May 14, 2016

Mercenary Coalition: One Year Challenge Coin

 

A month or so ago Seleene posted to the Mercenary Coalition forums that these coins were going to be created, celebrating Mercenary Coalition's one year anniversary. They are surprisingly affordable, provided you have at least 50 or so people who want one. I got mine in this week and am very pleased with its quality.

It's very hefty, probably weighing as much as my Nexus 5x and is pretty large. I've put it next to a quarter as you can see to the right. The front of the coin has the alliance logo and the back has all the corps who were in the alliance at the time the coin was created (sorry ANZA). It's not elaborate, but I really like the idea of the challenge coin. Seleene got the idea because they did it in Pandemic Legion every now and then. Rooks and Kings also create challenge coins for memorable events. I'm sure we'll continue to make a few more in the future for really cool things, and I hope I can keep adding to my collection. Maybe once I get a few I'll frame them. For now, this one sits on my desk.






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May 8, 2016

The End of an Era: Noir. has a New CEO


Sorry for the different aspect ratios


I've been in Noir. in one form or another since early 2011. Over that time I've been the CEO of Noir. Academy for two years, acting as a director in Noir. itself for part of my duties. I've seen ups and downs of which there have been many. Over the years Noir. has become part of my own identity. I even moved across the country to take a job in Silicon Valley after being referred by the CEO of Noir., Alekeseyev Karrde. To me, Noir. is more than just an in-game group. Some very real friends are members of Noir.

When I first joined Noir. we were in the alliance Noir. Mercenary Group. Since then, we've been a part of Black Legion., Suddenly Spaceships, a very brief stint in the horribly named alliance Disinterested Reptile Cartel, the redemptive No Not Believing, and now we're in the legendary Mercenary Coalition.

Part of being a mercenary means being willing to move and move frequently. In the olden days, we'd deploy dozens of carriers stuffed full of ships for a deployment and do it all over again in a week or two. Now we deploy for longer times, but we still move. Movement is sometimes defined as progress. For us moving means a new contract, and I guess that's progress for a mercenary.

But moving from alliance to alliance wasn't always about progress. I believe Noir. moved alliances so often because of an obstacle, one that held the corporation back. Sometimes more than it helped it. And, as is sometimes the case, that obstacle - what held Noir. back on occasion - was also one of its biggest, most dependable strengths: Alekseyev Karrde.

Alek, as he's known by most people, formed Noir. in 2008 with the purpose of being able to make money PvPing, paid by others. That makes you a mercenary by default. But he wanted more than that, he wanted to create the most effective mercenary force New Eden had seen. And that's not an easy task, especially at the time, with Mercenary Coalition recently folding. I'm sure the Guiding Hand Social Club stories still echoed in every pilot's mind.

But despite the overwhelming odds and huge shoes to fill, he succeeded in creating - in my honest opinion - the most effective small-gang mercenaries EVE has ever seen.

Mercenary Coalition was the first.

Pandemic Legion was and is the biggest.

Black Legion. was the shortest lived.

But only Noir. means mercenary.

Noir. has people who fear it, envy it, despise it, people who think it's washed up, useless, overrated, and I'm sure many other things. But when I meet another EVE player and say I'm in Noir., their eyes widen and they tell me a story about how they read about us, heard about us, died to us. They ask what it's really like being a mercenary. Noir. has earned its reputation one successful contract after another over the last 8 years.

Alekseyev Karrde forged that reputation, often single-handed. Alek and Noir. are inseparable in most people's minds. Their legends were built together and on top of one another. If you've spent any length of time with Alek in game you've heard of his love for ponies and yelling at people for making mistakes. We'll ignore the ponies, they're fucking weird. The rage that Alek would unleash on people made those who could endure it better pilots. We all knew that we didn't have to be there or put up with it if we didn't want to (many didn't) but our desire to fly tighter and be mercenaries overrode our apathy at being yelled at for a video game.

In truth, he's not an angry person in real life. As I mentioned, we work together. His desk is 10 feet away from mine as I type this. However when he's in game, he casts off weakness like a watershed. Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan's legendary basketball coach, said of Jordan, "It wasn't about how great a star was himself, it was about how great he made the players around him."

Another anecdote Jackson shared about Jordan is that he wouldn't accept anything less than perfection. If a player was on the court and wasn't playing up to Jordan's standard, he would look at Phil Jackson and Jackson would know it meant, "Get this guy off the fucking court,"

Alek, like Jordan, forced those around him to be better, and if you wouldn't put out the effort required, you were gone. This type of attitude lends itself well to leading a small, elite military force in EVE. Unfortunately, it also causes lots and lots of friction when dealing with equals in an alliance.

There are many instances in Noir.'s alliance history where we kicked corps or left alliances because of personality clashes. Over the years, it became all too familiar to the leadership. To my dismay, it happened again in Mercenary Coalition. Alek approached the directorship about leaving Mercenary Coalition multiple times informally but was always rebuffed. Finally, having had enough, Alek formally approached the leadership to propose leaving MC. We even chatted about it at lunch once and I immediately said I wouldn't want to go anywhere. The entire directorate decided to stay in Mercenary Coalition.

I won't go into all of the details, but as you can see from Psianh's corp history, I did leave Noir. to join Apogee. - the new corp Noir. leadership founded together. We realized that our time in Noir. was coming to an end. I drew out the decision tree for one of the other directors:

  1. Alek changes his mentality and works with the alliance leaders effectively
  2. Alek steps down as CEO of Noir.
  3. We stay with Noir. and leave Mercenary Coalition
  4. We form our own corporation and stay in Mercenary Coalition while Noir. goes its own way 
It seemed clear to us that options 1 and 2 were impossible. We didn't want option 3. Alek eventually backed down on leaving the alliance at the current time but none of us felt it was a permanent stance or was a true mental shift. If it had been, option 1 would be fulfilled and things would have worked out well. Alek wanted us all to stay together, but I don't think he realized how exhausted the alliance leadership was. Staying in the alliance without a total change on Alek's part just wasn't in the cards.

I think Alek needed to see how serious we were about staying in Mercenary Coalition and how much we were exhausted by the general trend of bickering at the alliance leadership level - however justified he sometimes is. So we all left and formed our own corporation with the intent of staying there indefinitely, a member of Mercenary Coalition that continued the values of Noir.

In the end, Alek realized that he didn't have the time in real life to dedicate to rebuilding Noir. and I think he didn't really want to do that without the leadership team - and friends - that had been in place for so many years. In his view, the only option to save Noir. was for Alek to leave the corp and let his long-time XO, Deletor, become CEO. To be clear, this was his idea. We never considered it as an option and never presented it to him as a solution. I can't imagine how much it pained him to not only consider it, but decide on it.

So we've joined Noir. again, prodigal sons now tasked with carrying on the torch, making sure it burns ever bright, and avoid burning ourselves. We don't take it lightly, and we hope to make Alek proud, but we do believe the future is bright, illuminated as it is by the legend of Noir.

Alekseyev Karrde and Noir. are synonymous. He's been the CEO since its inception, held it firmly and grew it over two CSM terms. He's led the corporation with a steady hand, allowed us to fly with some of the best players in EVE Online. His focus, determination, hard work, and drive means that Noir.'s name can live on without him. Noir. is more than one person.

But there will always be a hole that won't be filled.

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April 15, 2016

The Mercenary Renaissance

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm going to assume you're aware of a few things that are happening in EVE right now, namely that there's a World War (Bee) happening and that many of the major players (Mercenary Coalition, The Omega Security Syndicate, Hax., Suddenly Spaceships, Out of Sight., and Chaos Theory. to name a few) are being paid to take part. It's the latter half of that previous sentence I want to focus on. I've written a lot about people being paid to fight other people in EVE; we call them mercenaries. I also have a personal paradigm of what it takes to qualify as a mercenary and I believe we're in the early phases of a mercenary renaissance the likes of which we haven't seen since Dominion.

What Is a Mercenary?

As I always do when talking about mercenaries at a high level, we have to establish the definition. Just as someone must successfully complete a series of tasks in real life to earn a qualification or title, I believe that an organization must fulfill one, basic principle to be called a mercenary.

  1. The bulk of an organization's effort is focused on providing content through contracts offered by other players for a fee.

Pretty simple, right? But it's a bit more complicated than it may first appear and it even has a bit of a grey area.

There are a ton of corporations and alliances in EVE that have received ISK or in-game goods for services rendered a handful of times. I don't include these in the definition of a mercenary. For most of these organizations, these contracts were found on the wayside and then forgotten as they moved on. They didn't consume much time or effort from the organization in the long run.

Likewise, there are some organizations that take a lot of contracts yet only do them so far as it lines up with their day-to-day activities. One example (although not the only one) is when an organization camps trade hubs as their main activity, and will continue to do so whether someone pays them to or not, but will accept a contract if offered. These groups aren't included either. Their primary gameplay is completely unaltered by a contract.

By my definition, a mercenary organization focuses its entire playerbase day in and day out on completing a contract. And when that contract is over, beside rest periods, the focus of the organization as a whole is finding and completing another contract. They don't pick up contracts as an afterthought, but seek them and eagerly complete them. There are exceptions, mainly in the form of Pandemic Legion. They're so large, so expensive, and the services they render can be so complex that they simply can't spend all their time on contract - people simply can't afford to keep them on retainer and there aren't enough contracts worth their time.

The Mercenary Wars

With this in mind, The Mercenary Wars doesn't make any sense as a name for World War Bee. Almost all of the Money Badger Coalition (MBC) member alliances aren't paid for contracts on a regular or even semi-regular basis. It's likely that, after this war, most of the alliances will never be offered a paid contract again.

So how can I claim there is a renaissance if most of MBC have never been offered a contract before and likely won't again? Because World War Bee has proven the effectiveness that ships for hire can have on the landscape of New Eden. Even if the war ended right now and the battle lines remained frozen in place at the current demarcation, the result would be an astoundingly positive endorsement for hiring mercenaries to do your work - provided you can afford it.

Let's not sugar coat it though, it obviously took a vast sum of money and a lot of players to get this far. Additionally, the enormous victories to date are in large part thanks to the Imperium’s complete lack of will to fight. However, it's also quite clear that a well paid, well organized mercenary coalition (no affiliation) can absolutely dominate the objective. It's important to remember that an appropriately sized solution needs to be applied to the problem. When attacking an Imperium-level problem, a Imperium-sized solution must be applied.  

Determining Solution Sizes

Luckily, most problems aren't Imperium-sized. There are a lot of things that are happening (and will be happening in the very near future) in EVE already that could use some good, old-fashioned mercenary knowhow. For too long, people have thought that mercenaries weren't useful and they were right. But in this renaissance period, there is a proven track record for effectiveness and plenty of opportunities to display it. The question is how do you find out if your mercenary is up to the task?

Killboard

There's a lot to be said for and against killboards in EVE as a whole, much less just looking at mercenaries. Nevertheless, the killboard is one of the most effective ways in determining, well, effectiveness! If a mercenary organization is consistently putting up large amounts of kills with very few losses, they're likely a good choice. You can even get an idea if they may be able to punch above their weight by digging a little deeper into the killmails. Are they fighting outmanned, or are they able to take down larger ships regularly? Are they able to deploy deep into enemy territory and stay there, or do they set up shop on regional gates and shut down traffic?

There's a ton of information to find from a killboard if you know what you're looking for. But don't put too much emphasis on it because…

The Rest of the Story

A killboard doesn't tell the whole story. There are times in my mercenary career where we've been tasked with shutting down a region so that no one undocks. In those contracts, we typically see a steady stream of kills at the beginning which then trickles off to practically zero. And that's exactly what we were hoping for. We had a very happy client.

A good mercenary organization is going to have a record of its contracts that tells you what the overall objective was, any pertinent constraints, and can tie that to a killboard for data verification. Keep in mind that this information may be somewhat vague due to privacy of the client, but you should have enough information (and enough examples) to come away with a good idea if someone has been able to actually perform and if they are flexible enough to take on difficult, changing contracts.

The Future of Mercenaries

The viability of the mercenary career has always been tied to war. Without war, very few of the mercenary organizations can actually survive. There are hundreds of examples of organizations falling to the wayside and focusing on other gameplay styles because the content simply wasn't there. The ones that do survive may have to lower their fees or simply exist on reputation alone. Without war, there aren't mercenaries.

It doesn't take Nostradamus to see that, while not a certainty, war is likely to remain on the horizon for a long time to come. And if that turns out to be true, mercenaries will continue to be in high demand. Some will rise, making a long-term name for themselves in the community, and others will fall, defeated by the enemy or internal stresses. Perhaps some of the alliances that entered World War Bee as first-time mercenaries will continue down the path, or maybe some of the players involved will want to strike out on their own. Regardless, EVE has never seen so many mercenaries at once and like the famous artists of the Italian renaissance, not all of them will be remembered, but their work has already changed the landscape of New Eden forever.
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February 21, 2016

Keep Your Comms Clear and Your Guns Loaded

Communication is key to practically everything: relationships, work, coordinating dinner plans, and especially EVE. Fleets that have poor communication are almost certainly doomed, unless they're fighting a fleet that doesn't speak at all perhaps.

EVE corporations and alliances have spent a lot of time over a lot of years coming up with ways to communicate. I'm sure all of us are familiar with strange words like dics, bubbles, scram, align, broadcast, burn, overheat, Poitot, etc. In Noir. Academy, we train our scouts to report in a specific way to ensure information is passed along as quickly and concisely as possible. Many other organizations do something similar and have their own methods of communicating that, while it may not be exact, would almost certainly be recognizable to almost any other player in the game if they were to hear it. Comm discipline is important to any combat fleet, no matter who you are.

This has actually been a large topic in Mercenary Coalition lately, and I've been very happy to see it taking root within the FC core. Obviously we all pride ourselves in being professional and efficient in MC, but that certainly doesn't mean we don't have room to improve. Tightening up our comm discipline is an easy way to see large improvements, and I encourage you to spread the word in your own alliance if you notice any of the symptoms below.

What is Comm Discipline?

Comm discipline, in short, means when and why people can speak in Teamspeak/Mumble (if you use Ventrilo now, WTF?). Depending on the overall culture of your corporation or alliance, you may have very strict or very relaxed comm discipline. In MC, we're trying to find the middle ground.

Bad Comm Discipline

It's difficult to summarize what bad comm discipline looks like because it can come in so many forms. I'll try and list a few common formats below:

The Rambler
The Rambler is someone who wants to get across a piece of information but takes a very long time to get there. They have good intentions, but they're not being concise. This can make the FC's job very difficult because they're keeping a lot of things in their head at once, and The Rambler makes them then juggle a lot of information at once in their short-term memory and then forces them to parse that information, too.

Instead, The Rambler should learn to take a step back and look at the information from a top-down method in terms of importance. Only announce the most important information that directly relates to the fleet. If you've got 25 ships in local, don't announce them one at a time. Instead, group them by ship types. "3 Rifters" instead of "Rifter, Rifter, Rifter". Sometimes, it can be as simple as that.

The Unimportant
I see this one all the time, especially in new players (but often in people who should know better). People often don't know when or what is worth announcing. Instead of running the information through their personal filter, they just blurt it out. And guess what? No one in the fleet cares that you just sold a faction item in Jita, or about the two ventures in lowsec when we're on the way to a stratop in Battleships.

If unimportant information floats across your comms, let people know that it's not important and then remind them what is. Remind your fleet what type of doctrine counters yours or what type of targets you're looking for. Try and frame the information you want so that your fleet knows what type of information to float upwards. Over time, hopefully, they'll become better at parsing information before passing it along.

The Vague & Urgent
The Vague & Urgent is an all-too-common example. This is where someone is relaying very important, very time-sensitive information, but in a totally non-actionable way. For instance, "Help! They're on me! I'm right on the gate and they're aggressing me from 5km away! Their drones are out and they're red boxed! Get in here now!"

As you can see, there are two things you can gleam from this comment: 1) something is happening right now, and you need to get involved and 2) you have absolutely no information to act on.

Again, information needs to be conveyed very quickly and clearly. The key is few words, much information. "In Obe on Hakonen gate there are 2 Rattlesnakes. They're 15km off gate and have drones out, aggressed."

This tells you all the information you need to make a decision and give orders.

Good Comm Discipline

There are so many examples of bad comm discipline, I could go on. The important thing is to develop good comm discipline. How do you do this? Well, again it will depend on your own organization's culture. For us in MC, we try to float back and forth between "loose" comms and "tight" comms. For instance, when I'm FCing I'll open up comms when I don't think anything is going to happen for a bit, usually when we're not moving. During these down times, people can chat all they want. But, when we're on the move or about to engage, I simply say "clear comms" and everyone knows that only scouts and I can talk.

When you have good comms discipline, information is clear, direct and actionable. Even when I'm not FCing, I want to be able to follow along with the FC and know as much as he does so I can understand how I can best fit into that. When multiple people are speaking over one another, there is far too much room for error. People will mishear information, people will misunderstand orders, people will die. 

Loose lips sink ships, so keep it tight and things will be alright.
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February 15, 2016

Get Comfortable, We're Not Going Anywhere

At this point, Mercenary Coalition has been on contract for almost two months, marking it as the longest contract that I've been a part of since we've joined MC. I should find out what the longest contract MC has taken to date.

We're pretty dug in now; we have a lot of assets in place, we're clicking well with the locals, and activity is high. It's pretty much the perfect situation for a mercenary alliance, no matter who you are.

Most of my play time has been spent doing Black Ops, mainly because it fits my availability right now and because in the late US timezone, we don't have huge numbers. Nevertheless, we've been (usually) pretty effective in the PST TZ. I've always said that the mark of an effective harrassment contract is when the targets stop logging in. Of course, that makes for sometimes boring game time, but when you zoom out and look at the abstract, it's a good thing.

As an aside, making someone not log in is actually terrible game design. That's for another post, I sure won't be digging into it here.

As you can see from our killboard, we've been fighting a lot of CO2 fleets out in Vale of the Silent and Tribute. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what they're doing here and why we were brought in. So far, our efforts have been very effective at blocking CO2's, which is good since that's what we're paid for.

Unfortunately, MC has lost a corp due to real life circumstances in the corp leadership. We're all sad to see them go, but some things can't be helped. All the corps have opened their doors to anyone who wants to join, and we'll wish them a warm farewell as they go. Their departure won't slow us down in the slightest, but I do hope we bring in another corp to replace their numbers. It's always very difficult to find another corporation who is truly dedicated to the mercenary life though, so it may be a while. But hey, if you think you're cut out for it, I'd love to chat!

I've been trying to take the reigns more often when I'm logged in. I've managed to find time to login for the last 5 days, FCing a couple of minor fleets. I've never been super happy being a regular grunt, so it's a good way to break free of those shackles. I don't know how much I'll focus on the FCing career - I enjoy it, but it's not my first choice as far as playstyles go - but I'm enjoying it for what it's worth.

I feel like I've forgotten a lot of my EVE geography, and right now, that's such an important mental tool to have. Time to study my physical EVE maps again! I love these things, and they never get enough use. I should get them laminated...
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February 14, 2016

January 11, 2016

Contract: You May Not Realize It, but It Matters

I want to summarize and quote a post one of our FC's, Athen, made on the Mercenary Coalition forums earlier. It's a great example of how, as a mercenary, sometimes your actions have far reaching consequences that aren't immediately obvious. Sometimes, even if the killboard isn't lit up like a Christmas tree, the employer is still incredibly happy with results. Below I'm going to outline a situation that fits into that category.

During the EU timezone (I was at work, unfortunately), Mercenary Coalition formed up a large Machariel fleet. We formed to support allied forces who were hitting some timers in the likely event that CFC responded. A couple of things here, Athen mentioned it specifically in the summary he posted, and it's worth repeating; I'll quote him: "We really do have one of the best logistic wings out of all eve alliances." I won't spend too much on this, but it's absolutely true. I've mentioned time and again how much moving is involved with being a mercenary, and with an alliance this size Mercenary Coalition would absolutely fall apart if we didn't have our logistics group.

So, after the fleet was formed and bridged into place, Athen held the fleet a few jumps out in lowsec while our Blues began hitting the timers. Ideally, CFC would commit on the fleet that they knew about, hitting the towers, since we were still a secret. Sure enough, CFC bridged in ~200 T3s and came within two jumps of the target system, unfortunately we were scouted at this point and they decided to bail.

And that's pretty much it. That's all that happened if you look at it from the grunt's perspective who doesn't have the full picture. This is the perspective most of us in EVE have. Rarely do we get a peak at "5 skype convos and 4 in game convos + intel channels", as Athen puts it, which gives context. But since Athen has shed light on the rest of the situation, let's dig deeper.

First, it wasn't just us and the Blues hitting the timer that were involved. CFC had another 200 T3s in support ready to come in, but they were caught by NC. and rage camped in a tower in Venal before they could move. And even though CFC still had a total numbers advantage, having their support fleet crippled, coupled with our large fleet in support (our alliance alone comprised 33% of the combined Blue fleet), probably convinced them not to engage with their main fleet.

And that is exactly what we're paid to do right now: make targets not show up, make targets stay docked. Make them want to live somewhere else. Our employer couldn't be happier. He couldn't have imagined a better situation, even. Was it boring from a pilot's perspective? Sure, but to me, the best part about being a mercenary is seeing your contribution effect the overall game. Sometimes, you may not realize it but what you do matters a whole hell of a lot.
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