EVE, DOWN UNDER
The Australian timezone has not always had an easy go of it in EVE. Players log in to the least-busy time on Tranquility, only to have to deal with downtime halfway through their prime time (which can sometimes last up to an hour). This has historically meant that forming fleets and actually getting fights was more difficult than most other timezones; yet the AUTZ players have kept at it for the last few years.
While most AUTZ players generally felt they were on the backburner compared to other timezones, the recent conflict in the North has significantly changed that. FC'ed mostly by Dark Razer, the Dotbros' AUTZ contingent was able to slow down the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC) advance in Tribute by being very active in the CFC's weakest timezone. Dotbro forces were able to repair stations/ihubs and destroy SBUs, as well as successfully fighting a number of fleets. This played a large part in not only giving the Dotbro forces some much-needed morale, but lowering that of the CFC. The height of the AUTZ's importance was at the fight of H-W with the memorable SBU-shooting race. Things had changed and the AUTZ had become important: most alliances, realising this, made an effort to recruit more in that area.
THE AUSSIE FANFEST
Player events have been growing in popularity for EVE Online. In addition to the official EVE FanFest in Reykjavik, there have been three other major events for players this year in London, Las Vegas, and Greece. Obviously, travelling to the Northern hemisphere for a player event is difficult for anyone in the AUTZ. Many players in the area would like the idea of meeting the people they've flown with (and against) in game, talking about EVE, seeing what developers had to say, and going out to have some fun with mates. One of the fortunate characters able to make the trip from the AUTZ to Iceland, RDNx (known for visiting every system in Tranquility despite being a card-carrying carebear) saw firsthand what these events had to offer, both in terms of pure fun and as a means of solidifying the AUTZ's playerbase as an entity. He reached out to Dark Razer and Hamber Bogan (of Black Legion.) and decided to organize EVE Down Under.
The guy behind it all, RDNx
The result was a great success. The first night was very laid-back, starting with drinks at the Rydges World Square in Sydney. Once the ice had been broken between different groups, allies and enemies alike, most everyone went out into town for drinks late into the night, splitting into a number of groups. Most people ended up calling it a night around 2a.m., while a brave few extended the festivities at the nearby Star Casino until the time of day when most people get up to go to work.
In the morning everyone was feeling under the weather, but a large number of people still turned up for a Skype discussion with three CCP developers, including CCP Fozzie. The devs were clearly relaxed and anyone in the audience was allowed to ask some pertinent questions. The devs did their best to answer questions, even when it was not their area of expertise or when there were obvious clauses keeping them from direct answers. Fozzie clearly emphasized his desire to revamp all the ship classes, including eventually adding a potential combat/logistics black ops ships and a tier three industrial ship. All the devs were very excited about the Christmas presents for 2012, saying that players would love them.
The devs were at one point asked whether there was an ultimate objective to reduce downtime and eliminate it altogether: the developers were able to confirm that this was indeed a goal for EVE Online and that programmers were actively trying to reduce downtime (as well as reminding the audience that downtime has now gone from an hour to sometimes less than ten minutes). One of the more interesting things discussed was the integration of the 'other' AUTZ groups, notably the Chinese and the Japanese. The devs made it clear the only reason the former group were not already integrated was a consequence of Chinese law; meanwhile, CCP plans to continue actively promoting EVE in Japan. Hopefully over time this will create a more 'constant' number of players actively engaged during the AUTZ.
Following the developer Q&A, event goers were treated to Dark Razer's guide to FCing - an eye opener for many not directly involved in fleet command. EVE Down Under was also fortunate in having Fawlty7 of Goonswarm Federation present, Dark Razer's opposite number in the conflict for Tribute. Much banter was had throughout the event between the opposing coalitions, leading to an interesting view into the perspectives of both sides. Wusti, leader of AUTZ alliance Convicted, gave everyone an idea of what it was like to lead an alliance and how you end up being in charge of one. What followed was an alliance panel that included Wusti, Kryptyk, Dark Razer, and Fawlty7.
Dark Razer vs Fawlty7 1v1, Dark Razer wins! (and then loses spectacularly)
The second-to-last event was memorable: a 1v1 contest approved by CCP. Players had two-week-old identical characters with the same skillpoints, and a hangar full of t1 frigates and mods. Competitors had two minutes to pick a ship, fit it out, and undock. They were then instructed to warp to a safe spot, where a 5 minute duel would begin. Despite being time-limited (not many people got a chance to have a go) it was thoroughly entertaining. CCP should definitely take something away from that part of event when considering other 'eSport' tournaments.
The last event was a prize giveaway, including some impressive ship models. Names were drawn out of a bowl and many people got to leave the venue with a little trinket. To finish off the night, there was another night of (heavy) drinking and good fun.
Anyone who was there would say they had a great time. For a first iteration (and hopefully not the last one), there was very little to complain about. RDNx freely admits the turnout surprised him (over 120 players attended); thanks to the magic of 'word of mouth', it's likely that future iterations will have an even larger number of attendees. See you next year?