Update: CCP posted a devblog detailing the events that took place in M2-XFE. Some elements in this article have been struck through and replaced with more accurate information.
History was, once again, made in the system of M2-XFE: the system that now lays claim to hosting the costliest battle in EVE Online’s history. It also now lays claim to, presumably, the most concurrent players fighting in a single system and most characters involved in a multiplayer battle, records previously set by the Fury at FWST in October. At its peak, the number of capsuleers in the system spiked to
around 6,600 with more than 15,000 characters formed up and ready to launch themselves into battle 6,739 with a combined total of 13,770 players (approximately 35% of all online pilots in the game) ready to jump in. The only problem was that there wasn’t actually a battle that took place. Instead, we saw a field full of Titan wrecks from one group of combatants while the other side remained completely unharmed (save one unlucky Avatar who jumped to the wrong cyno).
SETTING THE STAGE
For months now, the PAPI coalition, made up of such names as Legacy, PanFam, and WinterCo (and most of the rest of the null-sec population), has been waging war against the Imperium, a coalition made up of Goonswarm Federation, the Initiative, the Bastion, among others. In their quest to evict the Imperium, PAPI has stormed through several regions of New Eden, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. This fall, however, the war hit home for the Imperium when PAPI started knocking on the front door of their home region, Delve. Throughout the last few months, we have had several massive battles, including the attempted anchoring of 5 Keepstars in NPC Delve, a Titan trap gone wrong in YZ9 thanks to server performance, and the record-breaking battle in FWST-8. If you want to know more about what’s happened, we provided a summary of the war so far back in November.
PAPI has destroyed nine Imperium Keepstars so far, with two others that were stolen while unanchored or killed in a freighter after being scooped from space. Up until now, there has been little to no contest over Keepstars (outside of the few killed in Fountain) as PAPI has been able to successfully reinforce, destroy, replace, and hold the infrastructure hub in each system long enough to allow them to deploy Tenebrex Cynosural Jammers giving them total control over when ships can jump or bridge into the system through any other method but stargates.
This brings us to the system of M2-XFE, an inconsequential system that holds little strategic value but does contain an Imperium Keepstar. As strategy dictated, PAPI gained control of the infrastructure hub and held it for long enough to deploy the cyno jammer. In this case, however, the Imperium was able to successfully reinforce and destroy the online jammers and prevent the onlining of new ones, allowing them unrestricted access to the system in any way they saw fit. This, coupled with the determination of the PAPI coalition to kill the Keepstar, led to the most costly battle in EVE Online’s history.
Over 250 Titans were lost in the Massacre of M2-XFE, more than triple the number lost in the previously record-holding Bloodbath of B-R5RB. The fight itself lasted until downtime when the server shuts itself off for the day. Though the Keepstar was reinforced into its final timer, the PAPI supercapital fleet was left logged off in a cluster of interdiction probes, ships, fighters, and assorted other deployables under the Keepstar. Estimates from multiple sources said anywhere between 25-40% of the PAPI supercapital fleet were trapped in the system, unable to log in without a substantial force to defend them.
In the following days, both groups spent hours reinforcing their Titan fleets either by purchasing extra Titans from their members or moving cache Titans to the front line from all corners of space. By all accounts, the Titans lost in the first battle at M2-XFE were replaced by their respective alliances within 48 hours. This set the stage for another fight on Saturday, January 3rd, when the Keepstar would exit its final invulnerability window and be susceptible to being destroyed.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN
On the day of the timer, each coalition began to put their plans into action. The Imperium formed promptly after a State of the Goonion, a broadcast akin to the State of the Union from American politics, filling fleets of heavy assault cruisers, battleships, supercapitals, and more. Once properly formed, they began to jump into the system of M2-XFE, positioning themselves under the Keepstar, right above the spot where the PAPI supercapitals had been logged out.
Around two hours after the Imperium formed and came into position, the PAPI coalition began to form themselves. Much like the Imperium, PAPI formed fleets of battleships and heavy assault cruisers, along with their own contingent of supercapitals. Overall, according to CCP, more than 13,700 players were logged in concurrently between the three systems (though more than 15,000 show up on this local scan), with more than 6,600 pilots in the M2-XFE system at once, shattering the records established at the Fury of FWST-8.
The Imperium’s plan was simple enough, they intended to keep their Titans in a circular clump around both the logged out PAPI supercapitals and where they assumed that the fresh supercapitals would jump in. This meant that they would have their pick of the litter in regards to which ships they shot first, likely choosing to shoot those ships that were marginally unprepared to fight from being logged out for a few days. They would be the most disorganized and, in extreme time dilation, could take hours to fully come together.
PAPI, on the other hand, opted to focus primarily on destroying the Keepstar. Their remaining cache of supercapitals would have been more than sufficient to destroy the Keepstar, forcing the Imperium to decide whether to leave their own fleet unable to tether on the citadel or jump out, ending the fight. They brought their Titans in above the Keepstar, out of range of the Imperium Titan fleet but in range to engage the Keepstar itself. Afterward, they would log in the supercapitals leftover from the armor timer and leave the system in victory.
Unfortunately for PAPI, the server did not allow them to complete their plan of attack. Upon jumping in, hundreds of their pilots became stuck in a warp tunnel, preventing them from ever loading the grid. Unable to load grid, the PAPI supercapital fleet was vulnerable and almost entirely defenseless, right next to a large group of long-range, heavy damage, fighter bombers from the hundreds of Imperium supercarriers.
The resulting carnage could only be considered a slaughter.
BREAKING RECORDS IN ALL THE WRONG WAYS
When EVE Online’s players do big things, it makes waves in the gaming community in ways that most video games couldn’t dream of. In no other game still running can you possibly put 6,500 people into a single shard and have the game not do anything but completely shut itself off in protest. Oftentimes, the fights that we have made it into the mainstream gaming news. For instance, the X47 fight from the war of 2018 or the follow-up fight in UALX both hit popular gaming news websites, likely initiating a flood of new players into the EVE Online player base.
This battle, however, will not achieve that goal. While it can be debated that different choices could have been made on the side of PAPI, from coming into the system earlier to not coming into the system at all, there is still no question that the failure of the servers greatly contributed to the graveyard of Titans posted above. Though EVE players are no stranger to the issues that an EVE Online server can provide, there has never been a loss this catastrophic that can be directly tied to the server’s inability to keep up with the actions that players are taking.
A potential new player to EVE Online who reads about this fight would normally be intrigued at the thought of risking so much and breaking world records with their friends, but instead, they will be dissuaded from joining the game. No one gets excited about game-breaking performance, new players, and years-long veterans alike. The performance was so bad on these servers that, even though battle reports show 169 Titans were lost by the PAPI coalition, 93 of them actually showed back up in their owners’ hangars and remain there today. According to a devblog later posted by CCP, these Titans will remain in the possession of their pilots and not destroyed or otherwise removed from the game.
This is commonly referred to as “ghost” ships. Somewhere between a capsuleer jumping from one system to another, the server desynchronizes itself and causes the ship hull to be sent into the system, attached to a pilot, but free of any modules and, in some cases, skills to use the ship at all. We saw this in the fight in X47, where the server was so battered and beaten that ghost ships remained on-field for days before CCP stepped in to clean it up.
In the fight in UALX, similar to a more recent engagement in the system of KVN, the server node completely crashed, disconnecting every player in the system, and forcing the supercapital fleet belonging to PanFam to be trapped under a sea of interdiction probes for almost a week. It can be said that, in this case, at least the server didn’t crash.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Everything boils down to what the players in EVE Online want to achieve with the time and money they’ve spent playing this game. Consider that more than 70 players spent thousands of in-game hours, or hundreds of real-life dollars, in an effort to obtain a Titan, just to lose it in an event that was completely out of their control. Not only this, but another 130+ players did the same thing just two days prior.
Both sides of this current conflict have experienced this. The Imperium lost more than a dozen Titans during Operation Enho when trying to perform a boson trap on the PAPI supercarrier fleet. The servers performed poorly and “ate” the damage that should’ve been applied to the supercarriers and meant that, though there was plenty of damage coming in, it was far below what was needed to accomplish the objective.
Then there was the debilitating server performance in a fight over an Imperium Keepstar in KVN-36, Fountain. The fighting was so intense on the server that it caused it to crash completely, disconnecting everyone in the system, and allowing the Keepstar to fully repair. This meant that billions of ISK worth of ships, days of time spent building them, and hours of preparation for the battle were entirely wasted.
At the end of the day, there comes a time when the risks become too great and the reward to little to participate in wars like these. If the mechanics of the game so strongly support cramming as many people into a system as possible, then we have truly reached the point of no return in the quest to turn the Tranquility server into a carbon copy of the doomed Serenity server, where the entirety of null-security space was owned by allied entities. We have to ask ourselves some important questions, among them whether or not we should continue to pursue wars such as these where so much effort, time, and money can be wasted at the whim of a hamster on a wheel.
As for record-breaking battles, I fear we have seen the last of them. Players want to fight each other. Everyone in this war wants to fight the other side. Sure, one side spent an evening farming Titan kills, but they were hollow. The other side hardly got to play the game that night. No one in the battle had an impact on its outcome. As much as one could argue that strategy could’ve changed the outcome, the simple fact is that it did not. The losing side had no opportunity to pull the win back around and the winning side had no opportunity to make the win more decisive or any less hollow. This was just one example of many throughout the course of the war where the server, not the players, determined the outcome of a fight.
I continue to commend CCP on their dedication to increasing the performance of the servers that we use to wage war. If we constantly break through the limits of what the hardware can do, I would humbly ask if maybe, just maybe, it’s time to investigate the mechanics behind what makes this the only way to wage war in null-security space.