Sins of a Solar Spymaster #50: Painful Lessons - Atlas Routed
The essence of wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. Its one thing to hurt yourself and learn not to do the same thing again, its a far superior thing to determine what to do/not to do based off the travails of others, without having to make their costly errors yourself. In the coming weeks, Im going to be writing a series of columns about painful lessons in EVE, case studies of catastrophe and gross negligence. Contrary to the incessant propaganda that surrounds the dramas of the game, the demise of an alliance has manifold causes; theres not one single thing that goes wrong, but a whole compilation of mistakes and errors in judgment leading up to a failure cascade. Our first example will be Atlas Alliance, who has recently suffered a whole range of setbacks as their territory is invaded and capital systems fall.
Atlas has a fairly lengthy history which isnt relevant to their current situation. Their modern form began after Goonswarm abandoned its southeastern holdings after disbanding Band of Brothers; as soon as the invasion of Delve in the Second Great War began, seven regions of formerly Swarm-held territory opened up in a massive power vacuum. Atlas moved in and set up shop, largely unopposed. Its primary regional base was Detorid, Tenerifis and Omist.
As is common for major alliances, Atlas installed a number of lesser pet entities in its border regions to the north, such as Gentlemens Club, Honourable Templum of Alcedonia, Cult of War and Primary between Scalding Pass, Wicked Creek and Insmother. These pets were the buffer between Atlas and its major bloc-level foes in Red Alliance, Legion of Death, and Solar Fleet, the Russian-speaking overlords of the Drone Regions.
With the exception of attacks from Insmother and the Drone Russians, Atlas was viewed as almost impregnable in its security; its western flank was guarded by another bloc-level alliance, Against All Authorities in Catch. While individually -A- or Atlas could find themselves vulnerable; together they were more than a match for any bloc.
The roots of todays crisis began in the summer of 2009, when Atlas, flush from their seizure of Omist, Detorid and Tenerifis, began to contest Insmother, homeland of both Red Alliance and the spiritual home of all the Russian-speaking alliances of EVE. The leadership of Red Alliance was in disarray, and the famous capital system of C-J6 began to trade hands, eventually falling securely under Atlass hold, but at the price of the burning enmity of every Drone-region Russian. The insult of C-J6 being held by a non-Russian was enough to unite the fractious and somewhat complacent factions to Atlass north.
In June 2010, a coalition of alliances such as Goonswarm, TEST, Pandemic Legion and Cursed moved into the Curse region and began attacking the pets Atlas had seeded into the border regions of Scalding Pass, Wicked Creek and Insmother. Though the attacks were purely against assets and not followed by any sovereignty contests, the alliances in Atlass buffer zone disintegrated rapidly, particularly after the destruction of a Cult of War supercarrier CSAA. Sovereignty Blockade Units which were onlined only to provoke a reaction became real SBUs when the defending pets didnt muster a sufficient response; it was in this fashion that HTA began to fall and chunks of Insmother and Scalding Pass ended up in the hands of their inadvertent conquerors.
Surprisingly, Atlas did nothing substantial to support its buffer-zone pets as they fell into cascade. Sensing weakness, a combination of Drone Russians and Pandemic Legion (who announced that they had been hired on a mercenary contract to do so) commenced an all-out assault on Insmother, retaking C-J6 and pushing deep into formerly secure Atlas territory. Now, the capital of Atlas space has fallen, and hostile activity is on the rise even in safe Omist. Compounding the danger, the head of Atlas has abruptly resigned to take a break from the game.
The rapidity of Atlas fall has been astonishing, even to the most jaded onlookers. How did it come to this, and what can we learn from it?
Leadership Structure: The upper level of Atlas revolves entirely around Bobby Atlas, the alliance leader. Bobby is notorious for micromanaging and avoids delegating responsibilities whenever possible. Having an engaged dictatorship works fairly well as long as the dictator is around to ensure everything is running; however, Bobby began to become increasingly scarce in the past few months, rarely logging into EVE. This meant that there was no real leadership structure to manage the alliance in his absence, leaving Atlas singularly unprepared to make strategic responses to the invasion.
Weak Allied Blocs: For Atlas, it was a case of terrible luck that Against All Authorities, Atlass primary bloc-level ally and neighbor, began to collapse spontaneously around the time that Atlas found itself under heavy assault. Barely two weeks after -A- announced publicly that they would be coming to Atlass aid, Manfred Sidious, the -A- leader, was deposed and replaced. In the aftermath of this pseudo-coup, a number of veteran member corporations have chosen to leave -A- entirely for parts unknown. This left Atlas facing several bloc-level foes without any support.
Collapsed Buffer Zone: The failure of Atlas to support its buffer-state pets in the border zone between Atlass main territory and the Drone Russians is probably the largest and most obvious failure. While the quality of pets in battle is questionable at best, they have a great utility in being able to fill up a system being defended to the point that lag incapacitates any attempted offense. Atlas had a large network of pet alliances, totaling almost 7000 pilots. The most likely explanation for why the buffer pets werent supported is because Bobby Atlas wasnt providing direction at the time the anti-pet campaign began; had he not been out of the game, its possible that Atlas would have been more aggressive in defending its tenants. Its also possible that there was the leadership ability to defend them, but the pets were written off as not strategically necessary.
Lack of Transparency: Atlas is notorious for keeping its membership in the dark about the progress of the war, particularly when things began to go poorly for them. This is never a good idea, as players will find out war information either from their alliance first, or failing that from external sources that may be distorted by ones enemies. As it stands presently, the best news for an Atlas member about the war theyre involved in comes from external forums like Kugutsumen or Scrapheap, rather than from their own leadership. This breeds distrust, as well as killing motivation to rally to the alliances banner.
Supercapital Blobs in Dominion Lag: This is a particularly nasty problem. As everyone in nullsec is now aware, lag in EVE has been completely incapacitating since the release of Dominion last year. Fleet fights are regularly rendered impossible at populations as low as 250 in a system, while alliances have expanded in size and could potentially engage in 800 vs 800 battles. As the Lag Ceiling has lowered the number of players who can function in any given system, the population of supercapitals in the game has only increased. Atlas is the first alliance to face the problem of having over 100 hostile supercapitals in one system at one time. Due to the Dominion lag situation, there is no physical response possible to that kind of force; the number of supercapitals required to defeat the attacking supercap blob would not have been able to function in the game. Therefore, the attackers essentially won by fiat, having mustered enough supercapitals and support before Atlas. That said; the mere fact that 100 supercapitals are attacking Atlas is itself a sign of a greater failure of diplomacy, for both uniting their enemies against them so effectively, and for not having the buffer pets available to lock out the defending system.
While events beyond Atlas control (-A- collapsing, Dominion Lag) were contributing factors in the loss of their capital, the current situation is undeniably an avoidable one which could have been ameliorated by better leadership, more transparency, and better defense of buffer pets. Its going to be interesting to see if they manage to recover and regroup in Omist, of if this will end in a humiliating cascade. Next week, well examine a catastrophic failure closer to home, taking a look at how exactly Goonswarm imploded and what we can learn from that particular disaster.
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