Thursday, January 12, 2012

State of Decay

Because that's how every single part of New Eden that was lost in 2011 was lost....All of it was due to internal rot.  - Ripard Teg: "Didn't Want that Space Anyway"

'Rot' is the most common diagnosis given to explain the collapse of an Eve alliance or coalition. It is also the most useless. It is a term so generic that it can have entirely different meanings to the speaker and listener depending upon what's in their minds at the time. Further, in one sense or another it is so broadly applicable to almost any failscade that has ever occurred in New Eden that in most cases it is not a very meaningful indicator of root cause.

But it has the advantage of being safe.

Anyone from the bitterest vet to the most callow pubbie can look at the wreckage of a nullsec alliance, nod their head knowingly, say "Well, this was obviously a bad case of rot."  and be reasonably confident their thesis will not be disproved. You see, if one defines rot very loosely as, for example, a loss of organizational integrity, the word describes the very phenomenon for which it was intended to provide a causal explanation. It becomes tautology; The loss of organizational integrity invariably accompanies organizational collapse because organizational collapse is, in effect, the loss of organizational integrity.

When Atlas Alliance failscaded in the Summer of 2010, the cause was largely attributed to internal rot. Which is to say that Atlas Alliance failscaded and nobody could be bothered to take a close look at the root causes. Looking at their collapse in hindsight, it's evident that a number of factors were in play. Atlas was structured with responsibility for major decision, particularly military decisions, in the hands of one person and the rest of the leadership tasked with caretaker/maintenance roles. This created a single point of failure in their leadership structure. Secondly, the advent of the Dominion sovereignty mechanics along with the supercarrier buff had profoundly altered the strategic and tactical nature of nullsec sov warfare. The Atlas military leadership was slow to recognize adapt to this new military reality. Finally, in the absence of attention from the leadership, key industrial interests within the alliance had become distanced from the core interests of Atlas.

Soon after the collapse of Atlas, Against All Authorities came under attack by White Noise, Pandemic Legion, The Initiative[DOT] and IT Alliance. Once again, the defenders appeared to be quickly overwhelmed by the invaders and, with -A- retreating from their space and a failscade appearing imminent, it looked very much like a repeat of the Atlas collapse. With -A-'s demise assumed, the blogosphere and podcast universe wrote and broadcast the alliance's obituaries with 'rot' as the cause of death.

Of course we all know in hindsight that -A-'s leadership had decided to to retreat the bulk of their PvP strength into NPC nullsec and nearby Stain Empire space rather than allow those forces to be ground down in an unlikely defense of Catch, Teneferis, et al. -A- gambled that their organization was hardy enough to hold the troops together in exile until the enemy had dispersed and could be attacked and destroyed piecemeal. It was a daring move that flew in the face of nullsec strategic orthodoxy of the time, and its success can be attributed in no small part to the strength of the same -A- organization the blogosphere had declared shot through with rot.

Now, in taking back their lost territory, -A- faced primarily The Initiative[DOT] and their two vassal alliances, Dead Terrorists(DT) and CO2, along with an attempted "all in" intervention by IT Alliance. The fates of those four alliances are instructive when discussing rot as the exclusive cause of territorial changeover and alliance failscade.

After the invasion, DT and CO2 were settled into former -A- space between Initiative's new home in Catch and the Southern Russian alliances in order to serve as a buffer between the Initiative and the potential hostiles on the southern flank. DT and CO2 alliances were relatively new to nullsec, CO2 having prior experience in Providence and DT fresh out of lowsec. The Initiative appears to assumed that -A- was done for, Stain Empire and Red Overlord were only a marginal threat, and that CO2 and DT were capable of dealing with any trouble coming from that direction. 

When the -A- counteroffensive, supported by Stain and Red Overlord, did occur, it became quickly evident that the Initiative had completely misjudged the strategic situation. As I described in Noblesse Oblige, Initiative compounded that error by a complete mishandling of events at almost every level. DT, new to nullsec warfare and fighting against the seasoned Southern Russians, were quickly overwhelmed and failscaded. CO2 held on longer but was forced to evacuate Impass soon after when their defense of that region collapsed. While CO2 managed to avoid a complete failscade, they were no longer effective as a combat unit by the time the order to bug out was given, and their organization was crippled by internal turmoil in the immediate aftermath of their loss. 

Rot as its conventionally understood assumes decay of a mature organization over time owing to a neglect of organizational qualities that made it successful in the first place, or by an accrual of factors that serve to break down or undermine the qualities needed to maintain a robust organization. Both CO2 and DT were relatively young alliances, and neither had been sitting complacently in their new territories for very long before -A- and Stain struck back. They lost territory to the counterattack and their organizations lost functional integrity, but neither suffered from 'rot' as it's conventionally understood.

The Initiative, while it made strategic and managerial blunders, did not do so because of deterioration in their organization due to rot. Relative to their opponents they were a young alliance and had, only months before, been a key player in the successful invasion of -A- space. The leadership of a young and healthy organization made mistakes and bad decisions. However, that doesn't mean the organization has succumbed to rot, but speaks pre-existing organizational weaknesses having to do with factors such as inexperience and nothing to do with the decay of a formerly robust organization over time.

Which brings us to IT Alliance.

As most of you know, IT Alliance was cobbled together from the wreckage of Band of Brothers (BoB) after the latter was disbanded from within by a turncoat director. Though regarded as effectively the same organization as BoB,  IT Alliance's structure and personnel included fundamental changes from that of its predecessor. Over time internal reaction and response to those changes downgraded the overall effectiveness and coherence of the alliance. By the time of their "all in" intervention in support of The Initiative, nominal loyalty to SirMolle was the only thing holding IT Alliance together; although his effective control of that organization had diminished over time. A  number of factions with incompatible agendas had developed within the alliance; their leadership largely at odds with each other and more interested in their rivals' failure than in IT Alliance's success.  

Meant to force the alliance to pull together, IT Alliance's "all-in" intervention in December of 2010 on behalf of The Initiative served to exacerbate schisms within the organization and revealed the dysfunction beneath IT Alliance's facade of strength and unity.  Within a week, Test Alliance's invasion of Fountain supported by Goonswarm forced IT Alliance to abandon The Initiative to its fate. IT Alliance's loss at PQNY-Y in the Fountain campaign showed how undermined SirMolle's alliance had become. The subsequent debacle at Z3OS-A was, for all intents and purposes, IT Alliance's death stroke. Though the enemy had not taken Delve and the alliance formerly known as BoB lingered on paper for a time, IT Alliance had come to its end.

In the case of IT Alliance one can reasonably call out rot as the reason the alliance lost its nullsec territory and dissolved. However, rot is still a symptom. If one wanted to understand or communicate meaningful information as to why IT Alliance folded, 'rot' as a stand-alone diagnosis doesn't deliver much in the way of useful information.

When confronted with events for which we don't know the precise cause, humans tend to assign causes in very broad and sometimes misleading terms.  Bygone diagnoses like "brain fever", "vapors" and "humour" may have been more or less meaningless, but they made the people of that time feel a little less helpless in the face of illness or death. However, at the end of the day they meant little more than "I don't know" when it came to determining a cause.

"Rot" has become a convenient shorthand used when we wish to forgo deeper analysis, or lack the inputs or insight needed to do deeper analysis. It has become a one-size-fits-all diagnosis that is, more often than not, ignorance or indolence masquerading as insight. Next time someone tries to palm it off as obvious unvarnished truth, politely ask them to define their terms and defend their argument.


  1. An excellent post, good sir.

    I think your reasoning can be applied to the fall of the NC. People are quick to point out that "rot" had set in after years of living in the north, but upon closer inspection, the reasons are very different.

    Some of which are:

    -The decision to wake the Russian bear with an invasion that was strong enough to incur the wrath of the east but not strong enough to significantly weaken the enemy.
    -Strategic errors in not putting resources into the defense of Geminate.
    -Inability to keep morale high in response to Uemon, rumors of Vuk's RMT'ing, and the abandonment of Majesta and R.A.G.E.
    -The unwillingness to take the helping hand of Goonswarm, both militarily (5,000 man alliance) and strategically (Rydis and Mittani pushed for unified NC fleet doctrine; HC balked).
    -And so on.

    This was indeed not a case of "rot," but a failure to respond to the invasion in both the war of hearts and minds and the war of violent boats until it was too late.

    But yeah, great post.

  2. To be fair, the post that you quoted (out of context) was hardly an attempt at an in-depth analysis of why alliances failed in 2011.

    The short-hand was entirely appropriate for the point I wanted to make in that post. For those who want to read it, it's here:

    Didn't want that space anyway

    The point to that post was that it'd be nice to read about a fight between alliances that didn't end because one side collapsed from within before the fight even started. Not sure what happened with -A- qualifies.

  3. It does remind you of Keynesians and putting the blame for economic crises on 'animal spirits', doesn't it? You know, fundamental flaws in markets and human beings, rather than malinvestment caused by regulatory and monetary distortion..

    I don't think anyone has really analyzed why alliances fail. The closest I've seen are The Mittani's posts over at TTH, which are amongst the most interesting EVE posts around. Of course, he is biased and very upfront about it, and more concerned with smearing enemies than an objective analysis (as he should be). I wish there were more EVE bloggers around like you and him. I'm not interested in reading about someone's 5-man 'good fite' they found randomly the other night, or how they sold a shipload of minerals for a good price that one time. It's like reading the twitter of someone who pats themselves on the back every time they make dinner and consume it.

  4. @Jester - You make my point.

    Fights where one side collapses from within before the fight starts are relatively rare, unless we have very different definitions of what "collapse from within" means and our understanding of when a fight starts.

    The -A- case is a clear case in point. -A- space was occupied without -A- collapsing from within. The initiative did not collapse from within. -A- drove them from their space. DT did not collapse from within, they collapsed because of pressure from without. Given CO2's situation, they performed admirably, but were overwhelmed by the Southern Russians and driven from Impass.

    My point is, you should have had a deeper think and done some analysis before hanging your argument on that wobbly central hook.

    Mind, you're in good company. My original draft had 'rot' quotes from five different blogs. I picked on yours because it was so wonderfully unqualified.

    1. It was also taken completely out of context. Anything can be used in that way if you have three dots substitute for an entire paragraph of text.

      'Rot' is the most common diagnosis given to explain the collapse of an Eve alliance or coalition. Rot as its conventionally understood assumes decay of a mature organization over time... when Atlas Alliance failscaded in the Summer of 2010, the cause was largely attributed to internal rot. In the case of IT Alliance one can reasonably call out rot as the reason the alliance lost its nullsec territory and dissolved.

      Gee, looks like you're using it as an unqualified term, too. You might want to go back and reread my actual blog post... even assuming my blog post was an attempt at doing a deep dive on why alliances failed in 2011... WHICH (for the second time) IT WAS NOT.

  5. @Jester:

    Of course I read your post, Mr Teg. I read all your posts.

    Here is the actual text from your blog:

    "Because that's how every single part of New Eden that was lost in 2011 was lost... and it was lost to alliances who had already held space. NCdot, White NoiseDOT, and RaidenDOT went from holding regions in the south to holding regions in the north. Morsus Mihi went from holding space in the north to holding space in the south to holding no space, losing it to GSF, who went from holding space in the north to holding space both north and south.

    All of it was due to internal rot."

    The part of the paragraph I ellipsed over was an aside about who moved where, not how they won or lost space. Then you sum up with the sentence about it all being due to internal rot. I did not change the meaning, I merely pulled your opening statement and the closing statement together for the sake of clarity.

    Omitting the two run-on sentences I did not repeat does not modify the meaning of your overall statement.

    The central point you make in your post is that territory is not actively won by the winner's strength so much as lost by the loser's internal complacency/rot (you appear you use the words as synonyms in this post though you treat them as cause/effect in a separate post). You repeat that thesis at the bottom of your comment above.

    This is demonstrably not true.

    The cases I provide disprove the argument that all alliances lose space because the loser has collapsed from within (by which I assume you mean rot) before the first battle is fought. Without that lynchpin, your entire logical structure falls apart.

    So, while you weren't analyzing why alliances fail, that question was essential to your larger point. In this wise your post was based on a flawed premise that is common among Eve bloggers.

    It is that flawed premise that is my target. I'm not going after you or your post, per se.

    1. You guy's talk real purdy round her.