Image credit: EVE player Diogenes.
EVE Online is infamous for its scammers, pirates, and ne'er-do-wells, but this week all their scams were put to shame. A member of the game's Council of Stellar Management and head diplomat of the Circle of Two alliance named The Judge stole all of the holdings of the 4,000-person alliance for himself.
He took their money, took their ships, and sold their Death Star-esque space citadel to their most hated enemies.
The EVE community has taken to calling it "Judgement Day."
On September 11, Aryth, a player in the highest echelons of the Goonswarm Federation alliance broadcast a string of short messages to the entirety of The Imperium, a massive player organisation. "I want to [be] smug. You are going to love this. I am the best CSM in history."
Typically, discussions between members of the Council of Stellar Management are not made public, thanks to non-disclosure agreements. So this vague message caught the attention of the 30,000 members of The Imperium who saw it.
A few minutes later, it was followed by another cryptic message: "The next 24 hours are going to be glorious." This itself was quickly followed by the punchline everyone had been eagerly awaiting. "Flipped Judge at Summit. CCP watched me do it live. Keep is in his hands he has robbed them blind."
In EVE, trusting the wrong person can cost you everything, and players know this. But how does a member that had built up so much trust become a turncoat in such a sudden and brutal fashion?
"Legacy Coalition, the coalition that I had helped build, was imploding due to the leader of Co2 letting his ego take over, sort of giving everyone the middle finger," said The Judge. "That was the breaking point for me."
However, The Judge says he didn't take this path on his own. For over a year before he pulled the trigger on EVE's largest heist, he says his fellow CSM member Aryth had been attempting to flip his allegiance when the two were together in real life -- at Council summits in development studio CCP Games' hometown of Reykjavik, Iceland.
Flipping The Judge
"From my perspective," Aryth said, "this story starts when Co2 backstabbed us, during the Casino War." Here, he referred to the battle of M-OEE8 in March of last year.
Shortly after the conclusion of that battle, after hours of The Imperium's combined forces trying and failing to save the Co2 home system, an announcement was made on the EVE subreddit: The Judge himself posted that Co2 would be severing all ties with its Imperial allies, and forging their own way from that point forward, and they would be doing so inside the next thirty minutes.
"At the time, it was something I was on board with," Judge said. "How it happened wasn't great, but the split was something that needed to happen. The cultures didn't match, and they never had, and everyone knew it."
He went on to say that he regretted blindsiding the Imperium's players, but that they "felt that it was the safest way for us to exit the coalition."
This event marked the point of no return for The Imperium during the war. Their players evacuated the majority of the belongings to a safer position, and spent the next few months watching the empire they had built disintegrate before their eyes.
The Mittani, leader of the Imperium, swore revenge on everyone prosecuting the war against them. Most of all, he swore that his forces would not rest until they saw the Co2 alliance destroyed.
Aryth, wearing a mask while on camera. Image courtesy Aryth.
Aryth would be the primary implement of The Mittani's revenge, though at the first summit of the 11th CSM, no one knew that.
The Imperium's CSM Candidates, Innominate and Aryth, entered the summit with a purpose, he said. "Our first goal was to establish which personalities fell into which categories: nice but ignorable, hostile and damaging to our game, and a third group, those that we felt we could flip."
"We quickly identified two CSM members we thought were targetable. Judge was one of those two, obviously."
During the first summit, the two Imperium delegates and The Judge spoke quite a bit -- with Judge introducing himself as "The Traitor" -- and they seemed to get along very well. Information was exchanged as both sides tried to feel each other out for any in-game weaknesses, and towards the end of the first summit, Aryth thought that there was a slim chance that The Judge could be turned.
"During the second summit, we knew that Co2 would be in trouble when the moon mining patch finally came along. Our goal was to build up and exploit The Judge during this time where Co2's lifestyle would be in danger, possible even setting up a coup for The Judge to take over."
By the end of the second summit of CSM 11, Aryth was convinced that there was a chance he could flip The Judge and cripple Co2 in the process. The Judge wasn't blind to this, he said: "From the very first time Aryth talked to me, I knew that they saw me as a mark, someone who could be easily targeted, from their point of view. But from my point of view, it was always my decision on what I was going to do. But they could tell I wasn't happy, and Aryth was actually a sympathetic person to me."
A year after he had first noticed The Judge as a potential flip, in the weeks leading up to the first summit of the 12th CSM, Aryth could see through his network of spies that a chain of events was beginning that would embroil Circle of Two in a war, potentially shaking their diplomatic ties.
"I saw an opportunity, and I laid out my plan to the other senior leadership, [and] they were horrified. Some wanted a slow burn, but I wanted to set up a 'Super Prisoner's Dilemma'. I knew this was the time," he said.
As the CSM summit began in earnest, with The Judge separated from his alliance, the dominoes Aryth saw began to fall. In a situation eerily reminiscent to the lead-up of World War I, small skirmishes began to trigger mutual defence pacts, which led to favours being called in, which eventually led to Circle of Two looking down the barrels of their guns, and seeing members of fellow members of the Legacy Coalition on the other side of the field.
Aryth looked on as between summit meetings, The Judge tried to get a handle on the situation, but to no avail. The leader of Circle of Two was ruining his relationships with another major alliance, Test Alliance Please Ignore. "Judge sees his hard work disintegrating, and his leader, Gigx, just doesn't care."
Aryth said that he and his fellow CSM member Innominate played the situation very casually, allowing the Judge to come to them, to talk about what he wanted to talk about, and to lead the conversations, playing the part of consoling friends. Then it happened: Another alliance called Legacy Coalition was turning on Co2. Judge tried to fix things, but could not persuade Gigx, his leader.
At the final night of each Summit, CCP treats the delegates to dinner at a fine dining establishment in Reykjavik. The high-level players sit down and have a meal with some of the development team as a thank-you for their time and support.
"I knew this was my chance," Aryth said. "Innominate and I discussed the plan with the rest of the Star Chamber [Goonswarm's highest leadership channel], and they had some doubts, but I was fully confident." Knowing that this would be his last chance to isolate The Judge in real life, away from the screen, away from his alliance, Aryth motioned him over to a corner seat.
Aryth describes what happened this way.
"I sat Innominate down next to his left, myself to his right, and a newer CCP developer, CCP Nagual, straight across from him. Nagual is new to the dev team, but very interested in the meta game, so he was the perfect choice. I'm chatting up The Judge, he's pretty upset, as over the last week he's watched months of work boil away to nothing. Then the drinks arrive."
As everyone begins to drink, Aryth turns away from The Judge, looks directly to CCP Nagual, and asks: "Would you like to see how the metagame is played tonight?" Nagual, he says, agreed. For an hour, Aryth explained every detail of what had been happening, all the backstabbing, the crumbling alliances, the march to war. "I outline The Judge's position, and how unenviable it is."
Finally, after a lengthy conversation between Aryth and the CCP developer, with only minor input from The Judge, Aryth turns to him and drops the bomb: "You know… you could come to Goons."
The Judge, of course, had been expecting this. None of what Aryth had said, or did would have worked if he hadn't been, he said, The Judge held the keys to the castle and all the power, and he didn't commit right away.
"It was on my way home," he said. "The dinner was Saturday, Sunday was my birthday, and I didn't want to spend my entire birthday on a plane, so I stayed in Iceland. I saw a bit more of the country, had some time to think. Monday, on the thirty-one hour plane ride, I had even more time, and I decided that I was going to do it."
Image: EVE user Shingly.
At the dinner, they had come to a tentative agreement: a price tag for the transfer of the Keepstar Citadel, a place to call home inside of The Imperium for The Judge and his friends, and the ability to execute the heist at the Judge's discretion.
Once he was safely home, The Judge bided his time, waiting for the right moment to execute possibly the biggest snatch and grab in video game history.
"Right now, I think the best estimate is at about 1.5 trillion ISK, but there's a lot of stuff I haven't even gone through yet, so who know where it will end up, " Judge said, talking about the equivalent of roughly $US20,000 worth of in-game currency -- not that he can legally cash it out.
"This heist is the first of its kind in the Citadel era of EVE," he said. "We've never seen the repercussions of something like this before."
While You Can
On September 11, Aryth made his fateful announcement to The Imperium. He had struck a blow that no one in The Imperium or in Circle of Two had seen coming: he had facilitated the decapitation of The Imperium's most hated enemy, and secured their super weapon-equipped Keepstar citadel, placed deep in the heart of Co2's territory, for Goonswarm Federation.
Immediately, every able-bodied and awake pilot was summoned to their ships. Fleets were rapidly deployed across three regions of space. In yet another miracle of diplomacy, Imperial leadership was able to negotiate safe passage and assistance from the cheekily-named alliance Test Alliance Please Ignore, who were currently at war with Circle of Two.
Imperium vessels began encircling their new battlestation, attempting to prevent any member of Co2 from successfully evacuating their belongings. While they began deploying warp disruption fields to make the evacuation attempts more difficult, Co2's leader Gigx received panicked phone calls from his remaining leadership, informing him of the dire circumstances the alliance now found itself in.
Gigx logged into the game servers and began trying to minimise the damage that The Judge could do, stopping The Judge from stealing the alliance's ISK reserves, accessing shared hangars full of ships, or transferring more structures to other players.
Realising it was too little, too late, Gigx began to rage in alliance channels, meant to be seen only by friendly players, asking for The Judge's personal information.
"Whoever know his real name, home address and other details msg me," he wrote. "The Judge feel free to use your hands by typing here," he added, "while you can."
Unfortunately for Gigx, these channels were being broadcast over a Twitch stream, causing a massive amount of players to report the alliance leader's actions to CCP. As of now, Gigx has received a permanent ban from EVE Online for those statements.
"I don't think that he's going to come and try and chop my hands off," says The Judge of Gigx. "But I feel that people who make threats in game with out of game violence shouldn't be in the game anymore. If it were any other circumstance, I wouldn't support it."
"Judgement Day" will go down in EVE history as one of the biggest watershed moments of modern EVE. It will be remembered alongside the Bloodbath of B-R5BR, the Battle of Asakai, the times Jita was on fire for days on end, and most similarly, the destruction of the Band of Brothers empire, in a similar fashion, years ago. An alliance has been destroyed to its very core, by someone who had been one of its biggest supporters, with no warning.
But what happens to the man who burns the biggest bridge in the universe?
"Well, no one will give [me] keys to a Keepstar ever again," The Judge said. "In EVE, your reputation is all you have. ISK comes and goes, and your name is what's there forever. Mine's shot at this point, which is fine with me."
"I'm past the point where I want to run things. I'm more than happy to step back, fly around and just shoot people. My plan when the dust settles is to join Goonswarm, and I don't see why that would change."
"I'm free to do what I want to do now," he said. "Not under someone who would threaten others to make themselves feel better."
"The worst is the relationships that are damaged or lost. And of course the threats to my life, that I did not anticipate, or find acceptable."
Aryth said the events had reignited his flagging passion for participating in the CSM. "I had been pretty down on it because of the time taken away from my family/career, but this has made me fall in love with it again."
But the best part, he says? "Payback. Vengeance. Revenge. Real Rains of Castamere type vengeance. It let me participate in a way, in a war that I missed, and let me strike a blow for my friends. Headshotting the great betrayer."