There's always plenty of news, politics, and drama being reported about the nullsec alliances. The content they generate is part of why many people try EVE in the first place. However, 0.0 space and the alliances within aren't for everybody. I wanted to take a look at a group of players who are everywhere but nullsec and highlight what they do. Perhaps one of the least understood player groups in the game are the highsec mercenaries.
I am a GoonWaffe pilot. It is taught from day one that as soon as you join GSF, your life in Empire will be difficult, if not over. Why? Because there's usually a wardec or five, almost always from these kinds of large merc alliances, and everyone loves goon killmails.
Don't even think about doing business in Jita without a neutral alt.
I had some preconceived notions about what professional highsec wardeccers did, but I wanted to learn about their playstyle from the source. I sat down with members of highsec mercenary organizations The Blackguard Mercenaries, The Devil's Warrior Alliance, and The Marmite Collective too get a little education on what Empire mercs do.
The Good Fights
As the CEO of The Marmite Collective, Tora Bushido handles most of the wardecs, diplomacy, long-term strategy, and crisis matters for the alliance. The Marmite Collective has 16 member corporations and 257 pilots as of this writing according to DOTLAN. He told me that the alliance was started because of a "500m scam", though he didn't ellaborate on exactly who got scammed, but "...you see, bad things can create fun things."
"Most mercenaries do this purely for the fun of it," he said. "Yes, there is a big market for [mercenary work], but you won't get rich from it." Bushido lamented the price of wardecs and the billions it costs him weekly. 6-12 billion a week to maintain a war can be an immense burden for a smaller alliance, especially when wardeccing the larger alliances of New Eden. However, he did concede that since the changes to wardec mechanics, matters had improved overall and "should probably stay this way, even if it would be more fun for us if it was cheaper".
I also asked Sharker2k3, a director from a corporation in The Blackguard Mercenaries about the new wardec features and mechanics. He had the same opinion, largely promoting the ally system because it bypasses having to pay war-dec fees. "The war report is a cool feature too, overall I'm pretty happy with it."
Sivor Detman, a prominent fleet commander and corp leader in The Devil's Warrior Alliance, complained of those who exploit the small numbers in calculating cost. "It's very easy for a small corp of 2 to 5 guys to dec any big indy group and just collect easy kills."
This mention of easy kills struck me. If I had to sum up my own experience with mercenary organizations in highsec, it always seemed to be about 'easy kills'. Trade hubs like Jita and gates in major highways are always camped by pirates and war-dec mercenaries. But perhaps I was mistaken. Maybe they are the exception, not the rule, to how these mercenaries work.
"We do more than just camp a trade hub," said Sharker2k3. He went on to tell me what kind of contracts he gets and why they are hired. Everything from defensive and offensive contracts, a few single manhunts utilizing locator agents, and even POS removal are all a part of their job. In highsec, POS removal can be quite challenging without the right kind of fleet and the ability to use capital ships.
All three organizations expressed a high value of small-gang warfare. It was important to them and their playstyle to be able to log on, find their enemy, and engage in a good fight where you can actually participate in intimate combat. These are battles where, in an instant, you aren't back to square one in your pod at the station because of massive amounts of damage on the battlefield reducing your ship to dust on the first shot.
Straight outta HighSec
I wanted to know why these alliances chose to live in High-Sec. The fraction in the EVE community between being in Empire versus Null-Sec causes a lot of tension on a fundamental level. But for Tora and Sivor, it was sometimes about being the white knight.
Tora told me that "highsec has many alliances/corps that can not defend themselves, they want to hire mercs. So there is a market for it."
Mostly for these mercenaries it was working for "groups looking to protect themselves against griefers..." Sivor explained to me that it was "people with a grudge looking to cause some damage." The miners and mission runners that are killed by those with a more 'sadistic' mentallity to the game are the types these mercenaries are hired to kill.
Finding a market, like protecting others, and exploiting it is what EVE is all about after all...
There was also the added benefit of easier alliance gameplay. "No CTA's etc, less politics, small group roams, less drama...better tears" Tora told me. Of course, no need to pay sovereignty bills, either. The main goal was just "to have fun and dec anyone we want".
I had a preconceived notion that Empire Mercenaries were usually on a stepping stone to null-sec - perhaps a skew in my viewpoint of progress in this game. I thought that it was more of the 'gateway' for a lot of players to experiment with PvP in EVE.
Tora enlightened me otherwise: "Not always. We have a lot of players who have been long times (sic) in wh/low and 0.0 and just wanted to have more relaxed fights. So they come back to us to chill. We also have beginners..." he said "who get better here and want to try out wh/low/0.0. So it goes both ways."
Sharker2k3 and the Blackguard Mercenaries have aspirations on the contrary: "Our long term goal is to be something like the old Mercenary Coalition" he told me. It wasn't that they wanted to just be based out of High-Sec space, they wanted to operate out of ALL-Sec space. Their reasons for basing out of High-Sec are to build a solid ground as an alliance and build their reputation. Training new recruits in an easier environment is seen as easier in High-Sec as well.
I wanted to know exactly what the alliance gets hired to do. After all, these players are mercenaries:
"Guerilla Warfare...max damage, max damage." Tora Bushido's clients just want to get even with people.
Sharker2k3 explained to me a little shocker about his clients: "We've noticed that mission runners and miners can be even more vicious than pvpers, they just have a third party do the work for them." All the crying and tears of rage over dead defenseless Hulks on the EVEO forums suddenly seemed like a ruse.
It was no suprise to me that some methods for hunting was to take advantage of trade hubs, trade routes, mining fields and mission runners. If a warring alliance can stop the logistics of their enemies in high sec via mercenaries, that can do a lot of damage.
Tora Bushido from Marmite promoted this type of warfare as an effective way to take out the enemy. However, opponents to this exist with The Devil's Warriors and The Blackguard Mercenaries.
Sivor explained that his group tries to "avoid griefing as a group and we focus on the jobs we get. All ransoms are honored if we offer one."
Sharker2k3 then brought up some bad blood within his organization, having been at war with Whores in Space - a rival mercenary alliance.
"We've been at war with Whores in Space twice now I believe. Those guys are pretty much the embodiment of what I don't want..." He touched on the typical tactics of pirate and mercenary gangs of High-Sec "they hug Jita/Amarr undocks all day long" and they "fly aimlessly between the two in blinged out T3's looking for autopiloting Iterons."
Unlike their Null-Sec counterparts who more than occasionally declare political bias towards other alliances - to them, it's almost always about who pays more.
It is a big no-no to backstab for money as a mercenary. It hurts credibility, and that credibility means business. Sharker2k3 told me some of his experience with organizations who tried to make The Blackguard Mercenaries into turncoats. "We've had our targets try to pay us to tell them who hired us, or to stop hunting them." He then declared "We won't accept those payments/bribes. If we commit to a contract, we commit to it."
Of course, maybe one needs to read between the lines in a contract. Sharker2k3 went on to admit that "...if one side of war pays us for one week and the other for the week after, we'd switch sides" noting that "once (a contract) is over we'll go to the highest bidder."
Still, there's bad blood. As we've already seen, The Blackguard Mercenaries have been in multiple wars with rivals Whores in Space, and Sivor Detman has admitted that The Devil's Warrior Alliance has no love lost for the Marmite Collective.
"The Marmite Collective have become an 0rphanage 2.0" Sivor said. He referred to his dislike for their tactics and the ability to field a large amount of players onto the battlefield. With over 250 members, the Marmite Collective has been accused of 'blob warfare' in High-Sec, where the people in this area are only looking for small-gang battles.
Sivor also complained of their capability to take away too much of the competition. "They take a big share of merc contracts available due to size..." but it wasn't necessarily the size that bothered Sivor, rather the ability to make good on those contracts. "It's not possible to deliver if you have literally dozens of contracts..." he claimed, "that gives a bad rep to merc groups in general."
The Power of Friends With Words
There are literally hundreds of highsec mercenary organizations in New Eden and it can be hard to tell who's-who and who's good. Their business relies heavily on word of mouth and prior performance.
"Ironically, a lot of our targets have actually been previous clients of ours." Sharker2k3 told me. All of these organizations seemed to rely on performance, and being mercenaries - the ability to lay the hammer down on their opponents could actually help the opponents become paying clients. The MERC CONTRACTS in game channel is also a major source for business. Finally, their cauldron as a whole community lay in Crime and Punishment on the EVEO forums.
It was interesting to see that these mercenaries really aren't that different from many other alliances. I personally like the charm in the idea of being those bounty hunters and pirate/mercenaries that EVE loves to advertise and can see why many players gravitate to it.
Good luck, and happy hunting to all mercenaries out there. Perhaps with the Ice Interdiction your business will be better than ever!