[UPDATE: I have added a few updates to the article, in brackets like this one. These updates are clarifications from readers where I had incorrect information or understanding of events.]
To those who are watching this sort of thing, Citadels and Wormholes are in the midst of an interesting relationship. That relationship, as best I can tell, is that if you try to put up a Fortizar in a wormhole, a few groups will do whatever they can to come knock it down in the fifteen minute vulnerability window following the anchoring timer. As of writing, 13 Fortizars have been destroyed in wormhole space. Some combination of Hard Knocks, Of Sound Mind, and Lazerhawks have been involved in most of these kills. This article recounts the birth and death of my corp’s first Fortizar.
To those unaware, any citadel is completely vulnerable and unable to have modules fit or fighters loaded for a minimum of fifteen minutes after the anchoring timer ends. At the end of the fifteen minutes the citadel fully regenerates the hull, armor and shield, and you can fit and load your modules, weapons, and fighters. This is why you see so many citadel kills where the structure is not yet fit. The smart attackers go after what are essentially giant EHP pools with no defenses. This approach makes sense, as Fortizar is a big prize to take, and a much easier prize to take if it has no modules fit.
Notes for the historical record: By my estimation New Jovian Exploration Department (my corp, part of the alliance A Band Apart) anchored the third and lost the second Fortizar in wormhole space. We suffered the third Fortizar loss in Eve. That is kind of nifty, a sort of booby prize. I could be wrong about the count of Fortizars, but outside of Hard Knocks, I know of no other successfully anchored wormhole Fortizar at the time we launched our own.
[UPDATE: This may be incorrect. I cannot verify that I am wrong, but I have been told there may have been three successfully anchored Fortizars at that time.]
So, here is the story.
Farms and Forges
First, the historical color.
Months ago, when citadels were announced, we knew we wanted to build one. Why build a citadel? For the cool factor, for the market capabilities (markets in wormholes, if they ever end up happening, will be amazing), for the simplification of organizing assets, and because we figured out we could. This is a game, let’s have some fun and build our castles in the sky! We eagerly awaited concrete details on the nuts and bolts of putting these newfangled deathtraps together.
Eventually the build requirements came out. One of our spreadsheet wizards whipped up the requirements and we went open season on PI. Between the time material requirements were released and the launch of citadels on Tranquility a large portion of the corp dutifully farmed and donated the vast majority of PI required for a Fortizar. A group of mining aficionados toiled in the anomaly belts to get the bulk of minerals for rigs, missiles, and other parts of the build. This Fortizar was going to be built by our own hands and our own labor. Why? Because why not build it ourselves. There is something wonderful about wormholes where you can make almost any item in the game from the base materials, harvested from your own hole or chain. So that would be how we created our castle.
We got our space collectivism on, harvested most of the materials, bought a few extra bits here and there. Once the BPC prices for Fortizars dropped to a non-ludicrous level, we picked up a BPC and built the Fortizar. It was built on site, which is also kind of cool. We built the ammunition and some of the fittings and bought others. Then, we had to decide when and where to anchor it.
We created a home defense doctrine that almost all of our members could use. Our corp has a wide range of accumulated SP, so any comprehensive doctrine could not revolve around T3 cruisers or HACs. We had some practice hole rolling sessions. We waited for a good weekend where we thought we could get most of our people on in case bad things happened. And then we pulled a surprise on our members. With almost no warning we launched an Astrahus to see how quickly our people could form up, and to see what sort of competition would come knocking. This decision ended up being either the best or worst thing we did.
A group did come to try and take the Astrahus. While I was not present for this fight, we took out the home defense doctrine (Abbadons, Guardians and a few other things), and we fought off the invaders rather handily. Fun was had, an Astrahus was launched and fitted, and we had a citadel. Hooray!
But the one big drawback of the Astrahus is that it cannot hold a market. In wormhole space, having a market is a tantalizing carrot. Imagine no more loot shuffling between cans in hangars, no leaving crap lying around, just the simple beauty of buy and sell orders between the corp and individual players. It would be wonderful, and remove a huge portion of the risk involved in communal hangars. Also, it would be cool. And the Fortizar is a damn fine looking building too.
So we launched. We launched the Fortizar on a Thursday night (US TZ). The thought process was that by cutting off most of the anchoring time during the US and European workday, we would be rather insulated from someone coming in. People have to work, right? Here is where we can start using that perfect hindsight to see what went wrong.
For anyone who lives in or who has fought in wormholes, the concept of hole control is paramount. Hole control, simply put, is keeping all connections into or out of your wormhole collapsed, controlled, or otherwise managed to severely limit an opponent’s ability to get ships in. Even a single scout inside your system can result in an inability to completely lock the system down. This is due to the idiosyncrasies of wormhole mechanics.
Each wormhole system has one or two “Static” connections. These are wormholes that are always present and always connect to a specific class of space. This is what people mean when they say “C3 C2 static” or “C4 HS/C4”. When a static wormhole collapses, a new signature (that is a wormhole) spawns. If no one warps to this new wormhole, it stays closed for a while, but has an increasing chance of randomly opening up the connection as time goes on. There are also “wandering” wormholes, which are other, random connections between wormholes beyond the statics.
Wormholes themselves each have specific variables for the amount of mass that can jump individually and in total, and a time frame before the wormhole collapses anyway. Exceed the time or mass, and the wormhole disappears. If it is a static, a new one will spawn and needs to be scanned down. Just for fun, the maximum mass and time variables have about a 10% variance to keep things interesting.
Hole control is managing these wormholes. There are a few ways to do this. The first is keeping new wormholes unspawned. This method is risky both because if there is a scout in your hole it won’t work, and because the wormhole can still spawn while you aren’t looking. The second is rage rolling, where you continually scan down, collapse, repeat. This is very good, but requires constant piloting and coordination. The third method is to “crit” your holes down to the verge of collapsing by mass and monitor them, then collapse if needed. This is decent. By criting the hole, you limit how many assailants can get in, and you can quickly close the hole in an emergency. At most you risk locking one player in a battleship out. Regardless of which method you use, the process is continuous and requires constant attention to be effective.
Controlling Our Holes
We started out doing pretty well on hole control. As best I can tell (I was not there for the whole 24 hour anchoring) we kept the holes crit or rage rolled from Thursday night through Friday mid-day. By this point we were down to a smaller EU crew. This is also where things get hazy.
At some point during the day, three things probably happened roughly as I am about to describe. I’ll give them in order of certainty. At some point our crew of rollers got tired after rolling for a few hours straight and took a break with the intention of monitoring the holes. Second, one or two members of the corp decided to go out into the C3 static and run a few sites. Third, a hostile scout was either seeded or logged off in our hole, or a wandering hole opened creating a third entrance. All three of these are bad events from our perspective.
[UPDATE: I have been informed that the EU members were not aware we were attempting absolute hole control. That is a failure of communication amongst our leadership.]
The first two mean that our corp essentially gave up hole control, which is squarely on us. Due to the small EUTZ contingent we have, and who were present at that time, it is very hard to verify who did what without someone saying “I stopped rolling” or “I went to rat instead of watch the holes”. As you can imagine, admitting to either of those is not very appealing. As best I can tell it was a combination of the two events concerning different people.
The third event is muddled. The Reddit thread for this event implies either or both scenarios occurred: A third party (Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate) had a scout left in our hole by happenstance, and/or the third party or Hard Knocks rolled into us. The result is the same. Hard Knocks was notified and mobilized. This is where the outcome starts to calcify.
Hard Knocks was able to look at our killboards and see the Abbadon fleet we used. This allowed them to bring in a hard counter, Sleipnirs that exactly matched against our damage profile. With an opening in hole control, HK was also able to get in a fleet and establish control of our holes.
We found out about HK in our hole when we noticed a medium control tower go up. This is standard staging practice in wormholes. If you expect to be in a big fight it helps to have a location you can retreat to or resupply from.
We starting looking for help because we cannot stand toe to toe with HK in doctrines. HK was also getting support from Of Sound Mind, and the numbers were not looking good. Were it just HK, we had numerical superiority, but adding in OSM negated that advantage. But when you do not have hole control, it is quite hard to get reinforcements in. Especially when you only have a handful of people able to be online and in game to keep up with the chain info and coordinate things. Another concern is if your reinforcements actually reinforcing you, or are they going to help the other guy?
Either way, we were able to stage about 72 pilots from NJED and our greater alliance, and got support in waiting from about 16 other pilots from Wrong Hole., DART, The Maythorn, and We’re Happy in Wormhole Space. At the same time, HK had about 56 pilots and got support from a 28 man Ishtar and Vexor Navy Issue fleet from Of Sound Mind. According to our side of the events we decided to take a fight to the wormhole to try and get our supporters in and break, hold off, or otherwise disrupt HK and Friends to the point where we could ride out the vulnerability timer. From HK’s account, they ceded hole control to allow the biggest fight they thought they were going to get.
Either way, our fleet of Abbadons, Dominixs and Guardians, with a few ECM Scorpions and myself in a HIC warped to the high sec static. We got the bubble up and the battle began. The HK and friends fleet was off the hole, trying to pull range. The HK fleet was a mix of Sleipnirs, VNIs, Scimitars, and a grab bag of HICs, HACs, and Force Recon ships. We had some initial success. Apparently we took out the FC for the HK fleet (completely random target calling there), and popped a few other ships. However, one of our allies was coming in with command destroyers. They jumped into our system, and accidentally warped half our fleet off the wormhole.
In complete fairness, this likely had no impact on the final outcome. But splitting our fleet did end up creating a less than desirable situation. I was in the group that got moved, and my bubble was up. This means we had to slowboat back to the hole to try and get our logi back in order, and we never recovered. With an inability to coordinate logi or our own DPS on the opponent’s logi, we rapidly feel behind and started losing ships without inflicting further losses ourselves. Their logi was able to warp in and out, preventing us from dealing the heavy punches needed to disable coordinated support.
As we began to lose pilots, the initial casualties were able to warp back to our Astrahus and reship. However the time it took to re-consolidate on the hole gave HK a chance to get their own bubble in place and begin catching pods. As it was clear our fleet was breaking, HK collapsed the already crit hole in order to lock our podded pilots out.
While we scanned down the new high sec, HK proceeded to the now vulnerable Fortizar, and sent a small contingent to the new static to catch anyone coming back in. Those remaining, perhaps 20 or so pilots, did reship into fresh Abbadons and we proceeded to make a final stand below our now besieged Fortizar. This was more of a symbolic stand. Losing the fight on the defunct high sec lost the fight for the Fortizar. Eventually most all of the NJED pilots on the nascent citadel were killed and podded out. Many of us came back, and HK did get some of our guys in to tag our citadel, so you’ll see a few NJED names on that killmail. The third Fortizar loss in Eve happened about 20 minutes after the last stand concluded.
Afterwards HK and friends left, and we ended up clearing the medium tower later.
The final battle report for the night shows that the invaders consisted of Hard Knocks (56), Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate (1) and Of Sound Mind (29) for a total of 86 pilots losing 8 ships worth 2.2b. The defenders were A Band Apart (73), Discrete Astrographic Reconnaissance Technologies (10), The Maythorn (1), We’re Happy in Wormhole Space (2) and Wrong Hole. (4) for a total of 90 pilots losing 156 ships and one Fortizar, worth 47.1b.
So, what did we learn? We learned that our corp, with some help from our alliance, can pull together a sizeable fleet. NJED pulled in the bulk of our fleet, and our alliance mates brought in another 10-20 pilots. We also learned we need that fleet staged sooner and better.
We learned that in a set-piece battle such as this, we need to get allies in earlier if we are going to rely on third parties for support. We also need to coordinate with those groups more effectively. Numerically we were in the superior force. Had we been able to control the command destroyer wrap better, or had we made sure our allies were in complementary ships, the battle may have flowed differently.
We learned that we need multiple doctrines to prevent a hard counter. The Sleipnirs HK used had their resist profile at roughly 89% EM and 82% Thermal, so our Abbadons were shooting into their strongest denfense. Multiple doctrines on hand utilizing different damage profiles may have helped use break a few key logistics ships early on. We put many of their logi deep into shield and armor multiple times, but were unable to clear them from the field before the next rep cycle landed.
Most critically, we failed to maintain hole control. The short gap in hole control allowed HK the opportunity to turn the tables, stage a POS, and take control themselves. This is the most direct cause, in my analysis, of how we lost the Fortizar. By that lapse, we allowed an invader the chance to stage, and we lost any chance at defending against a group with the organization, capability, and numerical size Hard Knocks possesses.
The most tantalizing thing to think is what if this had been a fight between just ABA and Hard Knocks? I realize this is absolutely not how wormholes work. Any set-piece battle will have both sides looking for help and rightfully calling in whoever they can. But considering the case is interesting. We would still have been in inferior ships (from a tech level and maneuverability standpoint), but we would have had a roughly 15 man advantage, in this case a 25% advantage. We’ll never know, but fun to consider.
In the end, Hard Knocks and allies executed well and took advantage of every opportunity we gave them. They were courteous after the fight and on reddit. As a corp, we learned some valuable lessons as we grow in our capabilities and ambitions. I look forward to future fights, and I know this is not the last such fight we will have.