EVE Evolved: The battle of Z9PP-H caught on camera

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EVE Evolved: The battle of Z9PP-H caught on camera
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If you're the kind of person who loves reading about the political shenanigans that go on inside EVE Online, you should be aware that a colossal war has erupted in the wake of the Odyssey expansion. The expansion redistributed the value of nullsec moons and gave the two largest alliances in the game, the Reddit-based TEST Alliance and Something Awful-spawned GoonSwarm Federation, a good excuse to go to full-scale war. Allies have piled in on either side, and nullsec has erupted into full-scale region takedowns, spy-jacking, and more of the lovely political tomfoolery we love to hear about.

EVE News 24 has been doing a good job of keeping players up to date on what's happening in nullsec, and its reporters are not the only ones keeping tabs on the war. Streamer Mad Ani has been setting up cameras in strategically important locations throughout the contested regions and providing live coverage of huge battles whenever they happen. A few days ago, the war came to a head in what could have been the deciding battle of the entire Fountain invasion. Over 4,000 people watched the stream as TEST's entire capital fleet of over 100 carriers was taking a pounding in Z9PP-H, when suddenly the server crashed and disconnected everyone in the fight.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at what happened in the battle of Z9PP-H, how CCP crashed its biggest piece of PR in months, and how player livestreams are changing the face of EVE Online for the better.

Game side imageThe battle that almost was

The battle of Z9PP-H was shaping up to be the most influential fight of the year. TEST Alliance has been making its stand in Fountain since the war began, and Z9PP-H has been a hotly contested staging system. Around 2,200 pilots clashed in the system on Thursday in a battle that could very well have ended the war. Things weren't going well for TEST Alliance, which had already lost an estimated 300 battleships and 30 carriers and had about 70 more capital ships locked down on the battlefield.

Losing the remaining capitals on the field would have cost TEST Alliance hundreds of billions of ISK and possibly led to losing territorial control over its systems in Fountain. But right at the peak of the battle, the server node that Z9PP-H was on reset and immediately disconnected all players in the system, sparing the remaining 70 carriers on the field. Players and onlookers immediately suspected foul play, as the disconnect message was "Node is being remapped" rather than the standard message delivered when a node dies from high load. Former CCP security expert Darius Johnson even weighed in, stating that this couldn't have been done by mistake or simply misclicking.

Game side imageCCP crashed its biggest piece of PR in months

Solar systems in EVE Online are run as separate processes on one of over a hundred individual server nodes managed by IBM. Since most systems are quiet most of the time, one server node can usually run a dozen solar systems without problem. But when a few thousand people unexpectedly pile into one solar system and start shooting each other, as happened with Z9PP-H and the famous Battle of Asakai, CCP needs a system to free up server resources for the system the battle is taking place in. That system is called node remapping, and it essentially involves moving all the quiet solar systems onto another server node. So what went wrong on Thursday?

To their credit, the developers responsible for the error immediately put their hands up and admitted that it was a case of human error. In a later statement on the forum, CCP admitted that developers had accidentally included Z9PP-H itself in the list of systems to remap to a new node, disconnecting everyone in the battle in the process. Seeing that over 4,000 people were watching livestreams of the battle, CCP attempted to reinforce the battle's node to keep the game playable and the stream looking good. Blogger Poetic Stanziel summed the fiasco up nicely when he said that developers had "crashed their biggest bit of PR since Asakai."

Game side imageLivestreaming EVE

In the wake of January's 3000-man Battle of Asakai that spread across the internet like wildfire, I wrote an article asking whether EVE Online had become something of a spectator sport. Part of what made the Battle of Asakai stand out was that there were livestreams, videos, and screenshots of the event. Five months on, millions of people now watch gaming livestreams every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of gameplay at a competitive level. I previously suggested that CCP should be cashing in on this trend by planting cameras in key strategic areas and battles as they progress, but now it seems that players have taken on this monumental task themselves.

EVE players have been streaming key battles from within the attacking fleets for years, but player Mad Ani has recently taken it to the next level with dedicated third-party war streams. He has set up cameras in key staging systems in nullsec, keeps track of all the system soverignty timers, and gets cameras on the field before many major battles. Streams like these keep the fleet movements of either side partly public knowledge, and they guarantee that the cameras will be in the right place at the right time when a huge battle breaks out.

Game side imageMad Ani's mad livestreams

I've been idling on Mad Ani's twitch channel for a few days now, and it's been a very interesting experience. I found the channel filled with the expected range of EVE players, from nullsec players keeping an eye on their neighbours to highsec-dwellers who want a glimpse of what they consider to be the endgame of EVE. But what I found the most interesting was the number of people watching who don't play EVE and just how many of them asked for advice about signing up a trial and getting started.

I once speculated that huge battles and streams are the best advertisement for EVE you could possibly have, and now there's some potential evidence for it. Fansites EVE-Offline and eveboard have been keeping track of the number of new pilots created in EVE for some time, and the trend up until the end of 2012 was looking rather sedate. Mad Ani launched his streaming service in January, and since then there have been noticeable spikes in new players created around several important event the channel has streamed. The biggest spike yet was during last month's 1,500-man territorial conflict in NOL-M9, a key strategic system in Delve.

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The tinfoil hat brigade has been out in force since the battle of Z9PP-H fell victim to an accidental node remapping mishap, but all evidence points to this being a genuine mistake. A clash like this had the potential to be the next Battle of Asakai and spread across the wider gaming media, so CCP would have had a lot more to lose than gain by intentionally shutting it down.

It seems that every time something big goes down in EVE and is caught on camera, whichever stream it's on goes viral and more people sign up to EVE. The events of the past few days have just served to convince me more than ever that EVE Online is becoming a full-on spectator sport, with livestreams offering an interesting window into a world that many have never managed or dared to penetrate.

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.
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