City-States: Eighty Percent Rotten

The Mittani argued this week that slowcat blobs, supercarriers, and the Wrecking Ball doctrine are the 'apex force' without a counter that keeps nullsec stagnant, and that once the "death2supers" panacea is applied nullsec would naturally sort out the remainder of its balance problems without further intervention.

I respectfully disagree. Even if every supercarrier were removed from the game today, and spidertank carrier reps were weakened to the point of uselessness outside of triage, EVE would still suffer from its current political situation with two entrenched ultra-rich powers engaged in a cold war, everyone else in nullsec either their pawns or utterly irrelevant (or both), long-time players unsubscribing in sheer and utter boredom, and new players finding little of significance to affect in the big picture.

But first, before we get back around to why EVE is dying a slow, drawn-out death, let's start with understanding why someone brand new would still want to pick up EVE despite being a full decade behind in SP compared to the oldest players.

Eighty Percent As Good

When I recruit friends and coworkers to play EVE with me, I tell them that it's not too late to start playing, and that they can actually be competitive with players that have been around for 3, 4, 5, or even 11 years. Why? The skillpoint system limits the total scaling of how much total power a given player has in combat, and imposes diminishing returns for time the higher one trains skills. It takes days at most for a new player to train a core competence skill to level 4 that a veteran has had all the time in the world to spend weeks to train to level 5, and is 80% as good as the ideal pilot's level 5 skill in that specialty. Therefore, I tell them, I'm more than happy to take them on, because a handful of pilots that are each 80% as good as a veteran will handily defeat the veteran if it comes to a fight, and nothing forces me to play fair by fighting with equal numbers in small gang PVP.

This platitude still holds when one gets to the corporation level due to the relatively limited influence of individual corps in sov nullsec compared to alliances and coalitions - with a bit of studying of information on the arcane corp management interface, a bit of practice doing anti-AWOXing and API reading, so on and so forth, a player willing to put in the work to create content, lead, and organize things can become 80% as good as a veteran CEO and run a decent corp (or become a director in someone else's corp, if they aren't first accused of being a spy and deposed for looking too competent too fast).

However, the analogy completely falls apart when it comes to establishing an alliance or a coalition in nullsec. It's impossible to get anywhere near 80% as good as the established powers that have existed for years when catching up from behind given the lack of a cap on organizational size and on infrastructure development, and even if it were possible, 80% gets you renter or pet status, letting you feed off table scraps rather than do anything useful of your own initiative.

That very same facet of EVE's sandbox that makes an 80% optimal player acceptable to bring on a small fleet due to a lack of restrictions on number of combatants also means that coalitions can apply overwhelming force and reap any blade of grass that grows a bit too high and poses a potential threat, or simply absorb an up-and-coming alliance into their coalition instead of allowing a new coalition to get off the ground. The Red Queen effect that The Mittani invoked to argue for the removal of supercapitals doesn't just apply to the minimum bar of supers required for relevance - it also applies to every single other strategic resource a coalition draws upon.

Powerless to Project

Many other factors have changed besides the advent of the Wrecking Ball doctrine that The Mittani blames in his analysis. He's correct that the problem isn't in isolation jump bridges, titan bridges, blops bridges, dreadnoughts, or titans. However, in addition to the supercap projection threat, there's also the management infrastructure that the CFC and N3PL have built up over years and continue to improve upon year over year that The Mittani fails to consider in his analysis.

The ability to project power in the specific moment rests entirely upon years of advance preparation, and removing supercapitals has no effect upon the rather sophisticated tools and processes that blocs have invented over the past ten years. To name a few examples of amazing tools and internal organizations that a new group cannot easily replicate, GSOL, the GIA, counterintelligence software, sov/tower notification managers, timerboards, coalition-scale fleet comms, automated SRP, management tools for renter space - the list goes on and on. It used to be possible to run a coalition just off of a simple Teamspeak or Mumble server and a set of off-the-shelf-forums with an API registration plugin, but those days are long past us. The bloc that built the superior tools and intelligence will win every time in any otherwise relatively even match.

Magnifying the problem is the phenomenon of wintraining and poaching - anyone marginally competent is more likely to want to go to a bloc that knows what it's doing than to try to struggle with a bunch of noobs who will repeatedly fuck up, and any of the noobs that prove themselves marginally competent get poached to be cogs in the machine for the larger blocs (and view it as an accomplishment to receive such an invitation). And those that refuse to jump ship and appear loyal might very well be spies.

While removing supercapitals would remove the large blocs' capacity for instantaneous responses to capital use, the system of timers with days of warning allows for all of the logistical work for preparing an overwhelming subcapital response with capital support to happen in advance by a sufficiently organized and motivated group. And removing timers and advance warning would make hellcamping far too easy and allow for helicopter dick trolling of any smaller group that managed to take sovereignty on its own and dared bite the toe of a larger entity.

Medium term hotspots still represent a pain point for power projection even disregarding timers. Mobility is sufficiently easy for an organized group like the CFC that it can simply declare that it has had enough of harassment in one portion of its vast empire and declare a deployment on less than a day's notice to any specific hotspot such as Delve without the use of a single supercarrier.