J115405, better known as Rage, is a system in wormhole space which has been home to the Hard Knocks (HKRAB) alliance for more than half a decade. J115405 is — by all standard metrics — an unremarkable system, a class 5 wormhole with class 5 static like two-hundred-and-forty others; but the system has a rich and storied history, most notably playing host to New Eden’s first Keepstar-class Citadel.
And now, both Hard Knocks and Rage, having created so much history together, find themselves the centre of attention yet again. Unfortunately, it may not be the kind of attention they sought to garner.
On Saturday 8th December 2018; The Initiative, backed by the leader of their coalition, Goonswarm Federation; laid siege to Rage. Hard Knocks’ 979 members found themselves facing down a force of over 40,000 nullsec pilots.
If you don’t pay attention to goings-on in J-Space, you may know Hard Knocks as that group which controls some space in the northern drone regions. Whilst it is true that Hard Knocks have taken some space in null sec, the vast majority of their wealth has been generated in wormholes.
Through a series of wars, Hard Knocks’ coalition (with Lazerhawks and the now-defunct Quantum Explosion) established a monopoly over the highest tier of wormholes, the class 6 systems. This gave them an enormous income advantage over other j-space groups (it’s not hard to find videos of people making upwards of a billion ISK an hour in a single dreadnought in these systems).
For those of you who remember OTEC or the Viceroy programme, you may be starting to draw parallels between Hard Knocks and Goonswarm, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
Hard Knocks have established themselves as the dominant force in j-space through evictions and tyranny; and whilst most of j-space is publicly backing them against a foreign invader, there are bound to be at least a few wormholers looking on with more than a sliver of schadenfreude as their tormentors face the colossal numbers of The Imperium.
Every now and again, an Imperium alliance tries to make a name for itself as something more than “one of Goons’ allies” and this appears to be a part of Initiative’s attempt to set itself apart.
It put out a cryptic press release shortly after the invasion began:
Amidst the background murmur of cosmic signatures, stardust and exotic matter flickering across high-precision instruments emerges a vivid trace bearing the hallmarks of an unregistered Fenrir class freighter bearing the insignia “Ana ugglor I mossen”. As the event horizon closes behind it, Ana’s sensors lock onto the environment of J115405 as core systems calibrate and execute against their boot sequence. Unusually, Ana’s exhaust ports show extremely low radiation, barely registering on sensors which suggest it has been drifting silently and unobserved for some time.
Tens more signatures flare in nearby proximity as “Det ligger en hund begraven”, “Det är ingen ko på isen”,”Nu är det kokta fläsket stekt” and dozens more freighters emerge from the stillness. Point-to-point narrow beam channels are established, linking the awakened into a co-ordinated formation, waiting patiently to deploy their precious payloads.
In a distant star system, behind drifter wormholes and layers of channel pings, an Initiative. [INIT.] Stuka fleet is spooling up, numbers multiplying and thrashing for a place in history. ETA to Rage is within minutes as a drifter pathway provides the route in for a rendezvous with death. Boosters are consumed and final trajectory set for deployment as citadel structures are poised to drop and manufacturing sub-assemblies snarl with hunger, ready to feast on millions of cubic metres of compressed ore.
There are no maps for these territories and no presentable rationale for this event. Is this a contract formed by the cries of wormhole communities against the oppressive regime of the red crab or an unprovoked assault on the impossible?
Soon the news will be out, “Assault on Fort Knocks!”; “Is Unassailable Wealth Truly Unassailable?”. No-one knows the answers, nor the identity of the freighter ghost fleet. Succeed or fail, history is in the making…
Then followed this up with a promotional video, meanwhile its coalition leader Goonswarm Federation sat silent. I have unconfirmed reports from Goon members that the two full fleets they’d assembled were left outside of the target system for hours, not allowed to get on the killmails for fear of disrupting the INIT vs HK narrative.
Wormholes have some pretty complex mechanics, but understanding three of them in particular is key to understanding how wormhole conflicts work:
Rage’s static connection means that there will always be an available exit to another class five wormhole, so long as someone can scan it down and get on grid with it.
Hole control is essentially a battle for who can get and keep the most friends in the system. Because j-space systems can’t be set as home systems, and you can’t jump clone into them, the only way in or out of Rage is through a wormhole connection. This means that whoever controls the hole can control the number of ships (and potentially the type of ships) the enemy can field.
Because of this mechanical difference, whilst podding enemies out of combat in nullsec is usually avoided because it will take them longer to re-ship if they have to self-destruct (particularly in time dilation), podding people out of a fight in j-space is essential because it can actually prevent them from getting back into the fight at all.
As of now, it appears that The Initiative has established Hole Control in Rage, and is successfully keeping Hard Knocks’ allies out of the system and allowing more and more Goons to pour into the system.
The Imperium have been cryptic about their purpose for attacking Hard Knocks. The narrative they seem to be pressing is that it’s some kind of incredible accomplishment if they pull this off, but defeating an entity one-fortieth of your own size isn’t particularly impressive.
One possible answer is the wealth available inside of Rage; it’s speculated that a large share of Hard Knocks’ fortune lays inside their Keepstars — named in hubris as ‘Fort Knocks’ and ‘Unassailable Wealth’ — and with no asset safety in j-space, the destruction of their Keepstars would cause all of these assets to drop.
Another possibility is that this is about trying to craft an ‘elite’ narrative around the Initiative; that they represent a high level entity inside of The Imperium able to fight ‘elite’ alliances like Hard Knocks. If successful, this could make The Imperium a more attractive destination to players who consider themselves non-casual, but it’s difficult to see how winning on Imperium’s familiar N+1 grounds could in any way be painted as innovative or elite.
It would be very surprising if these two Keepstars aren’t destroyed at this point. Hard Knocks don’t have the numbers to re-establish hole control, and probably don’t have the allies to put up much of a fight even if they miraculously do regain control for a period of time.
Hard Knocks themselves seem resigned to this eventuality, having posted what seems like a message of surrender on Reddit, an excerpt of which is:
Over time the numbers of INIT and friends in Rage have grown. Many of our friends and even enemies immediately started assembling their fleets to try and get into Rage. Many have succeeded and for this I am ever grateful. The amount of work put in by all the corporations and especially Lazerhawks have been immense.
Without whining about n+1. INIT has a lot more dudes than we have, even with all of our friends getting in they’d outnumber us about 6:1 if not more. HRDKX has always had between 90-110 real people and as of writing we have about 60 of those online while a quick look at INIT comms shows them to have between 300 and 400 before a ping has gone out.
Tomorrow one of our Keepstars, the first to be ever built and onlined in EVE will fall. It will be streamed so you should take a watch. At the moment we see absolutely no way in how we can contest the MJD Ravens and superior numbers.
It will be interesting to see what’s next, both for Hard Knocks who appear to be taking a huge blow to their invincible image and also to their wealth, and for The Imperium, who are finding that their numbers are more of an impediment than an asset when it comes to the illusive search for content.
The only thing that’s certain: there’ll be a lot of narrative and spin.