EVE On­line

How one mis­take turned EVE On­line’s dead­li­est hunters into corpses.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Steven Mess­ner

Ti­tans are the most ma­jes­tic things in EVE On­line. These colos­sal space­ships span up­wards of 18 kilo­me­ters in length and come equipped with dev­as­tat­ing‘ dooms­day’ weapons that can evis­cer­ate en­tire fleet sin one fell swoop. They take al­most a year of train­ing to fly, cost nearly 100 bil­lion ISK to build, and are the back­bone of any ma­jor EVE al­liance. And Rocket X kills them for a liv­ing.

meet Rocket in the me­dia room at EVEOn­line’s an­nual Fan­fest in Ice­land. For the av­er­age EVE player, nearly ev­ery minute of this week is spent re­unit­ing with corp­mates, drink­ing beer, and cel­e­brat­ing PC gam­ing’s daunt­ingly com­plex space­ship MMO. But my meet­ing with Rocket X has a dif­fer­ent, more som­bre tone. I’m here to talk about one of the most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments in his 13-year ca­reer as a pi­lot.

At 26 years old, Rocket has been play­ing EVE for half of his en­tire life. He’s a direc­tor in one of the game’s most sto­ried al­liances, Pan­demic Le­gion, and he per­son­ally heads up RekkingCrew, an in­fa­mous gang of tena­cious and sav­age Ti­tan killers. Com­posed of elite pi­lots from var­i­ous al­liances, RekkingCrew unites them for one pur­pose: The thrill of the hunt.

“We’re known be­ing one of the most pro­lific hunt­ing groups in the game,” Rocket says with a proud smile. “The way we look at the game, if we log out and we haven’t ru­ined some­one’s day, then we’ve not had a good day. When you lose one of these ships, it hurts. It’s six or seven hun­dred pounds of ship. It’s not like you pay a bit of gold in World­ofWar­craft and you get it back. It’s like crash­ing a car.”

Rocket and his crew play EVE in a way that only a hand­ful of peo­ple will ever ex­pe­ri­ence. As Su­per Cap­i­tal hunters, he and RekkingCrew don’t fight Ti­tans and their smaller sib­lings, Su­per­car­ri­ers, head-on. In­stead, they track them down, learn ev­ery­thing they can about the pi­lot in the cap­tain’s chair, and orches­trate elab­o­rate traps that spring so swiftly that, if it weren’t for the cou­ple mil­lion tons of float­ing wreck­age left be­hind, no one would know they were there. “It’s very in­ten­sive,” Rocket says. “A lot of it is re­search, fig­ur­ing out who some­one is, what times they log in, what they do and how they’re likely to re­act if you present them with a cer­tain sce­nario.”

Like a vir­tual Cap­tain Ahab, Rocket hunts EVE’s very own white whales. “It used to be some­thing that hadn’t re­ally been done,” he ex­plains. “Ti­tans and Su­per­car­ri­ers were al­ways viewed as ships owned by large al­liances, and you wouldn’t be able to kill them un­less you fought that al­liance di­rectly. But we set out in 2010 to prove they were as vul­ner­a­ble as any­one. We trans­formed it from some­thing that hap­pened oc­ca­sion­ally and made it a science.”

He tells me he once tracked a Ti­tan for three years be­fore fi­nally killing it. That ded­i­ca­tion to the hunt is what made him one of EVE’s most deadly pi­lots. To date, Rocket has de­stroyed 5,482 ships and only lost 39. The value of those de­stroyed ships is nearly 8 tril­lion ISK — al­most as much as EVE’s largest sin­gle bat­tle. De­spite this, these aren’t the first things I learn about Rocket. Dur­ing Fan­fest, a friend and fel­low EVE player ap­proached me. “I heard you were look­ing for sto­ries of be­trayal?” He said. “Well, I’ve got one that you have to hear.”

The nicked Nyx

It was in De­cem­ber last year when Rocket made a mis­take that cost him. Over Christ­mas, RekkingCrew mem­bers scouted a Su­per­car­rier-class ‘Nyx’ in­side the shields of an un­de­fended player-owned star­base. Called POSes, these tower-like struc­tures emit a force field where play­ers can camp out safe from the guns of their en­e­mies.

Though cheaper than a Ti­tan, Su­per­car­ri­ers are the sec­ond most pow­er­ful ships in EVE. Field­ing squadrons of deadly au­to­mated fight­ers, they’re a wor­thy prey. The only prob­lem was that this par­tic­u­lar Nyx, which Rocket de­scribes as “a green pan­cake with holes in it”, was un­touch­able be­hind the shields of the star­base. Given that most RekkingCrew mem­bers were en­joy­ing the Christ­mas break, Rocket didn’t think he could muster the num­bers needed to crack open the shields. “We just de­cided to shelf it for the time be­ing,” he ex­plains.

Then some­thing serendip­i­tous hap­pened. One of Rocket’s crew was ap­proached by a char­ac­ter named Bone­less Steve, from the nearby Cu­ra­tores Ver­i­tatis Al­liance (CVA), re­quest­ing an au­di­ence. “We’re not par­tic­u­larly hos­tile to CVA, we’ll shoot them if we get the chance, but we have noth­ing against them, so I was like, ‘Okay fine, what’s the deal?’” Rocket ex­plains. “So he says he had this Nyx, and it was stolen from him, and he doesn’t know where it is, but he knows which per­son took it.” It would be next to im­pos­si­ble to steal the Nyx back, so Bone­less Steve wanted it and the thief dead. Just like that, RekkingCrew had all the in­gre­di­ents they needed to set a trap. While they might lack the fire­power to bring the POS shields down, Rocket had a hunch that they could bait the Nyx into leav­ing its pro­tec­tion with Bone­less Steve’s help.

The plan was that Bone­less Steve would fly out to the POS in a bat­tle­ship and be­gin shoot­ing the shields. A bat­tle­ship is no threat to a Nyx, but it would ap­pear like Bone­less Steve was try­ing en­act some kind of re­venge. Rocket bet that the Nyx pi­lot would fly out be­yond the shields to de­stroy the bat­tle­ship, leav­ing RekkingCrew to pounce. It was a plan they had pulled off dozens of times.

But as Rocket should have known by this point, few things in EVE are ever serendip­i­tous.

Bait and tackle

On De­cem­ber 29, RekkingCrew set its trap. One by one, a dozen RekkingCrew pi­lots logged into mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters they would con­trol si­mul­ta­ne­ously. With just a Nyx on the menu, the team still needed five Nyx Su­per­car­ri­ers and a dozen smaller ships to ‘tackle’ the en­emy Nyx us­ing warp dis­rup­tion modules. And then there was the most im­por­tant ship of all, a sin­gle Bat­tle­ship-class Vindi­ca­tor.

Pi­lot­ing this Vindi­ca­tor, Rocket would ex­ploit one of EVE’s most un­usual game­play quirks. While ram­ming an en­emy ship does no dam­age, it can push them off course. It’s a tac­tic that play­ers have turned into an art that re­quires master­ful pi­lot­ing. Rocket tells me he was the only one he could trust to get it right.

When you lose one of these ships, it hurts

My stom­ach dropped out and I froze for a mo­ment

Us­ing his Vindi­ca­tor, he would re­peat­edly ram the Nyx, push­ing it fur­ther from the safety of the POS’s shields each time. Then, when there was no hope of the Su­per­car­rier mak­ing an es­cape, RekkingCrew would then call in the cal­vary.

But this was RekkingCrew; a lit­tle flair is al­ways nec­es­sary. The shin­ing gem of the RekkingCrew fleet was its Revenant—one of the rarest ships in the game. These bul­bous, alien-like Su­per­car­ri­ers can only be con­structed from a rare blue­print that drops from San­sha pi­rate Mother­ships that launch in­va­sions on var­i­ous star sys­tems. Revenants are es­ti­mated to cost a whop­ping 100 bil­lion ISK for the hull alone, and only five have ever been de­stroyed in EVE’s his­tory.

With the RekkingCrew fleet formed, all it needed was their bait, Bone­less Steve. Only he wasn’t ready. He said he needed some more time to pre­pare. For an hour, RekkingCrew waited.

When Bone­less Steve fi­nally ar­rived, it was with­out a ship. Frus­trated, Rocket gave him one of his own Do­minix bat­tle­ships. Bone­less Steve then jour­neyed out to the sys­tem of Hotho­mouh, where the Nyx was wait­ing, warped to the star­base, and un­leashed hell upon its shields. A cloaked scout in the sys­tem spoke up on comms: “The Nyx is mov­ing.”

On Rocket’s or­ders, the scout lit a cyno­sural bea­con. Sev­eral sys­tems away, a RekkingCrew Ti­tan locked onto the bea­con and opened a warp bridge through space that the fleet then en­tered. As the Nyx broke away from the shields and launched a squadron of fight­ers at Bone­less Steve’s Do­minix, a por­tal opened next to it. Led by Rocket in his Vindi­ca­tor, a small force of cruis­ers and bat­tle­ships flooded through. Rocket en­gaged his thrusters, charged the Nyx, and rammed it just as it be­gan to turn back to­wards the shields. “Once he was safely off and couldn’t get any­where, it seemed like an easy kill,” Rocket says, and shrugs.

Here comes the cavalry

A month af­ter talk­ing to Rocket, I man­age to track Bone­less Steve down. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Bone­less Steve is a burner char­ac­ter—a de­coy ac­count. His real name is Cate­lyn Stone­heart. The thief who stole the Nyx, named Hy Wanto De­stroyer, is a friend of his.

Both are mem­bers of Snuffed Out, an­other al­liance that, in its spare time, hunts Su­per­cap­i­tal ships. Only they play by a dif­fer­ent set of rules. While RekkingCrew of­ten re­lies on the kind­ness of strangers, Snuffed Out works from the in­side.

“Rocket’s guys walked around EVE like they were un­touch­able,” Cate­lyn says. “They needed to be put in check.” So Snuffed Out’s leader, Don­nieDarko, de­cided to hatch a plan.

When Rocket and his team sprung their trap, Bone­less Steve and Don­nieDarko sprung theirs.

Sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­ters from the POS, the stolen Nyx was as good as dead. Rocket then gave the or­der, and a sec­ond cyno­sural bea­con was lit. Again, the Ti­tan locked onto the bea­con and opened a bridge. A sec­ond wave of RekkingCrew Su­per­car­ri­ers warped through, led by the Revenant. They locked onto the Nyx, and just then, Rocket saw a third cyno­sural bea­con.

“Is that ours?” Rocket said. And then he got his an­swer.

A wave of 22 Heavy In­ter­dic­tion Cruis­ers ex­ploded through the warp bridge and launched their warp dis­rup­tion bub­bles. In sec­onds, the RekkingCrew fleet was trapped. Then came the cavalry: 53 Dread­noughts and 13 Car­ri­ers. “My stom­ach dropped out and I froze for a mo­ment,” Rocket ad­mits. “But as a fleet com­man­der, the worst thing you can do is freeze. You have to keep giv­ing in­struc­tions, and even if they’re the wrong ones you have to keep talk­ing.”

But the en­emy had brought nearly three times as many guns to the fight. As the Dread­noughts’ first salvo slashed through each Su­per­car­rier, Rocket spoke up on comms. “There’s noth­ing I can do, you’re all go­ing to die,” he said. “Just try and kill what you can.”

Ten min­utes later it was over. Be­ing in a Vindi­ca­tor, Rocket was one of the least threat­en­ing ships. “I had to sit and watch them die around me, and there was noth­ing I could do,” he says. “As a fleet com­man­der, that’s hor­ri­ble.”

Cate­lyn says that the team’s pi­lots be­gan lash­ing out at him, think­ing he was a spy. In an ironic twist, Rocket de­fended him, as he wasn’t con­vinced that Cate­lyn was at fault. “It was pretty hi­lar­i­ous,” Cate­lyn says with a laugh.

But there was more salt to the wound. On his over­view win­dow, where ships sig­na­tures are ar­ranged so pi­lots can make bet­ter sense of the play­ing field, Rocket saw the fleet had mem­bers from CVA. “That was just an­other kick in the teeth right there. The al­liance we thought we were help­ing was there to kill us.”

The stolen Nyx wasn’t the tar­get, RekkingCrew was. Rocket tells me only then he re­al­ized why Bone­less Steve took so long to meet them. He was stalling so Snuffed Out could form its fleet. By then, Bone­less Steve had ex­ited their comms and was long gone.

Snuffed Out did more than just de­flate one per­son’s ego, . Rocket con­fesses that this was RekkingCrew’s “first loss in six years”, and the EVE com­mu­nity took no­tice. Once the bat­tle was made pub­lic, Rocket says his in­box filled with peo­ple look­ing to gloat. More than just wounded pride, Snuffed Out’s trap cost Rocket and his crew a dev­as­tat­ing 300 bil­lion ISK. It took some RekkingCrew pi­lots weeks to re­build and get back into the cap­tain’s chair of new Su­per­car­ri­ers. The Revenant, which con­trib­uted to a third of the to­tal dam­ages, would likely never be re­placed. One of RekkingCrew’s Nyx crafts was fit­ted with ex­pen­sive ‘Of­fi­cer’ modules, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive Nyx kill in two years. “It’s a huge loss,” Rocket says. “To lose a Su­per Cap­i­tal, you’re one of a very se­lect group of peo­ple. A lot of my guys are still very bit­ter about it.”

I ask Rocket what went wrong, and he shrugs. “It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to al­ways make sure the in­for­ma­tion I have is cor­rect,” he says. In the af­ter­math, Rocket re­al­ized that his team­mate, who Bone­less Steve first con­tacted, never did a back­ground check. It was a mis­take that cost RekkingCrew bil­lions of ISK and its ‘un­touch­able’ rep­u­ta­tion. De­spite that, Rocket takes the blame. “When I made that call to tell them to jump in, that’s on me.”

“You have to com­mend [Snuffed Out],” he adds diplo­mat­i­cally. “There’s no way I can have any an­i­mos­ity against them, be­cause at the end of the day it’s a game and I got bested.”

Snuffed Out, how­ever, isn’t nearly as kind. “The only thing I re­gret,” Hy Wanto says with a sneer, “Is that I didn’t get the killing blow on Rocket.”

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