up control of the system. Although the system wasn't rich in resources, it acted as a staging ground for the Pandemic Legion in a war that's been raging since October. In this so-called Halloween War, many battles have been fought all across the "EVE Online" universe in small, fleeting engagements.
Once control of the system had been dropped, the CFC Alliance, enemies of Pandemic Legion, and a variety of Russian forces seized the opportunity and sent in thousands of ships. Their goal was to capture the station so that a large percentage of Pandemic Legion assets stationed there -- hundreds of capital and sub-capital ships -- would be inaccessible.
Pandemic Legion and their allies, the N3 coalition, attempted to maintain control by dropping territorial control units (TCU) all over the system, but each one was destroyed before it could take effect. When that strategy failed, Pandemic Legion and N3 brought in a small fleet of capital and super-capital ships to defend the station itself. Since this fleet was noticeably smaller than the CFC Alliance and Russian forces, the aggressors brought in the bulk of their fleets and left smaller flotillas at gateway systems to stall incoming reinforcements.
As the fighting wore on, B-R5RB became clogged with over two thousand players and over 100 Titans, the game's largest and most powerful type of ship. Titans are so massive that they require thousands of hours to manufacture, months of training for a pilot to fly, and can equip weapons capable of destroying entire fleets of smaller ships. Each Titan requires roughly $3,000 in purchased time and ISK to produce, and the cost of the battle quickly escalated to well over $300,000.
Because CFC and Russian players blocked access to the system, they were able to prevent Pandemic Legion and N3 from receiving reinforcements in an effective amount of time. Titans became so pivotal in the battle that once Pandemic Legion and N3 lost their ability to destroy CFC Titans, they effectively lost. Retreat was difficult, and CFC forces mopped up whoever couldn't run away.
The battle was so large that CCP Games is developing an in-game monument for the site of the battle. The company compiled a thorough analysis of the battle as well as a few staggering figures:
- 75 Titans destroyed
- Total assets destroyed worth 11 trillion ISK
- 7,548 pilots took part with 2,670 max in the B-R5RB system at any given moment
- 717 corporations fought
- 55 alliances involved
The aftermath of the battle has widespread ramifications for "EVE Online." Currently, the price of tritanium ore, a resource necessary to build ships, has skyrocketed. Although the CFC dealt a crippling blow to Pandemic Legion and N3, they must still be careful in how they strategize to gain control of more systems without losing too many assets. Players have, by in large, reacted positively to the event as it represents the height of excitement only an emergent MMO can provide. One fan has even produced a song to glorify the event. Manfred Sideous, commander of Pandemic Legion's fleet, said in a YouTube video: "We will retake [the system] if possible. I hope nobody quits over this fight. It has been truly epic to be part of as it's the largest fight in the history of online gaming. It's a shame if someone quits; this is all part of the game and a ship hull is the price of admission for fun fights. This is EVE – HTFU."
For a review of the battle from the perspective of the victor, Mittani of CFC has written a summary here. Anyone considering entering EVE should seriously consider following a beginner's guide, such as this one on the "EVE Online" subreddit. A history of notable events in "EVE Online" can be found on this wiki, and a month-long free trial can be accessed through the game's main website.