"ISK win wars."- Krutoj the Destroyer
I did tell you this day was coming. Way back in August. I even used pictures.
Even the amount of venom currently pointed in the direction of the new merchant princes of nullsec was quite predictable. As I said in August, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again. To a warrior elite, the only thing worse than a bunch of shopkeepers and their dirty money is having their asses handed to them by a bunch of shopkeepers and their dirty money. It tends to inspire a certain resentment.
As many of you are aware by now, the new currency of nullsec sovereignty is, well, currency. Holding space in Nullsec has become a cash-intensive proposition.
This is due in part to the introduction of sovereignty upkeep fees in December of 2009. While these fees are quite manageable for an alliance as long as it's not carrying a lot of dead weight systems (systems an alliance is unable or unwilling to exploit in order to get the wealth necessary to pay for sovereignty) they've caused alliances to actively administer their space, keep an eye on their bottom line and think of systems as a resource - as an investment of sorts.
However, the impact of sovereignty upkeep fees is small potatoes compared to the other big nullsec cost driver; supercapitals. In order to hold nullsec these days you need supercapital ships and the pilots to fly them. And this, my friends, is the real money sink when it comes to nullsec sovereignty. You see, alliances holding nullsec now have to not only be able to afford to field a supercapital fleet, they have to be able to afford to lose and replace supercapital fleets on a scale unthinkable a short time ago.
The recent supercapital smack-downs in Geminate between the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and the Northern Coalition (NC) puts the increasingly ISK-intensive nature of sov warfare in sharp relief. In two fleet battles that occurred within a week of each other, the NC lost 10 Titan class ships to 11 for the DRF. At a 55 billion build cost for the hull and another 30 billion for a proper fit, we're talking on the order of about 1.8 trillion ISK lost by the two alliances in the course of two battles - not including the flocks of Super Carriers on either side that escorted the fallen Titans along on their way to Valhalla.
Recall that the armada IT Alliance sent to support The Initiative in Catch last December numbered thirty Titans and fifty Motherships; a mighty force by anyone's reckoning at of the time and a profound show of strength. In less than a a week the NC and DRF have between them lost more than half that number.
And neither side is showing any sign of backing down.
Upon a time, losses on this scale would have been, at best, a near death experience for a nullsec alliance or coalition. However, as the knock-down of IT Alliance showed, having a supercapital fleet and deploying it only in low risk situation (when your enemy has none, for example) is not enough. You have to be willing and able to take that fleet into harm's way. And that means an alliance or coalition with the means to quickly and reliably replace supercapital losses without going bankrupt has a strategic advantage. Both the NC and the DRF have a secret weapon that make this possible.
Carebears. Lots and lots of carebears.
Obviously, the best way to ensure a reliable supply of these behemoths in a cost efficient manner is to control their means of production. Both the NC and DRF have accomplished this on a large scale, though they've come by this capacity in different ways.
The DRF are PvP focused, but maintain a vast portfolio of nullsec rental space. Standard policy for renters is that the sovereignty holding alliance has right of first refusal on all supercapital builds at a fixed rate over build cost. Thus, the carebears in the DRF rental alliances, which are presently the largest and most expansively situated in the game, can be leveraged to provide their landlords with as many supercapitals as the DRF pilots could want.
With the NC, on the other hand, the alliances and corporations that comprise the coalitions maintain the supercapital build capacity. The means of supercapital production are, aside from guest and renter alliances, internal to the coalition. Some NC supercapital pilots are themselves alternates of nullsec bears involved in the production of the engines of destruction they fly. So that carebear you popped back in Hulkageddon I may be among the pilots of the Nyx fleet that hotdrops your roaming BC gang tomorrow.
Now, if you are on the outside of the supercapital sweet shop looking in, this is all something of a troubling development. Even at near-cost, supercapitals are stratospherically expensive. Buying them at full market price (if one can be found for sale at all) is nose-bleed inducing. Assuming the "never fly what you can't afford to lose" doctrine is in play, this new economic component to nullsec warfare puts PvP alliances with limited access to nullsec industrial capacity at a profound disadvantage. "ISK," as Krutoj the Destroyer observed last Fall, "Wins wars."
As a recent commenter on The Edge pointed out, supercapitals, the essential tool for acquiring nullsec sov wars, require nullsec sov to acquire. It also requires a large complement of industrialists - a body of players toward whom many dedicated PvP alliances are not kindly disposed. Carebears, after all, are for ganking. Renters are beneath contempt. The idea that carebears in any capacity are essential for winning in nullsec must be galling for the PvP purist.
This may be why the NC, more than the DRF, has been the subject of so much vitriol in the digital public square. The DRF are PvPers after all, using carebears as a means to an end. The Drone Russians keep their carebears in a separate renter's space; at arms length and in their proper place. The Northern Coalition, on the other hand, are perceived as carebears themselves.
Thus, in the eyes of the PvP community, the NC has sinned doubly, both by being carebears and leveraging their industrial advantage to succeed in nullsec.