Shady Casino Bankers Are Funding an Enormous Online Space War

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There’s an enormous war going on as we speak. A shady consortium of casino bankers is funding a rebel coalition’s desperate fight against an arrogant would-be empire. In space. Not real space — in the space of Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online game (or MMO) whose enormous, intricate battles gather thousands of players and cost real-world money. As you check your email and surf Twitter and Facebook in your corner of the web, people around the world are gearing up for battle in another. 

This week, what is potentially the largest war in Eve history kicked off with what might be its biggest battle ever. The war revolves around resentment and animosity toward the largest of the game’s many organized alliances, the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC), which recently dubbed itself the Imperium and began, in the style of a classic empire, demanding its neighboring territories swear fealty and pay taxes. “Over the past few years” — yes, Eve’s ongoing power struggles span years — “a growing sense of unease has been brewing among the Eve community,” writes Polygon. Among them: “a series of tithing agreements, whereby The Imperium allowed other player-led coalitions to pay them regular sums of money in exchange for ‘protection.’”

If this sounds hugely nerdy, it is. Eve is an extremely popular game, but its complexity also makes it difficult to begin playing, or to even explain in simple terms. It’s notoriously intricate and, in many ways, boring; Game play is a lot more outfitting and allocating resources, and a lot less pretending you’re flying a spaceship. (If you’re curious, there’s an enormous body of YouTube videos showing people playing the game.) It’s often referred to as a “spreadsheet simulator,” since the highest level of play tends to involve administering its complex systems. Players at its highest level spend more time managing their teams and factions outside of the actual game client than actually playing. But this nerdy complexity also makes it fascinating. Unlike more individualized MMOs like World of Warcraft, Eve, with its complex alliances and power struggles, has, in a real way, a history. When fights flare up and ships are destroyed permanently, the cost of battles can often be measured in real-world value.

So the main thing to know is that thousands of people are coordinating enormous space fights that might actually cost them real-world money.

Recently, the CFC tried to take over a supposedly weaker area of space known as Low Sec, but they went in unprepared and got their butts whooped. At this point, many other factions realized that if they put aside their differences and went after CFC together, they might be able to free themselves from the yoke of the Imperium. These groups banded together to form Low Sec Voltron (LSV).

This apparent demonstration of CFC’s weakness also attracted the attention of I Want Isk, a gambling organization that runs a third-party casino at which players can gamble Eve’s in-game virtual currency, Isk. IWI was already engaged in a dispute with some subgroups of CFC, and had been hiring mercenaries to attack them; now, in the wake of CFC’s surprising defeat, the casino moguls have elected to bankroll the Low Sec Voltron crew — now banded together as Money Badger Coalition.

So, to recap: A powerful online casino is bankrolling a scrappy uprising against the most powerful coalition in the Eve galaxy, and thousands of players (and thousands of dollars) are at stake. And it’s not over yet. Isn’t the internet cool? 

Just in case none of that made sense, here’s how the excellent Reddit primer on the matter describes it:

Big War.

Big group attack little group.

Little group win.

Little group attack big group.

Everyone attack big group now.

Big group losing. Badly.