Spies In Faction War
Author: Wendi Wu
It was a Friday evening in Huola. The Arzad Minmatar (CTRL-Q and Angry Mustelid) had been camping the Kourmonen gate along with a handful of Gallente destroyers and so my corp formed up to go after them. The Minmatar withdrew back to Arzad as soon as they saw us coming. They didn’t tell the Gallente. Several dead destroyers later, Huola was clear of war targets and we went looking for something else to shoot.
Scouts in Arzad started to report that the Minmatar fleet was reshipping and getting reinforcements, so we formed up our own fleet to counter them. As we went through the usual form-up delays, though, we began to notice something odd. Whenever our FC gave an order on Ventrilo to change fleet composition the Minmatar fleet would suddenly halt and go back to Arzad station to reship.
It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. There was a pilot in fleet from the 24th Imperial Crusade, Seirscha Valentine, who nobody seemed to know and who wasn’t talking on comms. Further investigation revealed that Seirscha was in a rookie ship in Tannakan, at which point a general feeling of disgust went through the fleet. We’d had a spy listening to our voice comms for the last 15 minutes, which meant the Minnie fleet knew exactly what we had and how few of our pilots had heavy ships avaiable. As soon as Seirscha was booted the battleship-heavy Minmatar fleet began moving out from Arzad, heading slowly towards Kourmonen.
Given that the Minmatar had more battleships than we had people in fleet and given that less than a third of the people in our fleet had battleships, fighting them wasn’t on the cards. The rest of our fleet ship down while I stay in my Crow, hanging a few hundred klicks off the Lamaa gate. A few minutes later Zenton Karvash shows up in a Navy battleship with a group of Guardians and escort ships designed to look just small enough to be vulnerable. I’m not fooled: I know what’s on the other side of that gate. When I don’t engage Zenton starts talking in local.
Zenton Karvash > call a shipup to bs on comms then run off ZzZ
Zenton Karvash > get your fuckign ships we’re here
Zenton Karvash > lets do this
Wendi Wu > Zent, a friendly hint: if you want to get big fights putting spies on enemy comms is not a great way to do it. 😛
Zenton Karvash >
Zenton Karvash > tis
The Minmatar chased us for another hour, but the lumbering battleships couldn’t catch our cruisers and frigates. We got another half-dozen kills before logging for the night.
Although our kill ratio for the night had been nearly perfect, several people left the fleet in a bad mood and I found myself thinking about it over the next few days. Next week one of the EVE blogs I follow posted a story of another fleet roam which had ended badly due to a spy, and it got me thinking about spies in FW in general.
I don’t have a spy alt in the Minmatar Militia, and as far as I know nobody in my corp ZERO HEAVY INDUSTRIES has one either. I can’t speak for my corpmates, but for me there’s nothing a spy could tell me that I’d be interested in. I don’t fly in the Amarr Militia for ISK or for territory or for RP, I fly for the sake of combat and to practise my skills to become as good a pilot as I can possibly be. The combat doesn’t need a purpose: it’s it’s own purpose, and spying would just be a distraction. The fight is everything.
There’s a second reason I don’t like spies: it feels like a vaguely shady sort of thing to do. When I log on to EVE fleet comms after a day’s work I want to relax and chat with my corpmates and generally let my hair down. I don’t like the idea that someone could be eavesdropping on what’s supposed to be a private conversation, I don’t like lying to someone over something as trivial as a computer game, and I don’t want to get involved in the general culture of suspicion and paranoia that spies tend to produce. I don’t like it when other people do it to me, so I don’t do it to other people either. Yeah, yeah, I know, “it’s part of the game”. Acting like a douche is part of the game too.
On top of that, spies are a bad way to get fights. Few things kill a fleet’s enthusiasm faster than knowing they’ve got spies on comms and corps that use them too much will get reactions of “if you’re going to act like this then **** you, we’ll go do something else.” CTRL-Q and Angry Mustelid have started to get a reputation for this and the couple of times over the past week that they’ve brought a big fleet into Kourmonen the Amarr have simply ignored them and waited for them to go away, which is really the cruellest thing you can do to a PvP fleet.
But there’s another reason I don’t think spies are a good idea, and it ties into FW as a whole.
The Decline of FW
FW used to be much bigger than it is today. As recently as six months ago when I joined FW, I’d see fleets of 100+ Amarr ships slugging it out with the same number of Minnies. Nowadays a fleet of 30+ is rare and anything with over 50 is almost unheard of.
Most of this is probably the fault of CCP. FW has been suffering from years of neglect, and despite Hans’ efforts on the forums there have been few signs that anything will change (though the plex fix is a good start). For a long time vets have been drifting away from FW. But there are newbies out there who want to do PvP and small gang warfare and supporting their faction and everything else that comes with FW. They join the Tribal Liberation Force or the 24th Imperial Crusade or the Federal Defence Union or the State Protectorate and once they’ve joined they pipe up in the Militia channel asking to join a fleet.
And they get treated like crap.
Because everyone assumes they’re a spy.
Trying to get accepted into the PvP “inner circle” of a FW militia nowadays is a nightmare. The main way spies get into fleets is through fleets that are open to general militia (like our one was in the story I just told). After a few experiences like this most FW corps stop running open fleets – but those open fleets are often the only fleets that new FW pilots can join! This has made FW’s recruitment system like Fight Club where newbies have to stand on the doorstep and take shit for however many days or weeks it takes for the people inside to decide they’ve taken enough shit to be allowed in. Occasionally a new pilot is patient enough to break in – I did – but how many would-be PvPers try this for a while before giving up and going off to join a pirate corp or Red vs Blue or a nullsec alliance instead? I don’t know but my guess is that it’s a hell of a lot.
The problem is that in each case it’s the other militia that causes the suspicion. The Minmatar spy on the Amarr because the Amarr are all evil scum who deserve to die (and anyway they do it to us). The Amarr spy on the Minmatar because the Minmatar are all evil scum who deserve to die (and anyway they do it to us). There’s no motivation for either side to treat their opponents better because they’re enemies – what helps the Minmatar hurts the Amarr and what’s good for the Amarr is bad for the Minmatar, right?
The truth is that the opposing militias depend on each other. The Minmatar need the Amarr as an enemy to fight, and vice versa. If either militia vanished the opposing militia wouldn’t last a month – without war targets FW is just a more restrictive kind of lowsec piracy.
And this means that in the long-term spying actually hurts your own militia, by driving off the enemy newbies that are your future food source. Sure, in the short-term it might win you a fight. But the only way you can get fights is if there are people willing to undock and give you fights, and the more of a spy culture there is, the less that’s going to happen.
What to Do
I think FW needs more people, and to do that FW needs to be able to recruit and keep newbies. So how to deal with the spy problem?
In the long run the only way spies are going to fall out of fashion is if the militias police themselves. If some bittervet wants to make a spy alt, the rest of the militia can’t stop him peeing in the pool – it’s not like we can revoke the guy’s membership. But we can tell him not to use it, and we can refuse to fleet with or help him if he doesn’t listen. When spies are used in fleet actions, it’s generally with the approval of the FC – if the major Amarr/Minmatar FCs make it clear that people who used spies aren’t welcome in their fleets, I think spy use will drop pretty fast.
In the short-term, though, people on both sides can help by trying a lot harder to welcome newbies in the Militia channel. Sure, some are spies, but most aren’t. And the newbie you help today might be someone who you need a favour from somewhere down the line.
In the end what we make of FW, just like so many other things in EVE, is up to us.