Ragnarök, the death of the Norse gods, played out in EVE Online in the wee hours of New Year’s eve. Hundreds of the game’s mightiest vessels gathered together in the M2-XFE system, and Titans from the game’s two largest factions spent over 12 hours exchanging fire and unleashing their incredibly devastating doomsday weapon systems. In the end, around 250 of these god-like war machines were nothing more than smouldering wreckage, including my own.
The fight was ostensibly over a Keepstar space station, one of the many Death Star equivalent installations that have been besieged during the war of extermination between The Imperium and the PAPI Coalition, with PAPI seeking to permanently remove The Imperium from their seat of power in the game. The station wasn’t of any particular strategic import, but, like many of the biggest Titan clashes in EVE’s history, the objective wasn’t the important part. Over the course of the 12-hour brawl, both sides continually escalated, bringing in more and more Titans, as well as other ships in small windows when measures to prevent large ships from using their jump drives to enter the system faltered. Part of the siege of M2 included a “cynosural jamming field” being erected in the system, removing the ability for jump drives to find a navigation beacon. Over the course of the night, this jamming field was either taken down voluntarily, or sabotaged several times. Though The Imperium came out the victor by number of Titans destroyed, both sides are claiming victory.
Once large numbers of Titans are committed to a fight, the first side to blink is almost guaranteed to suffer terrible, one-sided losses that can be nearly impossible to quickly recover from. Last night, no one blinked. When the battle ended at 4:00 AM CST, cut off by the game’s daily maintenance, both sides were still fully committed to the fight. When the dust settled, the Imperium managed to squeak out a narrow margin of Titan kills — 129 to PAPI’s 123 — allowing the Imperium to claim victory in numbers. A more detailed report of the battle shows that while the Imperium killed more enemy Titans, PAPI managed to inflict more financial destruction by killing more Supercarriers and a very expensive Vanquisher-class faction Titan belonging to the Imperium, in addition to successfully chewing through the armour of the Keepstar and setting it up for a final fight in a few days. All in all, both sides went to bed feeling very satisfied with the results of the fight, both strategically and in terms of securing their places in EVE’s history.
EVE Council of Stellar Management member and real-world politician Brisc Rubal spent the entire night narrating a stream of the battle to keep everyone who couldn’t be involved informed of the events. He told Kotaku, “This was an epic battle, and getting the chance to participate while streaming for an audience of thousands was a rare treat. This is the kind of thing that only happens in EVE Online. Being able to say I was there at the biggest fight in the history of the game and my side won? Priceless.”
Rubal paid the price of his fame early in the battle, with his Ragnarok-class Titan being singled out and targeted for destruction by enemy forces in the opening stages of the battle and its destruction caught and memorialised on the Twitch stream he was narrating. He took the loss, his second Titan to die in battle in his EVE career, in stride, and continued his coverage the rest of the evening while fighting on his alternate character, a bit safer without his famous name attached to it.
On the other side of the battle, Elise Randolph, a long-time EVE veteran, shared his experience with the fight with Kotaku. “I’m old enough in EVE to say I’ve been to every big fight like this and M2 was, without a doubt, the craziest fight I’ve ever seen.”
Elise continued, “Usually in these big brawls the losing side is aware that they’re behind, but 10 hours in both sides were adamant that they were winning and escalating to keep on going. It was absolutely wild. Usually, in these things, there’s a [clear] winner. Today, both sides are claiming victory and if you were to pull the leaders aside and say ‘Hey, between you and me if you had to do it over again would you?’ they’d both say, ‘Oh yeah this is EXACTLY what we wanted.’”
The duality of both sides claiming victory in this fight might seem confusing to someone outside of the game. It makes sense if you view the idea through what some believe is the true measure of victory in EVE: morale. Wars are often won in EVE through the willpower and resolve of the players to continue fighting, rather than the in-game hardware destroyed. Both sides have been champing at the bit for a fight just like this since hostilities started over six months ago, and neither side feels that they were truly defeated in the clash.
Leaders from both sides of the cataclysmic battle seem to agree with the sentiment Elise suggested. Dunk Dinkle, a member of the PAPI coalition and the “Electromagical Majordomo” — aka the official unofficial face of the BRAVE alliance, part of the PAPI coalition, — told Kotaku, “The M2-XFE battle will go down in EVE Online’s history as one of the bloodiest and balanced butcher’s bill we have ever seen. Records not just broken, but shattered.”
Dinkle added, “Beyond the short term posturing by the opposing sides, every pilot that was there is part of a fellowship that goes beyond this war. In years to come, at player meetups, those that fought in the Massacre in M2 will gather to tell war stories, laugh, and raise toasts. A bond forged globally by thousands, that will last for decades to come.”
When asked if he had any specific regrets about the fight or its aftermath, Dunk said, “My only regret is that I didn’t get to salvage the wrecks,” adding the familiar BRAVE salute emoji, “7o.”
Leadership of the Imperium are very proud of the victory their side sees themselves as achieving. The Mittani, overall leader and spokesperson of The Imperium. told Kotaku, “Through focus and commitment the Imperium won against impossible odds, outnumbered and outgunned the entire battle. To win, we had to punch far above our weight and simply out-fight the enemy; there was zero room for error…. We worked together as one whole, and in doing so triumphed against the combined might of the rest of the galaxy.”
His sentiments are backed by Asher Elias, The Imperium’s lead strategic Fleet Commander, who maintained overall control of the Imperium forces throughout the battle. When asked who won and why, Asher told Kotaku, “It’s obvious that we did, we killed more Titans with less people…I think I would credit our line members having superior discipline. Additionally, some of [PAPI’s] strategy was flawed, which is sort of a repeated trope from this war.”
The fight may not be the cataclysmic end of the war that some expected it to be, but it may be the catalyst for the next stage of the conflict. In the past, these battles have often had follow-up battles even larger than the original, which could well happen here in the coming days. A large portion of the PAPI fleet is logged off in range of the now-vulnerable space station, being guarded by the reinforced and refueled Imperium super capital forces. The coming days could usher in an even larger fight and ensure the M2 the system becomes forever known as the largest graveyard of god machines that EVE has ever seen.