EVE Online is on the cusp of the biggest battle in its 15-year history

The current field of battle. Each orange or blue dot represents one of the 6,700 combatants swarming the Keepstar Citadel.

Update: The fight has ended in a disappointing win for the defenders of the Keepstar Citadel. With massive server lag preventing combatants from participating to their full potential, The Imperium refused to deploy their supercapital fleet of Titans and eventually called off the assault. EVE's $1 million USD battle has been a bust despite a record-breaking number of participants. We'll have more on what happened in the coming days.

Original Story: EVE Online pilots will engage in a battle this afternoon that could dwarf every other major conflict in its history. Across the entirety of New Eden, thousands of pilots are making their final preparations and traveling to the cluster of star systems known as Cloud Ring, which has already become a warzone. In the system of 9-4RP2 sits the primary objective: One of the many Keepstar Citadels that populate New Eden and act as strategic headquarters in player-held territories. 

But this particular Keepstar is of special importance. It's owned by Pandemic Horde, a legion of newer players that belongs to a larger coalition called PanFam led by the terrifyingly powerful Pandemic Legion. At 1:55 PM PST, this Keepstar will enter its final vulnerability window, making it susceptible to complete annihilation by PanFam's enemies, The Imperium. The fight to either save or destroy this Keepstar could see the destruction of an estimated $1 million USD worth of virtual spaceships—but only if both sides decided to commit the full might of their supercapital fleets. This is the latest chapter of a conflict that has been brewing for years between EVE's biggest player-led factions.

How to watch 

The Attackers

The attacking force is made up of a coalition known as The Imperium, chiefly led by the infamous Goonswarm Federation. Assisting them is The Initiative among smaller alliances. The Imperium is notable for being the biggest economic powerhouse in EVE Online, boasting almost 15,000 players.

If you don't play EVE Online, the in-game battles that give rise to these incredible stories aren't nearly as dramatic. With 4,300 players already flying in 9-4RP2 to either attack or defend the Keepstar, CCP Games' servers simply cannot handle the immense network traffic. To compensate, Time Dilation ('TiDi') is used in high-traffic areas to slow time and allow EVE's servers to process the massive amounts of information without crashing. While TiDi is in full effect, an action that would normally take your ship one second to perform now takes ten seconds. That's the main reason why major battles can take dozens of hours to resolve.

That doesn't make the most compelling viewer experience, but the best place to watch this battle will either be The Imperium News stream or Pandemic Horde's stream—both of which will offer a good insight into the battle despite their respective bias. The field of battle will be the 9-4RP2 Keepstar itself, but Imperium forces have also built their own smaller Citadels a hundred kilometers away that they'll use as their trench. Meanwhile, the surrounding star systems will host smaller but still significant battles as each side struggles to control resupply lines. 

Prelude to war 

The Defenders

The defenders are led by two separate coalitions: PanFam and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of these forces fought together to unseat The Imperium from the North around a year ago in "World War Bee." PanFam are the principle defenders, as the Keepstar is owned by their new-player-friendly alliance Pandemic Horde.

The last major battle in EVE history, 2014's Bloodbath of B-R5RB, led to the destruction of nearly 11 trillion ISK (estimated $300,000 USD) worth of ships all because one alliance forgot to pay rent on their starbase, opening it to attack. While almost every player faction in EVE fought in B-R5RB, the two chief combatants were The Imperium and Pandemic Legion. The Imperium won that battle and, for a time, became the unassailable ruler of EVE by building a vast northern empire reinforced by a ring of staunch allies. Then, in 2016, a series of events took place both in- and out-of-game leading many of the Imperium's enemies, including PanFam (Pandemic Legion), to band together as The Moneybadger Coalition to unseat the would-be kings of New Eden from their throne.

Funded by the exorbitant wealth of several casino owners that let players gamble their ISK (EVE's in-game currency) through third-party websites, the Moneybadgers stormed north to wage what many hoped would be the biggest war EVE Online had ever seen. But during the crucial battle of M-OEE8, one of The Imperium's greatest allies, Circle-of-Two, defected from the coalition, leaving it vulnerable to the overwhelming assault of Moneybadger forces. In the months that followed, The Moneybadger Coalition launched a full-scale invasion of the North, taking every single Imperium-controlled system as its pilots began a full-scale evacuation back to the relative safety of low-security space, which isn't controlled by any of EVE's player-led alliances. In the span of weeks, EVE's most powerful faction crumbled to dust.

While The Imperium's claim to the throne of New Eden was taken away, it's clear that they're still a force to be reckoned with.

But The Imperium didn't die. Instead, they colonized a southern region of New Eden and began to rebuild. Meanwhile, their homeland was divided up among two chief factions in the Moneybadger Coalition: PanFam and Guardians of the Galaxy, a smattering of smaller but still formidable alliances. For almost a year, these three factions have been embroiled in an arms race to build up their stockpile of Titans. Equipped with devastating doomsday weapons and unparalleled defenses, these supercapital ships are the nuclear warheads of the EVE universe—and each side has hundreds of them to deploy on the field.

While The Imperium's claim to the throne of New Eden was taken away, it's clear that they're still a force to be reckoned with. In September of 2017, Imperium spies managed to 'flip' the head diplomat of Circle-of-Two, The Judge, over an in-person dinner in Iceland hosted by EVE Online's developer CCP Games. In a stunning act of betrayal, The Judge handed the keys to Circle-of-Two's own Keepstar Citadel over to Goonswarm, leaving 4,000 Circle-of-Two pilots without access to their own ships. In a single night, one of The Imperium's biggest enemies imploded. 

A fleet of Avatar-class Titans en route to battle. Credit: Imperium News.

The Judge even livestreamed the moment Circle-of-Two's leader, Gigx, found out about this deception knowing that the sudden loss of everything he worked 12 years to build would cause him to lash out. Without realizing he was being livestreamed to an audience of thousands, Gigx made several threats against The Judge's life, forcing CCP to ban him permanently from the game. The Imperium had their revenge against the ally that betrayed them, and now it appears they're looking to settle the score against the enemies that took their homeland.

Weeks ago, The Imperium launched a series of skirmish campaigns against PanFam to test their defenses in what many believed was the precursor to an invasion to retake the north. It was during these conflicts that The Imperium managed to significantly weaken Pandemic Horde's 9-4RP2 Keepstar Citadel, creating the opportunity to destroy it outright and secure a beachhead in the North. At 1:55 PM PST, the 9-4RP2 Keepstar entered its final vulnerability window and each side will have to lay their cards on the table. Whether both sides will commit to the battle remains to be seen, but it's clear the entirety of the EVE community wants bloodshed.

Understanding the battle 

Whether the EVE community gets that bloodshed is another matter, however. When ships are destroyed in EVE Online, they're destroyed for good and must be replaced. For the average player flying average ships, that's usually not a problem. Titans, however, cost around 100 billion ISK and can take weeks to build. Losing one is devastating, but losing several hundred in a single fight is unprecedented and could significantly weaken either faction. It's this reason that has many skeptical that either side will want to risk their supercapital fleets—is one Keepstar Citadel worth it?

Battles of this magnitude in EVE are best thought of like a game of poker. Each side is trying to bluff the other, but if one decides to go all-in and the other doesn't like the hand they're holding they'll simply fold and take their losses and live to fight another day—albeit with bruised egos. But with each side flexing their military muscle so extensively, doing so would appear as a massive act of cowardice. 

It was a genius ploy to goad each side to make good on their threats.

This issue became even more complicated when, last night, well-known fleetcommander Progodlegend made a post about the battle on Reddit that quickly went viral. Progodlegend isn't participating directly in the conflict, but his post drew a massive amount of attention—raising the stakes to the point where if either side backs down they won't just look like cowards to the EVE community but the wider gaming community too. It was a genius ploy to goad each side to make good on their threats.

A fleet sitting within the protection of their citadel, waiting. Credit: Imperium News.

It will take some hours before we know if this fight will become the biggest in EVE history, however. When the 9-4RP2 Keepstar enters its final vulnerability phase at 1:55 PM PST, a 15-minute countdown timer will begin. If the timer reaches zero, the Keepstar repairs the damage to its hull, the last of its defensive layers, and will be safe for the time being. PanFam will have won the battle. The Imperium can prevent this by maintaining a steady stream of damage to the Keepstar, which pauses the timer as long as damage-per-second is maintained while simultaneously whittling away its remaining health points.

Earlier in the week, Imperium forces were able to deploy several smaller Fortizar citadels within range of the Keepstar. One relatively unpopular feature of Citadels is that friendly players who stay within a certain range of one cannot take damage from enemies unless they attack first. The predicted strategy for the Imperium will be to park fleets of carriers and supercarriers within the protective bubble of their Fortizars and unleash waves of fighter drones to bridge the several hundred kilometer distance to the Keepstar and attack it indirectly without risking actual ships. Meanwhile, the defenders' own Citadel-protected carriers will unleash their own drones to try and stave off the assault in addition to using ships that specialize in electronic warfare to try and jam the drones' targeting computers and render them ineffective. Fleets of smaller ships from both sides will engage in the space in-between, attempting to tip the scales on one side or the other.

Anything could go wrong.

That's just the anticipated strategy, however. Anything could go wrong. Before today, both of EVE's biggest battles were started because of single mistakes. In the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, one player-faction forgot to pay the rent on their station. In the mad rush to secure the starbase, both sides kept escalating the conflict by throwing more and more of their Titans onto the field. In the Battle of Asakai, one pilot accidentally jumped his Titan right into the enemy formation. In the scramble to destroy or protect it, both sides committed their supercapital fleets.

At the outset of this battle, there is no reason why either side would risk a deploying their Titans, but all it takes is one mistake to turn this relatively mundane battle into a full-on slaughter. And both sides will be eagerly trying to get the other to over-extend. With so many pilots itching to participate in the biggest battle of EVE's history, anything could happen.

We won't know for sure until it does, but we'll be reporting the outcome of this tense situation as it unfolds.