Outnumbered in Eve Online: surviving the biggest battle in MMO history

A massive war began in Eve Online in early July, pitting some of the game’s most powerful groups against one another. So far it’s been a slow burn, with multiple medium-sized engagements all over the spacefaring game’s southwestern sectors. On Sunday, the stakes rose considerably when a total of 8,825 players showed up for the single largest battle in the massively multiplayer game’s nearly 18-year history. When the smoke cleared, the faction known as Goonswarm was triumphant. But players tell Polygon that the war is far from over.

World War Bee 2 is an all-out assault against Goonswarm, a powerful player-led faction that has been a major part of the game’s culture for at least a decade. Leading that faction is one of Eve’s most notorious personalities — Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco. On the other side of the battle lines is a massive coalition, referred to as PAPI, led by a player known only as Vily. Speaking with Polygon last month, Vily said his goal is nothing less than the “extermination” of Gianturco’s forces, and the dissolution of his beloved Goonswarm.

Simply judging by sheer player count, PAPI has a significant advantage. Most estimates have them outmanning Goonswarm and its allies by roughly three-to-one — 50,000 characters holding out against 150,000, according to some reports. But, after 10 years of dominance, Goonswarm won’t be going down without a fight. It all adds up to the makings of a spectacular confrontation.

A 160-kilometer tall keepstar deployed by PAPI in Goonswarm’s region of Delve. More than 8,825 players would fight over it.
Image: CCP Games via Razorien

After working at Goonswarm’s flanks for two months, over the weekend PAPI’s forces finally crossed the line into the enemy’s home territory of Delve. They brought with them two massive structures called keepstars — Eve’s equivalent of Star Wars’ Death Star. These huge defensive structures stand 160 kilometers high and allow other massive ships to be ferried into the star systems where they are located. If these keepstars had been left in place to establish themselves, it would have opened up not one but two beachheads for PAPI’s fleets to flood ships into Goonswarm territory.

The enemy was at the gates, and it was up to Goonswarm fleet commander (FC) Asher to destroy those keepstars before they could anchor in place.

Polygon spoke with Asher on Discord on Wednesday, and he helped put the scale of the war and the significance of this battle into perspective.

Since July 5, Asher said, the ranks of Goonswarm’s allies have swelled. Players in Eve are allowed to use multiple accounts, but even still that represents a force of tens of thousands of real-life human beings. Of course, since the entire world (excluding some players in China) play on the same server, not everyone is awake or even available when big battles occur. Asher estimates that there were roughly 2,250 players fighting with Goonswarm over the weekend. Papi brought at least twice as many — more than 5,000.

One of Goonswarm’s Megathron-class battleships, which was pulled in too close by PAPI forces and destroyed
Image: CCP Games via Razorien

“When they have those kinds of numbers — when you have that kind of disadvantage,” Asher told Polygon, “there’s no such thing as a straight-up fight. […] We had to be creative, and we had to commit a lot.”

The strategy, as Asher explained it, was fairly complex. When PAPI deployed its first keepstar, Goonswarm scouts pinged it almost immediately and destroyed it in relatively short order. But, while that battle was still going on, PAPI deployed a second keepstar nearby. It was Goonswarm’s turn to go on the offensive. Asher’s challenge was to continually do damage to the starbase over an extended period of time, which was the only way to prevent PAPI from repairing it and establishing their beachhead.

To keep landing blows against the keepstar, Asher deployed a number of unusual new strategies. The main thrust came from massive wings of stealth bombers, with nearly 500 ships in all. Well ahead of the engagement, Asher plotted out multiple waypoints to create complex bombing runs. With those runs locked in, it was just a matter of individual pilots doing the work — often for hours and hours on end. The strategy paid off: After roughly 10% of the first wave of bombers were destroyed in the initial assault, the remaining pilots fell into a groove. Unable to target the small, invisible ships themselves, PAPI’s only recourse was to try to pluck their payloads out of the sky before they landed.

“They had surrounded the keepstar with ships called a Jackdaws,” Asher explained. “It’s a destroyer, and it has a unique property. It can carry a thing called a ‘defender launcher’ […] which homes in on the nearest bomb.”

Hundreds of Jackdaw-class destroyers were deployed to protect the keepstar.
Image: CCP Games via Razorien

He compared these hundreds of Jackdaws to automated a battery of close-in weapon systems (CIWS) — modern point-defense cannons that protect seaborn warships from incoming missile fire. Except, instead of a sophisticated radar-controlled robot, PAPI had to shoot down all of Goonswarm’s bombs more or less by hand.

To supplement the steady pounding of the bombers, Asher says that Goonswarm committed larger capital ships called dreadnaughts. They would warp into the battle from a nearby staging area, and acted as mid-range snipers who tried to do as much damage as possible before getting blown up.

“By the end of the fight,” Asher said, “we were flinging them at a pace of one every 30 seconds.”

Of course, when big battles like this kick off in Eve, the developers slow things down by a factor of 10. It’s a well-known feature of the MMO, called “time dilation.” In the fiction of the game world, Goonswarm’s four- and five-kilometer long dreadnaughts were warping in every three seconds.

The massive capital ships would also drop at different ranges, some as far as 300 kilometers away and others much closer. One dreadnaught even dropped in “at zero,” Asher said — nearly on top of the keepstar itself. One imagines a scene reminiscent of the D-Day landings, with massive U.S. Navy destroyers moving back and forth along the shoreline and pummeling German defenses to support the troops on the beach, only to eventually run aground.

A Naglfar-class dreadnaught warps “at zero” — on top of the keepstar itself — and is destroyed.
Image: CCP Games via Razorien

Developer CCP Games confirmed the details of the historic battle for Polygon on Thursday, which was fought in a star system named FWST-8. In total, 8,825 players (representing 11,258 player-owned accounts) were involved in the fight, with a peak concurrent total of 6,557 players at one time. That makes it the biggest fight in Eve history.

The battle raged for 14 hours, and the destruction was catastrophic. At least 3,765 warships destroyed — including 362 capital ships, each worth thousands of real-world dollars.

But Asher’s plan paid off. PAPI’s second keepstar was brought down, and The Imperium’s home system of Delve remains safe — for now.

Even in victory, Asher knows that the war isn’t over. He said that PAPI is still positioned in neighboring systems, ready to launch its next attack. Another pair of keepstars could drop inside Delve at virtually any moment. Can Goonswarm keep sending ships to the front lines in these kinds of numbers? Asher remains confident.

“It won’t come down to [in-game] resources,” Asher said. “It never does, even at this scale. It’s not going to be resources; it’s going to be manpower.”

The battle at FWST-8 might make headlines for its size, but to Asher there’s much more significance to the engagement. In the early hours of Monday morning, around 3 a.m. ET, the fleet commander was left to bask in the cheers of hundreds of allied players in chat. Fighting the biggest battle of all time and winning has sent morale through the roof.

“When a guy flies in my fleet,” Asher said, “he’s paid $15 — or, whatever, 1,000 rubles — for the pleasure of doing so. So that’s why I tell all my [subordinate commanders] that every fleet is an audition. You’re auditioning so that they come to your next fleet. And so, if they aren’t enjoying it, they’re not going to come — because they’re paying money to do it.”

“So, these fights are about morale.” he continued. “They’re about human resources.”

If you’re interested in joining the next big battle, now is a great time to jump into Eve Online. If you want to join on with PAPI as an attacker, the best place to get started is by heading to the Pandemic Horde’s official website or their Reddit page. If you’d rather join the defenders in Goonswarm and The Imperium, head to the recruitment page for an allied organization known as Karmafleet.

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