On Tuesday evening, over 2,000 EVE Online players gathered to celebrate Chappy78 Chapman's 42nd birthday by gathering into two massive armadas and blasting each other to smithereens. Representatives from every major player alliance in EVE showed up (along with a few developers from CCP Games), many sporting their biggest, most expensive ships to sacrifice in the mock battle. Billions of ISK, the in-game currency, was destroyed just for the fun of it. But for Chappy78, who a week earlier was told his pancreatic cancer had returned and was terminal, it was a profound moment of camaraderie. This birthday will likely be his last, he tells me over Discord, and he can't think of a better way to have spent it.
"It was unbelievable," Chappy78 says. "I have done a lot of things, and I have fought in a lot of major battles [in EVE Online], but I have never been in a battle that big and that outrageous."
Chappy78 isn't alone in feeling that way. Hours after the battle ended, the EVE Online subreddit was flooded with images and videos of the fight. With nearly 2,000 players in one system, EVE Online's servers struggled to keep up with the action. To compensate, its developers had to dedicate extra network resources and turn on a feature called Time Dilation which slows down combat so servers can keep up with the hundreds of thousands of missiles, bullets, and lasers cleaving through players' ships. But Chappy78 had no idea his little birthday party would turn into one of EVE Online's biggest battles of the year.
A night to remember
I interviewed Chappy78 in the early afternoon on Wednesday. He'd slept in because he was up until dawn blowing up and being blown up by everyone who gathered to celebrate his birthday. He can't believe how many people showed up, he says, especially because he had only given everyone 24 hours notice.
Earlier in the week, Chappy78 decided to celebrate his birthday by forming a fleet to go looking for trouble and hopefully get into a fun battle or two. After reaching out to some close friends in-game, though, word quickly began to spread with members from several major alliances agreeing to join in on the fun. Around that time, Chappy78 tells me, he was contacted by one of CCP Games' community developers who encouraged him to make a forum post announcing the event. In that thread, Chappy78 explained that, a week earlier, he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and this would likely be his last birthday. Within hours, hundreds of players confirmed their attendance.
"I figured I'd put my Discord information on there so people could just Discord me and I could get information to them a lot quicker," Chappy78 says, laughing. "That blew up in my face! I started getting a bunch of friend requests. I went from 17 friends on Discord to over 2,000 from Monday night to Tuesday night."
Chappy78 says that, despite the tidal wave of friend requests, he still didn't realize how viral his virtual birthday invitation was getting. Not only were many of EVE Online's major alliances planning to attend, but nearly every notable community member was on their way too. Even many of EVE's less reputable gangs were getting involved. It wasn't until Chappy78 logged in to move ships hours before his birthday fleet was scheduled to start that he began to realize the scale of the event.
"I started freaking out because everywhere I would go, the [local chat channel] would blow up with people saying 'happy birthday!' and 'we'll see you at the fight!' and 'keep going, you're going to make it,'" Chappy78 says. "I'm like, this is so cool."
Chappy78 tells me he was so distracted by the outpouring of support, he didn't even realize that he had travelled to Uedama—EVE Online's most notorious system, where gangs of assassins lurk waiting to destroy players foolish enough to haul expensive cargo or fly expensive ships on their way to EVE's trade hubs. It was a mindless mistake that, on any other day, would have cost Chappy78 dearly.
"I get into Uedama and then all of a sudden—I kid you not—like 20 guys surround me," Chappy78 says. "I had way too much money in my [cargo] to be in that system. If I had realized what system I was headed to, I never would have done it."
Chappy78, who was on voice comms with a few friends at the time, says he started screaming in frustration that he was about to die. The fleet of enemy ships targeted him but, unexpectedly, didn't fire. "All these private messages popped up that said 'Chappy, we're going to be there for you tonight. We're going to escort you to make sure your stuff gets where it's going."
When Chappy78 saw who was sending the messages, he couldn't believe it. It was Code—EVE Online's most notorious gankers whose sole purpose is to destroy defenseless players whenever they can. "They were locking people that were even coming close to me in a [combat ship] just in case they wanted to think about targeting me."
By the time Chappy78 and his escort arrived in the star system of Tunadan—where everyone was to meet—it was already swarming with over 500 players. Before long, that number swelled to over 2,000, with players organizing into massive fleets for the sole purpose of battling it out.
The ensuing fight lasted until around 6 am Eastern on Wednesday morning, with several hundred billion ISK—including a titan, the biggest class of ship in EVE—destroyed.
Finding a community
Chappy78 tells me that the battle means more to him than he can properly express. It's the climax to a journey that spans nearly 10 years. Back in 2004, Chappy78 was discharged from the military after being struck by an IED in Afghanistan. Like many veterans, he found it impossible to adjust to life outside the service, and spent a number of years abusing drugs and alcohol while struggling to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. That ultimately estranged him from his wife and newborn son. "I'd actually thought about ending it myself a couple of times, but I've always been like, no, I've got a family," he explains says.
But EVE Online changed his life. Chappy78 says he started playing in 2011 with two friends who were still in the military and immediately fell in love with the game despite being completely clueless as to how to properly play. They formed a small corporation (EVE's version of guilds) together and played whenever they could. A few months later, both friends were killed in action on separate occasions, leaving Chappy78 once again alone with nowhere to turn. Because he wasn't the leader of the corporation, he couldn't take it over and continue on.
With no choice, he packed up his stuff and joined a different corporation that was soon torn apart by a hostile takeover. Chappy78 was left almost penniless. Discouraged and alone, he decided to take what little he had left, a Raven battleship and some blueprints for manufacturing, and headed toward the lawless reaches of null-sec space that's home to EVE Online's biggest alliances. It was the land of milk and honey, he had been told, so Chappy78 figured he'd give EVE Online one more shot. If he died, he'd unsubscribe.
Halfway to null-sec, Chappy78 was stopped by players who immediately pointed out that he was liable to get himself killed. Not only was his Raven battleship equipped with all the wrong modules, he was hauling just enough valuables that he was an obvious target for bandits. That warning was too late—as they were talking to Chappy78, he was ambushed by another player from the infamous Goonswarm alliance who quickly destroyed his ship.
It was supposed to be the end of Chappy78's time with EVE, but then something unexpected happened: His own killer messaged him. "He said, 'You do realize why I killed you, right?' And then he explained everything that I was doing wrong," Chappy78 says. "He took me back up to high-sec and bought me a new Raven [with all the best modules]."
This player also gave Chappy78 several billion ISK—a fortune to a newer player—and told him it was an "investment" that he should only spend on cheaper frigates until he was confident enough to fly more expensive ships like his new Raven. Unlike other MMOs, more expensive or bigger ships in EVE Online aren't better. Each is suited to a specific purpose and all are worthless in the hands of an unskilled pilot.
That unexpected kindness from a stranger became the turning point in Chappy78's life, he says. The group of players who initially warned him turned out to be members of Pandemic Horde, one of EVE's biggest alliances with a mission to help new players get into the game. They took Chappy78 under their wing and taught him everything he needed to know to become a hardcore EVE player. Within a year, he says he had 13 separate EVE Online accounts. The subscription fee for each one was paid for using the exorbitant in-game wealth he was beginning to amass thanks to Horde's guidance.
Despite that, Chappy78 held onto that Raven battleship for nine years. It wasn't until after losing several other ships in his birthday fight that he decided it was the right time to say goodbye. "It was a very, very old ship," he says. "It was my baby. I'm actually missing it, to be honest with you."
But it wasn't the money or ships that helped Chappy78, it was the friends he made in Pandemic Horde and elsewhere in his nine years of playing. "These guys taught me everything," Chappy78 says. "EVE Online taught me how to be me again, and it taught me how to stay strong and it gave me a community that I can count on."
At the same time, EVE Online also became an invaluable way for Chappy78 to begin repairing his relationship with his son, who is now 16.
"When I first got out of the military because of my injuries and everything," Chappy78 says, "I did a lot of drugs and alcohol. And I lost the right to see my son. You know, I was a piss poor dad."
When Chappy78 was able to become a part of his son's life again, EVE Online and videogames was one of the ways they bonded. It's a relationship that's continued to grow ever since. "He turned me around and made me into a guy that is actually giving and wants to help people."
Chappy78 has faced frequent hardship. Last November, he says he lost all of his possessions in a fire and had to stop playing EVE. Shortly after, his mother suffered several strokes and he relocated to South Carolina to take care of her. Thinking he was done with the game for good, Chappy78 gave almost the entirety of his virtual wealth and possessions away except for a few things—including that Raven battleship.
He was able to keep playing, but, just last week, Chappy78 was told that the pancreatic cancer he fought back in 2017 had returned, and was terminal. "I got 18 months tops," he tells me. "Maybe less."
His doctors have said there is a small chance he might survive if he undergoes an extreme operation to remove the cancerous nodes on his pancreas. It might buy him some time, but the operation is extremely risky and invasive. There's a much greater chance that it'll shorten his life expectancy even further while also drastically reducing the quality of that life. "I've just met my son and everything," he says. "So, I look at it like I can possibly have more time with him. But if I do go through with it, with all of the medication and everything, what kind of relationship will I be able to have?"
Chappy78 says it's a decision he's making with his son: "Does he want to try for more time or does he want to have the best time he can with me now?"
It's an impossible choice, but he isn't worrying about the outcome either way. "I've been shot, stabbed, hit with an IED—I mean, come on. I look at it this way: I've come close to death way too many times to really be worried about it. I can either mope around and not have a good life and be miserable, or I can have a blast."
That's what the EVE community gave him on Tuesday, June 23. Near the end of the fight, Chappy78 asked the 2,000-plus combatants if they would stop shooting each other and instead target his dreadnought and destroy it. Each time a player is killed, a 'killmail' is produced that breaks down what was destroyed and who was involved in the fight. Though issues with the servers prevented everyone from being able to target him before his dreadnought exploded, Chappy78's killmail is a birthday card with over 762 signatures on it.
It's not the end, though. Chappy78 says he intends to keep playing for as long as he can, thanks in part to generous donations of in-game resources from other players. And the community is rallying to make him a permanent part of New Eden by petitioning CCP Games to create a monument to him. There's even talk of naming the next big war that's expected to break out in the coming weeks to World War Chappy. It's not clear if any of these proposals will actually happen, but Chappy78 doesn't care about that. After the battle was over, his son called and was ecstatic to learn of Chappy78's newfound fame in EVE.
"I'm a god to my son today," Chappy78 said during a livestreamed interview with the Talking in Stations EVE podcast. "And to think it took me getting sick for this to happen. I know it sounds morbid and it sounds bad, but if this is what it takes for me to get closer with my son and have my son think highly of me, by all means I'd go through it a million times over. I love my son."