If a barbarian horde comes over your borders and you won’t or
can’t field a force to turn them back, you’ve no one to blame but
yourself when they start drinking your tea, eating cake off the good
china and leaving the toilet seats up.
“Hey, nice bit of real estate,” they’ll say “Good pig country. And
there’s nobody using it. I think we’ll stay.” Next thing you know, the
locals are calling the lead barbarian “Your Highness”.
– Fiddler’s Edge, Barbarians at the Gates
The blue-ball doctrine is, in essence, the practice of denying fights to the enemy. It is commonly employed by members of sov holding alliances when raiding parties roams their space and those home-defense forces willing and able to counter the interlopers are not sufficient to guarantee said interlopers are properly curb-stomped.
By denying a raiding party the kills and good fights they came for, the blue-ball doctrine seeks to discourage marauding bad guys without having to call in the cavalry. When a band of desperadoes ride into nullsec town, guns blazing, the locals simply safe up and wait then out. And, absent an overwhelming home-defense fleet advantage, this makes perfect sense as there is no penalty for defensive indifference.
Everything of real value to the locals and the sov holding entity is protected by reinforce timers. As you might imagine, returning to complete one’s pillage and burn on a schedule known to local law enforcement is not in the raiding party idiom. As such, high value resources are normally safe from roaming desperadoes, as are an alliance’s sovereignty infrastructure.
CCP has, of course, added deployable structures sans reinforce timers to provide targets for raiding parties without threatening the nullsec status quo. However, at the end of the day such structures don’t represent significant enough of a strategic or financial loss to get the locals or the sov holders onto the field of battle. And, absent any motivation to defend one’s space, blue-balling is the smart strategy for passive defense: Deny the desperado fights. Deny the desperado kills. Deny the desperado fun. A sufficiently bored desperado will soon be on his way to elsewhere, and slow to return.
Now, nullsec alliances often overextend their sovereign space, claiming more systems than they can actively use. There are a number of reasons for this, some financial, some logistic and some strategic. However, the end result is that much of sovereign nullsec is very sparsely populated. As many players will attest, once you leave the main traffic pipelines and jump bridge systems, it is possible to travel through one sov-controlled system after another without encountering another player.
Yet, despite a near complete absence of resistance to their presence in such places, raiders can do little harm to a sovereign’s interests. And again, there’s no penalty to sovereigns who fail to repulse invading subcapital fleets.
But what if there were?
There is a difference between holding sovereignty over a territory and controlling it. Historically when barbarians show up to pillage the village the local sovereign may temporarily lose control of the village, but his/her long-term sovereignty is not in question. The locals go back to generating revenue from the territory and all is as it was. The status quo is maintained.
However, sometimes the barbarians don’t leave. Sometimes they hang around and prevent the local population from harvesting resources or generating revenue from the territory. Or they begin keeping said revenues and harvests for hemselves. Initially the barbarians are interlopers. However, unless sovereign takes umbrage at being so dispossessed and visits a big ol’ can of kingly whup-ass on the barbarians in a timely manner, said barbarians become the de-facto rulers in the sovereign’s place. This sort of thing isn’t uncommon when sovereigns become too weak or distracted to take an interest in local affairs at the far ends of an over-extended empire.
An emergent form of game-play in EVE Online is for a gang of ‘barbarians’, especially those in need of cash, to hang out in a sov-nullsec system for a while, and rat some anomalies. In addition to being a means of picking a fight with the locals (“Hey, I’m ratting your sanctum! I’m AFK taking a shower! Come stop me if you can!”), it is a much safer and more lucrative way to make
ISK than ratting in lowsec.
With some slight tweaks to the sovereignty mechanics, this pattern of play could be leveraged to allow supercapital poor (or indifferent) alliances some stake in the nullsec game, and increase the amount of small an medium fleet action in nullsec.
I call it the Adverse Possession (AKA Squatters Rights) mechanic.
Of course, the sov holder can always unlimber his supercapital fleet and retake sovereignty of a lost system. However, beyond the costs and inconvenience of so doing, we’ve seen the awkward strategic, tactical and political blow-back that can result when sov is lost due to inattention. And an overextended sovereign engaged in wars elsewhere may find that playing a continuous game of wack-a-mole to reclaim peripheral or low value systems isn’t worth the while.
As I said long ago, one of the things I like about the Dominion Sov mechanics is that they require an active defense of one’s space. However, with the proliferation of supercapitals, only possessors of large fleets of these ships can contest nullsec sovereignty. With the consolidation of such fleets into fewer and fewer hands, the need to actively defend sovereign space is on the wane.
Adverse Possession mechanics would provide subcapital fleets and gangs a meaningful role in nullsec. Its requirement that sov-holders not only claim systems with sovereignty infrastructure, but actively control them, would inject risk into blue-balling as a strategy against small fleets, and should lead to more subcap PvP dust ups in parts of nullsec that have gotten all too peaceful.
I do not expect the Adverse Possession mechanic to be popular with nullsec’s current hoi oligoi. It will likely discomfort them. Their empires would be smaller. Small players, formerly beneath their notice, would enter the sovereignty game. They’d see more visits from lowsec as naughty folk like Rixx Javix and Kaeda Maxwell would have a new way to pick fights in local, and to shake coin from the pockets of the mighty. The lords of nullsec would rest less easily on their starry beds.
But this is EVE, and no one should sleep too soundly.
– Mord Fiddle
About the Author: Mord Fiddle’s writings are an invitation to high tea in a world of rave parties. His readers gather at fiddlersedge.blogspot.com for thoughtful analysis, daring prose, deep insights, and Mord’s tendency to use words not writ nor spoken conversationally since Middle English went out of fashion.