Andrew Groen is the author of Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online, available now on Amazon. Empires of EVE is a narrative account of how the real virtual world of EVE Online evolved from the rise of its first governments and political icons in 2003 to its descent into a state of total war in 2009. With EVE in turmoil again, Andrew has offered us a look back at one of the game's greatest military plays ever, which took place nearly 10 years ago.
On March 30, 2007 one thousand and three hundred people logged into EVE Online—an online science fiction virtual world—to participate in what was to be the largest battle in the history of the internet.
A mammoth fleet of 1,000 starships—from blazing fast interceptors to hulking siege ships—warped into a star system called "F-TE1T" in staggered squadrons of 250 at a time, and began preparing their ships for a siege like a medieval army busily building catapults. Their largest ships came to a halt and slowly unfurled their massive weapons batteries, ready to unload on the target of this invasion: a shipyard believed to be constructing a Titan-class warship worth approximately $6,000 in 2007 United States currency.
Just a few hundred kilometers away, the shipyard floated in orbit around the only moon of the sixth planet of this star system, a Mars-like planet that was barren and brown and riven with deep canyons. Gathered in formation above the shipyard were the other 300 combatants, committed to the defense.
The two sides stared each other down from across the battlefield until a thousand bolts of laser light erupted from the attacking fleet in unison, and the battle began. The defense of the shipyard seemed utterly hopeless in the face of such overwhelming odds, but the defending fleet's leader had a plan.
EVE Online is a unique video game in part because its players don't have to fight. Far from the likes of Halo or Call of Duty, combat is not necessarily the point of EVE. Its players can use their starships to do whatever they wish. Miners can set up shop in an asteroid field to collect resources to sell. Engineers can create ship construction agencies. Economics experts can even set up miniature economies in deep space to facilitate commerce between players. Politicians have even come to power and taken command over massive player groups that sometimes number more than 10,000 real human players.
Charismatic leaders have conquered areas of this virtual world and gone to war with one another. In 2007, a war began in EVE that would eventually drag in every major alliance in a World War 1-style mess of tangled treaties and unthinkably destructive conflict.
At the center of this war was a leader, a player named 'SirMolle' [pron. Sir-Moh-leh]. He commanded the forces of the unparalleled military power known as 'Band of Brothers.' As Band of Brothers gained ever more strength by conquering weaker neighbors, the other leaders of EVE Online began to realize they needed to form together in a single coalition to fight back against the ambitious SirMolle, or else risk being conquered one by one.
The day before this massive war began, on March 29, SirMolle addressed the EVE Online community. His spies had relayed news that enemy factions had banded together and were forming a massive fleet of starships to invade and conquer his empire.
In his address, he explained that a fleet of over one thousand EVE Online players was now on its way to the home of his people, and that he would rally them to meet this threat head-on.
The unprecedented armada of warships was merely the tip of the spear of a massive coalition between two regional superpowers of EVE: the Northern Coalition and the RedSwarm Federation.
For SirMolle this battle was exciting. It was an opportunity to put these people—particularly his long-time rivals in RedSwarm Federation—in their place. “They always had this attitude of ‘we can do whatever we want, we can say whatever we want and no one is going to hold us accountable for anything whatsoever,’" SirMolle said in an interview. "We always prided ourselves on the ethos ‘let’s kill assholes.'
"So that’s what we did.”
SirMolle spoke freely of the description of the enemy fleet that his spies had delivered, trying to bolster his pilots' confidence by showing how prepared Band of Brothers' supreme leader was for this engagement. As for what Band of Brothers would be bringing to contend with this force, SirMolle had only two words: "Our balls."
By this time in EVE Online's history, SirMolle was already a legend. With him at the helm of the alliance, Band of Brothers had never lost a war.
The most elite pilots in EVE came from all over to try to become members of this group, and if they were accepted they were asked to give up all their belongings. All of that player's ships, all of their money became the property of SirMolle in exchange for the promise of glory.
"For those who did not play EVE at the time, it is difficult to fully comprehend just how powerful BoB had become,” wrote a player named James 312, a member of RedSwarm Federation who served as a sort of unofficial historian for the coalition. “BoB and its pets [subservient allies] controlled a majority of the galaxy. It had never lost a war. Ever."
In real life, SirMolle is named Pär Molén, at the time a 40-year-old Swede living in Denmark and working as a manager at a heating-and-cooling repair company. In EVE Online, he was the most feared tyrant in history.
SirMolle's renown was so great he even once appeared in an article in the New York Times in 2008. In his interview with the New York Times, SirMolle was unequivocal: he intended to conquer every inch of this virtual world.
"Our goal is to control all of EVE,” SirMolle told a New York Times reporter. “It’s totally impossible to claim all of EVE physically. But it’s possible to control the people. It’s possible to control the alliances, be it by economic means or fighting means or political means. That was the goal and that is the goal.”
This was a man of rare political savvy and cunning, and he was also a man of formidable military genius, renowned as one of the greatest in-combat EVE Online Fleet Commanders of all-time. So when SirMolle told the world that he planned to bring his balls to the defense of F-TE1T as the might of 1000 ships came bearing down upon Band of Brothers, people knew what would come next was the battle of the decade.
The April Fools' Massacre
On March 30, 2007, the massive fleet that SirMolle had spoken of was on its way to the capital system of Band of Brothers, hellbent on destroying the ultra-expensive "Titan" ship.
One of the leaders of that enemy coalition—a man going by the name KOTH Fluf—spoke to his pilots on the eve of battle and rallied his troops.
"Within the next 24 hours we will begin moving forces against our most hated enemy. This will be the hardest fight you have ever had. But we will not fail. Band of Brothers as an alliance is the target. The total destruction of them is the only objective. We will not stop until victory is achieved. Good hunting."
Their 1000 ships seemed destined to crush the 300 Band of Brothers defenders, but SirMolle had a plan. There were two shipyards in this star system, and though RedSwarm Federation spies had figured out the Titan was being built in this star system, they didn't know exactly which shipyard it would be in. One of these two was empty, and one building the Titan.
SirMolle took a chance. He ordered that the entire fleet's defenses should set up around the vacant shipyard. Believing his enemies didn't know which shipyard contained the under-construction Titan, he gambled that his enemies would logically attack into his defense. It was a huge risk that left the true shipyard—with its $6,000 Titan inside—completely undefended.
“Band of Brothers parked every ship they had next to the shipyard, all in one big group,” said Mark ‘Seleene’ Heard, the leader of a close ally of Band of Brothers who was present at the battle, in an interview. “They were already immobile and ready to receive the siege when the enemy jump bridge lit up.”
The hour of battle came, and the entire 1000-ship fleet warped into F-TE1T. The enemy fleet saw that Band of Brothers had massed in a defensive position, and they took the bait. They attacked directly into the fortified position around the empty shipyard.
RedSwarm/Northern Coalition siege weapons began unloading volleys of laser blasts and munitions upon the shields of the shipyard. Band of Brothers engineers diverted power to the shipyard's shields and repaired its armor, but it was being torn apart by the unprecedented amount of firepower directed at it. Of course, Band of Brothers didn't really care about the empty shipyard, but they needed to put up a credible defense or else risk giving away SirMolle's ruse.
Band of Brothers slowly chipped away at the enemy's ship count and over time hundreds of enemies were destroyed. Powerful stationary defensive weapon emplacements on the shipyard pounded the support and logistics vessels their enemies had brought to protect their larger siege ships. The space around the empty shipyard was a thick debris field replete with destroyed hulls of hundreds of RedSwarm and Northern Coalition ships.
“The enemy siege ships were mostly focused on shooting the shipyard and not back at the ships murdering them,” said Heard. “A couple dozen Band of Brothers carriers were repairing the tower to slow them down. It was a massacre.”
After hours of battle, the shipyard inched closer to destruction (as was inevitable) and Band of Brothers sprang their trap. Their electronic warfare ships scrambled and drained power from their enemy's largest, most valuable ships to make sure they would never be able to retreat from this attack. As the empty shipyard exploded, the invaders cheered and retreated, leaving behind 40 valuable siege dreadnoughts that couldn't retreat along with the hundreds of ruined ships that now floated derelict through the star system.
Believing they'd destroyed the ultra-expensive Titan ship, the invaders thought that the heavy cost they paid to destroy the shipyard was a necessary and worthwhile price.
The big reveal
The next morning, on April 1, 2007, SirMolle lied. He declared to the EVE Online community that the enemy forces had achieved victory and destroyed Band of Brothers' in-build Titan in the attack. Many were so jubilant that the tyrant SirMolle had been humbled that they didn't notice the date: April Fools' Day.
SirMolle bided his time, chuckling to himself regularly throughout the day as he watched his adversaries cheer, before finally revealing the joke. His enemies gained next to nothing in the attack, and lost hundreds of ships including an entire fleet of expensive siege ships in the process.
The consequences of this ruse can't be overstated. The invasion by the combined RedSwarm Federation/Northern Coalition fleet was a proof-of-concept mission for an extended war against Band of Brothers. They wanted to show the rest of EVE Online that this feared juggernaut was mortal. Instead, they were humbled and embarrassed, and SirMolle came away looking every bit the undefeatable colossus everyone feared he was.
However, the war against the allied forces of the RedSwarm Federation and Northern Coalition had only just begun. After defending the massive assault on F-TE1T, SirMolle's enemies were scared, and he was preparing to counterattack on a massive scale. Every ally who owed him a favor, every banner man who wanted to prove their loyalty was called up. SirMolle was organizing a powerful coalition to get revenge. Band of Brothers was now at the head of a coalition of alliances numbering more than 10,000 real human starship pilots.
But not even SirMolle truly understood how massive this war was about to become. The battle of F-TE1T was ultimately just the opening shot in a war that would last over two years, between more than 50,000 people, and became perhaps the most intense and fascinating conflict ever waged over the internet.
In the end, Band of Brothers would eventually lose this war, but not before pushing their enemies to the brink of destruction. The end result of the war would change the balance of power in EVE Online forever, and created the modern era of EVE Online as we know it.
Today, EVE is on the cusp of yet another great war as a huge coalition of forces have coalesced against the dominant power. Whether or not history will repeat itself remains to be seen.