At last, war has returned to Delve. We may look back on the past week and say that this was the beginning of the Third Great War, or we may end up merely smirking and giggling and making one of the de rigeur jokes about how dead alliances should stay that way - consigning Sir Molle's IT Alliance to the same category as Curse Alliance (1 and 2) and Triumvirate (who are up to either their third or fifth incarnation depending on how you choose to count the implosions).
Regardless of how we define this moment in the land of internet spaceships, the galaxy is involved in two major bloc-wars. In the north, just finished scuffling over Geminate, is a coalition of Atlas, Solar Fleet, Red Alliance and some others vs the Northern Coalition. Geminate has been lost to Wildly Inappropriate, that region's NC-aligned former owner; one of the major 'issues' in that conflict was unrecoverable bugs in the core Sov system of Dominion. Not too much fun to be an in-game beta tester and have said beta test ruin your territory.
In the southeast, the IT Alliance campaign against Fountain's residents (Pandemic Legion and Sons of Tangra) has been brought to a successful conclusion. This was an interesting campaign to watch for a number of reasons. While I am hardly IT Alliance's biggest fan, being as they are essentially the respawn of my old bete noir Band of Brothers, they picked an excellent strategy to take the region. Sons of Tangra was a renter alliance, like Shadows of xDeathx or one of BoB's many pets, and thus not reliable in their understanding of sov timing (which, let's clarify, is stupidly easy under Dominion and really shouldn't be a problem). Rather than attack Pandemic Legion directly, IT focused out PL's lowsec R64 moons, which PL didn't bother to defend on account of the R64 crash. When IT came to Fountain, all of their pressure went on SoT, who promptly failed to time their stations. Shortly after the invasion began, corps began leaving SoT without handing over the stations they owned to the main alliance, meaning that Sov instantly turned neutral and IT snapped the outposts up, completely skipping the SBU/TCU/siege Dominion sov process. Faced with a cascade of renter stations slipping to IT without a fight, PL essentially threw up its hands and left the region, with Shamis Orzoz, PL's leader, declaring that he was done with bloc warfare forever and resetting standings with everyone in the galaxy.
So from a traditional warfare perspective, Fountain was different; SoT experienced the usual failure cascade pattern, and did so very quickly, which isn't a shock because they were just renters. Pandemic Legion, however, was a pirate organization that was explicitly not interested in holding territory but somehow ended up taking chunks of Fountain between the two Great Wars. Unlike SoT and most other alliances who have just 'lost' a region, because PL abandoned the place without a fight and appears to have gone back to its roots, it has suffered no loss in cohesion or membership. Apparently they have since gone north to commence shooting Atlas (and anything else that moves) in Geminate.
For several weeks now, two blocs (Against All Authorities and Systematic Chaos) have been attempting to seize control of 49-U6U in Querious from Goonswarm. 49-U6U is like the Gibraltar of EVE, a critical chokepoint between the southwest of the galaxy and the southeast. It has been fiercely contested for years now by a whole variety of alliances that have inhabited the region. However, the assaults were repeatedly repelled; the attacking blocs primarily live in 'early Euro' timezones, where the defenders are mostly American. The only way the attackers could break 49- was by calling an 'alarm clock' operation, waking up at three or four in the morning local time to play an internet spaceship game, which quickly ruins participation and doesn't typically result in successful fleets; the blowback from a failed alarmclock is a thing to behold, as hundreds of players spend the next day fatigued, cranky, and unhappy with their leadership.
One of the blessings of Dominion is that when your enemy stops fighting, their territory changes sides almost instantly (ie, after a couple of days) rather than requiring you to blow up hundreds of undefended towers, like in Delve II. So when PL pulled out of Fountain, Sir Molle found his alliance with a shiny new region. Without pause he called for the full-scale invasion of Delve. And that's when things got interesting, because Goonswarm was abruptly in a (let us put this delicately) absolutely terrible strategic position. Pandemic Legion had been one of GS's primary allies in the Second Great War; not only had they lost their territory, but they weren't even allies any longer, completely off the political scene. Worse, while -A- and Sys-K couldn't break the US timezone defense of 49-U, the IT invasion added more than 4500 pilots into the fray, including nearly a hundred regular US-native pilots. With the Northern Coalition engaged against Atlas and unable to assist and Pandemic Legion gone, Goonswarm abruptly found itself heavily outnumbered even in its prime time.
To try to describe the new Sov system for those unfamiliar, the attacking forces must online SBUs (Sov Blockade Units) on the majority of the gates in the system and guard these widgets for 3 hours while they go online. When they're online and safe, the iHub and Outpost both become vulnerable. You have to take both the iHub and the Outpost to shoot the TCU (Territorial Control Unit) and replace it with your own TCU 'flag' to win the system. Confused yet? In order to capture the iHub and the Outpost, you have to siege each of them twice (knocking them into reinforced mode), and that process can be interrupted by your enemy killing your SBU's while you're shooting at the iHub or Outpost; this short-circuits the whole rigmarole. Oh, extra note! Don't forget, while the iHub or Outpost is in reinforced mode, the SBU's are invulnerable. Got it covered? Right! Neither do we. Not really. Add into this factor some unpredictable code that clearly wasn't tested much and you have the recipe for some premium grade spaceship drama.
SBU's are onlined in 49-U on a Thursday and the iHub and Outpost are knocked into reinforced mode. One day later, the iHub comes out of reinforced, and Goonswarm finds itself heavily outnumbered deep in their own prime time. It's a Friday night now, and the assembled enemies are free to stay up late (4:00 am+ in Europe, depending on exact location) to put the Swarm in its place - which they do with gusto. The number of hostiles in local breaches 1000, and Goonswarm is outnumbered almost 2:1. After many laggy skirmishes, the Swarm fails to defend its iHub, which is sent into the second and last reinforcement cycle. The next night, the Outpost comes out of reinforcement and again the Swarm is utterly overpowered, now seeing 1350 in the system with over 800 hostiles staying up past 4:00 am. Making matters worse, the node in 49-U is showing severe signs of strain, periodically crashing, at one point for more than two hours. (Next door in Catch, CVA uses the opportunity to begin assaulting -A-'s holdings while the entire -A- fleet is trapped in the crash and unable to log in.)
Two reinforcement ticks down, one on the iHub, one on the Outpost. There is no more room for error; even as the hostile numbers increase for each successive battle, the upcoming fights will be for keeps. The Swarm isn't nearly as dedicated to the game as its enemies, and everyone realizes that if the system falls now, it will be impossible to convince the mostly-American defenders to show up to a series of euro-prime contests. If either the iHub or the Outpost are lost, odds are they are lost permanently.
Sunday night. The third alarm-clock op in a row for the attackers, and the strain is showing. Combat capability has declined, and worse it's a work night; the pilots will be closing their EVE clients at the end of the operation and going work without sleep. Finally, a lucky break for the Swarm; there is a federal holiday on Monday in the US, meaning that Sunday is just another weekend for this high-stakes fight - the final battle for the iHub. Still vastly outnumbered, the Swarm FC opts for a high-risk tactic. When the iHub exits reinforced mode, he sends all his capitals to the nearest SBU and sieges it. A high-stakes dps race begins, with the entire attacking fleet shooting the iHub, while the entire defending fleet separately shoots a SBU on the gate. After five tense minutes of manic shooting, the defenders pull off a win - then the node crashes. Frantic petitions are sent to the GMs, who insist in their replies that the iHub is now safe and things are fine... yet when the server boots back up, there has been an uncontrolled rollback and the SBUs have magically reappeared. A second, even more panicked dps race - the defenders win again, and this time the servers hold. The iHub is 'safe'. The attackers log off in disgust, vowing to return after downtime to drop new SBUs.
The defenders recognize that their position is extremely tenuous. The next day, more SBUs will online at a time that the defenders are helpless, and the siege will continue - and the outpost could well be lost. The only way to defend 49 will be raw, underhanded metagaming: relying on the superior knowledge of game mechanics and the willingness to be a completely honorless bastard.
That night, while the attackers sleep the sleep of the absolutely fatigued, the Swarm begins deploying SBUs on the gates of 49-, initiating an assault on their very own system. After the SBUs go live, Swarm capitals siege the iHub, knocking it into reinforced for a day - which also flips the Swarm-owned SBU's on each gate into an invulnerable state until the outpost becomes vulnerable.
The implications take some time to dawn on the attacking forces, but when they do, the reaction is explosive. In order to successfully attack the 49- outpost now, the attackers realize that they have to somehow kill the invulnerable SBUs, replace them with their own SBUs, guard their onlining SBUs for three hours, and then attack the station. Complicating matters further, the Swarm could offline their SBUs with a button-click, instantly 'restarting' the siege of the outpost if it was under attack, forcing the attackers to online new SBUs. The attacker's task wouldn't be impossible, but it would be miserable; now they would have to win a fight at 4:00 in the morning local time to force the SBUs offline, then stay up another three hours or longer to put up their own, staying up well into the work-day.
Enraged, the attackers petition, only to discover that this is a legitimate (if unprecedented) use of game mechanics. They choose to go forward with their assault on the outpost anyway - only to discover the second trick up the the defender's sleeve, a heretofore-unused cynosural system jammer. Since the system had never yet been jammed, for weeks the attackers had relied upon moving their capitals in and out of 49- with impunity. Now 400 defenders were waiting for them with a brand-new jammer deathstar in a system still 'under siege' by the defender's own SBUs.
Calling for a meeting, the leaders of -A-, SysK and IT did not like the situation they were faced with; despite having alarm-clocked again for the fourth time in a row, they chose to cancel the attack at the last moment. The final siege of 49- ended without a fight. The outpost was saved and the attackers gave up in disgust, enraged and embittered by the sheer number of nights they had been forced fruitlessly to stay awake.
And that's how the first phase of what could be Delve III ended. Thank god for war.