In Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma an idealistic young Italian called Fabrice del Dongo runs off to join Napoleon's army, and ends up at the Battle of Waterloo. He gets bonked on the head, sees soldiers running around, shoots a retreating opponent, and gets stabbed in the leg by one of his own side. The whole thing's a mess, Fabrice has no idea what's going on, and he returns to Parma broke and dejected, wondering if he really was at Waterloo. By the end of the novel he's an old man, and spoken of with reverence as one of Napoleon's key captains.
Reader – when Brave liberated the HED-GP system, I was one of their key captains.
I've recently joined the corporation Brave Newbies (more on whom later) in an effort to get slightly less worse at PvP. On the glorious day of our Lord Hilmar the 22nd April 2014, I was mooching around in one of the home stations looking for something to do. Lo and behold, in the fleet finder tab, the 'HED-GP Standing Defence Fleet' jumped out at me.
I didn't know my HED-GP from my tail, but I figured there had to be some action there, so I joined up, jumped on mumble, and began slowly making my way over to the system – 16 jumps, so ten to fifteen minutes' flying time. I used it to read up.
It seems that HED-GP is a nullsec pocket of space that Brave has ambitions on. But all the experienced players hate Brave, so they camp up certain areas with their big ships and elite fits for what they see as easy kills – and I'm one of them. Brave's basic strategy when faced with situations like this seems quite simple: numbers.
As soon as I'm two or three jumps away, things get tense. Not only is comms rather a confusing mess, with our fleet split over what seems to be three systems, but the gates leading into HED-GP have been bubbled – preventing you from warping straight to them – and in some cases camped. I manage to make it through and jump to HED-GP, where I immediately align to a Brave POS, which is basically a meeting-point for fleets, and warp.
I land on top of three enemy ships. My fleet's in this system, but none of them are here. I'm instantly scrambled, and five to ten seconds later the Kestrel I'd spent the last two hours fitting is an attractive explosion. I switch to my pod overview instantly, hold the 'S' key and spam click on space to try and insta-warp out – but too slow. They catch my pod, and I'm unceremoniously blown up.
My clone awakens sixteen jumps away. I'm still in fleet comms. I'm a bit pissed off at my own stupidity for warping to a POS rather than fleet, but the more I listen the more I feel for our inexperienced FC. Every single pilot in this fleet is 'new' to the game, but the FC is the only position that really matters – if he makes a mistake, all of our ships explode. I start the long journey back.
As I get closer the FC has handed over to another player who's doing just as bad a job at herding cats, and it sounds like a real clusterfuck. But it's not until I make it into HED-GP that I realise why. I don't know what the hell I'm looking at. A somewhat-occupied system has now become another type of system: my overview is jammed with reds (bad), yellows (bad), and a few scattered blues and purples (good).
Some of these ship types I've never even seen before; but they see me. My warpdrive is disrupted almost instantly, and I make an heroic dash towards the bluey-purple blob. In one of EVE's little miracles I escape for an instant and arrive among comrades – half of whom, a few seconds later, warp off. Not knowing what else to do I follow and, as we jump from place to place around the system, it's clear we're being chased.
One jump turns into two, into three, into four. Our FC has changed again. No-one knows what's going on. As yet another jump starts I'm scrammed. This time there is no escape – four, five reds with more incoming by the minute, with myself and a few other stricken pilots left behind. I'm dead and podded in an instant. I don't even know what killed me in the end.
Having lost around 15 million ISK worth of ship, I decide that'll do for this evening. I'm utterly confused as to what just happened. It's only the next day, browsing the EVE subreddit, that I happen across this post on TheMittani.com, from the superbly-named Angry Moustache, called 'HED-GP Falls (Again).'
As the title suggests this is not one of those landmark EVE moments: this was no B-R, no Asakai, no Waterloo. And even though the system is now controlled by the Brave Collective, there were many other allies who helped. But it was a battle with consequences big enough to be noted by key players in the game, not just random ships pew-pewing each other. Even though that's what it felt like.
When I read that post I felt like Fabrice del Dongo. Was I really there? I logged into the client to double-check the killmails, and I was. I'd been one of the grunts in the frontline, clueless and green, watching things zip around me and boom in the distance without ever realising what it meant. I died twice and killed nothing. But I was there.
The strange thing is that I instantly felt a part of Brave. Sure I was already a member, but this was a feeling I can only compare to being at a football match with your fellow fans; a camaraderie firm in the knowledge of a shared purpose. My personal loss had become a win.
(Never one to miss an opportunity I popped into corp chat and asked if I could be reimbursed for the ships I'd lost at HED-GP. One of the Corp higher-ups immediately did so, with grace. Stand aside for the war hero, lads.)
And here lies the reason that EVE threatens to consume me. This is an experience that is truly player-driven, inasmuch as any multiplayer videogame is player driven. Sure CCP control how the ships and mechanics work, and there's CONCORD (the space police) in HighSec to give players some level of safety, but beyond that the story of this game – what actually happens – is being written every day.
The Battle of BR5RB made headlines because it's a great story, and of course it's the kind of thing that pulls in players like me – we want to be a part of something like that. But what's important to understand is that BR5RB was exceptional because it was so big, and not because of the nature of what happened. The battle I was involved in came about because hundreds of people across the globe, on that day at that time, decided it was going to go down. And so it did. And so things change.
This is the fabric of EVE – from the micro to the macro scale it is a world that changes depending on what the players decide to do. There is no space conductor waving his baton, and the closest thing to it would be those individuals like the Mittani – who, as prominent and powerful as he is now, could be gone tomorrow. He's only human, after all, and humans make mistakes.
No other game is like this. I said in the first of these diary entries that what blew me away in EVE was the vision, and what's so astounding is the courage behind letting players dictate the game's goals. It is unique.
And even if you won't be flying a Titan in a battle like BR5RB a few weeks after starting, you can be a Fabrice del Dongo like me – on the fringes of something great, and making a difference simply by virtue of being there. You don't have to join the same corporation I did, but take a little of their spirit and you'll be fine. Come on in, and be a brave newbie.
Rich Stanton is off to EVE Fanfest – stay tuned for his reports back from the frontline.