Whale War One: An FC's Perspective

When I wrote my first post about this war just shy of 3 weeks ago, I had planned to do regular updates highlighting interesting battles, objectives, progress and the changing narratives of both sides. However I got a little too tied up participating in the war and knew I wouldn't be able to do my usual knowledge-based approach to blog posts without revealing too much sensitive information from my side.

Personally I'm in two corps simultaneously with my activity in each one fluctuating depending on what we're up to. The bulk of my characters are in Hard Knocks Inc. (or associated alt corps) since W-Space is a naturally alt-heavy endeavour, while the rest of my characters are in Adversity, a recently joined member corp of PL. Last year after being in HK for a few months, I put a couple alts into TEST with the explicit intention of FCing as much as possible. Lucky for me, the Tribute war kicked off mere weeks later and with Progod going AWOL days into the campaign I had plenty of opportunities to do so. I've now played this game for so long and in so many diverse groups that simply participating doesn't really do much for me. I derive my enjoyment from playing an active role in campaigns whether than be as an FC, a logistics guy, or whatever. In short, I get my kicks from being able to point at something and say "that happened because of me".

Having lacked that in HK somewhat due to the nature of W-Space and also in PL the 6 months I've been a member due to a number of factors, when I found out that Goons were heading north I was determined to get involved. PL wasn't exactly lacking in active FCs or capable logistics folks (the roles I've typically filled), so I decided to ask Gobbins about FCing for Horde. He was happy to oblige and welcomed me into the fold.

Deployment

On Wednesday the 2nd of August at 1900 EVE time, the highly anticipated State of the Goonion took place. In it, The Mittani declared that the Imperium would be moving north to hit back at their enemies who had previously kicked them from their homeland from a low sec staging. The first move ops began immediately after the SOTG. Despite what I'd describe as "opsec theatre" to try and hide their final destination, it was all but confirmed by what I'll simply call "The North" (PanFam/NC/MC/GOTG) within 45 minutes. The parameters described in the SOTG pretty much narrowed it down to the Urpiken constellation in Black Rise (probably Villasen) or the Mito constellation in Lonetrek (typically Hakonen). All it took was about 20 minutes of scouting for citadels, POS's and corporation offices in those systems to confirm beyond reasonable doubt that Hakonen was indeed the destination.

It did take some fairly major logistical gymnastics for the major groups living there to rapidly deploy back home. Pandemic Legion were deployed to Jamunda in Curse alongside Waffles who had more recently deployed to Assah in Derelik for the "Anime War". PL had intentionally left their super fleet back in Tribute save a handful of bridging titans, partly to help defend their renter empire but mostly as a way of tying their hands behind their backs in hope it would encourage the locals to fight.

Northern Coalition were deployed to Gehi in Khanid scrapping with The Imperium over low sec moons.

Mercenary Coalition were getting comfortable in their newly anchored FD-MLJ Keepstar in Syndicate with NC.'s supercap fleet deployed nearby to help against INIT and Snuff.

Guardian's of the Galaxy who have been staged in Deklein for most of the last year were already deployed nearby to their WLF-D3 Keepstar in Venal to mount a defence against TEST's deployment to MTO2-2.

Within 48hrs of the deployment, all of these groups had deployed back home in full force. PL and NC moved back to the PL Keepstar in M-OEE8, with both of their super fleets also being repositioned from elsewhere in the north. NC for the most part simply moved over the ships they already had in P3EN-E, PL leveraged the wealth they'd generated from the north to simply buy new ships in M-O. MC did likewise, using both newly bought and previously owned ships in their pocket of Tribute. GOTG simply did one easy mid to the NC Keepstar in 0-YMBJ.

While a major hassle, the feeling for all involved was that it was well worth the effort for the fun in the fights to come.

As stated repeatedly in Imperium propaganda, this resulted in two major outcomes:

Week 1

The Imperium actually started out quite strong in the opening days. Creating almost a hundred Aegis Sov timers in the first 72 hours of the deployment, and RFing 3 seperate Sotiyos in the first few days. The fleet numbers started out really strong too, almost managing to max out 3 full fleets on several occasions. Despite this however, they failed to meaningfully follow-up on the timers they created and this pretty much set the pace for the war to come.

The first fleet I personally FC'd was the first defense of the NC Sotiyo in PBD-0G. Not really knowing what to expect from Horde, I made sure we formed up our Machariel fleet nice and early. As I said about pace setting, here's what happened:

The North formed in full force with PL and NC deploying sub and supercapital fleets. The system was jammed. All fleets were then positioned around the gate, with a spread of half a dozen titans position to BFG the gate should the enemy fleet jump in. I took both the Horde and NC subcap fleets to the cyno jammer POS to defend it incase The Imperium tried to blops bridge in torp bombers to incap the cyno jammer. With only 3 subcap fleets (A Typhoon, Cane and Jackdaw fleets) and no way to cyno in their dread bomb, The Imperium accepted the impossibility of this situation and found a different Sotiyo to reinforce. This exact scenario occurred 3 days in a row. PBD was saved another was reinforced, the other one was saved then PBD was re-rf'd, then again PBD was saved but it now being a new week PL and NC had the opportunity to fix the Vulnerability windows of their Sotiyos to stop this happening for a fourth time.

This demonstrated to both sides that it would be impossible for The Imperium to win a structure timer in Tribute or Vale thus a new strategy was required. As expected, The Imperium turned their attention to the IHUBs in key systems.

While an overwhelming Supercapital fleet may allow you to win and hold control of any single grid you desire, this means very little when contesting an Aegis Sov timer. Under Aegis Sov, the name of the game is agility and the meta has largely settled on Claws and Raptors alongside cheap and disposable but tanky Entosis ships for the attackers. The attackers need to defend their Entosis ships, but the defenders need only keep their nodes clear so that they self-complete.

The ability to coordinate 5 different alliances in highly agile interceptor fleets against a single cohesive enemy was my primary worry going into this war. However as it turned out I needn't have worried.

The problem with sitting your alliance in a stagnant area of space for long periods of time is that you don't give your FCs a chance to develop. Newbies become first-time FCs, become skirmish FCs, become strat FCs. It's a conveyor belt for which conflict is the motor. Losing high-level highly experienced FCs to burn out, boredom and simply life is a constant so you need a continuous supply of fresh faces moving up the chain to replace them - but more importantly - to learn from the old guard on their way out. The last 2-3 years have not been kind to The Imperium in this regard.

Despite being some of cheapest ships in the game, the agility and intensity of interceptor fleets gives little time for thinking and makes them actually very difficult to FC effectively. While in groups like Horde or GOTG there are dozens of fresh faces who're at least willing to give it a shot, The Imperium's stagnation has left them with little talent capable of doing this. So while I could often leave Interceptor fleets to other FCs so they could get in on the action and learn too (and let me take a night off to avoid burn out), the Imperium had pretty much the same 5-10 people FCing every single Typhoon, Hurricane, Jackdaw and Claw fleet of note.

While that can work for surprisingly long periods of time if those FCs are truly willing to "no life" a campaign, it leaves you lacking in helping hands to delegate to. People to logi anchor, to split a fleet in 3 to cover different timers, to target call for a capital fleet, to burn cynos, to have eyes/scouts, to backup when you get headshot, etc. That's exactly where their interceptor fleets fell apart.

Having 250 interceptors in a big ball isn't particularly useful because there's not a single sub-capital ship in the game that isn't going to die in seconds to that number of ships. What you want is multiple groups of 50-100 Interceptors that can operate autonomously and meetup again if needed. Every time the Imperium tried to split up their fleets during timers, they simply lacked talent to delegate to. So they ended up either feeding, or sticking together in these massive balls while the other smaller fleets simply out maneuvered them. In the end, throughout the whole war, they only captured 2 Aegis Sov objectives of significance:

  • The PBD-0G IHUB (4 days after it mattered)
  • The TVN-FM Station (with most of the leg work done by TEST)

They killed maybe a dozen other Sov structures in largely low ADM irrelevant systems, but for the most part those were down to a conscious decision on the part of the north to let the timers go as we didn't want to burn out our members. The problem with hype is that if you hype everything, then nothing is hype.

Week 2

The second week of the war was almost entirely defined by one thing: The Imperium's numerous attempts to get a staging Fortizar up in Hakonen. The first attempt began with dropping it on the 7th of August for an 0200 EVE Time timer on Monday night. In terms of timezones, 0200 is just deep enough into US TZ that you're unlikely to see any but the most hardcore Europeans staying up for it. This time of year, that's 3am for the UK and 4am for most of Central Europe. PL and NC have both seen a major drought of US TZ content the last few months too. I've heard a number of folks in various alliances refer to US TZ as "the new AU TZ" in response to the lack of major timers in that timezone due to Timezone Tanking. I can only assume that their logic was that PL and NC's US TZ (both leadership and line members) would be rusty, but it was very much the opposite. Specifically in PL, you had tons of people resubbing for some finally guaranteed content after being bored for quite a long time.

The Imperium ended up putting up a solid fight with a decent game plan for the first timer. The North formed in full force with PL and NC bringing supercarriers on grid right from the start, along with a handful of titans to keep the Citadel timer paused and provide Phenomena Generator effects that signifcantly buffed the EHP of all the tanky armor battleships on the North's side. Also creating a significant Thermal hole in The Imperium's tank that we were able to exploit. The majority of the titans and FAXes were held back as they were simply not needed.

Despite their best efforts, their isn't a whole lot 2 Typhoon fleets and a single Hurricane fleet can do against 3 Machariel fleets, an Abaddon fleet, a hundred supercarriers. The full battle report can be seen here. The North lost 37B to The Imperium's 98B including the Fortizar itself.

Just two day's later on Wednesday night, they tried again at roughly the same time. The game plan going in on both sides was almost identical, but it ended up as a much bloodier affair.

Firstly, a Darkness Nyx was killed at a safe spot due to a bug with cynoing in. Currently there is a bug in tidi where when jumping to a cyno or through a gate, you can land in a mostly random position in system. I've personally experienced it twice this war titan bridging (including jumping into system in the previous Fortizar timer). The Imperium experienced it themselves earlier this year losing 4 Aeons to it in Catch back when TEST and CO2 were invading the south-east. Unfortunately things like this are simply a reality of fighting in extreme tidi.

Despite flying Cruise Typhoons capable of applying damage from well beyond 200km, The Imperium decided that their plan going into this timer would be to warp in on the enemy fleets at zero and try to use their ewar to mitigate damage. While effective and netting them 83 Machariel kills over the course of the fight (largely against the GOTG and Horde fleets), it put them in perfect range for the supercarriers to apply their damage fully. Their first Typhoon fleet dived right on to my Horde Machariel fleet that was positioned about 50km from the other battleship fleets and ~60km from the supercarriers, while the second Typhoon fleet dove right into the middle of the other BS fleets and supercarriers on to the GOTG Machariels. The second Typhoon fleet was completely destroyed, phoons, logi, links and all with barely a single surviving ship. By the time that fleet was gone, my Machariel fleet had managed to use our greater speed to pull range on the first Typhoon fleet losing only about 20 Machariels out of a total of 140. With the second Typhoon fleet gone and the DPS turning on them, they made the wise decision to bug out.

At this point, the fight seemed all but over and the Fort was at 60% HP. However TEST cynoed in about 20 sniper dreads approximately 200km off the supercarriers with the intention of clearing the Dozen or so Triage apostles that had been key to mitigating losses for both Horde and GOTG. Fortunately Shadow Cartel had offered their assistance for the timer as they thought it'd be fun, and they ended up dropping their close range dreads on top of the TEST sniper dreads and completely demolishing them.

This of course prompted TEST to bring in their large Nightmare fleet (that had previously been kept out of the fight through the use of repeated "GTFO" Doomsdays that scatter subcaps across a system) in on the Shadow Cartel dreads. In response to this, we quickly repositioned all of The North's subcap fleets to defend them, killing a few Nightmares in the process. Goons decided to try and warp in on this again, but immediately realised their mistake as TEST warped out and warped right back out themselves with minimal losses.

After a little more tidi grinding, the Fortizar finally fell. Amusingly to me, the Erebus "I'm Harmless" got top damage, a titan that played the critical role of bait in another famous fight.

By the time the third Fortizar was dropped exactly a week later, it was clear that morale had dropped through the floor. The Imperium formed barely half the numbers they had done for the 2 previous Fortizars. Their Typhoon fleet simply spent the whole affair sitting on a friendly Citadel not engaging, and all of their kills were from just probing DCs.

The fourth and final Fortizar, interestingly, was dropped 16 hrs later in EU TZ. Expecting some kind of serious defense or some kind of secret plan, we formed once again in full force. In reality, they actually just let it die and went about 20 jumps over to Placid to kill a random NC midpoint Fortizar. The spin in this was that it was eye for an eye, but realistically a midpoint Citadel miles outside the sphere of conflict versus a staging Fortizar in your staging system are not the same thing.

Interesting, it looked like their plan was to try and reinforce Northern Coalition's Keepstar in Vey right next door to this Fortizar, but the second we started moving our fleets in that direction after deciding to defend it there and then rather than turning up for a timer, they retreated and started heading home.

Week 3

Throughout the war, GSF had been trying to drop Astrahuses all over Tribute affectionately named "Roach Motels". These Citadels would then be freeported, allowing a sort of Crowd Sourcing of the harassment of Tribute. While these had been a key aspect of the war from day 1, they ramped up the rate at which they were dropped during Week 2, which given a 6 day anchor time under Strategic Index 5 system meant they mostly came out towards the end of Week 2/3.

They often tried to time them to come out at the same time as the Hakonen Fortizars, but between Mercenary Coalition and secondary Horde fleets, they were almost all destroyed. This is why you'll not see many Mercenary Coalition on any of the Hakonen battle reports, they were too busy taking one for the team keeping Tribute clear of Imperium structures.

The last huge fight of this war was the capital brawl in Nalvula. Ironically, this was actually Snuff bait in the first place. The Imperium went out with a small cane fleet and a few carriers to bash some unimportant pocos. PL of course got eyes on this very quickly, and set up to DD them. In comes 3 titans including Killah Bee's Vanquisher. The Doomsdays go off, the carriers tank, thinking emoji's ensue. In warps in Pilgrim, up goes and cyno, and down in comes a Snuff subcap fleet.

Luckily the 3 titans who jumped in were all PL FCs, so rage pings start going out and help arrives in time. As the pings are going out, in comes a large group of dreads from both Snuff, PM and The Imperium. The North however responded quickly and flooded in dozens of Apostles within minutes, quickly repping up the Vanquisher and were replaced on grid quicker than they could be killed.

As more supercaps flooded in, Snuff quickly realised this wasn't going to work and extracted as much as possible. The Imperium did like wise, but most of the dreads were already tackled. According to the final BR, The Imperium and Snuff/PM lost 530B to The North's 195B. It should also be noted that PL managed to loot about 100B from the field afterwords which was subsequently used to SRP all the Apostles lost. You can see a video from a PL super perspective here.

Another interesting engagement was the Perimeter Fortizar. Essentially The Imperium just fed canes into the thing and kept reshipping from Jita like they were horses with blinders pretending the enemy fleet wasn't there. While it worked, I'd hardly call it a viable long term strategy especially with them going home.

By the end of the third week, incursions into Tribute had been almost exclusively downgraded to Jackdaws with the odd Hurricane fleet, about half a dozen Roach Motels had got online, and no offensive progress of any significance had been made. TEST ended their Obe deployment, and on Wednesday the 23rd of August, exactly 3 weeks after the original SOTG, the Imperium announced the beginning of move fleets back to Delve.

Strategic Critique

There's 2 key areas in which they made fatal flaws with this deployment:

  1. Doctrines
  2. Narrative (or rather, managing expectations)

Doctrines

So I don't want to turn this post into another EFT thread, but their doctrines are so abysmally bad that it doesn't take a lot of words to explain.

Typhoons

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On paper these are actually not terrible. They have decent damage, amazing range, and the ewar is really nice. However they're completely dumpstered by a single factor that anyone with a brain knows is going to be an element of a war like this: missiles don't work properly in extreme tidi. The damage delay is too much, the missiles don't land at the same time so you don't get a clean volley, and sometimes they just fail to spawn when they're supposed to. Compare this to any turret based platform. There might be significant delay and especially horrific cycle time on Artillery (nearly 3 minutes real time on Horde's Machariels), but it hits reliably when and where you want it to.

Hurricanes

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I still haven't entirely absorbed the fact that a group of actual coalition level FCs sat down, looked at this fit, and thought "great lets buy a thousand of them". Originally I thought the idea might be to unify their non-frigate doctrines as armor so people only needed to buy one set of support/logi ships in Hakonen, but nope some further killboard snooping showed they've been using these for a while down in Delve/Querious. Look, having a passive tanked doctrine to grind Citadels I kinda get, but you're trading so much for it on an artillery Hurricane. The AB and EWAR mids seem cool, but they just completely miss the point of the role the Hurricane plays in the current meta. For comparison, here's the standard shield Hurricane fit used by alliances all over EVE.

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It has more tank, goes 1800m/s with an MWD, more range, more tracking, and you can do an AC refit with stonking DPS if you feel like it. It also has really respectable resists for a T1 doctrine. I don't think The Imperium shot a single online Citadel with them all war.

Jackdaws

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This is actually the least questionable of the doctrines. The fit is okay, the problem is what they kept trying to do with it.

Historically the CFC/Imperium have always had a mainline doctrine, a "cheap" doctrine (T1 cruiser) and a frigate/tackle doctrine. When Jackdaws originally came out, I really thought they were the perfect ship for that tackle fleet role, although probably a little expensive. You can tell whoever came up with this fit disagreed. Nevermind the hull, this shit is T2 rigged at a cost of 15m and uses ~25m of faction shield extenders.

The reason for this, is that they actually try to fight stuff with it. It's not a tackle ship, it is an actual bonified brawling ship. I legitimately could not believe it when a Goon FC agreed to an arranged fight with me in RLML Caracals. We had 45 in fleet with only T1 logi to his 110, but the confidence that showed in this ship just blew my mind. The battle report speaks for itself.

If you factor in the basic insurance, these ships are like 20m cheaper than a T1 BS. They're 2-3x the price of a T1 BC. I don't understand the logic here, but I was quite happy with the kills.

I would imagine these points are largely what Laz was falling out with the GSF EFT team over.

Narrative

Mittani just can't announce a deployment like a normal alliance leader can he? From the second they said "we're leaving supers in Delve", it was obvious this was a content deployment. This wasn't an invasion, it wasn't to "teach the North a lesson". It wasn't to gain Syndicate moons. It was just to have some fun shooting people. And that is totally okay, so why are they afraid to say that?

The problem is threefold. Firstly, it galvanises the resolve of the people you're attacking. This isn't just fun, this is a fight for survival. Secondly, it makes you look really stupid to both your own members and the rest of EVE when you don't make any of the strategic progress you promised you would but never intended to. Thirdly, it causes your members to doubt you in future when you really do mean it. What happens 6 months from now if The Imperium really do decide to invade someone to leave Delve? How will their members know it's serious?

A little honesty goes a long way, and managing expectations keeps people in fleet when you need them, and stops people from getting annoyed when you don't.

Thoughts

EVE's been really stagnant for a while now. I don't think we're on the right track yet, but it was nice having something actually happen for a change. Personally it was a really refreshing experience FCing for Horde. My circle of friends and acquaintances is filled with lots of really old EVE players a lot of which are super bitter about how the game is right now. It was nice flying with newer folks who're just excited about everything, and getting to share little tricks, tips and mechanics that I've known for years, but hearing them get as excited as I remember I was when I first heard about them.

Conclusion

So was this deployment a success? Well it depends who you ask. Everyone in the North is really glad you came and we had a lot of fun getting some good fights. I'm sure a lot of Imperium line members are really happy for getting to do something too. Roams are nice, but there's nothing like a good objective to fight over. If you ask GSF leadership? Who cares man, their goalposts are probably in orbit by now.