"I'm tired of hearing about Bobby Lee. You'd think he was going to do a double somersault and land in out rear. Quit thinking about what he's going to do to you and think about what you're going to do to him." - U. S. Grant
Reputation is important. A reputation for invincibility can defeat your enemies before they take the field against you. In the field, it can cause those enemies to tie themselves in knots trying to anticipate you; make them hesitant, allowing you to dictate the timing and tempo of engagements.
Of course there's a downside to reputations as well. While past performance does not guarantee future results, we are somewhat hardwired to believe that the opposite is true. Which means that we are susceptible to buying into the same reputation that intimidates our enemies (drinking your own kool-aid so to speak) and assuming victory to be a given.
This sort of behavior can lead you to miss changes on the ground that render previously successful tactics ineffective, to rely on the enemy to repeat past mistakes or for their resolve to fail at a critical moment, or to deliberately engage the enemy when your own forces are at a pronounced disadvantage. A common thread running through such battles as Waterloo, Isandlwana, Little Bighorn and Tsushima, is the losing side's confidence in victory at the outset of the battle. Belief in ones own invincibility is a garden path well strewn with bones.
As we enter 2011, this warning bears repeating. Legends fell in the post-Dominion sands of 2010 and more will fall in 2011.
IT Alliance gives every indication that it will be one of them. The hesitancy and risk-aversion I've discussed elsewhere is on full display in Fountain and Catch. IT continues to pile one defeat on top of the other, the culprit in almost every case being participation. The numbers IT Alliance brings to key battles relative to its overall size is small enough to encourage its enemies and dismay its allies. Despite IT assurances that 2011 would bring renewed energy from the alliance and a crushing response to Goonswarm's incursions in Fountain, the opposite has happened. It is as though the fall of PNQY has accelerated a growing crisis of confidence within the once-mighty alliance.
A factor in almost every significant engagement in Fountain is the unwillingness of the IT fleet commanders to deploy their Supercapital fleet under anything but optimal circumstances. IT Alliance is quick to brandish its Supercapital fleet, but its commanders appear paralyzed by the fear of losing it and the appearance of strength it provides.
This is a profound departure from the practices of Pandemic Legion (PL), who are the present cutting edge with regard to Supercapital combat. PL obviously regards the Supercapital as a tool of war to be be deployed aggressively. If that means Supercapitals are lost on occasion, that is the nature of the beast. A weapon of war one is afraid to use is no weapon at all.
However, despite their self-proclaimed reputation as the best PvP alliance in New Eden, Pandemic Legion may have entered a glide pattern to their own end. The mercenary alliance were arguably the architects of the aggressive, supercapital-oriented post-Dominion tactics that laid low Atlas Alliance and took Against All Authorities (-A-) to the brink of extinction. Since then their leadership has led them to one victory after the other against the Northern and Deklein coalitions. Yet, in the waning weeks of 2010, there is some indication that the worm has turned.
Pandemic recently announced that, rather than remain nomadic, they would settle in the NPC nullsec region of Venal - a move that gives their membership nullsec space without the burden of holding sovereignty. This suggests that mercenary contracts alone were not keeping the PL membership in sufficient cash. While this gives PL a place to hang curtains and throw down a few rugs, it also makes PL easier for its enemies to target.
PL has a lot of enemies. And they've all taken lessons in the PL school of hard knocks.
Ironically, it is the Northern Coalition, a loose confederation of northern nullsec alliances know more for bringing large numbers to fleet fights than nuanced PvP tactics, that has learned PL's lessons best. Having been hired by the Drone Russians (DRF) to blunt a Northern Coalition offensive, Pandemic Legion delivered one smarting defeat after another to the less-experienced NC fleet commanders. However, as the PL attacks were designed to apply pressure to the NC rather than support an invasion (as had been the case with Atlas and -A-) this gave the NC time to learn some hard lessons and adapt to PL tactics. Now, rather than merely bringing on the 'blob', the NC forces have developed nuanced tactics, including their own one-two punch of conventional and Supercapital fleets.
In the last two fleet fights between the two involving Supercapitals, it was the NC who delivered the lessons to their teachers, matching PL in terms of tactical audacity, and in once case taking down seven PL Supercapitals in exchange for two of its own.
These events, in and of themselves, don't mean Pandemic Legion is blithely dancing down the garden the path toward self-destruction. However, they do stand as leading indicators. As I've stated elsewhere, PL as a nullsec entity has certain structural weaknesses. Key among them is that PL as it exists today thrives within a fairly narrow environmental space. It requires a constant flow of both mercenary contracts and military self-esteem ( in the form of victories) in order to maintain itself. Deprived of either of these critical nutrients, PL could swiftly collapse.
IT Alliance and Pandemic Legion are both alliances with larger than life reputations. How each of them fare in 2011 will depend to a large degree on whether they're able to tune out the siren song of past performance and focus on the road ahead. Indications are, it's going to be a bumpy ride.