Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snapshot: Fountain, Catch And The Enemy Within

SirMolle's IT Alliance put its reputation as New Eden's force to be reckoned with on the line when it rode to aid The Initiative back in mid-December.

You'll recall that Against All Authorities (-A-) had been ignominiously booted out of its holdings in Catch and elsewhere by The Initiative, White Noise, Initiative vassals Circle of Two and Dead Terrorists, and the mercenary alliance Pandemic Legion. -A- managed to hold together during a brief exile and, once Pandemic Legion's contract ended, roared back into Impass (along with its Southern Russian bretheren Stain and Red Overlords), destroying CO2 and driving Dead Terrorists back to lowsec in the process.

With the Southern Russian wolf banging on the doors of Catch, The Initiative turned to IT Alliance for help. SirMolle obliged them with the "All In" campaign, a planned total mobilization of IT Alliances forces that would save The Initiative, break the back of the Southern Russian forces, and shore up the IT Alliance reputation of neigh-invincibility.

A mere nine days later, with Goonswarm making unexpected progress in Fountain against IT Alliance vassals Black Star Alliance (Blast), IT abandoned its "all-in" counter-offensive against the Southern Russians, withdrew its capital fleet from Catch and rushed it up to Fountain to support the besieged IT Alliance stronghold of PNQY. Once again IT Alliance declared the action at PNQY an "all-in" call to arms. As related elsewhere, despite predictions of an easy IT Alliance win from many corners, the defense of PNQY ended in a shocking loss for IT Alliance.

On December 28, IT Alliance and Blast made an attempt to retake PNQY, however, despite the presence of the IT Alliance Supercapital fleet, IT appears to have been unable to bring sufficient numbers to the battle and Goonswarm carried the day once again.

Meanwhile, -A- is making hay while the sun shines. With IT Alliance's Supercapital fleet pinned down in Fountain, the Southern Russians have gone back on offense in Catch. They presently hold four Catch station systems, two sitting astride the gateway to Impass and all within easy striking distance of the strategic Initiative stronghold of GE-8JV. If all things were equal, we might expect to see IT Alliance swing back and forth between Catch and Fountain, attempting to hold the line in Catch while forcing the Goons out of PNQY and on the defense in in Fountain.

However, all things are not equal. IT Alliance's relationship with Blast and Fountain run much deeper than its relationship with The Initiative and Catch. By the same token, SirMolle's enmity with Goonswarn is both legendary and visceral, whereas its fight against the Southern Russians is largely a matter of policy. As long as Goonswarm threatens IT Alliance in Fountain, The Initiative shouldn't look for the IT Alliance cavalry to arrive in Catch. 

The key thread running through the fabric of the events surrounding Catch and Fountain is IT Alliance's apparent inability to leverage its 6000 members when  it comes to defending their space or their allies. SirMolle himself reportedly blamed the loss at PNQY on IT's inability to deploy the needed troops to Fountain. On paper IT Alliance should have no difficulty mustering the forces necessary to take on Goonswarm in Fountain while supporting an Initiative offensive against the Southern Russians in Catch at the same time. However, battles are not fought on paper.

It is increasingly evident that a large component of the forces nominally at SirMolle's disposal are unable or unwilling to support him. In part, SirMolle's recent calls for total mobilization may have been designed to determine exactly who he can count on when push comes to shove. 

Now this could simply be player apathy, but I don't think there's that much dead wood amongst the IT Alliance ranks. Nor do I think it's a matter of low CTA participation due to time zone or holiday considerations. Participation relative to its size has been an ongoing issue for IT Alliance, even during its primary EU time zone, and IT's foes in Fountain leading up to the PNQY debacle have fought under the same holiday-related RL constraints.  

If recent low CTA turnouts are not related to player apathy or inability to respond, we are left with the possibility that a significant body of the troops in IT Alliance are loyal to someone other than SirMolle; that someone is (or someones are) witholding participation as a political play to gain influence within the alliance. As I've suggested elsewhere, perhaps there are multiple IT factions in conflict over the alliance's strategic direction.

If that's the case, IT Alliance's failures in Catch and Fountain, may cause the opening of a third front; this one a campaign mounted in the IT Alliance board room between SirMolle himself and the enemies within.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snapshots: Providence

As capsuleers return to active service following the holidays, I provide a brief update on where things stand in several nullsec theatres. I'll begin with Providence and follow up with a separate post on where Catch and Fountain stand

Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA) got a recent assist from an unlikely source. Against All Authorities (-A-) dropped a Supercapital fleet on what was a routine system takeover by NCDOT, with CVA providing the cyno-ship. NCDOT got out of the engagement lucky, losing only one Supercapital (a Nyx) from their fleet due to the absence of Heavy Interdictors in the CVA/-A- fleet.

Indications are that CVA and -A- are blue to each other at the moment owing to NCDOT providing Supercapital support to The Initiative in Catch. -A- is attempting to re-take that region and their and hot-drop on the NCDOT fleet will force NCDOT to keep a strong Supercap presence in Providence - Supercaps that won't be readily available for use against -A- in Catch.

With CVA in need of -A- assistance and able to provide only limited assistance in Catch, they have more to gain from a thawing of relations with -A-. That would indicate that -A-'s outreach represents no more than a moment of mutual convenience. However, -A- may be playing a long game and thinking of using CVA as a vassal to hold Providence as a buffer guarding the back door to Catch against -A-'s enemies.

In the end this joint action is only a single data point in the ongoing CVA/-A- relationship. The depth and sincerity of their current rapprochement is remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in Providence, NCDOT appears to be focusing on the H-KW4A constellation in its effort to control the Providence South and squeeze CVA and Legio Astartes Arcanum (Legio) out of the region.

Ev0ke, meanwhile, has made little progress in mopping up Providence North. Ev0ke and vassal fleets have been encountered in the Northern regions of nullsec, far from Providence. Given the distance involved (a long way to go for a few good fights) it's likely Ev0ke is acting at the behest of a third party. Or it may be that Ev0ke is using the holidays to give its pilots some time off from the grind of sovereignty warfare. In any event, it's interesting that Ev0ke would take its collective eye off what has looked to be end-game in Providence to pursue PvP on the far side of nullsec. We'll see if CVA has the wherewithal to make them pay for that distraction.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

PNQY - When Legends Fall

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!" - Robert Burns
Things did not go according to script for IT Alliance yesterday in PNQY.

Several weeks ago, IT Alliance announced an "all in" deployment to Catch in order to defend The Initiative from the Southern Russians. With the main IT Capital fleet thus occupied, Goonswarm made disturbingly quick work of Black Star Alliance in Fountain, and moved to strike the IT Alliance stronghold of PNQY in that region. Two days ago, with their Fountain allies unable to hold the line and the PNQY station coming out of its last reinforcement, IT made the decision to quit their Catch operations, recall their main fleet, and move it up to PNQY to save the station and blunt the Goon's offensive.

SirMolle's commanders put out a full scale call to arms. The fleet called for was to consist of armor tanking heavy assault cruisers (AHACs) and capital ships to number in excess of 1700.

Elements of the IT Alliance fleet began arriving in system the day before the battle to ensure they were on the grid before the Goon fleet arrived. Knowing the fight for the system would draw a large Goon battleship fleet, the IT Alliance plan appears to have been to occupy the high ground from a lag perspective and leverage the priority given to Titan doomsday weapons that make them effective even under heavy lag conditions - a tactic they'd used to good effect in Catch against the Southern Russians. Taking a page from Pandemic Legion's book, the IT Alliance commanders deemed a HAC fleet the best sub-capital answer to the Goon's battleship fleet.

Leading up to the fight, IT Alliance postings in the various Eve forums seemed confident of victory. They were fighting close to home. They had the strategic high ground. They had a vast advantage in Supercapital ships. The battle would take place during the prime hours of the European Time Zone, IT Alliance's sweet spot from a player participation standpoint. Even the Goons posting in forum seemed to anticipate an IT win.

Nonetheless, there was excitement in the air. This was to be a knock-down, drag-out brawl between two legendary foes. All eyes turned to Fountain.

As the boxer and sometime philosopher Mike Tyson once observed, "Everybody has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth". IT Alliance appears to have taken a shot to the head early in the battle and never recovered.

Numbers seem to have been key in this fight. Despite the priority of the call to arms and the presence of allies, IT Alliance was unable to assemble the 1700 ship ordered by its fleet commanders. The count of ships on the IT Alliance side seems to have topped out at about 600. There are indications that large numbers of IT pilots were off ratting in the home regions during the PNQY battle; a key failure in CTA discipline. Meanwhile, the opportunity to be a part of an epic battle against the legendary IT Alliance drew pilots from all corners of New Eden to the Goonswarm fleet, swelling their ranks. 

Goonswarm and allies entered PNQY system on schedule and, despite lag, began to make a steady stream of kills against the IT Alliance AHAC formations - Drakes taking a particularly heavy toll of the IT Zealots. IT Alliance appears to have held back its supercapital fleet, possibly owing to the unanticipated size of the Goon fleet. Battle reports to date indicate the presence of a single IT Titan that was quickly pointed and reduced to structure before managing to log off.

Without support of their Supercapitals, the IT AHAC fleet was badly mauled and the fight quickly turned into a rout for IT Alliance as their subcapitals attempted a retreat to an IT POS in system. Unfortunately, the IT Alliance allies had not been provided the POS password and many lost their ships just outside the POS shields. This led to early reports that IT Alliance had fled the field early in the battle, abandoning their allies in the process.

At 21:46 the IT Territorial Claim Unit (TCU) was destroyed. As the Goonswarm TCU was deployed SirMolle is reported to have been in a rage, demanding that IT's Euro pilots fight on into their night to prevent the system from falling to the Goons.  However, the fight seems to have gone out of the IT Alliance pilots and killboards record no IT Alliance kills or losses in PNQY after 22:25, about 40 minutes after the IT Alliance TCU went down.

Now, there is no reason that yesterday's defeat should be more than a minor set-back to IT Alliance. Their Supercapital fleet is intact. They are still, at least on paper, the most powerful single alliance in all New Eden. Their losses in the battle can be easily replaced. Goonswarm's fleet numbers are a statistical outlier - they're not going to get that many pilots in fleet on a regular basis.

What happens next will be very much up to the IT Alliance leadership. If SirMolle and company can use this loss as a galvanizing event to unite disparate factions within the alliance and wake its PvP elements from their apparent slumber, there's no reason to believe IT won't come roaring back at their enemies with a vengeance.

However, if this event is allowed to precipitate a crisis of confidence among IT Alliance members, it's not going to be pretty.

Victory, they say, has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. Outrage and finger-pointing among the IT leadership could broaden current rifts within the alliance. Allies, angry at being led to defeat, may not be inclined to support IT Alliance in its next fight. The loss at PNQY, when circumstances leading up to the battle were so in IT Alliance's favor, will encourage SirMolle's enemies. If they're allowed to seize the initiative and continue on offense against IT and its allies, the cohesion of IT Alliance will be tested even further.

In that case, PNQY will be remembered as the place where the BOB/IT legend fell to earth.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fiddlers Note: All Out

Normally I don't like to drop one post on top of the other. However, I want to call attention to an event that relates to content in The Gathering Storm and Tickling The Dragon's Tail:  

Yesterday, December 20, Goonswarm destroyed the IHUB at IT Alliance's stronghold of PQNY in Fountain. In response, IT Alliance has pulled major elements of their carrier fleet out of Catch to shore up their Fountain defenses.

With that, IT's "all in" defense of The Initiative comes to an end. It remains to be seen how much in the way of resources IT will continue to dedicate to propping up The Initiative.

The fact that a 6,000 member alliance with a vast Supercapital fleet is losing ground on one front while making only modest progress on the other suggests all is decidedly not well in Delve.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gathering Storm

The winter holidays are, generally speaking, a dull time in nullsec. For those denizens who actually have a life and are not outright agoraphobic, interstellar conquest must give way to the demands of the season; gift buying, parties and family obligations. For some reason, "I really have to go fly cartoon space ships," doesn't buy one much slack when there's egg nog to be spiked, or the kids are clamoring to out to the woods for a blue spruce.

You've simply got to suck it up, step away from the keyboard and socialize with people who have no interest whatsoever in whether blasters or pulse lasers are the superior weapon for close-in-and-personal PvP. No one at the holiday office party is going to discuss the proper fitting for ratting in wormholes, and the check-out lady at the grocers is utterly uninterested in your opinion of the Incarna upgrades.

With all these distractions the Eve meta-game has gone from high boil to a modest simmer. As fleet participation dwindles, major offensives or transfers of territory have died down. There are short, sharp actions here and there, but sustained fighting has, if you'll pardon the pun, taken a holiday. EveNews24 has resorted to hyping events like the "Mystery" surrounding the loss of a Razor Supercapital, that would have been only marginally interesting back in November.

Mind, it's not all peace and quiet by any means. Staging actions, political and logistical set-up for post-holiday mayhem, are well underway.

CVA, NC and Ev0ke have finished gobbling up all the "free" space in Providence. After the holidays I expect that party to begin in earnest as NC and Ev0ke attempt to take full control of the region. Kirith Kodachi the sage of Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah wonders how much of Providence space NC wants. My answer is "half', with the other half going to Ev0ke. The old conceit that no-one wants the wormy old Providence region is pre-Dominion thinking. With system upgrades available, Provi is much more attractive than it was of old. Further, Nullsec space is needed to build Supercaps - the ultimate coin in New Eden. Provi has value these days, and anyone who wishes to hold it will have to do so through strength of arms rather than indifference on the part of the competition.

While IT Alliance helps The Initiative against the Southern Russians, the Goons appear to be making headway in Fountain. It remains to be seen how long IT will ignore that front. I expect they're content to let Fountain fall, trusting they can take it back again at will. However, despite some IT/Initiative victories in Catch and Impass, there's no indication that Stain, -A- and Red Overlord are giving up the fight. The Initiative's outreach to NC for additional SuperCapital support suggests that Initiative isn't getting all the support it needs from IT Alliance, or that support has been dialed back from what was initially promised. It may be that there's already internal resistance to continuing the "all in" IT Alliance support of The Initiative in the face of the Goon advance.

Then, in the North, the pieces appear to be being set for new actions in the ongoing fracas between the Drone Russians and the Northern Coalition. As per my word, I'll say no more about that.

Once the holidays are over and the capsuleers are back in fleet, expect the well-laid plans of alliance directors will be put in motion. 

So, enjoy your plum puddings and mincemeat pies. Have at that Christmas goose and lay into the roast turkey or ham with a will. Eat well, drink your fill, kiss your sweetie under the mistletoe. Rest well, my children.

After the holidays, nullsec's going to burn.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lost in Eve

There's a reason why Fiddler's Edge isn't a podcast.

I am dependent upon the written page in order to self-edit. In real time my thoughts don't get the aggressive revisions they need in order to be drawn up into some sort of coherent order. I'll be talking my way down one line of thought when a couple of other ideas flit by. And ol' brain wanders off after them like a cat distracted by a flight of birds, leaving me behind, stuck in mid-sentence and delivering exceptionally clever witticisms like 'uuuuuuh", or 'ahhhhhhh'.

That, my friends, is the sound of too many synapses firing at once. I tell you, it ain't pretty.  

Thanks to Jayne over at Lost In Eve, you'll have a chance to hear it for yourself.  Jayne was kind enough to invite me to participate in a round-table podcast along with Chad from Fly Reckless and the lads from Eve Commune.  We held forth on RMT, the Dominion sovereignty changes, Pandemic Legion, IT Alliance and made our predictions of what's in store for 2011. Good fun in good company.

One thought I've been mulling in my head for a while and finally gave voice to during the round-table was  how CCP might enforce RMT and botting violations in nullsec. At the moment, all CCP does is confiscate the offender's virtual possessions and ban him from owning an Eve account for life.

That might get some marginal violators but, thanks to the anonymity of the internet, a determined RM trader or botter will  soon be back in business. In short, the current RMT deterrents do not deter. The risk of getting caught and the punishment that follows are far outweighed by the benefits of botting and RM selling.

So here's a modest proposal: Punish nullsec alliances for botting activity that occur in their space. Let's face it, at present botters are pretty much ignored (if not encouraged) by most alliances. Not their  business. Let CCP worry about it. If anything it's extra ISK in the alliance pocket, so why worry. No skin off the alliance's nose.

But lets say for a moment that, if a consistent  pattern of botting in a given alliance's space continues despite CCP's usual measures, CCP punishes said alliance. Not without warning of course.

Sort of: "Oh, by the way lads we couldn't help but notice that the botting patterns we discovered in your Arglebargle systems have continued despite our prior notifications. By way of friendly reminder to properly police you sovereign space, we'll be removing these systems from your sovereignty."

Something like that. Of course continued misbehavior can draw escalating punishments - fines to the alliance, alliance leadership, and alliance corporation directors. Confiscation of capital and Supercapital ships. And, of course disbanding.

In essence; If it's your space, help CCP keep it botter free. Alliances and corporations should have some skin in the game if some of their merry band are breaking the rules - particularly if the member organization benefits from the rule breaking.

Of course there are workarounds. There always are. We Eve players are a clever lot. However, the goal isn't to stop botting and RMT altogether - but to make it less convenient and make those that do answerable to their fellow capsuleers as well as CCP.

Another random synapse firing. Just a thought.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tickling The Dragon's Tail

Who knows how to tickle the dragon's tail? Mord Fiddle does.

Back on November 28, in Resurgence, I devoted a good bit of space to what the Against All Authorities come-back meant to IT Alliance.
The prospect of a potentially hostile -A- parked on the borders of Querious and Delve may move IT Alliance to take a substantive role in the defense of The Initiative's holdings in Catch.
I went on to say that, since the failed invasion of the North earlier this year, IT Alliance had, in effect, dabbled about the edges of the nullsec meta-game, apparently content to mind its borders, rest on its laurels and attend the odd barbecue. However, I said, the public perception and strategic fallout of -A-'s return from the grave might force IT Alliance out of inaction.
With more to lose than to win in most engagements, SirMolle's actions of late seem hesitant - chosen with an eye to protecting the BOB/IT Alliance brand and legacy rather than taking the storied alliance someplace new.

An invasion of Catch by the Southern Russian Coalition will test that hesitancy and put IT Alliance's leadership in the position where passive, low-risk choices are no longer an option.
A week later SirMolle announced IT Alliance was going "all in" in their defense of Catch and The Initiative; that every pilot, dog, cat and dormouse in the alliance would be dedicated to propping up their allies and putting -A- down for good. A few days thereafter, to signal their intentions, a capital fleet including thirty Titan-class ships and fifty Motherships was moved into Catch. 

It appears SirMolle does not like being called a risk dodging has-been. Who knew he was a reader?

With all that hardware rolling in the Southern Russians' direction, one might be excused for assuming the fight is over before it's really begun. However, a parade is not combat.

IT Alliance has a very large fleet of Supercapitals at its disposal. However, the number of Supercapitals they've employed in fleet fights this year has not been terribly high given the size of their fleet. One must conclude that a large portion of the IT Alliance Supercap pilots have little actual combat experience in those ships. Much will depend on whether the IT Alliance fleet is piloted by veteran fleet PvPers who've recently stepped up to Supercapitals, or SirMolle is dressing the ranks with Delve ISK farmers who normally use their Titans or Motherships to run Sanctums. Flying in combat against seasoned nullsec PvPers is a very different proposition than flying in formation from Delve to Catch. Mind, with that many Supercaps at your disposal, you can afford a lot of mistakes. However it only takes a few losses on that scale to sow doubt among the faithful.

Further, it's going to take more than a show of strength or a short campaign to knock down the Southern Russians. -A- showed remarkable cohesion during and after The Initiative's invasion of Catch. The Initiative learned, to their pain, that -A- will not go gently into that good night. For IT Alliance to win this fight they must hang in the fight until the fight is done - and this fight won't be over until -A- is no longer a coherent nullsec power. It's one thing to go "all in" for a few weeks, or a month. It remains to be seen whether IT Alliance can deploy at that level for the long slog this fracas is likely to end up being. And IT Alliance has a few structural issues that call their ability to endure a long campaign into question.

First of all, IT Alliance's greatest perceived strength is likely its greatest weakness. IT Alliance is big. Really, really big. 6,000 members is a lot of members. All those members and member corporations have their own wants, desires and agendas. Never forget Mord's Rule: In New Eden you have vassals only so long as they choose to serve you. IT Alliance can only go "all in" in the Catch war as long as their member corporations are acting in their own interest, or IT Alliance leadership can persuade them to put their interests aside for the good of IT Alliance. The more component organizations and factions an alliance has, the harder balancing all those wants, desires and agendas gets. And IT Alliance has a lot of component factions and organizations.

Secondly, to go "all in" in Catch, IT Alliance must put their interests elsewhere on the back burner. Pouring veteran troops into Catch means those forces are not readily available elsewhere. The Deklein Coalition is already taking advantage of this by stepping up attacks in Fountain. -A- has begun making raids against IT Alliance on their home ground of Delve (recently reinforcing a CSAA), a disruptive incursion rarely seen in the heyday of BOB of old. Pressure on the IT Alliance frontiers and home resources will cause internal factions to resist an extended campaign in Catch. That same pressure, unanswered, will act like blood in the water, bringing more sharks to the gathering feast.

Finally, there are reports of discontent within IT Alliance's leadership. Given the size of the organization, I'd be surprised if that weren't the case. There seems to be a critical mass beyond which an alliance becomes too unwieldy to manage - a coalition trapped within the relatively inflexible alliance management structure. Getting such an organization to move quickly and assertively, and stay a difficult course, requires a shared larger purpose, or a leader who can galvanize the organization to common action. 

SirMolle has built an organization that casts a broad shadow over nullsec. There are few capsuleers in New Eden who can remember a time when BoB/IT Alliance was not. Regardless of one's opinion of BOB/IT Alliance, there's no denying its place in the Eve zeitgeist.

However, the luster that once surrounded BOB has faded somewhat with time. All organizations are like living things - they move forward or they die. BOB/IT cannot remain what it was and it cannot seem to decide what it wants to be. So it hovers in indecision; a victim of its own reputation.

Then there are the rumors of SirMolle's desire to take a less active role in the day-to-day management of his interstellar empire. This would be understandable given how long he's been at the helm of BOB/IT,  his accomplishments over that time and the amount of time and effort that goes into managing a large in-game organization. Sooner or later, one wants to kick back and have a little laurel-resting time.  

Alas, Eve alliances so closely centered around a single personality do not often survive the departure, or even the lessened involvement of that guiding spirit. As King Lear discovered, living monarchs rarely rest easily in their retirement.

Nor do their empires.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bumper Cars

Role-play only justifies idiotic decisions if the role you play is an idiot.  -  June 2010

I haven't written about Providence for a while now. Not since August fourth, to be precise. Which is not surprising, when you think about it. Providence being the kiddy pool of nullsec, attention naturally falls away from it when the grown-ups are busily drowning each other in the deep end of the pool.

However, as often happens, events in deep nullsec are creating waves that have reached the shallows of Providence and are roiling those waters as well.

Early in the year, as most readers of The Edge will recall, -A- drove Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA) and their allies from Providence nullsec altogether and reseeded the space with hand-picked vassal alliances in a campaign known as "The Great Eviction".  Over the New Providence Holders (NPH), -A- established "The Rule": Thou shalt not screw with thy neighbor's sovereignty. Period. PvP against each other was allowed (in fact encouraged), but Sov tampering was a strict no-no. -A- stood as The Rule's final arbiter and enforcer. Beyond The Rule, NPH alliances worked together when threatened by an external entity. 

Now, when The Initiative, White Noise, et al, knocked the -A- nullsec empire out from under it back in October, -A- was no longer in position to enforce The Rule. Further, as allies of -A-, the NPH came under attack by those enemies of -A- not engaged in taking over their nullsec space, as well as a renewed effort the CVA role-players to liberate their holy land from the NPH infidels - which is CVA's raison d'etre.

In late Summer before The Initiative's invasion of -A- space, Ushra'Khan, -A-'s chief vassal and enforcer in Providence, had been weakened by a temporary alliance disband. By the time of the invasion,  U'K had not fully recovered and was vulnerable to attack. The U'K position was further weakened by the defection of CO2, a key U'K ally, to The Initiative's invasion force. Targeted by old enemies and -A- foes, U'K was quickly driven from Providence.

The remnants of the NPH alliances held on as best they could - mutual defense keeping the fabric of the coalition from completely unraveling despite its tattered state. CVA, having been handed systems by the embittered Noir Mercenary Group as they exited Providence, had finally achieved a long sought after foot-hold in Providence as the NPH no longer had the strength of arms to push CVA out as it had in the past.

Then Ev0ke showed up on the doorstep. 

History often reads like a big game of bumper cars. People don't move without good reason. The barbarian horde doesn't just wake up one morning and collectively say "Hey guys, lets go invade Rome." When the barbarians show up on your doorstep, some external pressure has moved them in your direction. Population pressures, for example, or famine, or drought. Very commonly, your barbarians have been pushed out of the space they formerly occupied by another even nastier barbarian horde. In effect, they've been pushed in your direction. If you can't hold your ground against them, they'll push you out of your space, and you'll be forced to either assimilate into their horde (assuming they let you), or go find lodgings elsewhere.

As in real life, so in Eve.

Ev0ke, having been run out of the Cloud Ring by the Deklein Coalition a month or so back, announced they were loading up the truck and moving to seek their fortunes in Providence. Veteran sov warriors who'd been battling Goons and Test Alliance up in the Ring, Ev0ke was more than a match for the Providence alliances, who tend to prefer sharp lowsec style PvP to the relentless, grinding fleet battles practiced in deep nullsec. Ev0ke quickly carved out a presence in North-East Providence, and have been expanding steadily to the West.

With the additional pressure from Ev0ke, the NPH has effectively ceased to be. A number of the remaining alliances have begin to pull out of Providence. CO2, having been pushed out of Impass in the -A- resurgence, planned to return to their Providence holdings and regroup. However, unable to hold their member corporations together, CO2's leadership has announced it will disband. This means that a large chunk of Providence real estate is about to become available with CVA and Ev0ke being the likely inheritors.

Of these two, Ev0ke is better positioned to pick up the pieces. While CVA has gone about snatching up systems wherever it can, Ev0ke has built its new holdings in Providence strategically - expanding from a controlled center in the North-East. C02's extensive holdings in North-central Providence sit practically on Ev0ke's doorstep.

So, a new battle for Providence shapes up, with CVA extending its holdings in the South, and Ev0ke expanding in the North. Numerically the sides appear to be evenly matched. However, CVA has a few serious disadvantages to overcome.

First of all, Northern Coalition alliance seems to have taken an interest in Providence and have established a presence smack in the middle of the South where CVA operates. They've shown themselves to be tough PvPers and appear to be coordinating their efforts in Southern Providence with Ev0ke. If they expand their presence in Southern Providence, it could mean serious trouble for CVA. CVA's holdings in Southern Providence are rather scattered and CVA still has to contend with Flying Dangerous and Legio Astartes Arcanum while, at the same time, contending with Ev0ke and NC.

Finally, CVA has a marked inclination toward casting away allies and opportunities; using role-play as a justification for obviously foolish strategic, diplomatic and economic decisions. CVA has no allies to call on, having either alienated them or seen to their destruction during and shortly after the Great Eviction. Former NPHers seeking to remain in Providence are likely to join Ev0ke or NC Alliance and battle CVA, CVA having been quick to burn bridges with the NPH 'infidels' in the name of role-playing rather than engage in realpolitik. 

Ironically, Ev0ke's greatest ally in the coming war with CVA, may be CVA.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


The fall of 68FT-6 in Impass to Against All Authorities (-A-) and the Southern Russian Coalition last week appears to have broken the back of organized resistance in the region by Circle of Two (CO2) and The Initiative (INIT). CO2 subsequently ordered a stand-down in Impass and its pilots appear to have pulled back to CO2 holdings in Providence. Meanwhile, -A- operations in Impass appear to be meeting little resistance on the part of The Initiative, indicating that INIT is writing the region off for the moment; using the time it will take -A- to consolidate their gains in Impass to rest and re-organize INIT forces along a new front.

The most likely concentration of INIT forces will be near the entry-points to Catch. Long the seat of -A- power, and currently the region boasting the highest concentration of INIT forces, Catch is a natural flash-point for both sides. INIT forces striking -A- forces in Impass will come from there. -A- forces looking to take back their old seat of power will strike at those entry points.

While tempted by the emotional importance of Catch, -A- is not likely to overlook Teneferis. As it was for -A- before it, sleepy Teneferis is a source of great wealth for the alliance that holds it. The Initiative has followed -A-'s example of seeding the region with renters who provide INIT with a tidy source of revenue and, no doubt, capital ships.

-A- would do well to begin a secondary offensive in Teneferis either before, or in tandem with an attempted invasion of Catch. If INIT chooses to defend the region, that will draw forces away from the Catch front. If INIT declines to defend (and to some extent, even if it doesn't), many Teneferis renters will shut down operations and the region will quickly dry up as a source of revenue and supply.

Further, the impact on morale of many systems (even renter systems) falling quickly to the invaders should not be overlooked. This is precisely the tactic INIT employed to good effect during its invasion of -A- space earlier this Fall. If The Initiative hadn't been so confident of an -A- failscade soon thereafter, INIT might have taken the lesson and developed their own renters into a meaningful regional defense force. However, if INIT relations with their PvP vassal alliances is any indication, the The Initiative hasn't taken any such trouble and is, like -A- before them, content to use their renters as little more than an ATM. 

Should the Southern Russians successfully invade Teneferis, they should be open to Initiative Associate renters wishing to cut a deal with the inbound -A- forces. Recall that a number of Initiative Associate corporations were, in fact, AAA Citizen corporations before INIT took over the space. As I've written elsewhere, for many of these corporations renting space is a transaction, not a matter of loyalty. Allowing an apolitical renter to occupy the same space merely by switching alliances is simply good business. It saves the renter the need to move or lose valuable infrastructure. It brings the revenue-generating potential of the renter's systems back online as soon as hostilities move past those systems. It saves the invader the headache of recruiting new renters and jump-starts the income flow from the conquered space. Some selective outreach here works to the invaders tactical advantage as well. A renter with no reason to fear the new landlord is less inclined to assist the old landlord in defense of rented space.

How matters resolve themselves between INIT and the Southern Russians going forward will depend on timing and the numbers both sides can bring to the fight. The Initiative and -A-, on their own, are pretty much at numeric parity. Their return as the new lords of Impass should bolster -A- membership and, possibly, bring some seasoned veterans back to the fold. However, Initiative Mercenaries, based out of Catch, is a sizable block of pilots, tipping the balance in favor of The Initiative. Barring a convenient collapse in INIT's morale, -A- is going to need their Southern Russian brethren in the fight if they hope to retake Catch.

While taking Catch will have enormous emotional importance to -A-, it may be less of a priority to Stain Empire and Red Overlords who, having pushed The Initiative and its minions off their doorstep, may be content to consolidate their gains rather than launch another offensive.  Red Overlords in particular may be reluctant, as White Noise is still a presence in Feythabolis, and must be dealt with before that region is secure and Overlords are placed to assist -A- in Catch.  

Then there are the usual wild cards to consider; Pandemic Legion and IT Alliance.

Pandemic Legion seems well occupied in the North where the Drone Russian Coalition (RUS) have hired them to perform enfilading attacks to take Northern Coalition pressure off RUS forces in Etherium Reach. Barring RUS canceling that contract, or The Initiative making PL an offer RUS is unwilling or unable to match, a significant PL presence in the South is unlikely.

Aside from sending a 200 ship fleet to the defense of 68FT-6, IT Alliance has had only marginal involvement in the fighting between The Initiative and the Southern Russians. However it's important to recall that IT Alliance, rushing to the aid of the victors, opened up a second front on the last pockets of -A- resistance when INIT invaded Catch and then turned the conquered -A- systems over to The Initiative. Having taken an IT Alliance shiv in the back, -A- is unlikely to be kindly disposed toward their former allies.

The prospect of a potentially hostile -A- parked on the borders of Querious and Delve may move IT Alliance to take a substantive role in the defense of The Initiative's holdings in Catch. However, throwing the full weight of IT Alliance behind INIT at a time when an impending Goon invasion is building against IT elsewhere is a high-stakes enterprise. If The Initiative falls the resulting appearance of weakness would do much to encourage the growing notion that IT Alliance is a paper tiger - the Hapsburg Empire of New Eden.

As leader of the largest PvP alliance in New Eden, SirMolles's actions since IT's failed invasion of the North early this year seem risk-averse. He has focused on small, low-risk offensive actions that occupy IT Alliance pilots, but the success or failure of which are of little consequence to the alliance at large. With more to lose that to win in most engagements, SirMolle's actions of late seem hesitant - chosen with an eye to protecting the BOB/IT Alliance brand and legacy rather than taking the storied alliance someplace new.

An invasion of Catch by the Southern Russian Coalition will test that hesitancy and put IT Alliance's leadership in the position where passive, low-risk choices are no longer an option.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Fire Upon The Deep

Say what you will about the Dominion sovereignty rules, there are a lot of good fights going on in nullsec these days and a lot of territory changing hands.

Down in Providence there's a three way donnybrook going on, with CVA, Ev0ke and a coalition of resident alliances going at it - kicking and gouging in the mud, the blood and the beer.

The Southern Russians have pushed The Initiative's minions from Feythabolis and are stomping around Impass in hob-nailed boots; all the while preparing to take the fight directly to The Initiative in Catch and Teneferis (more on that next time).

With the Kalevala Expanse all but overrun by NC, they and the Drone Russian are gleefully bashing away at each other in Etherium Reach - both sides apparently enjoying mayhem writ large.

The old Goons versus BoB/IT Alliance show seems to be regaining some of its old shine over in Fountain and Dekline. At the same time IT Alliance is occupied with propping up SysK in Period Basis and sent a 200 ship BS fleet (about half of which was destroyed) to the siege of 68FT-6 in Impass.

With smoke rising from so many nullsec regions, I'm wondering how nullsec Carebears are managing. Even traditionally stable areas are now subject to changing hands and the related invasion or counter-invasion. For carebears, that's got to be driving a lot of change.

To some bears, like Against All Polish Authorities in Teneferis, the invasion amounted to little more than the need to keep one's head down during the change in landlords. Others pack up shop and head for empire when the winds of war blow.

Still other bears transform into PvP bears. Dominion rules and the recent discovery of the Drake as a viable fleet platform have upped the demand for nullsec pilots and made alliance fleets much more welcoming of nullsec bears looking to get into the scrum.

It will be interesting to see how the current level of conflict transforms the nullsec bear. They may revert to their old ways, renting the space and making the monies. Then again, maybe they'll claim a little patch of space to call their own, set up mining and production, but keep their weapons close at hand against the coming of the wolf.

Or it could be that the quiet life of mining and making will pale after the taste of so much blood and many will give up carebearing altogether. This could leave nullsec with a larger population of PvPers than it once had, all quick to become bored when the current flames of nullsec die down, and prone to building new wars in the ashes of the old.

Friday, November 19, 2010


As nullsec regions go, Impass is on the small side. It has a mere 51 systems, and of those only six boast a station. When The Initiative took over the space during their invasion of Against All Authorities' (-A-) empire, they handed the region over to their vassal alliance, Circle Of Two (CO2).

To be put in charge of an entire region is a rare distinction for a relative newcomer to deep nullsec. However, CO2 has, to my mind, justified The Initiative's faith in it so far. Post-war operations in the South were expected to be a mopping-up action followed by a low-grade brush war against a few stubborn hold-outs while the rest of -A- evaporated like unto Atlas Alliance. Instead CO2 has found itself in a stand-up sovereignty war against the South Russian Coalition (SRC) of -A-, Stain Empire and Red Overlord.  Though hard-pressed, CO2 has hung in the fight and held the line where its fellow vassal, Dead Terrorists (DT), could not.

Even when dealing with a small geography like Impass, putting all systems and station in reinforced mode is no mean feat. Yet, that is precisely what the SRC did November 17. And in so doing they struck CO2 and The Initiative with three blows all at once:

First of all, the action stood as an announcement of the Southern Russian intentions and ability. The determination, turn-out and coordination required to pull off the action announces that the Southern Russians are back. It demonstrates that they have the ships, pilots and commanders to pull of large scale operation. Stain, -A-, and Overlord are not some dead-enders who got lucky, but a fighting force to reckoned with.

Secondly, it has to be a huge morale hit for CO2 and The Initiative. To reinforce that much space at once the SRC had to be able to move pretty much at will in Impass. And when you wake up in the morning, pour your coffee and look out your window to find your entire region in reinforced mode, it's bound to make you reconsider your strategic situation.

Finally, the SRC are leveraging the Dominion sovereignty mechanic to their advantage. Those mechanics require that systems under attack be actively defended. CO2 and The Initiative must pick and choose which systems to defend and position their forces accordingly. The Southern Russians, being on offense, can attack whatever systems CO2/Initiative are poorly positioned to defend. 

An obvious CO2/Initiative strategy is to leverage what they hope is a numeric advantage during the US time zones. Assuming they can pull together superior numbers, by making all systems in Impass potential targets the Southern Russians may well have offset that advantage.  Stain and company can throw feints at vulnerable systems, forcing CO2/ Initiative to commit forces to their defense. If the CO2/Initiative forces refuse to engage, the South Russians get those targets on the cheap. If the CO2/Initiative forces do respond to the feint, the main South Russian forces can strike the actual targets.  Not an easy operation to pull off, but Stain, -A- and Overlord have just shown they're capable of this sort of coordination.

The chatter in the forums does not bode well for CO2/Initiative. While CO2's membership numbers have held admirably during this time, CO2/Initiative fleet numbers seem to be dropping. CO2 players, while loyal to the alliance, are feeling less dedicated to the Impass cause and are finding reasons to be elsewhere. Ethereal Dawn appears to be cutting their losses and moving out of the region. At the same time, The Initiative seem oddly reluctant when it comes to the Impass fight. It may be they, already holding more space elsewhere than they can effectively manage and defend, are more inclined to let Impass slip away than go all in to hold the region. 

Talk now centers on two things: If /when the SRC takes Impass, will they stop at that? And will IT Alliance join the fight on The Initiative's side?

The answer to the first is, I think, no. In the absence of some back room deal between The Initiative and -A-, I'd expect the SRC to push into Catch after a brief respite to consolidate their new holdings.

As to the second, while we might see some token elements of IT Alliance in the fight for Impass, I'd be surprised if they joined the Impass end game in any numbers. As I've written elsewhere, the bff relationship between The Initiative and IT strikes me as overstated. Further, IT Alliance is presently occupied with skirmishes elsewhere at the moment, and their patterns of behavior these days suggest they won't be sending significant forces a full region beyond their borders to open up a second front. Finally, like Rick from Casablanca, IT Alliance sticks their neck out for nobody. In a number of recent conflicts, IT Alliance has only joined in once the outcome was decided; rushing to the aid of the victor. And, right now, CO2/Initiative are not looking like winners.

In short, it's not looking good for CO2 in Impass. Elvis may not have left the building, but his limo's pulled up to the service entrance and the driver is honking the horn.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure: Ol' Mord is now a member of RAGE alliance; and that will mean a few changes at Fiddler's Edge.

My previous corporation, The Disc, returned from Nullsec during the short interlude between the fall of Atlas Alliance and the start of the Catch offensive by The Initiative and White Noise. As often happens, key members were of different minds as to our future direction, and the decision was made to go our separate ways.

It's been interesting watching the diaspora. Some of my friends have gone off to become lowsec pirates (watch you back, Mynxee) and some have started industrial and courier firms in highsec.

About half of us have returned to nullsec. One block has joined Against All Authorities and their South Russian allies as they try to take back some of the territory lost to The Initiative and their vassals. A few have joined the Goons, and suddenly developed very Goon-like personalities in our shared channel. The conversation's been much more colorful since.

For myself, I've returned to nullsec as well, though by my own path. The beauty of Eve is that New Eden's vast, and there's always something new under its many suns, and I've written elsewhere that my knowledge of the Northern Coalition's ways and means is quite limited. I judged this a good opportunity to head North and experience something new.

Fiddler's Edge isn't meant to be a propaganda organ for blues, or an intel source for reds. As most of you know, I avoid commenting on goings-on in my own corporation/alliance. That policy will continue and I won't be publishing analysis closely associated with the inner doings or motivations of RAGE or NC. 

I will also avoid analysis that might be interpreted as RAGE or NC spin on events. There's already enough of that going on in the forms and blogosphere. I sometimes step in to deflate the hyperbole of partisan debate, or to illuminate and interesting bit of the metagame. Going forward, if I've a big dog in the fight, I'll bite my lip and stay out of it.

It's all about the trust.

I'm going to miss commenting from the comfort of an obscure corporation with no ties to the major players in New Eden. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing the great game up close and personal.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interlude Secundus

I was setting up the quires for a new manuscript when the door from the library burst open and the United Express delivery guy staggered into the room. He had his hand over his mouth and nose, and turned his face from me as he stumbled toward the exit at Fiddler's Edge. Nevertheless, I noticed the blood streaking his fingers and dripping from them onto the floor.

The front door slammed behind him and I sat blinking. After a moment, I put my work down and walked over to the still-open library door, my mind turning toward thoughts of OSHA, liability and umbrella policies.

Inside, Jenny, my research librarian, was on her hands and knees next to her desk. In one hand she held a spray-bottle of cleanser. The other held a large wad of paper towels she was using to soak up a puddle of blood next to the desk.

"Jenny," I said quietly, "What happened to the delivery man?"

"Oh, him," she said without looking up. "I had to shush him."

"Shush him?"

"Mmm-hmm. Hand me the some more paper towels."

I handed her the roll of paper towels sitting on the desk.

"The guy was bleeding," I said.

"Duh," she said, gesturing at the stain on the rug. "Of course he was bleeding. I slammed his face into this desk."

"You just said you shushed him! Slamming peoples' heads into furniture is not shushing!"

"Well of course it is," she said, spritzing more cleanser on the rug. "'Shushing' is professional librarian-speak for any etiquette-related correction delivered to a library patron. It covers everything from wagging a finger to gun-play."  

"Library etiquette?"

"Yeah. Etiquette. You know; no eating or drinking, no loud talking, respect your fellow readers. No touching the librarian's ass without permission."

"Wait, I'm sorry," I shook my head. "He did what?"

"He put his hand on my ass."

"On your..."

She sat back on her heels and brushed a stray lock of hair back from her forehead.

"I was up on the ladder putting the Icelandic manuscripts back into climate control. All of a sudden I felt someone's hand on my ass. I look down that there's the delivery guy grinning up at me."

"You were groped by the United Express guy?"

She gave a thoughtful look.

"Well, I am wearing the grey wool suit today. It's a bit of a librarian cliche. Fits a little snug in the skirt; a real turn-on for the librarian fetishists."

"Librarian fetishists?"

"Sure, you'd be surprised how many mouth-breathers hang around libraries nursing fantasies of a romp in the biography section with a smokin'-yet-repressed librarian.

"So," I summarized, "Inappropriate touching, librarian fetishist, and then you kicked his ass."

"Shushed him," She said sternly, holding up an admonishing finger.

"Then you shushed him," I corrected myself.

"Well, first I asked him if he'd read any Proust."


She looked at me over her glasses.

"Yes, Proust. French writer? À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu?" 

"I know who Proust is," I growled. "But what does he have to do with this?" 

"Well, I'll forgive a man who reads Proust an awful lot."

"I see," I said. "Had he? Read Proust, that is?"

She rolled her eyes and held up the wad of bloody paper towels.

"So," I said. "No Proust."

"Goes to show," She said as she turned her attention back to the rug, "Ignorance is a dangerous thing."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Legio Pandemic Delenda Est

One can do anything with bayonets except sit on them - Thomas Hardy
If there wasn't a war going on, Pandemic Legion (PL) would have to invent one.

As the largest, and arguably the most effective mercenary entity in New Eden, Pandemic Legion makes its living by taking sides on the various wars going on in nullsec. They are costly to the point that only the major alliances or coalitions can afford to hire them for any length of time. Which means that nullsec warfare, with its new-found dependency on large fleets of titans and super-carriers, has taken another step toward becoming a rich man's game.

Pandemic Legion made the decision to give up any sovereign nullsec space it owned earlier this year and dedicate itself entirely to mercenary Sov conflict. It was a key player in the fall of Atlas and the roll-back of Against All Authorities (-A-). It is presently occupied in an enfilading attack against the Northern Coalition (NC) in an effort to relieve pressure on the Drone Russians (RUS) who have effectively lost The Kalevala Expanse in their current war with the NC.While they are ostensibly open to being hired by anyone, Pandemic Legion shows a marked preference for hiring out to certain preferred clients.

Having no nullsec space of their own, Pandemic Legion is like a malevolent lily of the field; neither toiling nor spinning, but happily living in the space of one or two frequent patrons. This makes them particularly hard to counter. Dominion Sov rules favor being on offense, and having no territory of their own, Pandemic has no need to defend unless it's in their contract; and you'll note Pandemic has yet to sign up for a defensive fight.

With no sovereign space of their own, Pandemic Legion has only one thing to fear, and that's an end to the current destabilization in nullsec. Without lucrative wars to fight it would quickly tear itself apart. The Pandemic Legion culture thrives on conflict and its pilots would quickly become discontent and prone to internal mischief if not provided a steady diet of external mayhem.

This makes Pandemic a threat even to those with pockets deep enough to hire it.

Eventually, one of three things must happen: 1) Pandemic Legion will be betrayed and destroyed by one of its preferred patrons. 2) Pandemic Legion will betray one or more of its preferred patrons in order to "reset" an overly stable nullsec map. 3) Pandemic Legion will reach a point where it can no longer maintain cohesion and split into a number of separate entities.

Before that happens, I expect PL will do a great deal of damage to the nullsec game, acting as a prop to rich alliances and coalitions that normally would contract or fall due to internal weakness or external threats. Even those who currently benefit from hiring Pandemic Legion are, in the long run, threatened by it. New Eden cannot wait for matters to run their natural course.

Pandemic Legion must be destroyed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Noblesse Oblige

Let's talk a little bit about the nullsec lord-vassal relationship.

Back in the early Autumn, things were going very well for The Initiative alliance. With a bit of help from White Noise and a lot of help from Pandemic Legion, they were merrily rolling through the territories formerly occupied by Against All Authorities (-A-) and their renter alliance AAA Citizens.

And that, my friends, was a lot of space.

It's so much space, in fact, that The Initiative went in knowing they couldn't digest the whole thing. Not all at once, anyway. So, they did what smart invaders like William the Conqueror have done since time immemorial. They went out and found some ambitious fighters looking to upgrade their circumstances and offered them land in exchange for their support during the invasion and their fealty afterward. In this case, The Initiative chose two alliances; Circle of Two, a nullsec dwelling alliance from Providence, and Dead Terrorists (DT) a lowsec PvP alliance as their prospective new vassals.

As the fighting wound down and -A- was ejected from its territory, Co2 was installed as the new lords of Impass. For its loyal service, DT was granted the western half of Feythabolis, space taken from Red.Overlord during the -A- invasion, with the eastern half of the Region going to White Noise.

With -A- ejected from their former holdings and South Russian alliances largely pushed out of the desired regions, it looked like Miller time for the invaders. Nothing left to do but mop up the last pockets of resistance and wait for -A- to failscade. Surely, the leadership at The Initiative thought, a job our trusty new vassals can manage on their own. So, The Initiative turned its attention to consolidating its hold on Catch and settling into its vast new holdings, released Pandemic Legion from its contract and left DT and Co2 to manage post-invasion clean-up. So far, so good.

Or so it seemed.

Much has been written as to why -A- lost its territory so quickly. Much of that commentary dwells heavily on the "-A- decayed internally and, like a tree hollowed out by rot, broke and splintered when the winds of invasion blew" school of thought. Even today you'll hear reference in various forums and blogs to the Atlas and -A- failscades. However, -A- did not failscade. Facts on the ground suggest that, while the invasion occurred at a time when -A- was weakened by internal conflicts, it was by no means a dead-on-its-feet alliance.

It appears that the -A- leadership saw early on that their pre-Dominion fleets were not a match for the invading forces, particularly those of Pandemic Legion. Further, the invaders were leveraging the Dominion sov rules and attacking on many fronts, denying -A- the opportunity to concentrate their defensive forces save in a few pockets. Faced with this reality, -A- leadership gambled that they would be able to hold their forces together despite a loss of territory. Instead of spending their forces grinding out a system by system defense, the -A- forces largely withdrew to NPC nullsec and Stain Empire's sphere of influence. Thus, while The Initiative and their allies took -A-'s space with relative ease, -A- finished the invasion with their forces largely intact, on good terms with their Southern Russian allies, and within striking distance of The Initiative and their vassals Co2 and DT. 

Rather than recognize the degree of threat this represented, The Initiative appears to have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. Not only did they expect their new Vassals, one of which was new to nullsec, to deal with the seasoned Southern Russian coalition forces, they appear to have utterly mishandled the lord/vassal relationship.

Nullsec is not lowsec. Nullsec sovereignty wars run at an entirely different scale and tempo than anything that happens in lowsec. Even a good lowsec PvP outfit with some experience in the occasional POS bash is going to go through an adjustment period when they move into nullsec. If they're lucky, they get a little breathing room in which to settle into their systems and make the transition. If they're lucky, their host alliance will keep a close eye on them and make sure they're not getting overwhelmed during their transition.

DT was not lucky.

Once Pandemic Legion finished out its contract and left, the Southern Russian alliance began an offensive against DT and Co2. In one of the early engagements at AZN-D2, DT lost thirteen carriers, two supercarriers and a Titan. Despite their vassals being obviously outmatched and calling for assistance, The Initiative seemed slow to respond. Meanwhile, -A-, Stain Empire and Red.Overlord continued to tear at the DT and Co2 forces. By the time The Initiative mobilized forces to support their vassals, DT was reeling and showing the symptoms of near-collapse from a morale standpoint, with pilots failing to show for Calls To Arms (CTAs), failing to support coalition strategic objectives and, in some cases, demanding that the alliance return to lowsec.

This is the point where a smart warlord would recognize that they'd underestimated their enemies and overestimated their vassals. Obviously, some morale-building was in order. Both DT and C02 had been through the meat grinder. Co2, having cut its teeth in nullsec Providence had weathered the pressure better, but both Alliances were hurting and in need of back-up along with a little war-lord love and give-em-hell encouragement.  

What they got was a big dose of blame and humiliation.

It a textbook example of how not to lead in a crisis, Initiative co-leader Codin Plaks excoriated his vassals, wondering why The Initiative should bother riding to their rescue given their incompetence. Most readers of The Edge will have seen the transcripts, taken from a coalition leadership convo. DT's Count Atreidies is pointedly singled out for public humiliation, effectively guaranteeing DT's withdrawal from the coalition. When DT did attempt to leave shortly after, they were declared KOS by The Initiative and hunted down by their former allies. 

The above actions, while possibly satisfying for Plaks in the short term, have done The Initiative more harm than good. A leader who behaves in this way in a crisis is a leader not in control of the situation. It is a surprising show of weakness that will not have escaped the notice of the wolves of nullsec. Further, this undermines the loyalty and morale of The Initiative's other vassals and allies, who may doubt The Initiatives' willingness to follow through on promises of support, and leave Co2 wondering if they'll be hung out to dry the next time Plaks has a fit of temper. 

While I've advocated bringing in vassal alliances to help control one's sphere of influence, I caution against assuming that the Lord/Vassal relationship is pretty much a one way street: The lord saying "Vassal, get thine spotty nether regions thence, and fetch unto me my croissant and coffee." And the vassal, falling at the lord's feet and cringing in a manner most pleasing to his liege, saying "I'faith, oh most potent of potentates, wouldst thou have a plain croissant, or a pan au chocolate?"

To be successful, the relationship between nullsec warlord and vassal must be reciprocal. This is New Eden, after all, and you have vassals only so long as they choose to serve you. Your relationship is not institutional as it is in the military, nor is it forced on one side or the other by accident of geography. It is a personal relationship in which obligation flows both ways, and it works best when each side trusts the other. A vassal who will tolerate your scorn is not a vassal worth having. If The Initiative continues in this vein, that is the only type of vassal they'll be able to attract.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Early in their present conflict with the Northern Coalition (NC), it was widely assumed that the Drone Russians (RUS) would quickly spank the NC forces and bounce them from the Drone Regions. However, weeks later, the invasion of that space continues with the NC pressing the Russians on several fronts.

In the Kalevala Expanse, RAGE, Cold Steel and Brick Squad are in possession of roughly half the region and appear to be tightening the noose around R10-GN, while at the same time striking targets of opportunity in the remaining Legion/Shadow of Death and Bloodbound systems. Ratting activity is virtually flat-lined in the region with the exception of the three terminus systems of the 78-6RI constellation held by Shadow of Death, where the single threaded pipeline gives ample warning of any NC forces approaching; Colossal Cube is apparently banking as much ISK as they can in anticipation of a long winter.

While the NC fleets in Etherium Reach continue to harry RUS forces and renters in that region, they have not taken systems beyond LXQ2-T. The key market hub of R-6KYM in the outpost-rich 6-TT8Z constellation is an obvious next target, and there's been a healthy level of combat activity in that area. However, NC may be biding its time; picking up some good fights in a target rich constellation and applying pressure in Etherium Reach to pin down the RUS super cap fleet while NC forces in Kalevala finish off conquest of that region. That would free up sufficient NC forces to hold LXQ while attacking multiple RUS outposts in the Reach simultaneously.

For their part, the Drone Russian forces seem a bit conflicted of late.

On one hand they are a well financed coalition made up of seasoned PvP alliances. They are collectively in possession of the largest Super Cap fleet in all New Eden. At the same time, those ships represent significant financial asset and Legion of Death, Red Alliance, et al are wisely cautious about committing them where a target's value isn't an offset to potential losses. Further, the concentration of power represented by that fleet is, well, concentrated, while the combination of being on defense coupled with the diffused nature of their NC opponents ' forces doesn't allow RUS an obvious place to employ that power without the danger of it being drawn into a high-risk lag-fest.

While RUS forces in Kalevala and the Reach would certainly like to deliver a major blow to the invading forces, I don't have the sense that the coalition at large is overly concerned with NC's invasion. Their take-down of Atlas Alliance and AAA has given them additional, richer territories beyond the Drone Regions. As their forces and renters spread out to occupy this new real estate, the NC attack on the old neighborhood may carry less urgency than it once did; more an opportunity for good fights than a genuine threat. Otherwise, White Noise (though always a bit of an outlier in the coalition) would not be off attacking Systematic-Chaos in Period Basis, IT Alliance's back yard.

There are likely factions within the RUS coalition of the opinion that NC will eventually get bored and go home, after which the Drone Russians will simply reoccupy their space and reinstall their renters. However, once relocated to other systems in RUS space, those renters may be reluctant to return. Legion/Shadow of Death were losing renters even before the invasion. Memories of the high rents and hardscrabble ways of Etherium Reach under Legion will not have their former tenants yearning for a quick return.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Perceived Polarity

The World has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost. 

In his latest blog post, The Tri-Polar Galaxy, the Mittani laments what he perceives as a collapse of nullsec's formerly diverse landscape of power and politics.
2009 saw the apex of the traditional bloc as an entity. At on point, there was Pandemic Legion, Goonswarm, IT Alliance, The Northern Coalition, the 'Drone Russians' (Solar Fleet, Legion of Death, Red Alliance), Atlas Alliance, the 'Southern Russians' (AAA, Red Overlord, Stain Empire). Each of these entities had roughly independent political destinies, different leadership styles, and was a force to be reckoned with in their own right.
Now, according to the Mittani, that beautiful dance of powers has collapsed into a tri-polar galaxy. There, three monstrous power blocs, The Drone Russians, The Northern Coalition and  IT Alliance, hold sway over New Eden. We face, he says, a future without political diversity in nullsec, with a fixed set of players hunkered down behind static borders.

As usual in Mittani-land, the source of this bleak future is the Dominion Sov mechanics which, he asserts, makes defending space far too easy and quashes diversity. 

Piffle, I say.

Now, while I don't piffle the Mittani lightly, in this case he needs a serious piffling. In order to make the case that nullsec power has been consolidated into the hands of a very few at the expense of the many, he has to dispense with much that is evident in the current political churn - to filter out obvious facts and trends that don't support his line of reasoning.

First of all, the Mittani's case for a static, tripolar universe assumes Dominion favors the defender more than did the old POS-based sovereignty model. In fact, as I wrote in Paradigm Shift, the opposite is true; and the pace and volume of combat-related territory turn-overs since Dominion bears this out. The Mittani suggests that alliances like Atlas fell because they had rotted from the inside. However, if Dominion so favors the defender, even a weakened Atlas should have been able to defend itself. In fact, the alliances that have fallen so far did so because their combat tactics and command structure had not adapted to the up-tempo Dominion paradigm.

Secondly, the idea that we are down to only three nullsec power blocs doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The Mittani lumps The Initiative, which owns large swaths of former AAA space, into the IT Alliance coalition. He gives no real reason for this alignment and, aside from the cooperation shown at the end of the Catch Invasion against AAA, there's no reason to think that their current non-aggression is so much a matter of common cause and political unity as it is mutual convenience. The Initiative, Systematic-Chaos, Circle of Two and Dead Terrorists, known collectively as the Central South Coalition, meet all of the Mittani's criteria for a distinct power block, separate from IT Alliance.

Consider Atlas Alliance and Against All Authorities. The corporations that comprised Atlas have not simply evaporated. For the most part they have formed or joined new alliances. Meanwhile, though deprived of nearly all its space, AAA is still is a viable alliance. It and the rest of the Southern Russian Coalition are diminished, but still a non-trivial force in nullsec.

Any discussion of Goonswarm as an entity separate from the Northern coalition is dismissed by the Mittani as "...tedious and irrelevant to a practical analysis". This is analyst-speak for "I don't have a succinct counter-argument and it messes up my central thesis".  It's hardly a compelling line of reason, and somebody please slap me if I ever use it. Whether or not Goonswarm and Test Alliance (aka the Deklein Coalition) constitute an independent power bloc remains an open, arguable, question.

Pandemic Legion is dismissed from the ranks of nullsec power blocs by the Mittani, despite the fact that they've been playing King-maker in the post-Dominion nullsec, because they hold no territory. Holding territory is apparently central to the Mittani's definition of a "traditional" power bloc. This seems to say more about the inflexibility of the Mittani's definitions than it does about whether PL is a power in nullsec. A power bloc definition that excludes an entity whose support is a key factor in any major nullsec conflict is not a terribly useful definition.

Finally, having said all this, let me agree with the Mittani that we are seeing a shift away from the traditional power bloc structure as he knew them back in his pre-Dominion days.

However, I don't see influence coalescing for any length of time around a few actors. I think just the opposite is occurring. We are seeing the the breakdown of the old power bloc system into something much more fluid - pocket coalitions of smaller alliances that coalesce into larger political entities, break down and then reform into new entities; constantly shifting in response to political, military and economic conditions. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Recall that when the Russian Coalition (RUS) of Red Alliance. Legion of Death and White Noise broke Atlas Alliance, a key RUS tactic was luring the Atlas Super Cap fleet into into a system already heavily occupied by RUS forces. The resulting lag tied the hands of the Atlas fleet, forcing them to withdraw - an action that left much of their Super Cap forces boxed in the local station. 

RUS forces have shown themselves to be very adept at treating system lag as a form of combat terrain and leveraging it to their advantage. In LXQ2-T, the Northern Coalition has shown that RUS' lessons in the strategic leveraging of lag has not been lost on them. A full day before LXQ station came out of reinforcement, both sides were staging forces in anticipation of a knock-down, drag-out lag-fest.  NC, with its numeric advantage, kept a constant 1,500 to 1,600 ship presence in system to prevent the RUS forces from gaining the system performance high-ground in local. The RUS forces brought in a fleet of more than fifty Super Caps so that those ships would begin any fleet fights on the grid, and possibly to intimidate the NC forces which are Super Cap poor and tend to fight without support from Titans or Motherships. 

To a certain extent, the engagement was something of a showdown between the Density of Firepower (DoF) approach preferred by Pandemic Legion, RUS Coalition and post-Dominion boutique alliances, and the swarm approach employed by NC as they leverage their superiority in numbers and time-zone coverage. Indeed, the whole Dronelands campaign has been a test of DoF, which eschews numbers in favor of the concentration of firepower that a relatively small alliance employing Super Caps, supported by an agile Armored HAC fleet can bring to bear. As I pointed out in Hit Them Where They Ain't, DoF is much more successful at taking territory, when the attacker chooses the points of conflict, than it is at holding territory when the number of potential points of attack a defender can actively and effectively defend is restricted by the number of pilots it can field.

To date the NC has been making good use of its numerical advantage, hitting Drone regions in multiple strategic strongpoints, denying the RUS forces a single point of conflict in which to concentrate their forces. Further, the NC has been harrying RUS renter systems and market centers; driving out renters, shutting down trade and industry, and generally gumming up the works of RUS' Droneland RMT machine.

While the odd Super-Cap has made an appearance, the absence of the larger RUS Super Cap fleet in campaign's big engagements has left many who'd expected a quick RUS victory wondering when RUS was going stop dancing around and get serious about slapping down the NC upstarts.

It's been evident to most that LXQ was the most likely place for that battle to occur. The move of the RUS Super Cap fleet into the system all but assured such a showdown when the Legion of Death outpost in system came out of final reinforce mode yesterday.

As of this writing, battle reports and killboards are still sorting themselves out. However, what is evident is that there was a near 24-hour battle in and around the system with the number of pilots in LXQ topping 3,000 at one point. CCP appears to have done a heroic job of keeping the node online, and pilots reported the lag was manageable even with the pilot count in system at around 1,700. However, the better part of the battle appears to have been conducted under heavy lag conditions, and the winner would be the side that was able to hang in the fight longest under those conditions. As downtime approached, the RUS forces began to log out, leaving the system to the NC forces who then proceeded with their conquest of the system.

While this must have been a disappointment to the RUS pilots, losing even a fraction of their Super Cap fleet to lag would have been a serious blow, whereas the NC fleet could have lost half its numbers and replaced them by the end of down time. That risk, along with RUS forces time zone limitations, makes their pullback the smart, if unpleasant, choice. NC has established an important beachhead in Etherium Reach, but the RUS Super Cap fleet is still at large.  

Smack-talk in the forums is making much of NC's initial comments that they were only invading the Dronelands for "good fights". This may have caused the RUS coalition to assume they could wait out NC, trusting the "Nobody but the Russians would have the Dronelands" doctrine would leave the NC indifferent to conquering and holding space in those regions. As to the NC's initial intentions, conquest can be addictive and escalating commitment is a powerful thing. Then there's the assumption that the Dronelands aren't desirable or economically viable. That's absurd on its face, particularly in the post-Dominion world where Carebears are migrating to nullsec in ever-increasing numbers and providing income that has nothing to do with ratting by an alliance's PvP contingent.

Every time someone says "nobody wants the Drone Regions" my first impulse is to jump up and say "I'll take a constellation or two". What I expect they really mean is that the Drone Regions aren't worth the risk of going up against the RUS coalition in a grinding fight to the death.

NC, leveraging the Dominion sov rules, may have just broken the back of that common wisdom. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies - and Statistics

Fiddler's Edge began its run in April of this year. My goal, then as now, is to create content that's interesting for me to write, resonates with you the readership, and fills a niche in the Eve blogosphere. That last is particularly important as said blogosphere is exceedingly vast and includes some very talented writers. It's easy to get lost in the crowd.

At the outset, I took a few months to let Fiddler's Edge settle into a pattern and direction. Then I began collecting web statistics. Five months later I now have a pile of data points and some interesting trends show up.

Needless to say, the Edge isn't burning up the net. However that was expected. The Edge focuses primarily on metagame analysis, which somewhat limits its audience. My pieces tend to not be the short, punchy, visually stimulating content that easily entertains - the classic model for the successful blog. As I write in The Rise of the Carebears:
It seems I'm sending invites to high tea in a world of rave parties.
But that's OK. There are plenty of rave parties out there and I'm happy to let them compete for that audience. My target audience is the capsuleer hungry for some depth in their Eve content. If there's a mission statement for Fiddler's Edge, it comes from Rise of the Carebears as well:
I've assumed you read the Edge for its thoughtful analysis, daring prose, deep insights, and its tendency to use words not writ nor spoken conversationally since Middle English went out of fashion.
I trust my readers.
Well, the numbers for High Tea With Mord are in. The audience and hit count for Fiddler's Edge doubled during September and have continued to grow during October. I'm particularly pleased with how many of you take the trouble to read through the Edge's back issues. That suggests my scribblings continue to be useful and worth reading for some time after their original posting.

I am encouraged to continue.

I get a smile or two out of looking at the "by country" audience statistics. The US and UK lead the list, which is no surprise. However it was interesting to learn Fiddler's Edge is more popular in Australia than it is in Canada (I'll have to ask Kirith what that's all about). A surprising number of hits from New Zealand have begun popping up in the last month, and the Edge regularly pulls in readers from Scandinavia. The articles on the Drone regions have caught the attention of readers from Eastern Europe and Russia, and I appear to have a regular reader from Saudi Arabia.

Shout outs to all y'all, and thanks for reading.

Fiddlers Note: Special thanks to Mynxee, an early encourager. Her Life In Low Sec continues to be linkage central for Fiddler's Edge and many other Eve sites. The same to Crazy Kinux who is chief enabler and lead cheer-leader for Eve bloggers everywhere. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Galactic Settlers

Now, the classic renter alliance model as described in Galactic Landlords is fairly popular in New Eden in that it generates lots of income for the owning alliance. What it does not generate, as a rule, is loyalty to the landlord's alliance. It is a cash transaction.

As I wrote in Barbarians at the Gate, way back in July, Dominion Sov Mechanics favor the alliance that can populate their Sphere of Influence with players who will:

a)    Stay put while you’re off war-lording
b)    Act as a buffer between your systems and inbound barbarian hordes or magazine salesmen
c)    Keep their grubby mitts of your stuff (systems, stations, loots, et al) and
d)    Pay all sovereignty related expenses

Of these, b is particularly important in that, as I continually remind my readers, Dominion sov rules require an active defense of one's nullsec space.

Nullsec alliances who remain steeped in the pre-Dominion paradigm have yet to realize the value of the nullsec Carebear for this purpose. In Paradigm Shift I wrote that, even if they can't punch in the weight class of a Pandemic Legion or IT Alliance, nullsec Carebears are rougher and tougher than their highsec cousins and represent a sizable body of experienced nullsec PVP pilots. Properly organized and deployed, I went on, their numbers will make themselves felt and major alliances would be foolish to dismiss them.

The Northern Coalition alliances are no fools. They seem to have, by accident or design, developed a renting scheme that thrives in the Dominion paradigm and brings a sizable renter militia to their calls to arms.

Carebear alliances invited to operate in NC space are referred to as 'guests' rather than renters. While this may seem a minor distinction, it underscores the difference between the NC's approach to managing their space and that of their Southern neighbors. Guests alliances are given space to occupy. No rent (yes, you heard that right) is required of guests. They are, however, expected to respond to CTAs and assist in defending NC space. In other words, the coin expected of guests is loyalty, not ISK.  Unlike their renter counterparts, the NC guests do not pack up and leave when the wolf is at the door. Rather, they act like armed settlers who band together in a militia to support Northern Coalition regulars in defense of their space.

Note the possessive in the prior sentence; "their space". By including guests in the common defense of NC territory, the NC gives their guests a sense of ownership in the NC cause. As a result, the NC guest/renter alliances appear to have a close identification with the Norther Coalition alliances that practice the guest program.

The power of this approach was evident when IT Alliance, AAA and other "Southern Coalition" alliances invaded the North earlier this year. Rather than backing their bags and heading for the exits, which is often the case with conventional renters, the NC guests stood and fought the invaders. While they were not "elite" PvPers like the invaders, routine participation in NC CTAs had developed them into a respectable fighting force.

During that invasion, there was a good deal of smack talk from Southern pilots about the quality of the NC militia pilots, about the lack of finesse in their fleets and their tendency to blob the invaders. And yet, those ungainly blobs blunted and slowed the southern attack. Bogged down and handed unexpected losses by the defenders, the South eventually withdrew. The barbarians had come to the gates and been turned back. The Carebears had shown their worth.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The Northern Coalition's (NC) invasion of the Drone Regions* continues into this week with Shadow of Death's systems in The Kalevala Expanse and Etherium Reach bearing the brunt of the attack, with Shadow drawing support primarily from elements of White Noise and Red Alliance.

The first large scale fight took place in system UJXC-B (constellation 6-CBBM)  in the northern-most part of The Kalevala Expanse. Despite a very close-run (and, by all accounts, wickedly fun) fight, NC forces held UJX at the end of the battle. For those interested, an excellent battle report was posted by one the participants on the NC side on Kugutsmen's. It's very well written and has been both corroborated by other participants, and re-posted on several Eve news websites.

As of this writing, NC's RAGE alliance has taken sovereignty of UJX, as well as two adjacent systems UDVW-O and F48K-D. RAGE has also taken advantage of the Shadow of Death sovereignty abdications that occurred earlier this month due to Legion of Death's mishandling of their renters and occupied the better part of the 2Q-8WA constellation in the North-East corner of Kalevala.

The next likely target for the NC is L-GY1B, which a gateway to Etherium Reach and a stepping stone to 74-DRC. Entering the Reach via L-GY would put the NC in the D-GU3R constellation, which is part of a long, single strand of unoccupied systems (again owing in large part to Legion's poor renter management skills) that leads to Etherium Reach proper. 74-DRC is a single system bottle-neck between The Kalevala Expanse systems the NC currently holds and the remainder of  the region.

The I-Hub at Etherium Reach's gateway system LXQ2-T comes out of reinforced mode today. RUS has been fairly quiet since the dust-up at UXJ, which would indicate they've something in the works. If that's a smack-down in LXQ, it's going to be quite the party when NC arrives to finish the job. Should NC take LXQ and open up a second beachhead in the Reach via L-GY1B, while at the same time continuing their push into Kalevala, they may force Legion of Death to make hard choices as to where to hold and where to fold.

In that event, given that Legion has only nine Shadow of Death renter systems remaining in Etherium, they might choose to fall back to a more defensible frontier and relocate their Etherium renters to other regions in the Legion of Death sphere of influence. However, Legion's neighbors in the Reach, which include Red Alliance and White Noise, are unlikely to approve of such an action. RUS may require that Legion remain in place and put the interests of the coalition ahead of its own.

The Russian coalition has a passion for viewing the game from the standpoint of Russian military history. It will be interesting to see which page of that book they open to in planning their fight against the NC. They take a long view of the game and aren't demoralized by set-backs. For their part, the NC are not underestimating their opponents. They've brought their game-face, knowing they're stepping up to PvPers with a well-deserved reputation for discipline, guile and tenacity.

Its going to be interesting  

[*Fiddler's note: For those capsuleers new to Eve or unfamiliar with nullsec, Drone Regions are Eve-speak for the contiguous nullsec regions that have drones as their local pirate type]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nerfing the Drake

Toward the end of World War II in the Pacific, an American pilot attempting to land his battle-wounded Dauntless dive-bomber on an aircraft carrier crash landed on the flight deck. The flight crews decided that the damage to the Dauntless was irreparable; that the pilot's airplane should be pushed into the ocean and replaced with one of the more modern Helldivers, which were then rolling off American production lines.

The pilot took out his .45 pistol, stood by the wrecked Dauntless and threatened to shoot the first man who tried to push his ride into the drink.

The history of war is full of weapons like the Douglas Dauntless; guns, planes, ships and vehicles that so exceed their design specifications that they perform with distinction long after their normal expected service life has run out. They are effective, reliable, useful beyond their original purpose, and their owners often develop a passionate attachment to them.

In the worlds of New Eden, the Drake is such a weapon.

For years, in a universe of ever more expensive tech 2, tech 3 and faction ships, the humble Drake has been scorned by the nullsec PvP community, derided as a mere mission-runner, or bait ship. Nullsec FCs frequently told pilots showing in fleet with a Drake to "lose that t1 piece of shit" - an instruction often followed by the Drake being declared primary by the FC and destroyed by the fleet on the spot. Nevertheless, for reasons I've described in a previous post, the Drake has remained one of the most popular ships in New Eden.

I've written elsewhere as to how the Super Cap/armored Zealot HAC combination came to dominate the battlefields of nullsec.The classic sniper-fit BS fleets, unable to counter the speed and low signature radius of the Zealots, were regularly raped by the hard-hitting HACs.  The fleets of the old nullsec alliances were rolled back on their heels. Atlas fell and Against All Authorities was falling. FCs desperately looked for a means of countering the new fleet configurations and tactics.
And the ever-useful Drake has stepped into the gap.

Suddenly, the Drake is the new darling of nullsec, and the owners of all those shiny t2 ships are crying foul to CCP. If a fleet of t1 ships costing under fifty million each to buy and fit can go toe to toe with a fleet of t2 ships that cost 150 million each to buy and fit, the reasoning goes, the game is out of balance and t1 ship obviously needs to be "nerfed".

In a devblog thread titled "Drakes- Do They Need A Nerf?", CCP Chronotis revealed that, while CCP rarely intervenes in emergent strategies, they are considering nerfing the Drake to make it less effective in fleet fights. 
Drakes on their own are reasonably balanced. When you get 50+ of them all buffer tanking and alpha striking people at up to ~85km as the current FOTM strategy is out there, this underpins their usefulness (max buffer for sig/speed tank and max range with same damage) so this is a scenario specific issue to large fleet warfare. There are counter strategies to this, but drakes+scimitars is an easier to coordinate tactic. The drakes tank or specifically its passive tank does concern us where both can be equally affected in a similar way. Food for thought anyway, we rarely intervene with emergent strategies and tactics as a counter usually matures after some time but will keep an eye on this thread to see what the rest of you think.
Going on, CCP Chronotis tipped what was really drawing the developers attention to the Drake
It is a hot topic internally as the number of drakes present in fleet fights is rising dramatically in the last six months and with this behaviour change we are witnessing a large impact on performance as the missile usage causes high additional load.
He later stepped back from that statement, responding to one poster that CCP would never nerf the Drake solely for system performance reasons. However, the words cannot be taken back, and I suspect the 'balance" issue is merely an search for an issue aside from performance to justify the nerf. 
All cards are on the table, we are merely analyzing for now with a high degree of concern its rapid rise in popularity and being open about it.
Now, when the Zealot was ripping the guts out of Sniper BS fleets, nobody at CCP was talking about nerfing that ship - maybe ticking up its sig radius or some such to make it more vulnerable. CCP didn't even twitch at the rapid rise in the popularity of the Zealot. And yet, when the Zealot is countered by a lesser ship, CCP suddenly becomes gravely concerned about "balance". 

It's interesting to note that the Zealot oriented alliances who would most benefit from the Drake being nerfed are those associated with the RUS coalition, who are, in turn, most commonly associated with Real Money Trading. These are folks for whom playing Eve is serious business - as in real income business. It appears that when real money talks, CCP listens.

Reading the blog thread surrounding CCP Chronotis' comments, what the majority of players think about nerfing the Drake is evident:

Don't. You. Dare.

The arguments they present against the nerf are very solid. With the missile nerf a year or so ago, the Drake along with the rest of the Caldari fleet has already been heavily nerfed. There is no way to nerf the Drake in a large fleet context without nerfing it in a solo or small gang context where it has long been considered balanced by CCP. This issue with performance is not Drake related, but lag related. If CCP would fix the lag and its missile tracking algorithms, the impact of missiles on performance, and the fact that missiles are more effective under lag conditions would not be an issue.

Drake fleets are not a silver bullet for all situations, and events in nullsec show that countering Drake fleets is not, as CCP Chronotis suggests, a terribly complex activity. Drake fleets, having large signatures, are vulnerable to Sniper BS fleets that can pour DPS into the Drakes that the battlecruisers, with their missiles' middling DPS and delayed strike, cannot match. They have also shown themselves very vulnerable to attacks by Stealth Bomber gangs.

Even Zealot fleets, the ships the Drakes were fielded in nullsec to counter, can match the Drake in a fight. Where the Zealot loses to the Drake is in the logistics of replacement. That is an old song in warfare. The World War II Panther tank was more than a match for the American Sherman. However, the Sherman was easier to maintain and operate, cheaper to build, and rapidly replaced if destroyed. On a price/performance basis, the Sherman was a better tank than the Panther, however they matched up one on one. I'm sure the German commanders found the situation unbalanced. War is like that sometimes.

Even in New Eden.