Invasions are one of the more common events in
nullsec, yet they are always the focus of intense interest, captivating
the attention of the playerbase. The vast majority of invasions fail,
with the aggressing alliance falling afoul of the defender's forces,
running out of momentum, or suffering a grievous self-inflicted error
in judgement. In short, odds are good that an invasion in nullsec is
going to be an utter trainwreck, and on the off chance that things go
smoothly, the carnage on the defending side (and the ensuing drama and
cascade) is just as entertaining.
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align="right">Yet despite the commonality of invasions in nullsec
and their repeated
public failures, the actual mechanics of why invasions fail is rarely
discussed. Usually, the aggressing party retreats to lick its wounds
while loudly trumpeting obscurantist propaganda to cover the shame of
failure. Lies and deception are a critical aspect of war, and in EVE as
in real life the old chestnut of 'attacking in the other direction'
isn't just a terrible cliche, it's common practice.
Recently, my alliance invaded Esoteria to assault the residents there,
Systematic Chaos (SysK). Like most invasions, things went terribly
wrong and we ran into the spaceship-game equivalent of a brick wall.
But rather than trumpet the old bromides to mask a failure ("We're
better than you" or "We still control your game"), let's have a sober
look at an assault gone awry.
Like most invasions, failures began adding up in the planning stage.
Three occurred before a shot was fired.
EVE is a spaceship game, and sometimes people get bored. Actually, an
awful lot of the time. Some wars are started out of a need for an
alliance to grow to deal with an expanding membership; some are
motivated by personal, long-standing grudges. Goonswarm invaded SysK
because the directorate were bored and had nothing better to do.
Initially we went to Esoteria to help a few dissident corporations in
SysK overthrow their leader, who had allegedly been treating them like
pets. But once we arrived, that situation had changed and the
corporations we hoped to help had backed out of their plan. We then
concocted a reason to excuse our boredom, something about "removing
SysK to change the balance of power between GS and Stainwagon," the
power bloc SysK is a member of, but that rationale doesn't stand up to
serious scrutiny - defensive war brings blocs closer together, rather
than breaking them apart. If you're going to throw an invasion, do it
for a hard, obvious reason. If it takes longer than 15 seconds to
explain, you need a better cassus belli. Invasions require a clear
Having decided to go to war with SysK 'because', the Goonswarm
directorate announced this Grand New Plan to the membership in an
offhand way. There was no propaganda campaign to get pilots fired up,
engaged and interested in the adventure. Wars, like all mass movements,
need to be sold. When the invasion began to falter due to a crushing
lack of interest on the part of our pilots, the directorate backed up
and attempted to explain why we were in Esoteria - only to run afoul of
the '15 second rule' mentioned above. But regardless of twisted
rationales, all invasions need to begin with a drumming up of support
and interest. If you begin the process after the first shots have been
fired, you seem like you're trying to dig yourself out of a hole,
rather than rallying around the flag.
A proper invasion can't be delegated to a small group of people.
Directors tend to have critical positions in an alliance, and those
positions have necessary functions. When we ran into Esoteria, the
whole show was being managed on a day-to-day basis by a bare handful of
directors; the rest of the 'leadership' was blissfully ignoring the war
and going about their usual business (stealing moon goo, no doubt).
When things began going hellishly wrong, the directors 'in the know'
were overwhelmed with work, and those who hadn't been paying attention
to the war couldn't help shoulder the burden. Director disengagement at
the outset of the war was a killer.
Once battle was joined and Goonswarm was knee deep into Esoteria,
things began to fly apart at the seams at the strategic level. Strategy
in EVE is a hard concept to grasp, given the many nuances and
irrationalities of sov warfare. However, with an engaged directorate
and a clear goal for a war, a consensus can develop which protects an
invasion from the more obvious blunders. Having neither of these,
Goonswarm wallowed about making newbie alliance mistakes. For example,
the hardest target for an alliance to attack is an enemy outpost (as
opposed to a R64 moon, a bridge tower or a CSAA tower). Goonswarm
attacked SysK with their allies Zenith Affinity, a younger and less
numerous alliance. However, rather than sending the main force against
the hardest target, Goonswarm deployed against a bridge system and
Zenith Affinity attacked an outpost. Not wise! Then we deployed the
wrong sort of tower to try to seize the bridge system - 'deathstars'
rather than 'dickstars', in nullsec parlance. Our previous errors in
planning blossomed into errors in practice.
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addition, we had screwed up the diplomatic side of war. When you think
about invading a target and you run the idea past your allies and
friends and they respond with crushing disinterest, that needs to be
carefully weighted. The reaction of our war-buddies and allies to the
Esoteria adventure was a resounding 'meh'. We went through with it
anyway, and found ourselves fighting nearly alone, save for Zenith
Affinity. By contrast, SysK had friends close at hand geographically
and motivated emotionally. Goonswarm's allies had nothing to gain from
attacking SysK (just like Goonswarm had nothing to gain) while SysK and
their allies were fighting to protect a near and dear friend. This
little miscalculation saw the normally blobtastic Swarm outnumbered
700:100 at one point. Yikes. If you're going to invade somewhere, make
sure you consider the diplomatic situation more carefully than we did.
Of particular embarrassment to me, the espionage angle of the invasion
was completely neglected. Because SysK was no real strategic threat to
Goonswarm, we had practically no intelligence on them, and no GIA
agents deployed to their alliance. We went to war blind anyway, and my
network hadn't done any real preparation - again, the fault of director
disengagement, but a special black mark for me.
That is quite a laundry list. Within about five days, the invasion of
Esoteria was faltering, SysK's allies were energized and engaged, and
we were the butt of even more jokes than usual. Even though Goonswarm
is not an 'Elite' alliance - we readily admit we're terrible at the
game - this was bad, even for us. However, amidst all of the idiocy, we
did manage to do one thing right - we acknowledged that the situation
was unsalvageable and severed.
When faced with trying to belatedly sell the war in Esoteria, we
half-ironically settled on a Vietnam gimmick. The problem with so many
mishandled invasions is that they end up quagmiring, like a real-life
Vietnam or Afghanistan. Having made an obvious series of blunders,
invading forces will most of the time double down, throwing more pilots
and towers into a war which, viewed clearly, has already failed.
Alliance leaders are politicians, even in a spaceship game; losing a
war is hard, but admitting defeat is even worse.
The second most common alternative to doubling down is lying furiously
while trying to escape with dignity, but this tends to result in a
public relations disaster. So many invasions have failed in EVE over
the years that all but the most sycophantic of observers can see when
an attacker has embarrassed themselves. In 2008, BoB loudly proclaimed
that their failed MAX campaign against the Northern Coalition wasn't
actually a disaster. After suffering a series of losses, they abruptly
moved to the other side of the galaxy and began attacking Goonswarm.
'Attacking elsewhere' fooled no one; they were mocked unceasingly for
The hardest choice is to cut one's losses, opting for a quick and
unsubtle severance of the attack. This is, to our credit, what
Goonswarm did in Esoteria. By not dragging out the war and admitting
defeat, an item of daily news and drama dropped off the playerbase's
radar in record time; one of the big problems with doubling down on a
failing invasion is that it drags out the 'news cycle' for the
chattering classes to giggle over. From messy invasion to abrupt
withdrawal, the SysK/GS war was in the spotlight for less than a week,
and quickly overwhelmed by more interesting stories, such as CVA's
disbanding due to a hacker and IT Alliance's formation and
well-publicized assault on Pandemic Legion (which is going about as
well as these things typically do).
The essence of wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others; perhaps
you can profit from our errors. Good luck with your next invasion, and
try not to repeat these common mistakes - or let your leaders get away
with lying to you about them.
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