EVE Online is a complicated game full of politics, subterfuge and grand-scale wars. Factions rise and fall, corporations are overthrown and you don't have to play the game to know that a lot of what's going on in it is really cool. Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online by Andrew Groen is a narrative account of how EVE Online evolved from the rise of its first governments and political icons in 2003 to its descent into total war in 2009, throwing tens of thousands of real players from around the globe into what may be the most expansive conflict ever to take place on the internet.
The following excerpt looks at the rise of one of EVE's most notorious factions, The Goons, during 2004-2005.
Up to this point in the history of EVE Online there is a relatively clear progression of power. For the most part, those who began playing the game in 2003 had clear advantages over those who started in 2004. Their knowledge of the game was far greater, their pockets were far deeper, and their hangars were filled with more advanced ships.
However, that began to change in 2004 with a unique event: a migration. For the first 18 months of its lifespan, EVE Online was sold in a box in stores, but in 2004 CCP Games began distributing EVE exclusively through the internet. This gave EVE the ability to become an early viral hit. On several different corners of the internet, established EVE players began recruiting others to join since they could now easily download it over the Internet.
All of the original powers of EVE Online had migrated from different games that preceded EVE (Earth & Beyond, Homeworld, Jumpgate, Elite, etc.) but this was one of the first major arrivals of new players since then.
This allowed for a new influx of players from many different backgrounds. No longer was every major player group a descendant of a different space-based online strategy game. One small group of players hailed from the forums at the site SomethingAwful.com, whose members call themselves "Goons." The Goons that joined EVE Online would one day be legendary, but they began humbly.
Eight Failed Dreams
The first Goon corporation (EVE's term for an official player ground, similar to a guild in World of Warcraft) was torn apart by internal squabbling, but the Goons reformed elsewhere as Red Hammer Industries, which was similarly shattered. This time it wasn't drama that hobbled the nascent Goon presence -- but theft. A Goon with access to the main corporate hangar absconded with billions of ISK (Interstellar Kredits, in-game EVE currency) worth of materials, mostly minerals and mining yield. The thief was never caught and the resulting fracas tore the young corporation apart.
The next Goon alliance, called Free State Project, fell apart after a Goon stole ore from a larger enemy corporation that then used the theft as cause to begin killing any Goon they saw. The members scattered shortly after. On and on it went. Eight times the Goons organised themselves and eight times they were scattered for different reasons.
"Goon corporations in EVE have been a history of failed dreams," wrote Remedial, the Goons' first major leader, in retrospect.
Eventually a few Goons came together to form yet another corporation called Goonfleet. At its core, Goonfleet had several veterans of EVE Online, but the bulk of its membership were new players in the game who had been encouraged to join EVE by their friends at SomethingAwful.com. The organisation didn't have grand ambitions of space conquest. The Goons just liked to get as many people online as possible, in the crappiest ships possible, to see what they could pull off.
The key difference between Goonfleet and the failed corporations that came before it was an emphasis on teaching beginners. Goonfleet lavished attention on players who were just joining the game, and took time to teach them the basics. While others in EVE would scoff at new players and refused to recruit anyone who wasn't a trusted friend or a renowned veteran, the Goons welcomed new players, provided they were true blood "Goons" with a history on the SomethingAwful.com forums. The new approach to dealing with new players drove hundreds of new pilots to join Goonfleet.
With the direction of their leader, Remedial, more and more players joined the game under the Goonfleet banner. The corporation grew to over a thousand members -- too large to simply fall apart from internal drama -- and it became the sideshow of EVE Online. The veterans of EVE Online laughed at the naivety of this swarming pack of new players in terrible ships. Goonfleet embraced this idea, and co-opted the idea of the "swarm" for its own self-image. Its pilots adopted the mascot of a chubby, cigar-smoking bumblebee wearing a World War 1-era German helmet, which they appropriately named "Fat Bee." Their battlecry: "We're terrible at this game!"
Remedial Many in the EVE universe at the time wrote off Goonfleet as a swarm of internet trolls who just wanted to ruin everyone's day. There was some truth to that. The Goons would openly use coarse language that made many people uncomfortable. To be clear, the use of slurs and other harsh language is common in many online communities and EVE Online is no exception. What made the Goons unique in the EVE community wasn't their use of this kind of language, but their use of it in alliance-level communications and in leadership speeches. The Goons refused to change the way they talked or acted regardless of whether their audience was a few friends, a few thousand alliance mates, or tens of thousands in the wider EVE community. They mocked the pomp and pageantry with which other leaders at the time carried themselves. There was an authenticity to the blue collar attitude of the Goons, and it proved to be a great social strength of the organisation.
But behind the irreverent attitude, there was a social genius to the way the Goons approached the game. In essence, their morale was unassailable because they deliberately under-inflated their self-image. According to some sources, the name "Goon" was intended as a way of turning the stereotype of basement-dwelling internet cretins against itself by publicly owning it. The Goons of EVE Online demeaned themselves publicly and claimed to not care what happened to their ships or their territory.
This was in stark contrast to how things had been run before the Goons' arrival in New Eden. For some of the best player groups in the game, pride was a resource. Skilled pilots could build up their egos after winning a string of battles, but it was only a matter of time until they were humbled. And when they were, the illusion of mastery could unfold and unravel the social fabric of the group. If your corporation is based on being the best, what happens when you lose?
The Goons prided themselves on being the worst. So when they lost, they laughed. When they won, they laughed harder. The Goons represented a new crop of EVE Online players, and some of the old guard didn't like them at all. Groups like Band of Brothers tended to view them as disrespectful of the history and power structure of the game.
"They had this attitude of, 'We can do whatever we want; we can say whatever we want; nobody is going to hold us accountable for our actions,'" said Band of Brothers' SirMolle in 2014, who was essentially the most powerful person in New Eden (the fictional star cluster in which EVE Online takes place) at the time Goonfleet was founded.
But Goonfleet was fuelled by this dislike, and began to see itself as fighting against the established order. Its leadership decided to actually buy advertisements on the Something Awful forums to attract new recruits. Goonfleet's ranks soared and eventually reached 1,300 players, the population cap for a corporation in EVE Online in 2005. By contrast, Band of Brothers was the most powerful organisation in the game at that time and had about 1,000 players.
This isn't to say Goonfleet could have put up a fight against Band of Brothers. The Goons were still largely teaching their brand-new pilots how to fly their ships, and trying to figure out exactly what to do with this absurdly large mob of people.
Despite Band of Brothers' disdain for the Goons, when the massive Goonfleet began to take shape, many leaders of EVE Online's biggest empires took a liking to them. Goonfleet was a fun-loving and interesting group compared to the very serious alliances that populated nullsec. But Goonfleet's reputation among the other major groups of the era began to erode. The most notable moment came when Goonfleet's leader, Remedial, had been seen explicitly mocking the real world death of a Band of Brothers member -- this attracted the ire of Band of Brothers' leadership. This event would come back to haunt Goonfleet later as it continued to be a source of anger between the two.
By now, Goonfleet had taken up residence in the region of Syndicate. Syndicate is ruled by a fictional in-game pirate faction. The region can't be conquered by player groups, but the Goons based their operations here. Syndicate was the crib of Goon-kind. The Goons would say that this was where the little bees learned to fly.
With constant training, Goonfleet soon became a proper corporation, and its leaders wanted to take territory of their own in nullsec. Goonfleet's numbers had grown past the maximum limit for a single corporation, so the Goons started multiple new corporations under the alliance banner "Goonswarm." Whereas most alliances were conglomerates of corporations from many different groups of players, the Goonswarm was an alliance all to itself.
With starry eyes, Goonswarm invaded the nullsec region nearest to Syndicate and found itself fighting NORAD, veterans of the Great Northern War, in Cloud Ring.
The invasion went quite well for Goonswarm. This was a minor event in the grand scheme of nullsec drama, so details are scarce, but the first battles were reportedly won by Goonswarm. The Goons taunted NORAD and called them a waning power that could no longer hold its own territory.
It was at this same time that a member of Goonswarm posted a crude stick-figure comic online depicting the death of the Band of Brothers player that Remedial was caught mocking, and poking fun at Band of Brothers' outrage. The player -- named Vincent van Weert, or Smoske in-game -- played EVE Online with his father, who was still a member of Band of Brothers. The drawing was posted on SomethingAwful.com, but eventually leaked to the rest of the EVE community.
Band of Brothers was furious at the continued lack of respect shown for one of their own. Still today, Band of Brothers leaders recall this as a time they let their emotions get the better of them. They declared their intent to move north to Cloud Ring, aid the embattled NORAD, and put an end to Goonswarm's nascent nullsec (the collective name for the areas of EVE that can be conquered) ambitions. NORAD itself also banded together with northern allies as part of the new northern military coalition, Dusk and Dawn. The other major power nearby, Ascendant Frontier (located in the South) wasn't willing to risk angering Band of Brothers and aligned itself against the Goons as well.
After a month of battling, Goonswarm was putting up a good fight in its attempt to take Cloud Ring from the newly-formed Dusk and Dawn alliance, but Dusk and Dawn regrouped, and began sweeping Goonswarm from the region. There were huge losses on both sides. Over 2,000 ships were reportedly destroyed in the war for Cloud Ring, but Dusk and Dawn alliance had held fast. Goonswarm sounded the retreat and evacuated its assets back into Syndicate.
However, the furious Band of Brothers fleet was now on its way to Syndicate, and it was about to drop the full might of its established war machine on the embattled Goonswarm. The Goons had just lost a month-long campaign for Cloud Ring, and now would have to fight a war in their own territory against an even more powerful adversary.
As he so often did, SirMolle (leader of Band of Brothers) took to the EVE Online forums to announce his campaign against Goonswarm in one of the most famous posts ever.
"There are no goons," he wrote. "This is as personal as it will ever get. Goodbye."
What happened next could barely be called a battle. Band of Brothers arrived at the Goons' home in Syndicate in vastly better ships and with a veteran's command of the game. It steamrolled Goonswarm and set up blockades around all of its stations in the region. Band of Brothers wasn't preventing the Goons from entering the stations; it was preventing them from leaving. For an entire week, Band of Brothers organised round-the-clock blockades to ensure no Goon could fly. The Goons, for their part, mostly wanted to wait out Band of Brothers, to see if its pilots would get bored enough to leave. They made a hobby out of flying the cheapest ships in the game right into the waiting arms of Band of Brothers' blockade. Band of Brothers left the Goons' home after flexing for a week. SirMolle couldn't eradicate Goonswarm entirely, but he'd made his point.
Not everyone believes that Band of Brothers came to Syndicate just to get revenge for a despicable joke made by a Goon.
"As soon as we demonstrated that we were a threat to the established order, [Band of Brothers] dropped what they were doing, concocted an excuse, and said that we were terrible people and a cancer on EVE, and that we needed to be removed from the game for the good of the community," said Goonswarm spymaster The Mittani in 2014. He believes firmly that Band of Brothers' leadership was feigning offence as an excuse to attack the Goons.
"There was a lot of clutching of pearls and cases of the vapors," he said.
Regardless of the true casus belli, Goonswarm had been stopped cold in Cloud Ring, and now was being hit hard in its home region.
Dusk and Dawn would say it won the battle that counted the most by breaking the Goons in Cloud Ring. Band of Brothers would say it delivered the final blow in a vicious one-two combo. But Goonswarm would also claim victory in this conflict, because for the Goons this was a proof-of-concept. The Goons were beaten and bloodied, but they showed they could go toe-to-toe with a major nullsec power (NORAD/Dusk and Dawn.) They had proved that experience, skill, and technology could be trumped by sheer numbers and willpower.
This was the first time Goonswarm and Band of Brothers had come to blows, but it wouldn't be the last. This small skirmish in Syndicate was the opening shot in what would become EVE Online's most historic rivalry, and which would one day come to shape the face of the game.
But before the Goons could hope to challenge the strongest powers of nullsec, they needed to form alliances. They examined their options for political partnerships, and reached out to the one group in the game who seemed to have everything the Goons could want in an ally. The Goons would be moving south to join forces with the only other alliance in the game who was as hated as they: the Russians.
The Goon leader, Remedial, announced the decision to leave their home in Syndicate to the rank and file in a leadership speech.
"I ask now that we accept Syndicate not as our true home in the universe, but as our shared memory: a flicker of light in EVE's darkness and isolation. I ask not that we throw it aside, or toss it into the trash like so much crumpled paper, but that we lay it to rest with honour like a retired flag. Syndicate will always be ours in spirit, for it once stood for our dreams of unity and hope for the future.
But all good things must come to an end. As we once lived amongst the stars of JQV5-9 and called it our home, that chapter of our history has come to an end. The first volume has been written, and I lay it on the altar of the brotherhood of Goons for all to judge. I ask for a moment of silence now, for our sacrifices here, and for Syndicate, our first homeland.
It is time to begin a new chapter in our lives. This tale will be one of conquest. Of strife and exaltation, of seemingly insurmountable challenges and impossible victories, captured from the jaws of those who once hunted us for sport. It is our turn to write the future of the South, and we will go not to hunt our enemies for sport, but to extinguish them forever.
We will approach this new adventure as Goonswarm always has: by biting off more than anybody else could chew, and surpassing all expectations. We will invade the South, take their outposts, build our own, and lay waste to all who oppose us."
September 28, 2006