When I went out to null sec back in late 2011, it was not without some trepidation. I was going to join a friend out there and be part of a small corporation. In the social structure of New Eden, the corporation is often the most basic unit, a small group that identifies together, very much the guild analog in EVE Online.
But the game takes it beyond that, and above corporations there are alliances, which are groups of corporations that can band together under a unified banner in order to work together. Alliances are a meta-guild of sorts.
The players, ever ingenious, have managed to create their own social structures beyond what the game provides. I often speak of the Imperium and PanFam and PAPI and FI.RE. These are coalitions, alliances of alliances, an idea that has no official structure within the game. But CCP gave us enough tools through standings and such to make them possible.
And then there are informal groups, at least so far as the game is concerned, what we call SIGs and Squads in the Imperium, but which exist in other alliances and coalitions, which try to group up people with like interests so they can do things together.
This is somewhat relevant to my own tale in null sec, which started with my joining a small corporation, BSC Legion, back in December of 2011 and getting mixed up in the never ending tale of war and drama that is null sec space in New Eden. It may also relevant to where this post will go, though I won’t really know until I get there.
Back then the organization now known as the Imperium, at the time called the CFC, was a very different place. This was after the great war between Band of Brothers and Goons, and null sec was a mix of survivors of the war, successor organizations, and some new groups. It was very much the age of suspicion and spies and getting into a null sec corp required some thorough vetting and a vouch from somebody already in the corp.
And life in null sec was like a lot of other PvP games at the time. There was a lot of casual racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the usual bad tropes of “gamer” culture, with no real incentive to change and a lot of people set in their ways. The CEO of my first alliance, TNT, told us quite bluntly at one point that he would ban and blacklist anybody who complained to CCP about people posting porn in fleet chat, which was incredibly common at the time. An occasional FC would ask people to go make a porn channel to keep fleet chat clear, but that was a rare thing indeed.
It was the price of playing the game… because it wasn’t just null sec that was like that.
Then things changed. Sometime after the Fountain War Goonswarm and the CFC started to clean itself up. The cultural revolution was declared. A huge push was made to normalize better behavior. The name was change to the Imperium. We were no longer going to tolerate casual racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other toxic behavior within our ranks.
This was not an easy lift. There had been some efforts before to try to get people to tone down their behavior, at least in coalition level fleets, and it was met by a lot of push back. There are a lot of fragile young men out there who feel less than whole if they can’t been abusive. I recall many surly complaints about not being able to link porn in fleet chat or harass any female that showed up on voice chat.
But the cultural revolution, which was most loudly proclaimed by The Mittani, mostly succeeded. It was directed primarily at Goonswarm and coalition operations, so other alliances in the coalition did what they pleased on their own time. There had to be a second cultural revolution after the Casino War to stamp out corners of toxic behavior… a task made easier by the fact that the Imperium had shed some of the more toxic groups during the war… and some basic standard of behavior was created and enforced. I have been on fleets where somebody slips into that old toxic behavior only to have the fleet commander firmly remind them that “we don’t do that here.” It is always good to hear somebody in authority holding the line.
And I am sure somebody will point out that coalition member X said something toxic somewhere… in local, in the forums, on r/eve… and they are probably right. There is no way to police this sort of standard outside of coalition sponsored operations. But at least people could go on coalition operations and not be subject to that sort of thing. Life was better.
As for why this happened, there are probably a few reasons, not the least of which is that unchecked toxic behavior tends to drive out your best players over time.
But this time frame was also a point of change in null sec. Brave Newbies had showed up and, while not exactly a power house, demonstrated that an open recruitment policy and an eagerness to help new players could generate interest and put ships on grid.
In a game where “n+1” had long been the formula for victory, this simple method of recruiting people to fill fleets was a too good to pass up. We were also entering the “farms and fields” era of null sec, where defense of sovereignty would depend on the Activity Defense Multiplier. You would have to live in and use your space to make it defensible, and having more people made that easier. Also, there would no longer be “bad” space in null sec, systems whose true security gave them little value. Upgrades via infrastructure hubs would make any system viable for ratting, mining, and industry.
So the Imperium copied the Brave formula, grabbing some of their leadership along the way, and set about recreating it in the form of KarmaFleet. Goonswarm already had a fairly strong training and informational program for new players, so this was expanded and evolved to handle new recruits that wanted to go to null sec.
All of this was a large set of changes to the organization, and it is hard to imagine that they could have occurred without somebody as driven and frankly ruthless as The Mittani championing them. He had been out in front of this declaring that we shouldn’t be shitty to each other. We were all in this together and should look out for and support each other.
This is the sort of thing that builds the bonds that gets people to hold out for more than a year against three to one odds, as happened in World War Bee.
So there has been a strong belief that, no matter what our foes say, that we’re the good guys, demonstrably better people than those who attack us.
Which isn’t to say that everything was perfect. Individuals will be jerks of their own accord.
And so it was that somebody in the coalition was stalking and harassing one of their female corp mates. The corporation diplomats asked the coalition to ban and blacklist that person, but the coalition wanted more information. The victim of the harassment sent more information, however nothing happened for four months, so she began complaining in the alliance forum about it to get attention.
This got the attention desired and the harasser was banned.
But so was the victim.
That was obviously wrong and the victim was unbanned.
If that were it, and my summation here is grossly simplified, it would have been bad but something to be learned from. Mistakes get made, but they are only wasted if we fail to use them to improve. The first I heard about any of this was a ping went out about the coalition needing a harassment policy because part of the excuse was that people handling this were not sure what to do.
But then people who were calling for the victim to be unbanned then got banned. The victim and their defenders were banned for drama.
And there was The Mittani, in the middle of this, banning people, blaming the victim, and generally being an ass. Quotes from him, posted all over r/eve, were the first thing I saw that made me feel that something was really wrong.
As more leaks came out I really began to think it might be time to leave. This wasn’t what we fought for in the past. I started calculating in my head what I ought to do to get out… sell my caps, ship smaller stuff to Jita… and be done with it. This was not where the cultural revolution was supposed to lead us… or rather, it seemed to be pointing out that being better only applied to line members, that those in power could continue to behave badly behind closed doors, something we see all to often in the real world where rules only apply to those down the food chain.
That was on Wednesday evening, and I mulled it over on Thursday as more leaks sprung revealing what was going on at the top.
Then, Friday morning, The Mittani resigned. He put out a statement that was posted over at INN about his reasons for leaving, highlighting people dragging his personal life into the fray. And that was no doubt so. He has made a lot of enemies and there are a host of people on r/eve and Something Awful that will drag him at every opportunity.
But there isn’t anybody outside of the Imperium who can take credit for this, though they are trying to.
The call came from inside the house.
This was an internal revolt. When leadership chats are leaking, it is because people are not happy inside and they can’t see being able to make any change without going public.
So The Mittani has stepped down, handed over the keys to the alliance, driven there, arguably, by the cultural revolution he championed years back.
What happens next? That remains to be seen. Internal dissent won’t be quelled by shuffling the deck chairs. But there are also people who feel The Mittani did no wrong, some still in leadership positions. Goon unity is an illusion, except when people bunch us into a collective group to take a swing at us. Outside attacks bring us together. But left to our own the Imperium is a large and diverse group and no stereotype fits.
And how does the Imperium and Goonswarm Federation move forward from this?
The Mittani has often openly declared the organization to be an autocracy, and like its real world counterparts, it had a strong and recognizable main leader and then a host of others doing the real work mostly behind the scenes. That means that there is no immediate and obvious heir to the leadership role. Some care takers have taken over the main roles, but there isn’t anybody at the top now whose voice I would recognize on coms, much less know what they really do in the Coalition.
All of this has happened not too long after the ten year anniversary of the notorious “wizard hat” incident when The Mittani encouraged people during his alliance panel presentation to harass a player who claimed to be suicidal. The Mittani apologized the next day and attempted to make good with the player in question, but CCP revoked his election to CSM 7 and banned him from the game for 30 days.
Anyway, that was an unexpected turn at the end of a disappointing week. And, as often happens with EVE Online, now I feel I have to stick around just to find out what happens next. I do not expect that there will be much immediate impact. The wheels of the coalition will continue to grind on, I will still log in and fly with the same people in the same time slots and the same SIGs that I usually do.
But this could lead to a dramatic change over time. Leaders of Goonswarm have generally left their mark on the organization, and none have led as long as The Mittani, so what happens next remains to be seen.