How one mistake turned EVE Online's deadliest hunters into corpses

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 307. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

Titans are the most majestic things in EVE Online. These colossal spaceships span upwards of 18 kilometres in length and come equipped with devastating 'Doomsday' weapons that can eviscerate entire fleets in one fell swoop. They take almost a year of training to fly, cost nearly 100 billion ISK to build, and are the backbone of any major Eve alliance. 

And Rocket X kills them for a living.

I meet Rocket in the media room at EVE Online’s annual Fanfest in Iceland. For the average EVE player, nearly every minute of this week is spent reuniting with corpmates, drinking beer, and celebrating PC gaming’s dauntingly complex spaceship MMO. But my meeting with Rocket X has a different, more sombre tone. I’m here to talk about one of the most embarrassing moments in his 13-year career as a pilot.

At 26 years old, Rocket has been playing EVE for half of his entire life. He’s a director in one of the game’s most storied alliances, Pandemic Legion, and he personally heads up RekkingCrew, an infamous gang of tenacious and savage Titan killers. Composed of elite pilots from various alliances, RekkingCrew unites them for one purpose: the thrill of the hunt. 

“We’re known being one of the most prolific hunting groups in the game,” Rocket says with a proud smile. “The way we look at the game, if we log out and we haven’t ruined someone’s day, then we’ve not had a good day. When you lose one of these ships, it hurts. It’s six or seven hundred pounds of ship. It’s not like you pay a bit of gold in World of Warcraft and you get it back. It’s like crashing a car.”

Rocket and his crew play EVE in a way that only a handful of people will ever experience. As Super Capital hunters, he and RekkingCrew don’t fight Titans and their smaller siblings, Supercarriers, head-on. Instead, they track them down, learn everything they can about the pilot in the captain’s chair, and orchestrate elaborate traps that spring so swiftly that, if it weren’t for the couple million tonnes of floating wreckage left behind, no one would know they were there. “It’s very intensive,” Rocket says. “A lot of it is research, figuring out who someone is, what times they log in, what they do and how they’re likely to react if you present them with a certain scenario.”

Like a virtual version of Captain Ahab, Rocket hunts EVE’s very own white whales. “It used to be something that hadn’t really been done,” he explains. “Titans and Supercarriers were always viewed as ships owned by large alliances and you wouldn’t be able to kill them unless you fought that alliance directly. But we set out in 2010 to prove they were as vulnerable as anyone else. We transformed it from something that happened occasionally and made it a science.”

He tells me he once tracked a Titan for three years before finally killing it. That dedication to the hunt is what made him one of EVE’s most deadly pilots. To date, Rocket has destroyed 5,482 ships and only lost 39. The value of those destroyed ships is nearly 8 trillion ISK—almost as much as EVE’s largest single battle. Despite this, these aren’t the first things I learn about Rocket. During Fanfest, a friend and fellow EVE player approached me. “I heard you were looking for stories of betrayal?” He said. “Well, I’ve got one that you have to hear.”

It was in December of last year when Rocket made a mistake that cost him dearly. Over the Christmas holiday, RekkingCrew members had scouted a Supercarrier-class ‘Nyx’ parked inside the shields of an undefended player-owned starbase. Called POSes, these tower-like structures emit a force field where players can camp out safe from the guns of their enemies.

Though considerably cheaper than a Titan, Supercarriers are still the second most powerful ships in EVE. Fielding squadrons of deadly automated fighters, they’re a worthy prey to hunt. The only problem was that this particular Nyx, which Rocket hilariously describes as “a green pancake with holes in it”, was untouchable behind the shields of the starbase. Given that most RekkingCrew members were enjoying the Christmas break, Rocket didn’t think he could muster the numbers needed to crack open the shields. “We just decided to shelf it for the time being,” he explains.

Then something serendipitous happened. One of Rocket’s crew was approached by a character named Boneless Steve, from the nearby Curatores Veritatis Alliance (CVA), requesting an audience. “We’re not particularly hostile to CVA, we’ll shoot them if we get the chance, but we have nothing against them, so I was like, ‘Okay fine, what’s the deal?’” Rocket explains. “So he says he had this Nyx and it was stolen from him and he doesn’t know where it is but he knows which person took it.” It would be next to impossible to steal the Nyx back, so Boneless Steve wanted it and the thief dead. Just like that, RekkingCrew had all the ingredients they needed to set a trap. While they might lack the firepower to bring the POS shields down, Rocket had a hunch that they could bait the Nyx into leaving its protection with Boneless Steve’s help.

The plan was that Boneless Steve would fly out to the POS in a battleship and begin shooting the shields. A battleship is no threat to a Nyx, but it would appear like Boneless Steve was trying enact some kind of desperate revenge. Rocket bet that the Nyx pilot would fly out beyond the shields to destroy the battleship and salt the wound, and that’s when RekkingCrew would pounce. It was a plan they had pulled off dozens of times. But as Rocket should have known by this point, few things in EVE are ever serendipitous.

Bait and tackle

On the evening of December 29, RekkingCrew set its trap. One by one, a dozen RekkingCrew pilots logged into multiple characters that they would control simultaneously and suited up for the operation. With just a Nyx on the menu, the team still needed a sizeable force of five Nyx Supercarriers and a dozen smaller ships to ‘tackle’ the enemy Nyx using warp disruption modules. Titan pilots would be waiting on call should their extra firepower be needed. And then there was the most important ship of all, a single Battleship-class Vindicator.

Piloting this Vindicator, Rocket would exploit one of EVE’s most unusual gameplay quirks. While ramming an enemy ship does no damage, it can push them off course. It’s a tactic that players have turned into an art that requires masterful piloting of EVE’s clumsy ships. Rocket tells me he was the only one he could trust to get it right. Using his Vindicator, he would repeatedly ram the Nyx, pushing it a little further from the safety of the POS’s shields each time. Then, when there was no hope of the massive Supercarrier making an escape, RekkingCrew would then call in the calvary.

But this was RekkingCrew, the most feared killers in all of New Eden, after all. A little flair is always necessary. The shining gem of the RekkingCrew fleet was its Revenant—one of the rarest ships in the entire game. These bulbous, alien-like Supercarriers can only be constructed from an incredibly rare blueprint that drops from Sansha pirate Motherships that periodically appear to launch invasions on various star systems. Revenants are estimated to cost a whopping 100 billion ISK for just the hull alone, and only five of them have ever been destroyed in EVE’s history.

With the RekkingCrew fleet formed, all it needed was their bait, Boneless Steve. Only Boneless Steve wasn’t ready. He told the team he needed some more time to prepare. For an hour, RekkingCrew waited anxiously while the Nyx sat idle behind the safety of the forcefield. The clock was ticking.

When Boneless Steve finally arrived, it was without a ship. Frustrated by his incompetence, Rocket gave him one of his own Dominix battleships which he could use to shoot the POS. Boneless Steve then journeyed out to the system of Hothomouh where the Nyx was waiting, warped to the starbase, and unleashed hell upon its shields. A cloaked scout in the system spoke up on comms: “The Nyx is moving.”

My stomach dropped out and I froze for a moment.

Rocket X

On Rocket’s orders, the scout lit a cynosural beacon. Several systems away, a RekkingCrew Titan locked onto the beacon and opened a warp bridge through space that the fleet then  entered. As the Nyx broke away from the safety of the shields and launched a squadron of fighters at Boneless Steve’s Dominix, a portal opened right next to it. Led by Rocket in his Vindicator, a small force of cruisers and battleships flooded through. Rocket engaged his thrusters, charged the Nyx, and rammed it just as it began to turn back towards the shields. “Once he was safely off and couldn’t get anywhere, it seemed like an easy kill,” Rocket says and shrugs.

A month after talking with Rocket, I manage to track Boneless Steve down in the game. Unsurprisingly, Boneless Steve is a burner character — a decoy account. His real name is Catelyn Stoneheart. The thief who stole the Nyx, named Hy Wanto Destroyer, is actually a friend of his. Both are members of Snuffed Out, another alliance that, in its spare time, hunts Supercapital ships. Only Snuffed Out plays by a different set of rules than most. While RekkingCrew often relies on the kindness of strangers for its intelligence, Snuffed Out works from the inside.

“Rocket’s guys walked around EVE like they were untouchable,” Catelyn says. “They needed to be put in check.” So in late December, Snuffed Out’s leader, DonnieDarko, decided to hatch a plan. When Rocket and his team sprung their trap, Boneless Steve and DonnieDarko sprung theirs.Several hundred kilometres from the POS, the stolen Nyx was as good as dead. Rocket tells me he then gave the order and a second cynosural beacon was lit. Again, the Titan locked onto the beacon and opened a bridge. A second wave of RekkingCrew Supercarriers warped through, led by the Revenant. They locked onto the Nyx and just then, Rocket tells me he saw a third cynosural beacon light up. “Is that ours?” Rocket said. And then he got his answer.

Image credit: The Aggressor EVE.

A wave of 22 Heavy Interdiction Cruisers exploded through the warp bridge and launched their warp disruption bubbles. In seconds, the RekkingCrew fleet was trapped, unable to escape. Then came the real cavalry: 53 Dreadnoughts and 13 Carriers. “My stomach dropped out and I froze for a moment,” Rocket admits. “But as a fleet commander, the worst thing you can do is freeze. You have to keep giving instructions and even if they’re the wrong ones you have to keep talking and keep your guys focused.”

But the enemy had brought nearly three times as many guns to the fight. As the Dreadnoughts’ first salvo slashed through the armour plating of each Supercarrier, Rocket spoke up on comms. “There’s nothing I can do, you’re all going to die,” he said. “Just try and kill what you can.”

Ten minutes later it was over. Being in a Vindicator, Rocket was one of the least threatening ships on the field. “I had to sit and watch them die around me and there was nothing I could do,” Rocket says sadly. “As a fleet commander, that’s horrible.”

As RekkingCrew Super Capitals erupted in flames, Catelyn says that the team’s pilots began lashing out at him, thinking he was a spy. In a delicious twist of irony, Rocket stepped into the argument to defend him as he wasn’t convinced that Catelyn was at fault. “It was pretty hilarious,” Catelyn says with a laugh. But there was more salt to the wound. On his overview window, where ships signatures are arranged so that pilots can make better sense of a crowded playing field, Rocket saw the fleet had members from CVA. “That was just another kick in the teeth right there. The alliance we thought we were helping was there to kill us.”

The stolen Nyx wasn’t the target, RekkingCrew was. Rocket tells me only then he realised why Boneless Steve took so long to meet them. He was stalling so Snuffed Out could form its fleet. By then, Boneless Steve had exited their comms and was long gone. 

Snuffed Out did more than just deflate one person’s ego, however. Rocket confesses that this was RekkingCrew’s “first loss in six years” and the EVE community took notice. Once the battle was made public, Rocket says his inbox filled with people looking to gloat. More than just wounded pride, Snuffed Out’s trap cost Rocket and his crew a devastating 300 billion ISK. It took some RekkingCrew pilots weeks to rebuild and get back into the captain’s chair of new Supercarriers. The Revenant, which contributed to a whopping third of the total damages, would likely never be replaced. One of RekkingCrew’s Nyx crafts was fitted with expensive ‘Officer’ modules, making it the most expensive Nyx kill in two years. “It’s a huge loss,” Rocket says with a frown. “To lose a Super Capital, you’re one of a very select group of people. A lot of my guys are still very bitter about it.”

I ask Rocket what went wrong and he shrugs. “It’s my responsibility to always make sure the information I have is correct,” he says. In the aftermath, Rocket realised that his teammate, who Boneless Steve first contacted, never did a background check on him. It was a simple mistake that cost RekkingCrew billions of ISK and its ‘untouchable’ reputation. Despite that, Rocket takes the blame. “It’s my responsibility to always make sure the information I have is correct. When I made that call to tell them to jump in, that’s on me.”

“You have to commend [Snuffed Out],” he adds diplomatically. “There’s no way I can have any animosity against them because at the end of the day it’s a game and I got bested.” Snuffed Out, however, isn’t nearly as kind. “The only thing I regret,” Hy Wanto says with a sneer, “Is that I didn’t get the killing blow on Rocket.”