EVE Evolved: Is EVE becoming a spectator sport?

EVE Evolved title image
This week saw another landmark event in EVE Online grab the gaming community's attention as over 3,000 players from dozens of alliances battled it out in the lowsec system of Asakai on the Caldari border. The battle reached 2,800 concurrent players at peak, falling just short of 2011's record-breaking siege of LXQ2-T which hit 3,110 simultaneous combatants at its peak. There were livestreams, tons of after-action reports, and the story of this immense battle started by one man clicking the wrong button really captured our imaginations.

EVE is one of those rare cases in which a lot of people find the media that surrounds the game more fun than the game itself. News of big in-game events like scams, heists, and huge battles spreads across the internet like wildfire, even among people who hate the game or have never tried it. When news of the Asakai battle emerged, someone on Reddit suggested that people should play EVE for only a few months to get some background and then quit and just read the stories. I've seen a lot of similar comments over the years saying that EVE is more fun to watch and read about than play, and it makes me wonder if the game is becoming a bit of a spectator sport.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at why stories like the Battle of Asakai are so pervasive and explain why I think EVE should embrace its role as a spectator sport.

EVE Evolved side imageThe battle of Asakai

The Battle of Asakai started out as a starbase siege in the Caldari faction warfare border region of Black Rise. GoonSwarm assembled a fleet of subcapital ships and planned to use a titan's jump bridge to send them into the fight, but the titan pilot accidentally clicked the "Jump" button instead of "Jump Bridge" and found himself in the middle of the battle on his own. The battle quickly escalated, with ships on one side scrambling to kill the titan and reinforcements on the other side trying to save it. The entire battle essentially happened because one titan pilot clicked the wrong button.

The Battle of Asakai got so out of control because of the immense lure of killing a titan. Titans cost over 60 billion ISK and take three months to build, so just being part of a battle in which one dies is extremely enticing. Large-scale PvP is a game of strategy in which opponents bait each other to show their hands first and commit resources to a fight only when the odds are in their favour. When that first unprotected titan mistakenly jumped right into Asakai, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. It forced both sides to immediately show their hands, raise the alarm, and get everyone they could into the fight.


EVE Evolved side imageWhy do we love the stories so much?

It can't have escaped anyone's attention that in recent years the gaming media has moved from publishing mostly news and reviews to including a lot more opinion, shocking stories, and inside looks at game development. Gaming has just become so huge in recent years that it's developed the same voyeuristic draw as every other form of media. We're no longer content to just play games; now we want to consume the stories and personalities behind them and identify as being part of game communities.

This is part of the reason that Kickstarter is so popular: It not only gives us a peek behind the curtain of game development but invites us back there. In the same way, these crazy EVE stories give the average gamer a peek behind the curtain of EVE's ordinarily difficult-to-pierce exterior. It's precisely because EVE is difficult to get into that stories about it are so pervasive, particularly if they can be made more relatable by a compelling narrative or real-world comparison.

EVE Evolved side imageWatching a train wreck

A huge 3,000-man battle is interesting news in itself, but the real draw for Asakai was that it happened by accident and there were screenshots and video streams. Pretty much every big EVE story follows that same loose narrative: "There's a huge trainwreck happening and we have pictures!" Readers are simultaneously in awe at the scale of these events and glad that they weren't the victim, both of which are made more poignant by roughly converting the in-game damage into real-world dollars. For example, over $22,800 US worth of ships were destroyed in the Battle of Asakai.

In the context of events like this, EVE's much-mocked "I was there" marketing campaign is actually pretty damn clever. It tells people that these awesome events they're reading about are even more awesome if you're there in person. Whether you survived the trainwreck or caused it, you'll have a unique experience and a story to tell that you won't soon forget. Unfortunately, it's not always clear to onlookers how exactly they can get involved in these kinds of events once they sign up.

EVE Evolved side imageBecoming a spectator sport

Now that we've had a major battle with Time Dilation active, we know that the servers will hold up in fights of this scale. It occurs to me, though, that CCP could use Time Dilation to its advantage by livestreaming big battles in slow motion as they occur. With Time Dilation fully active in the largest scale of battles, six minutes of actual combat will expand into up to an hour of real time. That gives an hour-long opportunity to publicise an epic battle that would ordinarily not last long enough to gather an audience. All that's left is to give people something to watch by adding a few livestreams.

EVE News 24 does a fantastic job of covering all of the big events, political movements, and alliance warfare in EVE, and the site even embeds livestreams of some battles. The community quickly makes these fights public knowledge already when they happen and people are already trying to stream them, so I think it's time CCP stepped in to provide official coverage. CCP can easily inject a GM in a cloaked camera ship into any system and has a vast social network through which to publicise big fights, so why not leverage those abilities and embrace EVE's slowly growing role as a spectator sport?

EVE Evolved title image
There's something about huge ship kills, heists, and scams that just draws the gaming public's attention, whether it's the appeal of getting to peek behind the curtain at EVE's normally impenetrable community or just the draw of watching a train wreck in slow motion. The gaming public and media have shown that big events like this catch people's attention, and the EVE community does its best to document and promote big fights like the Battle of Asakai.

I think it's time that CCP stepped in with some official support for publicising awesome events like this. It would be incredible if some day every major battle were a live public spectacle and those battles could be recorded, replayed and analysed by the community. Isn't it time that EVE embraced its role as a spectator sport?

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.