Inside the biggest heist in EVE Online history

The siege of Circle-of-Two's main station. Image credit: The Ancient Gaming Noob.

At 5 AM, Gigx received a phone call that would change his life. Minutes earlier, a text message had come through but the 32-year-old Serbian had slept through the beep. The phone call woke him up. It was Nammcek, one of Gigx's subordinates from his EVE Online corporation, Balkan Mafia. He was panicking.

"The Judge is transferring all of our citadels," he said. "He's taking everything."

"So I went from bed—I was still so sleepy—and sat at my PC," Gigx tells me. "I couldn't believe what was happening."

When he logged in, Gigx found his alliance, Circle-of-Two (CO2) in complete chaos. Its citadels, the massive space stations that protects CO2's region of space, were now in the hands of its former allies. CO2's treasure trove of blueprints, the plans necessary to build their capital fleet, had been plundered along with its bank accounts. And worst of all, two separate armies had sieged CO2's crowning gem, a Keepstar citadel that its 5,000 players called home. In the span of an hour, Circle-of-Two lost everything.

"I hadn't even drank a coffee," Gigx says. "You go to sleep and in about one hour everything you've built in 14 years is gone."

But, depending on who you believe, Gigx had it coming.

A history of violence 

Circle-of-Two is one of the biggest alliances in EVE's brutal null-sec political game, where thousands of players rally under banners and wage war against one another for control of star systems. And as their leader, Gigx is one of the most infamous players in the game. He's known for being brutal and uncompromising. Few generals ever inspire such loyalty from their troops—but not everyone is a zealous believer. 

"It actually started years ago," The Judge tells me. I'm speaking with him in the same Discord voice chat room where the heist was executed. Until now, The Judge was Circle-of-Two's head diplomat. He is also a member of EVE's Council of Interstellar Management (CSM), a group of player-elected representatives who travel to CCP Games' headquarters in Iceland several times a year to lobby the developers and help them make changes to the intricate sandbox MMO. It was at one of those summits that The Judge decided to burn CO2 to the ground. "He wasn't respecting me, he wasn't respecting anyone really," The Judge says. "The culture in CO2 is that Gigx is sort of like a demigod and everyone worships him and thinks he can do no wrong and he just sort of rolls with that."

The culture in CO2 is that Gigx is sort of like a demigod and everyone worships him and thinks he can do no wrong and he just sort of rolls with that.

The Judge

"Everything The Judge is saying, he's understating it quite a bit," Aryth interjects. He's another CSM representative but, more importantly, an 'operator' for the Goonswarm Federation alliance. See, Aryth doesn't play EVE Online in the traditional sense. He might log in now and again, but much of his time is spent playing EVE's 'metagame.' He's a puppetmaster, someone who pulls strings by orchestrating backroom deals using espionage and subterfuge. If EVE has an Illuminati, Aryth would certainly have a membership. "Gigx is a raging, narcissistic maniac. He would change directions at the drop of a dime. The smallest slights to his ego, he would overreact. There was a running joke that the only thing you had to do to get Gigx to [deploy his supercapital fleet] was to insult him."

It's hard not to take Aryth's words with a grain of salt. After all, his hatred of Gigx is somewhat personal. His alliance, Goonswarm Federation, used to be the undisputed kings of EVE Online. Their northern home of Deklein was surrounded by a "blue donut" of allies called The Imperium—an impenetrable coalition of superpowers that the rest of EVE hated. Circle-of-Two was one of those allies.

Then, last year, a group of players who had built a gambling website that used EVE's in-game currency decided to leverage their insurmountable wealth and funded a war to destroy The Imperium. During the crucial battle of M-OEE8 in March of 2016, Circle-of-Two betrayed Goonswarm and triggered a landslide that would eventually shatter the coalition. Gigx's pivotal betrayal was a grudge that Goonswarm had been looking to settle for over a year.

And Gigx wasn't doing himself any favors by pissing off The Judge. In early September of this year, Circle-of-Two was heading toward a diplomatic disaster. The Judge had been trying to keep the peace between CO2 and its allies in the Legacy Coalition—most importantly TEST Alliance. But Gigx seemed hellbent on unravelling all of that hard work while The Judge had to fly to Iceland for a CSM meeting. "I started flying to the summit and it was on the flight there that Gigx started talking for himself to the diplomats from TEST," The Judge says. "I wasn't available to censor what he was saying. Then during the summit, we were in the middle of meetings with the developers and my phone was buzzing on the desk because I'm getting messages about how Gigx had done this and that, and Legacy had held a secret meeting to kick CO2. I had no power to do anything about it."

And this was exactly what Aryth had planned. For nearly a year, he and fellow Goonswarm CSM member Innominate had been grooming The Judge as a potential mole. Seeing his dissatisfaction with Gigx, they hoped to secretly turn him. But as Kotaku reports, it was over a dinner meal with CCP developers sitting across the table that Aryth convinced The Judge to exact a more direct kind of vengeance against Gigx. 

Aryth appearing on a livestream while wearing a mask.

Blood in the water 

It was 10 AM in Australia, where The Judge lives, when he began preparing his betrayal. "I used my admin roles on Teamspeak to see how long [Gigx had] been idling and saw he was recently active," he explains. "So I waited for a couple of hours until I was sure he went to bed. I didn't go and talk to him or anyone, I just sat in the AFK channel."

The Judge invited a personal friend into his Discord channel and handed him a list of step-by-step instructions of everything he needed to do to help him keep track. "I just sat there and calm as a cucumber went down the list and did it as fast as possible," he says.

First he would plunder CO2's coffers, stealing as much as he could get access to. Then he would transfer control of its smaller citadels to TEST Alliance. Finally, he would transfer the Keepstar citadel, the station that most of CO2's 5,000 members called home, into a personal corporation that only he controlled.

The first messages that came through were people thinking that it was a mistake, that someone had just clicked the wrong button.

The Judge

As soon as the Keepstar changed hands, CO2 members would have their docking permissions revoked. Those that were already docked inside could stay there for as long as they wanted, but as soon as they left they'd be locked out. "I had just transferred the Keepstar to a private corporation of mine, and as soon as that happened I knew people would start to notice, so it was the last thing on my list. The first messages that came through were people thinking that it was a mistake, that someone had just clicked the wrong button."

Sometime later, The Judge handed the keys of the Keepstar citadel to Goonswarm for 400 billion ISK. Combined with the ISK and assets that he took, The Judge estimates his profit from the heist totals around 1.5 trillion ISK (around $10,000 USD, though there's no way to cash out)—the largest single theft in EVE history by a massive margin.

But it was just beginning, with countless Circle-of-Two pilots and trillions of ISK worth of ships and resources still inside the Keepstar, Goonswarm launched their offensive. Aryth sent out an alliance-wide broadcast:

"ARYTH AND THE JUDGE SEND THEIR REGARDS – PREPARE FOR A PR- STYLE HELLCAMP – HICTORS NEEDED ON DECK – VENGEANCE – VENGEAAAAAAAAAAAAAANCEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE"

Goonswarm immediately mustered a fleet of Heavy Interdiction Cruisers ('hictors'). These powerful ships deploy warp disruption bubbles that Goonswarm used to cover the Keepstar in its entirety. Anyone who undocked would find themselves trapped in a several hundred kilometer deadzone—sitting ducks to be evaporated by Goonswarm guns. Soon after, TEST Alliance declared Goonswarm a temporary ally so that they could also join fun.

During this time, Nammcek called Gigx who logged in and began frantically trying to revoke The Judge's roles and stop him. But it was already too late. "I was looking at some assets in stations where I was and I saw that everything was empty," Gigx says. "All the [capital ship blueprints] that my corporation's members together with me and the other Serbian guys who stopped playing along time ago, all of it was gone."

Gigx snapped. "I asked him on Discord, what the fuck are you doing? And there was no response. I was trying to convo him in-game, but the game was telling me I was blocked. He blocked me."

Meanwhile, CO2's alliance chat was complete chaos. Gigx, his temper getting the better of him, boiled over. "Whoever know his real name, home address and other details msg me," he wrote to his thousands of members. "The Judge feel free to use your hands by typing here," he added, "while you can."

But that was just another trap. Aryth and The Judge had a hunch that Gigx was going to lose it, and to fully capture the chaos they'd created The Judge was streaming the alliance chat window over Twitch to 2,000 viewers. Not only would they see the panic and fear of CO2's members, but the EVE community was about to get a firsthand taste for Gigx's raging temper.  Many of them filed petitions to have Gigx banned. 

Meanwhile, Gigx also sent physical threats to The Judge through Discord.

"Let's see on what CSM meeting are you gonna come," he wrote. "You peace of shit. You will need protection. You motherfucker."

That morning was chaos. EVE Online's community of player-journalists woke up and began scrambling to cover the story and piece together the details. Meanwhile, popular EVE podcast Talking in Stations convinced Gigx to appear during a live broadcast to discuss the events. During that podcast, CCP issued a permanent ban to Gigx for breaking their EULA by issuing physical threats and calling for The Judge's personal information. It was another embarrassing moment piled on a mountain of embarrassing moments. 

"You hope for things like that," Aryth laughs. "You can set up all the perfect conditions hoping something will happen and nine times out of ten shit won't happen. But every once in awhile shit works." 

Keep your cool

Gigx's ban struck a nerve in the community. In the week that's followed, Reddit threads and forum posts have criticized and defended CCP's actions. For many CO2 loyalists, the ban strikes a parallel to an event that happened years ago when Goonswarm's leader, The Mittani, endorsed the ongoing harassment of another player while appearing on a community livestream. For that, The Mittani was forced to resign from the CSM and was banned for 30 days. So why was Gigx banned permanently, and, considering the circumstances, can we really fault him for losing his temper?

While CCP wouldn't speak directly Gigx's ban, EVE Online community manager Paul Elsy was open to speaking with me about its policies. "When we come down on something we definitely have to come down on it consistently," Elsy says. "We've had very publicized stuff in the past where people have threatened people or they've said something that breaks our rules and we've had questions like, why are the punishments different? The truth is, our policies are constantly evolving. We're one of the oldest MMOs around, and what happened six, seven, or eight years ago, compared to happening today, maybe dealt with differently based on the way that online harassment and griefing has changed over the years."

Elsy confirms that CCP has a zero tolerance policy towards threats that it perceives as not within the context of the game. It remains a contentious issue, with many players finding creative ways to ignore the fact that Gigx openly tried to doxx The Judge in addition to physically threatening him. Others feel that a permanent ban is too harsh or that Gigx was deliberately trolled into lashing out.

Circle-of-Two propaganda mourning the loss of Gigx. Image credit: Cymek.

"I'm aware of the rules," Gigx pleads. "It's not fair to get a permanent ban, but I definitely deserve punishment. In that moment, 14 years were deleted from me, but I definitely deserve a punishment for what I said. Give me a break, I need a break from the game. But don't just take it away from me forever."

I definitely deserve a punishment for what I said. Give me a break, I need a break from the game. But don't just take it away from me forever.

Gigx

It's an easy plea to sympathize with. Gigx was obviously under incredible duress as he watched his virtual empire burn. He even issued a public apology to The Judge and his fellow alliance members a day later.

But The Judge isn't convinced that Gigx is truly sorry. To him, it's just another day living with an unhinged egomaniac. "He did that in the heat of the moment, yes, but he continued to do it for hours. He sent me messages privately on Discord. [By the time] he went on stream that was seven and a half hours later. And when he was banned on the stream, that's when it hit him. Once his guys found out he was banned, everyone was just like, just apologize and they'll lower it. That's why his apology is out there, he just wants to be unbanned."

"He's done this kind of thing before," he continues. "He's had [temporary] bans and warnings on his account before. People aren't mentioning that in the articles, but obviously that has to play into why they would [permanently ban] him. It's not just that he did it on a stream in from on 2,000 people."

Still, that hasn't stopped the EVE subreddit from featuring memes and posts to unban Gigx nearly every day. "That shows exactly what the culture is in CO2. They're zealots for Gigx. They're so sure he can't do anything wrong," The Judge argues.

The dust settles 

Understanding the full implications of what happened on September 11 will likely take years. As of right now, Circle-of-Two is almost certainly finished. Four thousand members have exited the alliance in the past week, leaving it a husk.

What's worse, it will be impossible to ever reclaim what was lost. In EVE, resources that were stored inside a citadel can be recovered from a secret location in the event the citadel is destroyed or taken over. The catch? Players will have to pay a tax of 15 percent of the total value in order to access their assets. With CO2's coffers emptied, its assets seized, and its leader banned, it has no way to make money. It's unlikely that anyone can afford the trillions of ISK in tax it will cost to release their assets.

The metagame is the real EVE. It doesn't happen in the client, it's completely outside of the game. And it drives everything.

Aryth

While Circle-of-Two has not been disbanded, Gigx has "closed" the alliance, leaving it a defunct mess for the 1,000 members who remain. TEST Alliance, along with many others, have begun taking CO2 refugees into their ranks, acknowledging that this was a feud that didn't involve them directly.

Meanwhile, The Judge has officially joined Goonswarm Federation. I ask him what he's going to do next. "I've got plenty of money to fly whatever I want for as long as I want," he laughs. "I don't have to worry about that. Now I can play the metagame or I can go around and fly in faction warfare space. I can do whatever I want."

For Aryth, CO2's collapse is a powerful reminder of who really controls EVE Online. "The metagame is the real EVE," he says. "It doesn't happen in the client, it's completely outside of the game. And it drives everything. It determines who wins wars, it determines who joins who, it determines the future features of EVE based on how people behave, and it determines the economic conditions. The meta determines everything. CCP has given us a pure sandbox, and we're able to shape that meta. Why would you play anything else?"

It's a question that one pilot can no longer answer.

"It's finally time for something else except EVE," Gigx says, trying to sound optimistic.

I don't buy it.