How one EVE Online player's stubborn obsession turned him into a hero

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This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 319. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

There are a lot of ways to become famous in EVE Online. Some pilots achieve renown through heroic deeds, leading fleets of hundreds into battle against their enemies. Others build their reputation through deception, betraying their allies in their most vulnerable moment. ‘Baltec1’ is neither of those people. 

When I meet him in Iceland’s Harpa Convention Centre, I’m sad to see him dressed normally—his khaki shirt is a far cry from the colonial British army uniform he usually sports at EVE Online’s conventions. But my reason for speaking to Baltec isn’t the uniform, it’s to find out how his odd obsession with one of EVE’s most iconic battleships turned him into a war hero. To quote Shakespeare, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some stumble into it by being hopelessly stubborn assholes.” I think that’s how it goes, anyway 

Baltec was just another soldier in the Goonswarm Federation, but 2011 was a bad time to be a Goon. Months earlier, Goonswarm’s ally, Northern Coalition, had been eradicated by a full-scale joint invasion by the Drone Region Federation and Pandemic Legion. Like the Mongol horde, they came screaming out of the eastern quadrant of EVE Online’s virtual galaxy to burn Northern Coalition to the ground. “Next on their list was Goonswarm,” Baltec says, “which I’d just joined.” 

Trying to end the war before it started, Pandemic Legion attempted to ‘headshot’ Goonswarm by sieging its headquarters in a star system called VFK-IV. It was meant to be an uncontested slaughter, but overnight Goonswarm rallied its banners and thousands of players answered the call. Nearly 50 ships in Pandemic Legion’s Super Capital fleet—the Supercarriers and Titans that are the true measure of an empire’s might—were cut off from reinforcements and stranded behind Goonswarm lines. Eager to see their Super Capitals returned safely, Pandemic Legion launched a mission to invade the system and rescue its armada. It was here that Baltec fell in love.

“The ship of the line back then was the Drake,” Baltec says. “We had thousands of these Drakes on the stargates. When the fight started and they started pouring into the system, Drakes were dying left and right. I’d lost like three or four Drakes by that point and had run out of ships.” 

With no more Drake battlecruisers left, Baltec says pilots began flying anything they could into battle. It was like reinforcing the front line with garbage bin lids and cooking knives. Without a Drake to fly, Baltec had only one option: a battleship called a Megathron. “I hurriedly got this thing ready to do what the Drakes did and just threw it out there and, surprisingly enough, it survived,” Baltec says, his eyes gleaming. 

Pandemic Legion ended up successfully rescuing its Super Capital fleet, but that didn’t matter to Baltec. What mattered to him was how awesome Megathrons were. Unlike boring Drakes, a “tin roof with missiles”, Megathrons are a literal class above. Bigger and meaner, this battleship outweighs the Drake by a whopping 84 million kilograms. It is the pride of the Gallente Navy, a stunning design with two arm-like appendages unlike anything else in EVE. With seven turret hardpoints, a volley can turn even a well-tanked ship into Swiss cheese. 

To be blunt: Megathrons are sexy as fuck.

Game of Throns

When battles in EVE Online start reaching the critical mass of several thousand players, coordination and communication are everything. That’s why most player-driven alliances use ‘fleet doctrines’ that require each pilot fly a specific ship with specific modules. If you show up to a Drake fleet in an armour-tanked cruiser, not only are you a liability on the battlefield, you’ll also be a laughing stock among your peers. But something about the Megathron made Baltec refuse to fall in line.

"[Baltec] made fame by showing up to every single fleet in a Megathron," Mister Vee says. He is one of the most renowned leaders in Goonswarm and was the chief fleet commander of the European timezone members, called the European Goonion. Mister Vee oversaw operations after North American players had long since passed out, and it was in those fleets that he started marvelling at the weirdo who would, no matter what, show up in a Megathron. “People were not encouraged to do silly stuff, everyone had to shut up and get in line. Baltec, however, always stood out. He was so stubborn.” 

To understand why this is so insane is to understand EVE Online’s complex ship system. Each ship in EVE Online belongs to a class that categorises it based on purpose, strengths, and weaknesses. Tiny frigates, for example, make for great interceptors that can chase down enemies, but they’re also as flimsy as a wet napkin. Battleships, on the contrary, are brute-force damage dealers that move about as fast as a funeral procession.

Until Baltec showed up, it was stupid to think that a Megathron would ever do something different. But Baltec is a theorycrafter. What others saw as impossible, he saw as an exciting challenge. He began spending all his time and ISK fitting his Megathron with modules that would help bridge the gap between it and the ships he was flying with.

When Baltec showed up in his clumsy Megathron, which was about as large as the fleet combined, he seemed like a crank. But no one realised that this Megathron wasn't your usual fit.

Around this time Goonswarm was using a doctrine called Harpyfleet. Comprised solely of a wicked-fast assault frigate model called a Harpy, it was a skirmish doctrine prized for its agility. When Baltec showed up in his clumsy Megathron, which was about as large as the fleet combined, he seemed like a crank. But no one realised that this Megathron wasn't your usual fit. Baltec had invested billions of ISK and countless hours theorycrafting a way to make his Megathron conform to the basic standards of Harpyfleet. With unorthodox use of modules, he was able to get the Megathron to have the same engagement range and capacitor usage as the Harpy. There was just one problem. 

Before engaging its warp drive, each ship in EVE must align to its target destination. It’s a process that can take small ships seconds and larger ships a whole minute. Even with the most expensive neural implants on the market and highly specialised modules, Baltec couldn’t align as fast as the Harpy. They would warp off before him every time, leaving him further and further in their dust. “Assault frigates are about four or five second align time,” he tells me. “The best I could get the battleship down to was about 7.9 seconds. On paper, I just couldn’t align fast enough.” 

But in a live test environment, there was one thing Baltec hadn’t accounted for: “The stupidity of people. I was often getting to the destination faster than the Harpys because I wasn’t slacking off and not paying attention.” 

“He could be trusted to keep up and he would fit his Megathron to warp faster so he wouldn’t slow anyone down,” Mister Vee admits. And so Baltec won the right to fly his Megathron, no matter what the doctrine called for. For the next year, Baltec built a reputation as the ‘Mega guy’ in Goonswarm. It was a cute gimmick, but when Goonswarm launched one of the most critical invasions in EVE’s history, it became something much more.

The big test

As all things in EVE, the origins of the fabled Fountain War are complicated. In an earlier conflict, Goonswarm had gifted the region of space known as Fountain to its allies in TEST Alliance. Diplomatic relations had since soured between the two juggernauts, and when a controversial update to the game threatened Goonswarm’s primary money-making industry, Fountain looked like the land of milk and honey. But TEST wasn’t exactly a pushover. “When the Fountain War kicked off, all we did for two weeks was feed ships to TEST,” Baltec says. “But the Megathron would come back. And this kept on happening and happening.” 

Baltec tells me of one mission where Goonswarm sent a fleet over 40 jumps to assault a target. Instead, they got ambushed and obliterated—all except for Baltec. “Everyone died to a man, but I managed to get myself out of that trouble, got to the stargate, and jumped through.”

Baltec kept running and eventually made it back to safety, but not before encountering a third group of highway robbers trying to ambush unwary travellers. It was a harrowing journey.

He was far from safe. TEST had dispatched a gang of interceptors to chase down Baltec and finish him off. A hulking Megathron would be an easy catch, but Baltec wasn’t flying a normal Megathron. He was rocking his blinged out Harpythron. “They were expecting this thing to align slow, but it wasn’t. It was just far enough ahead of these interceptors to keep on beating them.” 

For almost a dozen jumps, Baltec evaded the TEST interceptors until he reached high-security space and they turned back. But then a new band of Goonswarm enemies caught wind of Baltec’s movement and put on a new chase. “Because this thing was warping like a frigate they couldn’t lock me in time,” Baltec laughs. “It was frustrating them to no end. I remember getting loads of abuse in chat from them.” 

Baltec kept running and eventually made it back to safety, but not before encountering a third group of highway robbers trying to ambush unwary travellers. It was a harrowing journey. “I hadn’t told anyone that I’d survived this by this point,” Baltec says. “Everyone was just moping about the ambush and I was like, ‘Hey guys, I got the Megathron back again!’ It was like 40 minutes from the fleet being destroyed to me getting this thing back. It’s on fire, it’s a complete wreck, but I got it back.” To the disheartened Goons, it was a miracle. “People started cheering, it was like a celebration.

"It started building this reputation as an unkillable ship because it kept coming back," Baltec says. "It was like a morale boost. When you lose fleet after fleet after fleet, people stop showing up. But when this thing was coming back every time, it gave people something to celebrate."

Baltec became a cult hero among Goonswarm’s members, and its leaders weren’t about to deprive their members of a major source of morale. “Propaganda has been an integral part of motivating the troops in Goonswarm,” Mister Vee tells me. “Baltec became a poster boy.”

The meat grinder

As the Fountain War raged on in 2013, however, Goonswarm was in dire need of a win. TEST turned out to be a formidable enemy capable of rallying thousands of players. Goonswarm fleet doctrines of that era were outdated, relying on highly specialised ships like strategic cruiser-class Tengus and battleship-class Tempest Fleet Issues. “They turned out to be very good in a medium-size coordinated fleet, but absolutely not in the supermassive grind-fights of the Fountain War,” Mister Vee explains. “Both were expensive and there simply weren’t enough Tempests to replace heavy losses.” 

Mister Vee and two theorycrafters, Diivil and Lazei, were tasked with coming up with a new doctrine that was better suited to the high-casualty conflicts against TEST. They needed something that could hit hard, tank hard, and wouldn’t break the bank. “That’s when the idea of Megathrons suddenly popped up,” Mister Vee says. “They hadn’t been used in a long time, but they ticked all the boxes. In a meat grinder war you need meat grinder doctrines. And when I say meat grinder war, I mean our enemies were the meat grinders and our tactic was to slam so much meat into the grinder that it would literally break down. However, we were trying to jam their grinders with the finest wagyu beef—expensive and with limited supply. Megathrons were like beef chuck, cheap and there’s enough of it to keep going forever.” 

Mister Vee and his team devised a new doctrine based around the Megathron. It would become the de facto standard fleet composition that would end up being a crucial reason why Goonswarm won that war. In the final battle of the Fountain War, the Siege of 6VDT-H, which smashed records as more than 4,000 players participated directly with thousands more fighting nearby, it was this doctrine that formed the Goonswarm main line.

When it came time to name it, there was only one choice. “The most valuable resource in EVE is motivation,” Mister Vee explains. “The gameplay itself is not always very interesting. Propaganda and storytelling are incredibly important to keep people motivated. We could have called it ‘Megathron fleet,’ ‘Megafleet,’ or anything boring like that.” Instead, Goonswarm’s infamous fleet doctrine was called the Baltec Megathron. 

When Baltec found out, he tells me his first thought was along the lines of, “Oh god, what have I gotten myself into now?” He was just a Goonswarm line member and he certainly wasn’t out to become the new face of his alliance’s war machine. And all because of an unhealthy obsession with making a single ship do things it was never designed to do. 

In the end, Baltec’s Megathron survived an almost unprecedented 280 days of service during the Fountain War and beyond. When it finally did die, Goonswarm leadership sent a message to the entire alliance notifying them of the tragic loss. It was like the death of a mascot. “It’s amazing how far you can get by being bad and not paying attention to what people tell you,” Baltec says as we get up to go our separate ways. “It’s not the fact that I’m good at what I do, it’s just the fact that I’m the most stubborn Megathron pilot in the game.”