Sins of a Solar Spymaster #73: Painful Lessons - Branch Falls
Branch was an ugly war that illustrated some of the principles Ive discussed previously in this column. Since the fall of the Northern Coalition, Branch was held by White Noise, one of the primary members of the Drone Russian Federation (along with Red Alliance, Legion of Death, and Solar Fleet). Adjacent to Deklein, the home of Goonswarm Federation, the border was peaceful for many months due to the simple mathematics of time zones. White Noise was primarily a Russian alliance, and their sov timers were all set for downtime; Goonswarm, primarily a US-based alliance, lived on the opposite side of the world. Under Dominion sov mechanics, any attempt at a station would require four consecutive wins (two ihub timers, two outpost timers) by the aggressing party in the defenders prime; this was unthinkable for either GSF or WN.
Yet the detente between WN and GSF began to deteriorate when WNs leader, PsihoZZ KAHI, went absentee. White Noise had hired a number of English-speaking corporations and attempted to turn itself into a multi-ethnic alliance, most likely to hedge against possible GSF aggression in US Prime. Branch, a fantastically wealthy region because of its large Technetium holdings, should have enriched every corporation within WN. However, only Psihozzs own Russian corps enjoyed that wealth, and accusations began flying from the English-speaking corps that Psihozz was selling the spoils on Ebay.
Real Money Trading (RMT) is a common refrain in nullsec; its always the enemy doing it, or anyone who disagrees with you, or whatever. However, rather than idle complaining, the situation in White Noise erupted in an outright coup detat, with the English-speaking corporations forming an alliance called Black Noise and seeking outside help to invade Branch and take it from Psihozz. The CEOs of Black Noise issued an ultimatum - redistribute the moons equitably, or else.
Ultimatums are rarely wise in EVE, as in life. By definition they show weakness; Psihozz was expected to purge the Black Noise upstarts, as their threats to somehow take Branch were absolutely laughable from a military perspective. Despite this, Psihozz acceded to the Black Noise demands and appointed one of their representatives to the White Noise executor corp, empowering his enemies and incurring massive damage to his credibility as an autocrat. Emboldened by his newfound power, Endeva, the leader of the coup, began making the rounds among White Noises allies and suggested an invasion of Goonswarm-held Deklein as a method of mending the internal strife paralyzing White Noise in the aftermath of the schism.
GSF spies picked up on these plans, and the CFC bloc (which includes GSF) abruptly launched an invasion of Branch, catching White Noise by surprise.
Nullsec veterans know the dangers of absentee alliance leadership, and the coup-compromised Psihozz didnt respond to the CFC invasion for two days before attempting to organize a response. The CFC struck from the West Deklein entrance to Branch and swiftly captured the border outpost of 1IX, using it to stage further incursions. The invasion coincided with the holiday season, and this allowed CFC pilots to play during Russian primetime, when at any other time of the year they would only be able to show up for a downtime sov timer on a weekends.
By the time White Noise mustered a defense, their primary form-up system of BKG had been lost to CFC forces. Crippled with doubt, the primary activity of White Noise line pilots was to evacuate their assets to Venal. The last serious operation of the war was the final timer of HB7 station, WNs post-BKG capital. White Noise summoned their allies and amassed a sizeable fleet - but Psihozz slept past the form-up for the defense he himself was to lead, and his lieutenants stood the WN fleet down without a fight. HB7 was lost, and with it Branch. What was left of White Noise broke and fled to Venal, and the region was purged without further incident, its timers yanked from Russian Prime into US Prime.
*The Dangers of Multiculturalism: White Noise won the DRF/NC war as a Russian-only PvP powerhouse. After settling in Branch and recruiting a number of English-speaking corps, the membership naturally divided along the language barrier and resentment festered. This paved the way for the Black Noise coup and the collapse of Branchs defenses. Ethnic alliances are historically quite strong as nationalism plays a powerful role in maintaining morale in the face of adversity; White Noise is one of the few cases in EVE where an ethnic-identity alliance has gone multicultural - and it was a catastrophe. There are a number of alliances with different language groups - GSF itself has a French and Russian wing - but those alliances arent tied to nationality as an identity like White Noise, Ev0ke, Romanian Legion or Hell4s. The lesson? If your alliance is an ethnic enclave, keep it that way.
*Absentee Micromanaging ex-FC Leaders: Leadership failure is one of the most common explanations for an alliances collapse. In White Noises case, not only had Psihozz gone absentee, he left in place a structure where almost no delegation to directors was allowed. He fit the profile of the classic Bobby Atlas autocrat, a fleet commander in a political role who did everything himself, burned out, and left everyone wondering what to do in his absence. The other fleet commanders in the HB7 encounter were prepared to take the fleet out to fight for their capital system, but had been trained to not take capitals out unless Psihozz explicitly authorized it - and he was asleep. Theres nothing new to learn here, as this kind of error cripples more alliances that I can count - make sure your leader delegates enough that your alliance can function without him.
*The Risk of RMT: While accusations of RMT are thrown around as a propaganda tool daily in nullsec, something was fishy enough about the White Noise finances that half of their membership was ready to provoke a civil war. Nothing guts the desire of a line member to fight for his alliance like the impression that his hard work is padding the wallet of his leaders; a modern alliance must do its best to account for its earnings to its members and demonstrate that alliance isk isnt being embezzled. The impression of RMT helped inspire the Black Noise coup and ensured that the morale of the line pilot was rock-bottom. The lesson? Have a public accounting of your alliance finances that every member can access, and dont RMT - youll get fussed out by your members eventually, and theyll abandon you.
*Share the Spoils: In contrast to the WN kleptocracy, the invading CFC operated under a strict spoils policy where turnout on strategic ops would be directly rewarded with a fair distribution of Technetium. Each alliance working to take Branch had a significant incentive to push hard, and had a past record of reliable spoils-division to look back on from previous coalition ops. This ensured that participation remained steady even during a grueling off-time zone structure grind.
With Branch falling, hostilities are picking up between Raiden and the CFC, which is now poised on the border of Tenal. The CFC has made noises about invading Tenal, and Raiden has responded by attacking the newly-captured CFC Tech moons in Branch. Unlike the WN conflict, which resembled an execution more than a war, the fights over Branch moons are the first opportunity the western half of the galaxy has had with the newly-introduced Time Dilation feature. Early reports indicate a significant boost to the power of Logistics pilots as the slower speeds allow more accurate reactions; we should have more data about a hot war in the Crucible era within a week.