EVE Online: Wars Are Lost By the Loser

Almost every piece of strategic advice you find on the internet is completely worthless. Every day, I inevitably see some EVE forum denizen bleating about Sun Tzu, a famous WWII general, or...

every piece of strategic advice you find on the internet is
completely worthless. Every day, I inevitably see some EVE forum
denizen bleating about Sun Tzu, a famous WWII general, or the latest
overwrought management screed (14 Steps To Be An Effective 4 Hour Rich
Dad Millionaire, et al), perhaps hoping that some of this received
wisdom will filter through the ether and save their internet spaceship
alliance from whatever specific fix they happen to be in. It never
works, of course, because Sun Tzu wasn't writing about a drug-addled
Icelander's idea of an internet spaceship game. Don't even get me
started on the WWII analogies.  Never trust the wisdom of
talking about what Rommel would do if he had a fleet of sniping
battleships at his beck and call.


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I've had to sift through piles of such offal while reading other
people's forums - honorless spying sort that I am -  and there
one principle that has consistently held true in EVE, and yet I've
never seen it popularized. Here it is: "Wars are not won by the winner;
they are lost by the loser".  In other words, between roughly
equal forces, things are usually not won through the winning side
deploying some stunning tactic or beautiful offense, but rather the
loser making a critical error and the winner identifying the mistake
and exploiting it. Until the 'oops' moment, the strategic situation
trends towards stalemate. As an example of this in action, let's look
to the war in Delve.


By now, the war in Delve has reached a denouement of sorts; while
Goonswarm's CEO will not be landing on a mothership and hanging a
'Mission Accomplished' banner from the bridge deck, every station owned
by KenZoku Alliance (formerly known as Band of Brothers, before that
pesky ' href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/64347" target="_blank">disbanding'
incident) has been seized by Goonswarm and its allies. The four week
race to capture Delve before KenZoku's sovereignty defenses reached the
level necessary to prevent access to capital ships was won with a week
left on the clock; despite all the flailing and chestbeating on the
myriad EVE forums, this epic conflict appeared to be less of a military
campaign than an execution. Why? Which errors in judgement allowed the
war to go from href="http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/Verite/20090207.png"
to href="http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/Verite/20090307.png"
with such rapidity?


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Before the war began, two critical errors occured on the losing side.
First, the much-discussed Haargoth defection and disbanding; this was
an error of basic corporate security writ large, where a player who had
been absent from the game for four months was allowed to maintain roles
in the executor corporation of that now-dead alliance. Had BoB not made
this error, I wouldn't be writing a weekly column here, and Goonswarm
wouldn't own Delve. But enough ink has been spilled on that topic


The second failure was made when the KenZoku leadership href="http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=991506&page=1#1"
the entirety of the BoB secure director forums for the EVE-playing
public to rummage through. Two days prior to this, when Haargoth Agamar
flipped sides and joined Goonswarm, the Goonswarm Intelligence Agency
had set about using his forums access to begin archiving the BoB
director forums with an automated system. In order to avoid detection,
the entire process would take nine or more hours, but midway through
the archiving we judged it more worthwhile to pull the plug, disband
BoB, and potentially sacrifice our archiving project for the greater
good. As soon as BoB was disbanded and their directorate caught on to
what had occurred, Haargoth's BoB forum account was banned, though the
archiver kept running - except that now, each page it pulled had a
delightful 'you have been banned' notice. While we had successfully
acquired about 40% of their director forums, the rest of the archive
was a series of useless and identical 'banned' pages.


In the spy game, when the technology is lacking, outright lying can
sometimes close the gap. When we announced BoB's disbanding, I asserted
the 'fact' that not only did we have an archive of the BoB director
forums, but that we would publish this archive for anyone to see. On
February 5th, while being interviewed on EVE Radio I was paired against
Dianabolic (a director of KenZoku); I began to read snippets from the
40% of the archive we possessed while live on the air and promised the
imminent release of the rest. Yet we delayed; by the morning of the
6th, KenZoku had decided to release the entire forums to the public.
They had checked their server records and detected the archiver had
'pulled' every link in their forums, but they evidently did not realize
that the bulk of these calls had returned garbage. In order to preempt
another public relations disaster, KenZoku's leader, Sir Molle, elected
to throw open the doors and let everyone see the BoB forums - in this
way, they could at least ensure that Goonswarm wouldn't release a
'doctored' copy of the archive, with altered and incriminating posts
fabricated to create a scandal. Not that we would ever do such a
dishonorable thing.


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Naturally, the first thing we did was archive the whole thing, in case
Sir Molle got cold feet and took it down. As a hilarious addendum, it
seems that this was the juncture where KenZoku decided that I was a
liar - it was my partial archive which didn't exist, I actually had the
full archive, and I was making all this nonsense about the bluff up.


So, the archives remained open for all to see. Suddenly, all the
slanderous and denigrating href="http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=991422"
about their allies from the BoB directorate was available for the
entire EVE community to dissect and analyze. Most of the entities being
slandered weren't allies in the traditional sense of equals working
towards a common cause, but rather serfs and vassals who had been
paying rent to BoB for years and fighting in something like a colonial
militia on their behalf, earning the nickname 'pets'. According to BoB,
they were the 'Greater BoB Community'. The revelation of the insulting
commentary from BoB caused a storm of controversy on the forums of the
'pets', and many of these pilots privately vowed not to show up to the
defense of their disrespectful lord. Even before the war for Delve
began in earnest, the support for KenZoku's coalition had been
massively undercut.


Two strikes already, and then the war began.


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Sovereignty is the ultimate goal of any war in 0.0, and in the Delve
campaign the nuances of the Sovereignty system dictated the flow of the
war. 'Sovereignty Three' (Sov 3) is the most strategically critical of
the four sovereignty levels as it allows a cynosural jammer to be
installed, which prevents hostile capital ships from attacking that
system unless a tremendous amount of effort is put forth to
incapacitate the jammer. Sov 3 can only be reached after four weeks of
unbroken control over a system. Capital ships are required to take over
a system as only capitals can reliably destroy the control towers that
allow an alliance to claim sovereignty, so cyno jammers and Sov 3 have
become sine qua non of successful spaceholding alliances.  


The war began on February 4th with the removal of all sovereignty in
Delve with the dissolution of the Band of Brothers alliance and
subsequent reformation under the banner of KenZoku. The moment of
KenZoku's creation (Feb 6th) marked the beginning of the most frenzied
four weeks in EVE history; the allied forces had to destroy KenZoku's
ability to reach Sovereignty Three in as many systems as possible in
their territory before that timer was over, or else KenZoku cyno
jammers would begin onlining and the offensive would grind to a
shuddering halt. This made the rules for the war clear: KenZoku must
fight a delaying action, holding on to as much as possible until March
7th; the allied forces had to beat them in that time, or else. As a
corollary, if the allied forces succeeded in seizing KenZoku's
territory, they must themselves hold on for an additional four weeks to
gain Sov 3 for themselves.


In the initial week of the war, there were a number of serious
engagements, including a pair of four-hour battles involving more than
1200 pilots. The carnage was unlike anything yet seen in EVE history,
and despite their first two errors, confidence on the KenZoku side was
high. As one of the KenZoku directors, Waagaa Ktlehr, put it: "With all
odds stacked in favor of Goons and their buddies, it's going to be even
more hilarious when they fail to take Delve for the second time. Bring
it." While the invading forces were gradually succeeding, this was a
race, and gradual success amounted to total failure. If KenZoku
refrained from making more mistakes, they were well on the way to
gaining Sov 3.


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On February 12th, KenZoku made an error which resulted in the total
collapse of the defenses in Delve. In the aftermath of a 1200-pilot
slugfest in the J-LPX7 system, which was a minor loss for KenZoku,
Waagaa Ktlehr warped his Aeon-class mothership, a supercapital ship one
class smaller than the mighty Titans, to a stargate. Motherships, for
what it's worth, cannot enter stargates; there was no real purpose for
the Aeon being there. Unsurprisingly, the invading forces dropped a
capital fleet on the Aeon and href="http://killboard.goonfleet.com/km/304558" target="_blank">destroyed
it, along with href="http://killboard.goonfleet.com/battles/1067"
target="_blank">ten KenZoku capitals
who had attempted to defend Waagaa. Fighting continued in another
system in the immediate aftermath of the mothership's destruction, but
the loss clearly impacted the KenZoku level of control; two and a half
hours later, while attempting to defend the system 8WA-Z6, a routine
capital jump went wrong, and Sir Molle's Titan was left out in the
open; just as with Waagaa, the supercapital was immediately ambushed
and href="http://killboard.goonfleet.com/km/304971" target="_blank">destroyed.
Six thousand dollars down the drain.


One might guess that the critical, war-ending error was the loss of the
titan and the mothership, but it was what happened after those losses
that actually ruined everything for KenZoku. Exhausted, having had a
historically bad day, the KenZoku command gave the order to log off the
remnants of their fleet in the station in PR-8CA, a system which
KenZoku and their allies had been using as a form-up point throughout
the war. Except this time, rather than sending the capitals of their
'pets' home to a different system, the entire combined capital fleet
was docked and logged off in PR-8CA, presumably to make things easier
logistically the next day. It wasn't something that had been chosen
deliberately, it was just a slip - a slip which lost an entire region.


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As soon as the KenZoku fleet logged off, the invaders locked down
PR-8CA and covered the station with warp disruption bubbles, preventing
any kind of egress. As I write this, the PR-8CA station has been camped
around the clock by invading forces every day for more than three
weeks. While individual KenZoku pilots have escaped PR-8CA by
abandoning their ships and 'podjumping' or using jump clones to get
out, 230+ capital ships remain trapped within.  Without the
use of
their capital ships, KenZoku has been completely unable to defend
against the marauding coalition capital fleet, or to prevent
innumerable Goonswarm control towers from being erected across Delve.
With hundreds of invader pilots living in the system, every breakout
attempt since February 13th has been foiled, and because of this every
KenZoku station in Delve, Querious and Period Basis has been seized. Up
until this point, the 'race' for Delve was a close thing and KenZoku
was doing well; after their capital fleet was trapped in PR-8CA, it
became a rout, allowing the invading forces to capture all of the
KenZoku stations with a week left on the clock. What had been a slow
expansion of control became an href="http://images.tentonhammer.com/eve/delve.gif"


As a member of the Goonswarm leadership, it might be more traditional
for me (from a propaganda perspective) to claim that these victories
against KenZoku were a result of superior planning or cunning on the
part of my alliance and our allies. However, if one looks at these three
turning points in the war with a sober eye, each one can be traced to
an error made by the KenZoku leadership that we happened to seize upon.
This war, like so many others, was lost by the loser, not won by the

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