“Hold on, I think somebody’s shooting my Keepstar…”
These innocuous words, words spoken almost daily across New Eden and often in jest, began a night that would end with a low security space Keepstar reinforced, new questions raised about the future viability of non-aligned major assets, and the power of EVE celebrity tested in a way rarely seen in the modern era.
The attack, which occurred late Sunday evening EVE time, primetime in the United States and around 9 PM local time for the station owner was, on the whole, unremarkable. As has been seen countless times over the last two months in New Eden, a titan and supercarrier group from the Imperium entered the Aunenen system via cynosural beacon and proceeded to turn their massive guns and heavy fighters against one of the largest structures New Eden has ever seen: a Keepstar. A small subcapital screening force of Lokis attended the capital fleet, while over a dozen onlookers watched the fireworks. Their task completed less than half an hour later and long before a response fleet could be summoned, the titan fleet left as quickly as it came. It left almost no evidence behind that it had ever been there, save the Keepstar being reinforced, and a vulnerability timer that would ensure safety for those who used the massive starbase, at least for one day and fourteen hours.
All of that was, as noted, unremarkable. It was everything else around the Keepstar – from its ownership, to the attackers, to what the Keepstar represents and the hanging question of whether it will survive – that made this everyday event in EVE both fascinating and unusual.
A Little Background Information
New Eden is a big place, and the ships and players that call it home come in various shapes and sizes. From the lowly Ibis corvette to the massive Avatar titan – capable of carrying dozens of smaller ships in its maintenance bay – you can find just about every kind of spacecraft imaginable plying the space from Tenal to Feythabolis, from Delve to Drone Lands. And like any sailing ship on one of Earth’s oceans, those ships need a place to come home to.
Enter the Keepstar, the largest structure – including both player-made and NPC-controlled structures – in New Eden. Capable of allowing titan and supercapital class ships to dock, Keepstars are almost the exclusive domain of the largest and most powerful alliances and coalitions in EVE. The Imperium (a collection of alliances including groups like the Goonswarm Federation, The Initiative, Bastion, Tactical Narcotics Team and others) alone boasts 28 of the awesome stations, sprinkled across their holdings in Delve, Querious, Fountain and Cloud Ring. Other large entities, including Pandemic Legion, Northern Coalition. (the two groups and their allies forming the PanFam coalition), Test Alliance Please Ignore (of the Legacy coalition), and many others across New Eden have also put together the resources to build and maintain Keepstars, primarily in zero security (nullsec) space, but also in low security space and the strange, surreal unknown space that lies behind the many wormholes dotted across the galaxy.
These Keepstars require significant resources – millions of units of minerals, manufactured parts and the like – to build and maintain, and largely are controlled by the strongest alliances and coalitions. While they are fearsome structures, capable of decimating capital and subcapital fleets when properly armed and well gunned, they are also major targets, and are still considered strategic level assets for the groups that own and maintain them. Fights around their construction as well as assaults and defenses of them once they have anchored in place have, at least in the last two years, been the primary genesis of the massive fleet engagements that EVE is known for.
Less than a week ago, the destruction of a Keepstar in X47, less than two dozen jumps from Aunenen, saw a massive fleet battle that left more than twenty titans in a cloud of melted slag and bitter tears on the battlefield. Two weeks before, in the south, another massive fleet fight surrounded the anchoring of a Keepstar in UALX. That fight, while a tactical victory for the forces of PanFam against the Legacy Coalition and their erstwhile allies in the Imperium, turned to bitter ashes in the mouths of PanFam leadership as Legacy immediately dropped a second Keepstar almost on top of the ruins of the old one, and this base anchored successfully without contention.
Yet as is often the case, what was once the result of the herculean work of tens of thousands can quickly become as routine as a trip to the dentist. Where once these structures were limited to key systems and the largest alliances, today they are far more common, just as supercarriers and titans used to be rare and are now ubiquitous in the modern era.
What made the Aunenen Keepstar so different?
Proliferation and Pipe Dreams
Most Keepstars, at least those under the control of a major alliance, are restricted to members of the alliance and their allies. Imperium Keepstars are open for business, but only for Imperium member alliances and their allies. The same can be said for PanFam, Legacy, and other major Keepstar controlling powers.
But not all of them. There are a handful, like Aunenen, that were built and have been maintained with the express purpose of being available to everyone regardless of faction – even if that ideal has largely been honored in the breach. Aunenen remains open to almost every alliance in New Eden, major exceptions being Goonswarm and Snuffed Out.
Prior to the introduction of things like Keepstars and skill injectors, the largest ships in New Eden were far rarer. Titans and supercarriers cannot be docked in NPC controlled stations, or player-built citadels like Fortizars and Astrahauses. Before Keepstars, player owned starbases (POSes) were used to provide a level of protection for these supercapital sized vessels. Within the protective shields of a POS, supercapitals were safe, but they were still subject to things like bumping, and players often had to either leave the ship in space unmanned or put a “sitter” character in the ship permanently to ensure it could not be snapped up by anybody who happened to have the POS password and noticed it was there. This made these supercapital ships both expensive and a hassle to maintain. And with the skills needed to train characters to fly these prized ships, most players were locked out of the ability to own and fly a titan or a supercarrier. They remained alliance level assets, protected and nurtured by the groups who possessed the players, skills and resources to build and field them.
All that changed with the introduction of skill injectors and Keepstars, as well as the rise of Rorquals – capital industrial ships capable of stripping asteroid belts in a fraction of the time needed for traditional miners to complete the same task – and moon mining. What had been an exceedingly costly and time-consuming process, both the construction of these ships as well as the training of characters to fly them, suddenly became compressed. A player with enough in-game or real-world currency could buy a titan skilled character before, but now he could just as easily make one for himself. What had taken years to train before skill injectors now took mere minutes. Mining the materials necessary to build one of these goliath ships now became something relatively easy to do, and individual players with the resources could build their own, sell and trade them easily without the need for a major nullsec alliance backing the effort.
There was still the problem of where to store these ships and how to trade them. As more and more players wanted these ships and could afford them and fly them, the demand for solutions to this question that plagued New Eden increased dramatically. The demand for “sanctuary Keepstars” began to percolate up throughout the galaxy.
That’s when a proposed solution was created, and the dream of a massive trade network that would include Keepstars designed to allow players outside of big nullsec blocs to own and store the toys that had been heretofore the sole province of the powerful arose – the New Eden Trade Network.
The Birth of the Aunenen Keepstar
The New Eden Trade Network was announced by a group of EVE tycoons on Reddit on November 21, 2016. The Network was designed as part of a massive trading conglomerate that would, if successful, rival the trade hubs of Jita, Dodixie and Amarr, and shift much New Eden’s trade out of Empire space and into low and nullsec.
With famous names like Seleene of Mercenary Coalition, LennyKravtiz2, EVE-Mogul, Fafer, Chribba, and others behind it, the New Eden Trading Network and later New Eden Trading Company seemed like a sure bet. Soon players in a variety of groups, including those outside the major power blocs, would have access to citadels across New Eden. The move represented a massive investment of ISK, including over 4 trillion ISK from LennyKravitz2 alone.
And then it all collapsed.
Implicated in the Casino real-money-trading scandal that gave birth to the Casino War and the impacts of which are still being felt today, LennyKravitz2 was permanently banned from EVE Online, and with him the idea of the New Eden Trading Company began a slow death. While Keepstars had been built in some of the hub systems envisioned by the NETC – like Aunenen, Malia and Basgerin – the rest of the network never truly got off the ground. With the supply of investment capital shut off, NETC fell apart.
But the dream of sanctuary Keepstars open to all (or most) still existed in New Eden. The Basgerin Keepstar, for instance, was transferred to Max Singularity, EVE’s “Spacepope,” who has run it largely along the ideals of the NETC’s dream of freeports across lowsec and nullsec. Fafer of Ghost Legion, controls the Malia Keepstar.
At the same time, the Aunenen Keepstar, while ostensibly still under the control of Ghost Legion, an alliance built out of former Northern Coalition. members and nominally aligned with PanFam, was transferred to one of EVE’s most known and most prolific Twitch celebrities: Matterall.
Matterall’s Keepstar – the Matterall Broadcasting Network
Most of EVE’s biggest names come from the ranks of major Alliance leaders or Fleet Commanders. Others are known for politics – members of the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) that represent players to CCP or the diplomats that work the deals between coalitions and alliances that cause or avert wars. Then there are those who have built their names through their media efforts – podcasts, Youtube videos, Twitch stream shows and fan websites. Of those, no one looms larger in EVE media than Matterall. The outgoing, hard-hitting host of Talking in Stations, the most-watched EVE news based program in New Eden, Matterall has been one of the most popular and respected hosts of any of the various Twitch shows, and Talking in Stations is one of the top programs on the Imperium News Network. Jokingly referred to as the “multi-dollar media empire,” INN was created and is controlled by The Mittani, leader of Goonswarm Federation and its Imperium Coalition, and one of the undisputed most powerful people in the history of EVE.
Matterall and the Mittani have long had a close, working relationship, built on mutual respect and trust. Matterall, despite being a member of Northern Coalition., one of the Imperium’s oldest and longest antagonists, has largely been given a free hand to plan and execute his show ideas, has been critical of the Imperium yet still kept on the air, and has never been one to pull punches or otherwise dilute his opinions simply because they clashed with those of the owners of the network his show appears on. That independence and willingness to be fair has ensured that Talking in Stations has been able to book guests that most other EVE streams and podcasts could only dream of getting, from then EVE Executive Producer CCP Seagull, to leadership from just about every major alliance in the game.
That’s why it was so surprising to many to see the Imperium attacking Matterall’s Keepstar. While Matterall remains a member of Northern Coalition., he has long been viewed as one of the more neutral of the hosts on INN. And he’s also been one of the most outspoken, especially on his desire for sanctuary Keepstars in lowsec.
Matterall has long supported the idea of Keepstars available for non-bloc aligned players to use, both as a place to store big ships, as well as a place to contract and sell them without fear of the all-too-common scams that New Eden is notorious for.
“[I]t’s about the players that want to live and exist around a Keepstar without having to choose a side or get involved in null politics,” Matterall noted on Reddit yesterday.
Despite Matterall’s desire for the Keepstar to exist as an island of freedom in the frothing sea of nullsec politics, the Keepstar couldn’t truly be called a “freeport” – a station open to all – because some members of the Imperium, like Goonswarm Federation, were denied access, often for making overt gestures against it. While the Keepstar has remained under the public ownership of Ghost Legion, although Matterall announced that the Keep was being transferred official to a “Talking in Stations Holding Corporation” so that any question of his ownership of the almost-a-freeport would be resolved.
“It’s not a ‘freeport’,” said Goonswarm Federation fleet commander and past Talking in Stations guest apple pear. “It’s a Keepstar with a guest list. That’s not a true freeport and people should stop calling it that. They just do [that] to try and be the sad person [whose] Keepstar in lowsec gets shot,” he said.
While Matterall and others have pushed for sanctuary Keepstars, the idea itself remains very controversial.
“I hate the concept of freeport lowsec Keepstars,” said Sort Dragon, the coalition leader for the Dead Coalition (formerly known as the Guardians of the Galaxy), a Northern-based PanFam ally. “They are everything EVE is not,” he argued.
Corebloodbrothers, a former CSM member and leader of ProviBloc’s Volition Cult alliance, noted “[h]aving lowsec safe zones no one can touch (often accessible from null) would mean null sec got safer with an asset safety of zero cost. Fly what you are willing to risk … los[ing].”
TheJudge, a current CSM member along with Sort Dragon and the author, as well as a former member of the CO2 Alliance, famed for having lost the first armed Keepstar in New Eden, has also argued against these kinds of open-to-most Keepstars. Despite claims that these Keepstars are neutral, he said “[i]t’s simply the landcape of EVE that nobody is 100% impartial and there is always going to be someone wanting to stomp on your sandcastle. I’m surprised this Keepstar has survived this long given how much of a strategic point it is.”
Matterall’s Aunenen Keepstar, while arguably held to the ideal of helping smaller alliances break into nullsec supercapital warfare, does represent a significant strategic asset, as TheJudge argued. Aunenen’s distance from the primary market hub in Jita – six gate jumps – makes it a key point for moving large amounts of material and equipment to Northern Coalition. and other PanFam controlled areas in the North and West of New Eden. It also is part of the jump routes through those areas of space that can be utilized by PanFam to move its supercapital fleets in relative safety to forward staging areas closer to places that are currently involved in the on-going war between Imperium and Legacy against PanFam aligned groups in Tenerefis in the South and the Cloud Ring/Fade/Deklein regions in the North.
Matterall acknowledged the concern, saying in a statement to the New Eden Report that the “Imperium sees it as a strategic midpoint, while NC sees it as a low sec station they tolerate on their border. The Sanctuary Keepstar is being used as a pawn between warring parties, but the attack is a hit to the morale of many independent players who want to access the higher gameplay of building, selling, living, without having to choose a side or play politics.”
Despite the strategic location, the fact remains that this is Matterall’s Keepstar, and his relationship with the Mittani and others in the senior leadership of the Imperium, as well as his own PanFam coalition, would seem to insulate him from the usual brutal nullsec politics he largely finds distasteful.
Those relationships, however, weren’t enough to keep the Imperium away from the Keepstar. Will they be enough to stop further assaults?
What happens next?
As news spread of the Keepstar being attacked, dozens of questions bloomed in the minds of capsuleers across New Eden.
Was this just a joke, or was it serious? The answer to that question isn’t clear. The Titan fleet that reinforced the Keepstar included a number of senior Imperium leadership including Merkelchen, a current CSM member, and leader of Goonswarm’s largest corporation, Karmafleet. It even included Carneros, a former CCP employee who leads the Imperium aligned Bastion alliance and is one of Matterall’s co-hosts on Talking in Stations, who made clear following the fight he was not aware of the target before arriving in system. Present as well in system to observe were the author, a current CSM member and avowed “Friend of Matterall,” as well as Dirk MacGirk, another Talking in Stations co-host and host of the Open Comms show on INN. While some treated the reinforcement as a joke, the willingness of the Imperium to dedicate a sizeable force of titans and supercarriers as well as a subcapital screening fleet that numbers more than forty vessels total is more than just what you would see in a fleet designed to troll an old friend.
Will the Imperium return to hit the Keepstar on its second, armor timer, and – more importantly, who, if any, will come to defend it? The answer to those question is equally unclear, although both Lady Scarlet and others within Northern Coalition. seem willing and ready to mount a defense. NC. forces scrambled to put together a response fleet to the Imperium force that attacked the Keepstar but was unable to move quickly enough to stop the Keepstar from being reinforced or to catch any of the Imperium ships before they returned to their forward staging in Cloud Ring.
Still, more questions are being asked and answers remain few and far between.
What impact will this have on Matterall’s relationship with the Imperium? Will it impact Talking in Stations? With Matterall having friends in various coalitions across New Eden, could a defense force made up of a variety of groups that are not aligned with each other but loyal to Matterall show up to defend it? Will the Mittani tell his forces to stand down? What is the future of “freeport” or “sanctuary” citadels in New Eden?
Rest assured, these questions will be answered sometime in the next week. The Keepstar’s second timer comes out on Tuesday, August 14, and if it is contested, the preparations for the battle will either soon be underway or will already have been completed. Like the fights in X47 and UALX, if PanFam and Imperium forces choose to make this Keepstar yet another round in their on-going war, the fight over Matterall’s Keepstar could be yet another glorious chapter written in the history of EVE warfare. Matterall himself has spent much of the day engaged in a furious round of diplomacy, trying to build a defensive team to save the station.
Thanks to the personalities, the history, the dynamics of the real relationships that lay behind EVE Online, what could have been just another day in New Eden and just another common event – a structure bash – takes on the kind of high drama and grit that makes EVE what it is: one of the most fascinating video games ever made.