‘You will lose both hands’ – How the biggest theft in EVE Online history ended in death threats

With warm regards

It seems every time sci-fi MMO EVE Online [official site] is in the news, it’s because someone has been screwed over in the most spectacular way imaginable. From record-breaking heists and scams to public assassinations and spy infiltrations, New Eden has been home to some incredible tales of espionage, theft, and political intrigue. This month another chapter in EVE’s long and bloody history came to an abrupt end as two players conspired to pull off the biggest political betrayal and theft of assets in the game’s history.

But the real story began over a year earlier, with clandestine discussions between a thief and his spymaster at a restaurant in the capital of Iceland, and it finishes far outside the game world, with threats of real life violence. Depending on who you ask, this is the story of a greedy individual who robbed his friends and ran away, or the spy handler who manipulated his enemy into destroying an alliance, or even the tale of a player trapped with an abusive leader and finally finding a way out.

The biggest theft in EVE history

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In the early hours of the morning of September 12th, a player named The Judge bankrupted the massive military alliance Circle of Two (otherwise known as CO2) and betrayed its 4,000 members to their worst enemies. After stealing over a trillion ISK in assets from the alliance wallet and supply hangars, The Judge then used his authority as CO2’s lead diplomat to seize control of the alliance’s space stations throughout its territory. In possibly the biggest single moment of betrayal in EVE history, the colossal 300 billion ISK Keepstar class station, where most of the alliance’s 4,000 members stashed their ships and valuable assets, was sold to its most hated enemy, the infamous Goonswarm Federation.

The total value of the theft clocked in at over 1.5 trillion ISK , making it the single biggest theft in EVE history in terms of raw ISK (I got reports from both sides and this figure wasn’t disputed by anyone), which gives it an estimated equivalent value of over $20,000 USD in real money. The actual scale of the damage was far greater, as Goonswarm and TEST Alliance then surrounded the station and prevented players from evacuating their ships and other assets. Many players panicked and sold their trapped ships and items to the attackers for a fraction of the real value, while others used the game’s “Asset Safety” system to pay NPCs to safely evacuate  their ships and equipment for a fee. The final tally of ISK stolen or lost through tax and firesales in this betrayal has been estimated by the perpetrators to be 5 trillion ISK – worth over $60,000 – and the incident has completely dismantled one of the game’s largest military alliances.

Sowing the seeds of betrayal

The planning for this record-breaking theft began over a year earlier in the midst of EVE’s most famous war to date, last year’s conflict that came to be known as World War Bee or the Casino War. A large group of alliances known collectively as The Moneybadger Coalition was paid by incredibly wealthy gambling kingpins Lenny Kravitz2 and IronBank to wage a war of annihilation. The target was the game’s largest and probably most hated military organisation, The Imperium, led by Goonswarm Federation.

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Circle of Two found itself on the wrong end of that conflict, and its territories in the Deklein region in the north of EVE were swiftly overrun by thousands of Moneybadger vessels. CO2 left The Imperium early in the war and thoroughly burned its bridges on the way out, releasing an angry announcement blaming Goonswarm for not coming to its aid:

“Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that we have served (only) as a meatshield. Circle-Of-Two is NOT a meatshield. We will not stand as the wall that defends Deklein from the angry hordes for the benefit of Goons. We will no longer subject our pilots to the indecency of watching their hard work burn while Goons sit in their ivory tower. We will no longer stand as an unequal partner in The Imperium.” – CO2 Leadership

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It was in the throes of this war that the seeds of betrayal were ultimately planted, with tensions mounting within Circle of Two’s leadership and cracks beginning to form. Many alliance members weren’t happy with how the leadership had handled things with Goonswarm Federation, and some didn’t want to make enemies of them for fear of reprisal. It now seems that those fears were justified, as it was shortly after this split that Goonswarm’s economic expert and spymaster Aryth set his sights on destroying CO2 from the inside.

“When we started talking to The Judge initially, we wanted to hurt CO2,” Aryth explained to me. “And then as the relationship developed and I saw more of what could happen, we wanted to kill CO2.”

Clandestine communications

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It’s tempting to imagine that EVE’s machiavellian politics and brutal betrayals all emerge from clandestine conversations between agents in darkly lit rooms filled with cigar smoke, and that’s actually not too far from the truth. Many of the high-level political moves and wars that go on inside EVE Online each year can be traced back to events such as EVE Fanfest or EVE Vegas, though the conversations are usually more like casual chats over a few beers and I’m pretty sure nobody has a gun.

For The Judge, the conversations began when both he and Aryth were voted into the Council of Stellar Management (the CSM), a player-elected panel of experts who are flown to a summit in Iceland twice per year to advise CCP on player concerns and future developments with the game. The Judge had considered leaving CO2 for quite some time before joining the CSM, citing a lack of respect and equality shown to him and other members of the alliance, but he initially had no plans to betray anyone.

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“I hadn’t decided to move or do anything until after this latest CSM summit,” he told me, saying that “emptying the hangars and flipping a Keepstar didn’t even enter my thoughts.”

On the other hand, spymaster Aryth of the Goonswarm began planning the downfall of CO2 the moment the pair of players were voted into office together.

“He knew right away that we viewed him as a mark from the very first summit,” Aryth admitted, “and this was the third summit where we finally sealed the deal.”

The final move was made in an unassuming restaurant in downtown Reykjavik on the final day of the latest CSM summit, when Aryth suggested the plan to The Judge and offered Goonswarm’s help to pull it off. The Judge had a long time to think about that offer on the 31-hour plane journey back to Australia. He started running through plans in his head, thinking about exactly how he would pull it off and weighing up the collateral damage it would cause. By the time he arrived in his home country, he had decided to pull the plug on Circle of Two and the reign of it’s leader, gigX.

The threat of violence

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As the story of The Judge’s betrayal began to ripple throughout the EVE community, CO2’s alliance leader gigX logged in and the tale began to take an ugly turn. On seeing his alliance’s assets stolen and its space stations in the hands of enemies, gigX went into something of a blind rage. He asked people for The Judge’s real life name and address and began writing threatening messages such as “The Judge you gonna die,” “you will lose both hands,” and “feel free to use your hands by typing here while you can.” EVE developer CCP Games took a dismal view of the real life threats, and gigX was soon permanently banned on all of his accounts.

“Anyone that’s dealt with gigX knows he’s a loose cannon,” The Judge explained during our interview. “He would almost flip a switch and go from being your best friend to a raging maniac on comms, swearing at everyone when anything went wrong.”

Goonswarm’s Aryth claims that he actually planned for the possibility that gigX would get himself banned in this manner but thought there was only about a 30% chance of it actually happening.

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“We knew 100% he would rage and say crazy shit,” he told me, “but we had no way to know he would say it in such a public and logged manner across 7 hours. If that’s not the line, then where’s the line? Does someone have to actually get stabbed in real life?”

That ban wasn’t the end of the threats against The Judge, however, as his actions screwed over the 4,000 members of the Circle of Two alliance. Some of them were furious.

“There have been a number of relatively credible threats toward me at EVE Vegas,” The Judge said. “I’ve shown those to CCP and they are willing to cancel people’s tickets to the event itself if the threats are bad enough. CCP is upping the security quite a bit, not just for the threats to me but also any threats to developers in the wake of this. What impressed me the most is that the company takes it seriously.”

The future for CO2 and EVE

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The betrayal of CO2 has gone down in EVE history as both the single largest sum of ISK stolen by a player and possibly the biggest political middle finger ever given. On top of the immense financial damage, Circle of Two as an alliance has been effectively dismantled from the inside. CO2’s new de-facto leader Quentin Decker promises that the alliance will return, but over 3,500 members have jumped ship since the betrayal and only 441 (and falling) remain at the time of writing. Thousands of players lost assets and their homes when The Judge switched sides, and thousands more who were looking forward to war in the south of New Eden have been left disappointed.

CO2’s space was about to become the stage for a massive war, and the battle for the colossal Keepstar class space station that was stolen could have precipitated the biggest fights of the year involving thousands of players, but none of that will happen now. Several players I’ve spoken to about the incident were understandably annoyed at the loss of an upcoming territorial conflict, but spymaster Aryth believes that this outcome is actually far better for EVE as a whole.

“We were going to have a little PvP content for the next few months that no-one outside of EVE was going to care about or hear about, but the whole world heard about this. That helps EVE.”

He may be right, as we’re already seeing more ex-players coming back to EVE and a rise in new free-to-play characters being created.

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The future also looks pretty cosy for The Judge, who has now joined Goonswarm Federation and has been enjoying a break from the soul-sapping work of helping to run an alliance. He also claims to be using some of his ill-gotten gains to help those who stood against the poor treatment of alliance members by their reportedly abusive former leader gigX. Looking back on the theft now that the dust is finally settling, The Judge still believes his actions were justified.

“You can’t really hurt the leadership and try to take down a goliath of an alliance without hurting people,” he explained. “The fact that everyone has left that alliance and the toxic environment that I saw, and moved to arguably better alliances with better leadership, I definitely think it was worth it.”

There are many sides to any story, perhaps moreso with the political machinations and propaganda of EVE Online than with any other online game. One player’s record-breaking heist is another’s lost home, one player’s shifted allegiance is another’s broken friendship, and one player’s elimination of an abusive leader can be pain and loss for thousands.

Whether you think of this as the tale of The Judge who robbed his friends and ran away, spymaster Aryth plotting to burn Circle of Two to the ground from the inside, or the raging tyrant gigX who had to be stopped, one thing is for sure: this will go down as one of the most famous incidents in EVE Online’s long and blood-soaked living history.

48 Comments

  1. Gothnak says:

    Although interesting, it is a little unrealistic that one chap could convince everyone working on that super-station to switch sides with him and carry out that plan without no one else knowing until it was done.

    Military organisations have a chain of command with checks and measures in case the guy at the top goes mad, i guess that’s not modelled in Eve.

    • Viral Frog says:

      It’s somewhat similar in terms of organizational structure, but not exact. An exact structure like that would make the game excessively dull, honestly. The thing is that The Judge held a certain rank within the corporation that made it so that he didn’t need anyone to cooperate with him. His corp / alliance trusted him and gave him access to everything he needed access to and was able to do the entire betrayal single handedly.

      The key to avoiding betrayal is to not treat your people like crap. Having played EVE myself, I know gigX is, to be blunt, a complete prick. The game and all the players in it are much better off without him. I’m honestly glad to see that CO2 is done for. It sucks for everyone that took the fall with them, but gigX deserved it. And his actions after the fact show that he deserved that and, really, probably more than just what he got. (I think he needs a swift kick in the you-know-whats, personally.)

      • kororas says:

        ” know gigX is, to be blunt, a complete prick”

        That may be true and a reasonable justification, but screwing over the entire alliance?

        • lordcooper says:

          The guy took corp/alliance level assets, which are realistically property of leadership. There’s no mechanical way to take anything form an individual player’s hangar (well, unless you convince them to give it it you), and asset safety* is a thing in nullsec. Very few individual players were severely fucked over here. Also, a third party alliance and frenemy of them both (TEST) stepped in to provide an honour guard and allow CO2 folk to evac their stuff manually.

          *basically you pay a fraction of the value to have your stuff teleported to safety: link to support.eveonline.com

        • Viral Frog says:

          They’ll be fine. It’s the nature of EVE Online. I guarantee you that Goonswarm and other corps are going to swoop in, recruit everyone they can, and all their woes will be resolved. The losses will be easily recouped, unless the players refuse to be assimilated by Goonswarm and friends.

          • Viral Frog says:

            And yeah, lordcooper is right. I didn’t even consider that. But yes, the only people who really took a loss are the leaders of CO2. Anyone that personally put their own funds into securing the assets. So the Average Joe in the corp/alliance made it out without harm.

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      • Ronrocken says:

        Sounds like something Judge would say :)

    • Someoldguy says:

      This story is essentially why I don’t play EVE or games like it any more. Online organisation structures are just too fragile, with entire clans/corporations able to be gutted or disbanded on the whim of a single individual. Yep, happened to me in the early EVE days too.

      In the real world you couldn’t just sign a deal handing Kent over to France at the stroke of a pen or the say so of one person. Even kings have been defied and held in check by their underlings since before the days of the Magna Carta.

      I don’t find this story exciting or a reason to participate in EVE. Just another example of why you shouldn’t, until its organisational structures are further improved.

      • kororas says:

        Was gonna log into reply exactly like you did.

        I guess the only reason CCP haven’t introduced additional checks is that these events still generate headlines. But like you, I don’t believe these events to be noteworthy anymore. Just shows one person is still allowed to do far too much damage in a game that revolves around its economy.

        The biggest kicker is that this wasn’t just pure ISK going walkabouts, it was personal assets as well. I probably would have quit if this had happened to me. Good job I don’t play it anymore!

      • rochrist says:

        Ditto. But I’ll add that one of these days, something like this -will- end in actual real world violence and we’ll see how smug CCP is about it then.

      • agentghost says:

        Log in just to say that if an individual can “grief” and do massive damage to the community (justified or not), then the game design has a problem. Really! Who are you to decide who deserves your grief? This just gives me a reason NOT to try EVE until they redesign their game to prevent further griefting.

        • KidWithKnife says:

          I dunno about it being a design flaw. Stories like this are absolutely one reason I wouldn’t play EVE, but at the same time they’re clearly a desired feature for the kind of player EVE is aimed at.

    • stringerdell says:

      The game would be pretty boring if that was the case though and there would be far less (if any) opportunities for skullduggery and intrigue on such a big scale.

    • Sardonic says:

      Pod pilots are essentially gods in the game’s lore, couple that with extreme automation, and it seems believable enough to me.

    • FunkyBadgerReturns says:

      Just waiting for the US coup when Trump tries to nuke Colin Kaepernick.

      • April March says:

        Democrat Governor Flips Side, Hands Ownership of California to Mexico

      • April March says:

        I’m starting to realize all of these interesting EVE stories boil down to “some dude with high rank decided/was convinced to flip sides, changes ownership of assets to rival faction”.

    • lordcooper says:

      I doubt that the mortal staff (who lorewise are considered dead the moment they board our ships) particularly care which specific terrifying godlike being they’re currently working for. The automated systems switch ownership, and they have the choice between going along with something that really doesn’t have much of an effect on them (civilian traffic doesn’t even show up on capsuleer overviews, they’re mostly irrelevant to us) or getting jettisoned out of an airlock.

    • LordMidas says:

      Having never played EVE, how exactly do you steal a behemoth station like that. Do you, like, walk onto the bridge and sit a the controls and fly it away? Surely someone would have noticed (even if they didn’t) as it started flying away from it’s orbit.
      Or something.

    • LordMidas says:

      Having never played EVE, how exactly do you steal a behemoth station like that? Do you, like, walk onto the bridge and sit a the controls and fly it away? Surely someone would have noticed (even if they didn’t) as it started flying away from it’s orbit.
      Or something.

    • jalaswsq says:

      People did know. They openly admit the arrangement took place at the devs HQ in the “player elected rep” meeting with the devs. Devs had a direct hand in this happening to the point they encouraged it and offered to assit in its planning. They should be ashamed of themselves for setting the stage for this to happen, then attempting to profiteer off the negative news. This group of Icelanders is unlike the majority. They have no integrity – where most feel people should be held responsible for their actions in regards to how they impact others, this group is polar opposite. Had these guys been in government, they’d have never taken their bankers to task :)

  2. Orchids says:

    Having seen from the inside the amount of misinformation over a similar business in Elite, my appreciation for this kind of story took a major knock; I used to believe that these summing-up reports gave a fairly accurate picture but I know that the news sites were retelling a whole bunch of falsehoods about the Elite thing. It’s still interesting to read this stuff, just not *believably* interesting any more…

    • Jekadu says:

      I haven’t heard anything that contradicts the core of the story–death threats were issued publicly after the most expensive betrayal since the game launched.

  3. causticnl says:

    goons ruin somebody’s game, gets death threats, news at 11.

  4. mrbeman says:

    I sort of wonder to what extent the existence of cool eve stories depends on broken people sinking their lives into it. By our mythologizing eve stories I wonder if we’re putting pressure on a small segment of the population to engage with it in a really unhealthy way.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      Games are bad, m’kay?

    • something says:

      I don’t know about pressure but probably encouragement.

      Anyway, these stories get less exciting each time. I like the idea of an online game where players create the big events rather than script writers, but EVE has to be just about the dullest possible version of that.

      And, on your point, I’d only be interested in such a game if it’s possible to participate interestingly in, say, less than a hundred hours of play time. And the economics of game development pretty much prevent that.

      • lordcooper says:

        It’s the ONLY version of that though, or at least the only semi-decent one.

        As for it being impossible to participate interestingly from the start; I pulled off my first (mediocre, but it seemed huge at the time) heist, had a reputation in corp as a great tackler, got a few solo kills, founded (got bored of, and left) my own shitty corp of about 30 people, made a relative fortune hunting down explorers, and made friends I’m still in touch with 6 years later, all in my first 100 hours.

        What you can’t do immediately is go toe to toe against someone in a similar ship to your own (unless they’re bad at the game and you aren’t), or fly big/expensive ships properly. Pretty much everything else is down to you.

    • geldonyetich says:

      I think it’s just the nature if EVE Online.

      It’s a great big grind to create fantastic fleets that ultimately serve no purpose because the developers either have no clue or think it would be more interesting if players made their own.

      So the players made their own purpose. But this is the Internet, so that purpose ultimately became to troll each other.

      Running EVE Online is like running a daycare for people of all ages that has a huge, unsupervised playground in the back. Whenever something goes wrong, the day care providers shed a happy tear and bless the little hearts of their customers for creating poignance and meaning through their personal tragedies.

    • Hans says:

      Approximately how much hand-wringing do you think it’ll take to make those obsessive players be more healthy?

    • KidWithKnife says:

      It is very attractive to think that we internet randos might have some potential positive influence over the kind of person who thinks flying to Iceland for a video game summit is a good use of their time. That seems unlikely to me, though.

    • jalaswsq says:

      in my experience of on/off with EVE since invite alpha in 2001 or 02 is exactly that. The “player-made content” is purely a result of broken people trying to vent their real-world frustrations on others instead of investing time into themselves and making themselves happier and better for it. This universe set the stage for mmo trolling as we know it today and has always attracted the worst of the worst in online gaming community members. EVE is a tragedy and always has been…it’s success is an even greater tragedy. Took me years to begin to recognize what it truly was as opposed to the popular misconception of what it is.

  5. Amake says:

    Just wanted to say, it’s pretty strange to say assets in Eve has “real world value” when the exchange rate of money – ISK only goes one way. A logician might say that 1.5 trillion is equivalent to $20 000 “quasi-real” dollars.

    • vorador says:

      Because you can use both ISK and real money to buy PLEX. So you can easily calculate how much value in real world money ISK has by comparing the exchange rate for PLEX.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        Debatable. For example, I just invented two new currencies. I’ll call them RYSK and PLYX. Here is the exchange rate:
        You can buy 1 PLYX from me for 1 RYSK, and vice versa.
        You can buy 1 PLYX from me for $1.
        What is the dollar value of 1,000 RYSK?
        Is is (a) $1,000 or (b) nothing at all because I just made it up and there’s no reliable way to turn a RYSK into dollars?

      • Amake says:

        Yes, you can calculate how much money a given sum of ISK costs. But like I said, the exchange rate only goes one way. So saying ISK value has an equivalent real value is only half true. Like I said.

  6. Stevostin says:

    At a point, we’ll need all of those articles to become a book. It’s that good.

  7. btonasse says:

    If that’s not griefing, I don’t know what is. For me it’s just pathetic to celebrate what this Judge guy did. This doesn’t make me want to play this game at all.

  8. automatic says:

    Oh, some huge theft or a conflict of catastrophic proportions broke into EvE Online.
    Again… zzzzzzzz

    I wonder if there’s something specially glamorous in raging over a game when you spend more time or money on it than a regular person. I see people raging everyday in online gaming and, surprise, it doesn’t get into the news. I think I’m starting to understand why Trump was elected as a president.

  9. Tayh says:

    Pretty sure any victory for the Trollswarm is a loss for Humanity.
    I’ve got no stakes in this game, yet I can’t wait for the day the Goonswarm gets what it deserves.

  10. KayAU says:

    This is basically why I don’t play this type of games. I prefer being a protagonist in the games I play, rather than an expendable pawn in a game run by people with inflated egos and too much time on their hands.

    Making a significant investment of time and possibly money in a game where everything could be taken away from you at someone else’s whim isn’t my kind of fun.

  11. Mandriel says:

    I’ve flown under GigX, and he was not a nice person.

    That being said – Any progress for Goons is bad news.

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