Of all the adjectives you might use to describe EVE Online's most notorious scammer, humble probably wouldn't be one of them. But that's exactly my impression of Scooter McCabe. Scooter McCabe (a pilot name) has taken more than just ISK, EVE's virtual currency. He's stolen ships, space stations, and even scammed his way into the captain's chair of an entire alliance.
I meet the man who turned space deception into a fine art in the Planet Hollywood casino in October of 2016, surrounded by the chirps of slot machines as hunched patrons feed them tokens. When I ask him if he's the biggest hustler in EVE, he shifts uncomfortably and says, "I don't like to get a big head about these things."
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On the surface, EVE Vegas is a community event where developer CCP Games gets together with their fans to party, gamble, and celebrate life in the virtual galaxy of EVE Online. For Scooter, it's a chance to shed his avatar's skin and reveal he's not just the silver-tongued devil you'd make him out to be. In real life, he's an average looking guy in his mid-thirties with slightly greying hair and glasses. He might rob you for everything you're worth in EVE, but in person he's genuine and affable.
Look into any comment section of an article written about EVE Online, and you're likely to find the same recycled comments about sociopaths, liars, and cheats. While hyperbolic, people like Scooter make that reputation somewhat deserved. Fly into Jita, EVE Online's biggest trade hub, and your chat window instantly floods with players offering to "double your ISK" or sell what appears to be amazing deals on expensive items, hoping you don't realize they're conveniently located in pirate-infested territory. But Scooter doesn't waste his time with these low-effort scams that try to catch any player like a mosquito lamp.
His are elaborately staged heists that, over the years, have pulled in well over 3.5 trillion ISK—at least, that's when he stopped counting. Consider that EVE Online's greatest battle, , cumulatively cost more than 11 trillion ISK and you begin to appreciate how destructive Scooter is to EVE's fragile ecosystem.
The man who scammed the world
You might think the most valuable resource in EVE would be ISK, but any alliance leader worth their salt would tell you otherwise. In EVE, the most valuable thing is trust. Trust holds massive player-made alliances together. Leaders must trust that their officers aren't secretly feeding intel to the enemy or won't suddenly make off with everything in the corporate bank account in exchange for a position of power in a rival alliance. But unlike other MMO developers, CCP Games doesn't punish treachery with bans or suspensions—it outright encourages it as long as it remains within the boundaries of the game.
"People from other games have no idea what they're getting into when they start playing EVE and that makes my job so much easier," Scooter laughs. It's that freely given trust that players seem to offer internet strangers that Scooter preys upon. It sounds simple, and for your average Jita scammer, it kind of is. But where a Jita scammer might make a few hundred million ISK a week, Scooter tells me that unless the payout is above 500 million ISK, he's not interested. That's because his scams are carefully concocted ruses tailored to each 'mark'—the intended victim. "We identify your flaws, we find out what you're looking for, what you need to hear, and what we can take from you," he says.
Each scam is different depending on who the mark is, but the common formula remains the same. Gain trust, promise everything, take everything. During a talk at EVE Vegas, Scooter recounts one scam that ended with him owning an entire alliance and renaming their home station "Scooter McCabe's Personal Toilet."
The heist started with a simple proposition: An enemy alliance was looking to join The Goonswarm Federation and betray their overseers, Pandemic Legion, after a period of cruel subjugation. The Mittani, Goonswarm's leader, laughed the offer off, but Scooter saw an opportunity. He approached the enemy alliance's leader, a player named Brante Sletkia, pretending to be a secret agent for a 'shadow cartel' that was interested in his offer. Scooter lied and said he needed to verify that Brante's proposal wasn't a "false-flag operation to break up diplomatic agreements" as Goonswarm and Pandemic Legion had a truce at the time.
Through in-game conversations, Scooter convinced Brante that Goonswarm was willing to give asylum to his alliance but wanted to use their territory as a staging system to attack Pandemic Legion. If Brante was serious about crossing sides, he'd need to let one of Scooter's alternate characters into the alliance and give him unlimited access to everything so he could verify it wasn't a trap. Now in a position of absolute power, Scooter then had the alliance store all of their ships in one station to prepare to evacuate their space and cross over to Goonswarm territory.
Just as the last of the alliance's valuable assets were stored inside the station, Scooter unleashed his plan. He used his unrestricted access to declare himself CEO. His first order of business as king? Kicking every single member, including Brante, out of the alliance. Within minutes, the hundreds of ships they had placed inside of their station were no longer accessible to anyone but Scooter. It was like buying a house and then changing the locks before the old tenants had a chance to move out—except Scooter never paid a dime.
But Scooter has a dark sense of humor, so he changed the name of the station to "Scooter McCabe's Personal Toilet" and told them that if they wanted their ships back, they'd need to pay him 30 billion ISK. What's more, Pandemic Legion was tipped off about Scooter's treachery but instead of being angry, they offered him another 4 billion ISK to peacefully transfer his newly acquired territory to them. Within hours, an entire alliance had evaporated, its members penniless and without ships. Even their own identity as an alliance was no longer theirs.
When they eventually kicked Scooter from their Teamspeak channel, Brante had one message: "Thanks for killing my EVE."
I ask Scooter if he ever feels bad after pulling such devastating scams. With a blank expression he says "nope."
All rise for the honorable Judge Scooter
Dismantling an entire alliance that's seeking asylum might seem pretty cruel, but that's nothing compared to Scooter's magnum opus, Space Court—a spin on Night Court, an American sitcom. Scooter tells me he conceived the idea while reading the forums and finding countless posts from scam victims begging for retribution. He had a twisted idea: "If they want a law enforcement system, why not give it to them?"
But Space Court isn't a well-intentioned attempt at justice, it's just another way for Scooter and his cohorts in Goonswarm to scam even more money from their enemies. Scooter's most vocal victims are given an opportunity to present their case through Space Court's voice communication servers, not realizing that the whole thing is an elaborate ruse to waste their time like a kind of pseudo-reality gag show. Just like a real court, there's a jury, a judge, defendants, witnesses, and even a mock lawyer is given to represent the plaintiff. The only problem is that every single one of them except the victim is in on the gag.
"It's like a giant Saturday Night Live routine," Scooter laughs. The court proceedings start out incredibly dry, filled with rambling sentences crammed with phoney court-speak, made up laws, and fake government bodies. The longer the ruse goes on the more they begin to turn up the ridiculousness in hopes that the victim finally catches on. Some of the more ridiculous moments include playing "Who Let the Dogs Out" by Baha Men while a lawyer looks for his escaped dog and not so subtly reenacting scenes from the movie "A Few Good Men" (click below around 38:25 for one such moment).
"Everyone else comes in and they just start improvising," Scooter says. "We don't have a script, but they say all this crazy crap. And it's this guy who's already been scammed once, and he's willing to sit there and believe this whole kangaroo court."
Unlike a real court, however, Space Court doesn't have any actual legal jurisdiction and its verdicts are meaningless. That doesn't stop them from finding the scammer not guilty in every circumstance before leveling charges of "defamation" against the actual victim. When I ask Scooter if they actually pay up, he shakes his head—not because they don't, but because he's so ashamed that they do. "It's just amazing seeing how people turn off critical thinking skills."
You can't scam an honest man
You wouldn't be alone if you felt Scooter's exploits were a bit . "For somebody to have lost their morale [sic] compass and clearly take delight in causing misery to others and then to proudly boast of his 'achievement', truly speaks volumes for that person," wrote one commenter in 2014, when Scooter's alliance heist was first publicized.
"I've scammed before and stole stuff in EVE. I can tell u [sic] that I would not do what this guy did. Maybe take a few ships, but to ruin the game entirely for so many players..." wrote another.
Scooter, however, sees it differently: "People don't like having their flaws exposed... No one likes being blamed and having to take responsibility. So that's where a lot of the demonization comes because it shifts blame and self-introspection off of you."
He didn't go into details, but during the 2008 stock market crash, Scooter lost everything. With the bank ready to seize his car and with only a hundred dollars to his name, he drove to Atlantic City. For three days straight he played poker, feeling like it was his only option to stay afloat as his world sunk around him. "One guy I took down grabbed me by the arm and said 'that's my kid's college fund you just took.' But the thing is, if you get involved in a game where you have the potential to lose everything you brought into the game, you have to take responsibility for that. It's not the other person's fault that they played a better game than you did. For me, he was trying to make me feel bad, but here I am in a survival situation. I can't give back this money or I'm a dead man."
"Nobody has a problem if you screw over your friend in Monopoly because it's a board game and it's fun. But all of a sudden you turn it into a computer game where you have billions and billions of space money changing hands and people lose their minds. There's so many warning signs in EVE to be careful of scams and it still happens. Why be angry at me when they should know better? Their parents told them not to trust strangers, but all of a sudden they're playing a computer game and all that goes out the window. You should never stop exercising your own self-judgment and never stop making good decisions."
Whether or not that's what Scooter actually believes or, as he accuses of his victims, an attempt to deflect responsibility and self-introspection, I'm honestly not sure. Unlike Monopoly, EVE Online doesn't take up an evening or two—players invest years into their virtual lives and alliances. And even though I like the man behind the monitor, I'd probably think twice before ever accepting a deal with him in-game. If trust is the most valuable resource in EVE Online, players like Scooter are a great reminder to always be careful who you give it to.
As our time together winds to a close, Scooter and I walk towards the casino bar. I notice him eying up passing poker tables and a moment later we say our goodbyes and he wanders over to one. I watch him go, pitying whatever poor sap ends up sitting next to him.