This is a collection of short in-character fiction pieces about Awakened Industries, a group of capsuleers and their crews living in the enigmatic and dangerous regions of Wormhole Space in EVE Online. None of the protagonists are actual characters or corporations in-game. All similarities with persons fictional or real are possibly coincidental and only sometimes intentional. - Emergent Patroller

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28 Sep 2012

OOC Entry 47 - Social Skill and War


Introduction - Oh James, Oh James

Recently I have done a lot of head shaking and criticising of Mr. James 315 - Miner hater and Highsec Nerf Demander extraordinaire. However, he then proceeded to write this post which is actually quite good. I recommend you go read it.

If you don't feel like it, I will give a short synopsis from my point-of-view here.

The man can use words well, that is for sure. He makes his proclamations with the urgency, the vehemence and the conviction of an Alex Jones, but previously I found the logic of his anti-highsec manifestos to be quite flawed and full of hyperbole. This time, he writes about nullsec, and more specifically about the power of the blob, and it turns out way better.

He makes a valid argument. He argues that all those who are at the receiving end of blob tactics sometimes could apply more self-reflection when it comes to explaining their failure to win against the overwhelming forces. He does a very nice historical analysis of prior wars and uses the ascension of Goonswarm as an example of successful warfare against a more powerful and more experienced force i.e. Band of Brothers (BoB).

In his historical excursion he cites Redswarm Federation (The Goonswarm/Red Alliance/Tau Ceti coalition) as the first true coalition in the sense of today's EVE powers like Honey Badger Coalition (HBC), Cluster Fuck Coalition (CFC) or the recently collapsed Drone Region Federation DRF and Northern Coalition (NC).
He correctly points out that the BoB vs. Redswarm  fight was lost mostly due to BoB's arrogance. He also correctly states that Goons and TEST are better on a social organization level when compared to their major antagonists of the past and the present.

In the end he sort-of relates that competence to being good at fighting in EVE, and there it becomes difficult.

Social Metagame vs. Elite PVP

Those two things are simply not the same skillset. If you take some of the really good fighters in EVE like Aperture Harmonics, Rooks&Kings, Noir or Black Legion, then you will see that they can win engagements very well. Would they be able to hold together a massive Corp/Alliance/Coalition of hundreds or even thousands of players?

The answer is probably no.

While those groups have very skilled EVE warriors, very disciplined ranks and good commanders, they lack the out-of-game infrastructure and community that is the foundation of the two largest Alliances currently in game.

On the other hand, I don't see it happening that Goons or TEST engage in a mercenary-style fight where their losses have to remain below their income to make a profit.

As members of Against All Authorities (AAA) never got tired of pointing out during the HBC/CFC southern campaign, their opponents would often "lose" when it came to killboard efficiency (losses vs. kills) or the "ISK War" (losing more in value of ships than the opponents). Now that TEST is holding a lot of space that was previously occupied by AAA allies, the Southern alliances keep harassing the larger neighbour successfully. In the north, Black Legion have regularly managed to win against larger CFC forces by a wide margin.

I am sure, that CFC or HBC members will be able to point me to examples where that is not the case, but if you are honest to yourself, you will realize, that your strategy and tactics are not the sort that makes you a profit by fighting, like Noir or Aperture Harmonics manage to do.

It's a question of the arena in the end. In sov warfare, numbers will win because then you can just grind through all those timers so much faster. If it comes to sov unrelated confrontation, the same is not necessarily true. A smaller, more skilled and more flexible opponent can easily play games with larger fleets that are by nature more difficult to organize and contain a much more diverse skillset both in terms of in-game skillpoints and fighting experience of the players involved.

This is best illustrated by the contrast between solo PVPers and their targets (which incidentally tend to be isolated groups of large nullsec coalition members quite often)

You could argue that the solo PVPer always loses because in the end they are podded back home. Inevitably there will be a response they can not handle except by running. They definitely lose to "the blob" because in the end it is overwhelming forces that kill them if they do not retreat from the field earlier.

On the other hand, before a solo PVPer gets killed, s/he already left a trail of corpses behind, comprised of potential members of that same blob. Sure those people will get their ships reimbursed and will resume ratting with little or no risk shortly thereafter and all is good for the alliance or coalition on the macro scale, but the solo PVPer considers that a success. They do not desire empire building, they desire interesting fights and they want to win them. If they win six and lose one, they are successful on all levels that matter to them.

Those people fight sucessfully against the blob, because they do not engage it as such. They engage individual members who are bereft of their leaders and consequently do not know quite as well how they should handle themselves.

But does one win a war like that?

The Blob, the Metagame and History

Once upon a time, before Goonswarm, before TEST, before PL, there existed a nullsec alliance that was also often criticized for their blob tactics and lack of "real PVP skill". They were the first ones to build an Outpost, the first ones to build a Titan and also the first ones to lose one. They held large areas of sov nullsec and were the largest alliance EVE had seen up until that time.

Extra points for the person who remembers without googling who those people were.

Anyway, I am talking about Ascendant Frontier. Just as BoB was brought down by Goonswarm, AF was brought down by BoB. Despite the self-created myth that BoB are the elite PVPers because they could beat such a massive force, AF was not conquered by military power. They were brought down largely because BoB was using exploits and even went as far as using alliance members who worked for CCP to tip the scales.

It became obvious that there were ways to beat the blob, but those methods were not entirely genuine.

Enter Goonswarm.

Here we have a community of people for whom organized destruction of the order of online environments was a well honed skill even before they came to EVE. By then, BoB had become "the blob" by conquering or otherwise subjugating most of the nullsec population. The Goons - already a large community out of game - made it their goal to out-blob and out-metagame BoB. As James has written, BoB treated their "pets" horribly and they had started to believe their own myth: That they were the be all and end all of elite PVP.

The little bees had something that BoB did not have, though: Social skills.

Using those, they rallied the enemies of BoB into Redswarm Federation, proceeded to alienate BoB's most powerful "pet"- the Mercenary Coalition - from it's master and finally brought about the complete fall of BoB entirely by subverting one of their leaders. This was the beginning of The Mittani's era.

Again this victory was not achieved by military means.

In fact, by the time BoB fell the Redswarm Federation had effectively been shattered already. What won that war was superior social skills of a community that is so tightly knit, that it would be able to bounce back from almost any loss.

And today?

The current war is actually very interesting in this respect. Here we have one side which - generally speaking - does include some of the most skilled PVPers, against a group that has probably the best social engineers and leaders in the game. By now, a lot of GSF and even TEST have matured though. They are not the noobs-in-rifters anymore. Neither are AAA and NC. and their allies the arrogant "Samurai of EVE" that BoB styled themselves to be.

This war might be the final test of whether actual fighting skill can break the blob, or whether it will always come down to metagaming and social skills.

One thing is for sure. For as long as AAA and the "Dotbros" fight skirmishes, they will manage to win in the same way the solo PVPer wins against the blob. If they want to achieve a strategic victory, though, they will have to break the social cohesion of their opponents while strenghtening their own.

That is where James 315 is entirely correct in his analysis.

1 comment:

  1. I found his link to his 2007 post, and the comment thread, far more interesting. His writing had much passion then. I appreciate the history lesson, and agree with another poster that GSF isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Unlike other corps or entities, being a Goon isn't skin deep. It is a play style, a philosophy that their actions hold on to well. But I am as unbiased as James claims to be. Being an old Warhammer Online player, when you're up against such odds, objectives and lost ground become like the smoke rising from Troy. Survival is the last thing that counts, small chosen engagements the only way to whittle away an enemy. James can discredit KB's all day, but I also see a starving cornered wolf there too. It's fun to see what happens next.