It's no secret that the reputation of -A- (Against All Authorities) isn't what it once was. Longtime players may still recall the days when -A-, under the leadership of the infamous Evil Thug, was considered an elite — or at least very formidable — PvP alliance. While -A- still holds a sizable amount of real estate in Southern nullsec, its image has become as tarnished as any alliance in EVE's history (aside from the Band of Brothers).
Though impolite, the best way to illustrate -A-'s current predicament is to cite the oft-used remark, "-A- is shit." The indelicate phrase became a slogan more than a year ago, and is now so frequently associated with the alliance that it has become a bona fide meme. One might say this is simply the result of a (spectacularly) successful propaganda campaign on the part of -A-'s enemies. But I think it goes much deeper than that. After all, every nullsec alliance has enemies.
It might be tempting for -A- and its remaining friends to look at an article such as this one as an unfair, biased attack. Not so: If the same fate had befallen any of -A-'s enemies, I would be writing a similar article about them. Reality just isn't on -A-'s side at the moment. If they're willing to accept that, they might find this article quite useful.
LOSING MORE THAN SPACE
In charting the course of -A-'s descent, it's hard not to start by looking at their extraordinary loss of three regions (Delve, Querious, and Period Basis) earlier this year. When it began, the war was billed as a titanic struggle for the ages: the Southern Coalition led by -A- versus and the Northern Coalition led by Goonswarm, TEST, and Pandemic Legion. Instead of becoming the next Great War, however, the conflict led to the rapid disintegration of the Southern Coalition. -A- largely abandoned its allies, who had no choice but to hand over their space to the Northern Coalition.
When -A- put in a disappointing performance in the war and lost three regions, it was inevitable that -A-'s reputation would take a hit — and deservedly so. This is not to say that the extent of -A-'s loss of stature was inevitable. If the powers of nullsec are honest, they have all suffered defeats. Most of the older nullsec players have lost wars and vast territories. Yet when they lost space, they did not lose face, not to the degree -A- has. Why?
I believe alliances are judged less on their failures than on how they respond to their failures. It's the same principle in everyday life. If someone makes a mistake and apologizes, he shows that he is operating in the same reality as everyone else. If he does not acknowledge his mistake, he sends a signal to everyone else that he will continue to misbehave. Along these lines, what sets -A- apart from other alliances that have failed is that -A- is completely unwilling to admit, acknowledge, or accept that it has made mistakes. Not only does this handicap -A-'s ability to improve, it sends a message to the rest of EVE that -A- will continue its downward spiral.
Having diagnosed -A-'s central problem, let's take a closer look at some of the specific mistakes made by -A- and how other alliances can learn from them.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
When -A- was forced to cede three regions to its hated enemies, one might have expected some attempt by -A- to "turn the page". When an alliances suffers a big defeat, its leadership (even if they no longer really play EVE anymore) usually appears and makes a big speech about how things will be different/better due to a change of course.
Such announcements can be an embarrassment to the alliance leadership, but they are often a therapeutic source of catharsis for the alliance membership. If properly framed — and anchored in reality — they can give alliance members a reason to hope for a better future. They present an opportunity to make a clean break with the mistakes of the past.
After -A- experienced a crushing defeat in full view of the entire EVE community, one might have expected their leadership to respond. The rational approach would have been first to offer a full admission that -A- failed its members and its coalition partners. Next would come a thorough and thoughtful diagnosis of the reasons for -A-'s failure, followed by a plan to take -A- in a different direction.
No such announcement was forthcoming from -A-. Instead, they doubled down on their delusions of grandeur. -A- denied the reality that everyone else in EVE could see. -A- hit all the wrong marks, blaming their coalition partners, acting like the three regions they lost didn't matter, and reaffirming -A-'s awesomeness by relying on the "Green Killboard" fallacy.
It's not that everyone needed to see -A-'s leadership in a state of self-flagellation. But when an alliance acts like it's okay to lose huge tracts of space and be completely out-classed on the battlefield, it raises an obvious question: Doesn't that mean they will continue to lose space and battles?
THE MAKALU MESS
Most of the time, alliance propagandists are content to direct mockery and hatred toward enemy alliances in general, not toward individuals. On rare occasions, however, an EVE personality will become so notorious that he becomes a lightning rod for negative attention. Such was, and is, the case of -A-'s most famous fleet commander, Makalu Zarya.
Rumor has it that -A- thought so highly of Makalu's abilities as a fleet commander that they paid him tens of thousands of real-life euros to serve in the role full-time. As the war between the Northern and Southern Coalitions raged, it became clear that Makalu was a poor investment. Time after time, Makalu lost fleets to his enemies, even when his forces outnumbered the enemy. Worse, fleets led by Makalu proved unable to achieve their strategic objectives — and unable to prevent the Northern Coalition from achieving their own.
Yet Makalu probably would have amounted to little more than a footnote in the war, were it not for a Pandemic Legion spy who diligently captured and leaked audio recordings of Makalu's fleet comms. One after another, the recordings were released to the general public on SoundCloud. Makalu's rage, sarcasm, and frustration attracted widespread mockery and derision. Makalu — and by extension, -A- itself — became the laughingstock of EVE.
Incredibly, the hits kept coming. Makalu and -A-'s leaders were perfectly aware of the leaked recordings, but nothing was done to stop them. Even if they couldn't discover the identity of the spy, one would think they could have reigned in Makalu, to improve his conduct somehow. They never did.
The lesson here is that an alliance must be capable of understanding how others perceive it. No one member of an alliance is indispensable. The solution to the Makalu problem was obvious: Fire Makalu and replace him with someone competent. As with everything else, -A- simply denied that it had a problem. To this day, many in -A- insist that Makalu is a gifted fleet commander. This further alienates -A- from the rest of the community; it's as if -A- isn't playing the same EVE that the rest of us are.
THE AGE OF COALITIONS
In another article on this website, I wrote about what I called the "Age of Coalitions," nullsec's transition from alliance-based to coalition-based war and politics. These days, nothing really important in nullsec can be accomplished by one alliance acting alone. Basically everything of note is done by multiple alliances working together in coalitions. The fact that even giant alliances like Goonswarm and TEST see the need for coalition partners should be a wake-up call for everyone in nullsec.
The Age of Coalitions has greatly magnified -A-'s problem. In the old days an alliance like -A- might delude itself, but it could still function to some extent. Today no alliance can operate in total independence, and image is therefore more important. Because -A- is viewed from the outside as dysfunctional, it cannot form the coalition bonds it needs in order to achieve its goals.
-A-'s self-deception is also problematic for the few relationships it does possess. After the resounding defeats -A- suffered this year the outside world expects -A- to be humble — to adjust to its new, limited role in nullsec. -A- hasn't done so. On the contrary, -A- only became more arrogant. Makalu himself infamously scolded members of Red Alliance, telling them that they were not allowed to "talk back to -A-."
Granted, it would be almost complimentary to say that Red Alliance is a shell of its former self. However, it's difficult enough to stomach condescension from a powerful, successful alliance. That same level of condescension from a disgraced, deflated alliance like -A- is intolerable to any alliance, no matter how small. Members of -A- wince each time they read the "-A- is shit" meme, but they treat their own allies little better.
HOW CAN -A- TURN THINGS AROUND?
-A- will never again reclaim the power and stature it once enjoyed. The best it can hope for is a managed decline as coalitions led by Goonswarm and TEST grow in influence. Nevertheless, -A- can restore some of its dignity by making a few major adjustments.
First, -A- must make a genuine effort to "turn the page" on its recent troubles. As I described above, -A-'s leaders must own up to their mistakes in a comprehensive, unflinching manner. Some of -A-'s leadership will need to step down so that others can step up. As with their mistake of not firing Makalu during the SoCo/NoCo war, keeping ineffective leaders in place prevents skilled, lower-ranking leaders from taking command.
-A-'s attitude also needs to change. The days when they could command a large chunk of nullsec are over. They should embrace the Age of Coalitions by building and rebuilding relationships with other Southern powers on a basis of mutual respect.
Doing all of these things would go a long way toward salvaging -A-. But that raises the question: Is it worth the effort?
The answer is "probably not." An alliance's reputation can only take so much damage before the harm becomes irreparable. Americans say a car is "totalled" when its value is less than the cost to repair it. That's the situation -A- now finds itself in.
So what should -A-'s membership do?
The best move would be to create a new alliance with a new name and identity. In EVE, starting from scratch is the ultimate gesture of closing the book on past problems and mistakes. In an alliance of -A-'s size, there are doubtless many reasonable, talented members who would like to take things in a new direction. The only problem is that their current leadership is unable or unwilling to go there.
Splitting from an alliance is always a tricky thing, because no one wants to be perceived as disloyal. In a situation like -A-'s, creating a spin-off alliance is much more practical, because -A-'s reputation has fallen so far; departing -A- wouldn't make anyone look any worse than they already do.
For members of -A-, it may feel like a splash of cold water in the face to read some of the things I have written here. It shouldn't be. Every alliance in EVE has made mistakes and suffered defeats in its lifetime. A quick review of the history of (for example) Goonswarm reveals that it's quite possible to get knocked down and get back up. In EVE, the potential for an organization to reinvent itself and correct its mistakes is almost limitless. But it does require that an alliance's leadership be willing to face its harsh realities instead of living in denial.