By Rich Stanton on May 14th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
In the months I've been following EVE Online, one story stuck in my head more than any other. It's the tale of how a pilot flying a Ragnarok Titan, the biggest and most expensive ship class in the game, was inactive but tracked for years by a group of players. And when he eventually logged on, they bagged him. The outlines suggest so much – the obsession, the hunt, the skill, the devastating loss, and of course the mind-boggling timeframe. Fanfest 2014 was my chance to find out more.
"The group I fly with, we kind of fashion ourselves as 'big game hunters,'" begins the capsuleer known as Quickload. "Pith helmet, blunderbuss, go out in the jungles. Our main interest is ships with a jump drive. You have one of those? You've got our attention."
Quickload is a member of the Sniggerdly corporation, part of one of EVE's most infamous alliances: Pandemic Legion. Among other things, PL is known for high-level PvP players, superb tactics, and big kills. "In EVE players seem to find their specialities, and niches within PvP fighting," Quickload says. "Something like a non-capital ship my group generally don't care about."
"When we see signs of a hostile or neutral capital ship that is moving in our area we take interest in it, and in September 2012 one of my cohorts Cumadrin Kassin saw the signs of a cynosural field in a system next to our home. It was a system without stations and, if you don't know anything about EVE, seeing signs of a cyno field in a system without stations indicates a big thing is moving through that system – something that doesn't need to dock, because it can't, which usually means a Super Capital or a Titan."
"So Cumadrin did the right thing and went to check it out and as he entered system he saw in Local, the list of players in the solar system, a pilot who promptly logged out." Cumadrin had the name of the pilot who had set up the cynosural field – the means by which Titans jump – but didn't yet have the name of the Titan pilot.
"He managed to save the cyno pilot's name, went to the cynosural field which you can warp to in space – which was in like a safe zone between planets, you can warp between planets and make a bookmark in-between. So our guy found and bookmarked that location, noted the name of the player, and then with others started doing some additional research. Through that he found alts or other characters of this pilot, coming up with a shortlist of other candidates that turned out to be quite close. And it pretty much ended there."
The big game hunters had narrowed down the field of potential Titan pilots – and one name, FomkA, looked like a match. But there was a reason for bringing a Titan into Low-security space. "That guy was taking a break, as many players do," explains Quickload. "But when you have a capital ship like a Supercarrier or a Titan you need to park it somewhere safe. Like in lowsec, because you don't have to worry about bubbles or sovereignty changes while you're offline. That would be a safe place to park your undockable ship. He chose a system called Kamal."
And then FomkA disappeared – or, to be more accurate, that one character disappeared. PL's hunters had identified several alts used by this player and kept one eye on them while going about their normal business. "It's all to understand what's going on in his mind," says Quickload. "All we wanted him to do was log in. But what we wanted to know was what kind of signs will he exhibit in order to log in? So we watched his alts carefully."
Looking for what? "Maybe one of them will go off to a nearby lowsec system and set up a pos [safe zone]. Maybe one will bring a hauler full of Titan-relevant modules to a nearby highsec system in hopes of refitting his Titan once he does log in. Something like that. Watching the alts for activity relevant to what we want him to do is part-and-parcel of hunting these things. You're basically trying to predict what he's going to do before he even necessarily knows it."
But month after month, nothing happened with this particular pilot. Then out of nowhere, a sign. "The tip-off came when we had just finished killing another Titan," says Quickload. "A Black Legion Titan which I'd found where the guy had logged off then logged in a couple of hours later, and we probed it down and killed it. And literally as we were cleaning up the field from that mess we made, my cohort Kumadran uttered on comms 'Oh shit.'"
"He said that because on his watchlist he still had that cynosural field pilot he's logged all that time ago in Kamal. He instantly recognised that alt as who it was, and he knew what it meant straightaway."
To spell out exactly what's going on: the Titan pilot has another character on the go which is specifically used to set up jumping points called cynosural fields – this is how the Titan moves through space. This 'cyno alt' had been inactive, and it has just been spotted.
"Let me put it this way: if you hunt these things, and someone logs their cyno in after all this time, it usually means they're going to do something with that Super Capital or Titan that's associated with it."
"So we hurry up and get in position."
If only it were so easy.
"This guy's cyno alt logged in and started moving, he moved into highsec space. And then we saw some of his other alts log in and log off, even do some missioning… so we were there waiting for this guy to log in at any moment. But one day turned into two days. Two days turned into three days, and three days into four days."
As the group began to wonder whether this was a false alarm, they found the final piece of the puzzle. "The big tipoff that made us think he might log in his Titan was a find on the forums. He used this cynosural field alt pilot, which he'd used in September 2012, to put a 'For Sale' notice up for a Ragnarok on the EVE forums," says Quickload. "So we knew at that moment he was trying to sell his Ragnarok, which means he has to log it in. You can't sell something that's offline."
"So we waited in anticipation." Maximum camp mode? "Maximum camp mode, twenty-four seven or twenty three seven as we say in EVE parlance [the server has a short downtime every day] and so we waited and we waited, knowing he could move at any moment. Our crew covers all time zones, some are Australian, some are European, some in the US, so we could basically follow the sun. But we had deduced the guy was Russian so we figured it was most likely to happen in early evening European timezone hours."
So the day comes. "There was still no major movements, though we were watching the guy on his other characters missioning in highsec. Pretty boring stuff, right? [laughs] Suddenly without any prior notice [clicks fingers] we saw the Titan pilot log-in. And everybody just instantly shouts on our teamspeak 'he's logged in, he's logged in!'"
This moment calls to my mind one of those scenes from sci-fi movies where pilots are scrambling to get on-board their ships – except in this case the hunters were more than ready. "Oh yeah, we were waiting," says Quickload. "Immediately the probers we have in that system throw out their combat probes and get a hit. Get a one-hundred percent hit. The probing guy lands on top of the Ragnarok as it's coming out of warp. But the Ragnarok you have to understand is the most agile of the Titans. In other words it can go from full stop to warp speed faster than all the other Titans."
So this guy still had a chance? "It turns out he even has an aid for that, a microwarpdrive which you can use to get from a full stop into a warp faster than you normally could – a perfectly valid trick, a great use of mechanics, I do it, and it's a safe and known way to get your super into warp really fast."
Did he use it? "He used it. Because by the time our pilot had opened our cyno on his Ragnarok, and we'd gotten our heavy interdictors in to tackle him – this is lowsec so no bubbles [a trapping tactic] – we had to get on-grid through a cyno, a Titan bridge of our own, target the Ragnarok and then 'point' it [scramble the ship's warp drive beyond escape]. By the time we had gotten to that stage, that guy was already in warp."
"Luckily, we saw where he warped to," says Quickload. "A celestial body, a planet way far off, about twenty-odd AU away. And twenty AU away is a long time to warp in a Titan, it'll take a minute or two. It was the only possible thing in the direction he went – there was one moon, a poco – a customs office – and a stargate to another system. We had about twenty guys so we split between these three options on the hope one of us lands on this Ragnarok, and another guy repositions his probes around that planet as well – so that if he didn't land in any of these places but near enough to it, we'd still get him."
The hunting group landed and saw nothing. The Ragnarok wasn't at any of these three positions. Turns out the pilot had been wise enough to previously bookmark a point to warp to – a safe spot – from where he could either jump again, given enough time, or call up an 'emergency cyno' from a friend or an alt to escape. And if the hunters knew one thing about this pilot, it was that he had alts.
"In that compressed span of two minutes or so everyone on my team was on edge, because we could legitimately lose this guy," says Quickload. "This guy could've landed out of warp and if he had a cyno ready and in his fleet he could've landed and [clicks fingers] out he goes."
"Luckily he didn't. Well [laughs] luckily for us he didn't. So he didn't land on any of these three spots but he landed close, close enough that our probes snagged him a second time. So we get the probe hit when he lands, the prober warps there, everyone warps to the prober, we de-cloak the Ragnarok – and by that time the ship had come to a full stop. The interdictors land and point 'em up, and so we were able to get the tackle on him." The Titan was trapped.
"Once tackle was secure our second cyno goes up, and we bridge in all our heavy metal," says Quickload. "Then it was like 'OK, let's squish him down.' We bridged in so much DPS we actually had to hold back so that our friends could get on the killmail [laughs] Personally, my super, I just launched one fighter-bomber and stuck it on that – everyone got on the mail. Over comms it was 'Everyone on the mail? Going once, going twice, OK kill him.' And bam. Over the course of 45 seconds to a minute we just ate through all his HP and that was it."
Including the unfortunate victim this engagement involved 58 pilots, though it should be noted that many of the hunters were 'triple-boxing' or in Quickload's case 'quad-boxing' – that is, controlling four ships at once. Here is the killmail. Some kind soul has also preserved the local chat logs of this exact moment for posterity. The Titan pilot's name is FomkA, everyone else is a member of Quickload's hunting party, and this is as [sic] as it gets.
[01:11:28] FomkA > i have not be loggin for 3 years
[01:11:29] FomkA > how the ufck
[01:11:31] FomkA > lol
[01:11:35] waris good > lol
[01:11:39] waris good > we been watching you for that long
[01:11:40] FomkA > i m serious
[01:11:47] BlueMajere > 🙂
[01:11:50] Jassmin Joy > it's been a long three years
[01:11:54] waris good > yea
[01:11:55] Fainaru Wada > welcome back m8
[01:11:59] waris good > slumber parta
[01:12:07] FomkA > gg
[01:12:12] BlueMajere > we stalked u
[01:12:14] BlueMajere > 3 yrs
[01:12:18] BlueMajere > thank u for logging in
[01:12:27] FomkA > cant believe tbh
[01:12:41] BlueMajere > its fact
That 'welcome back m8′ slays me, for some reason. "He was logged off in his words for three years," says Quickload. "But that's maybe as long as he's been 'inactive' because we knew it was less."
There was one final act. "The encore was that he managed to get his pod out, because pods warp instantly, and he got it to highsec. And then I guess he was so mad or enraged at what happened that once he jumped into highsec he logged the pod off."
What happens next comes down to EVE mechanics. Because of the fight FomkA had an aggression timer of fifteen minutes – so when he logged off, his pod would warp 100km in a random direction, and then stay there until the timer expired.
"So one of our probers went through, probed it out, and one of our enterprising pirate members who was highsec-capable jumped in there in an interceptor, because that's all he had, warped to the pod and just suicide ganked it."
FomkA's character had around 3 billion ISK worth of implants. Welcome back m8. This is an example of the strategising some groups go to in order to get these big kills. "To us it's a challenge," says Quickload. "It's a mindgame. It's part of the greater game itself. It's not the greatest EVE story, it's just an example of what can happen. A Titan's the biggest ship of all, it's the ultimate ship."
But it is not so much the scale of this hunt as the time that elapsed between the first sighting and the final blow – which I make at around 20 months total. "Saving a bookmark is cheap," explains Quickload. "Some people get kind of antsy about their bookmark list, kinda OCD and clear them all out after a while but my cohort Kumadrin – he's pretty good about it."
The most terrifying thing, surely, is to be an EVE player reading this story. One of the goals many players have, even if it's just to try it out, is to fly a Supercarrier or a Titan – nevermind own one. Well now you know. The second you have a ship like that, you get the attention of guys like these. The Ragnarok came in at just under 76 billion ISK. If you were to buy that much ISK purely through PLEX – which of course FomkA almost certainly did not – it would cost you at a very rough estimate around £1750 / $3000.
"Some super kills we do are pretty banal, they're pretty boring as far as preparation and research go," says Quickload. "Some of them, like this one, can be pretty exciting. We don't try to take things for granted, rest on our laurels and think we're just that good we can do anything at any given moment. We know we have to work for each and every kill in each and every hunt, and use all the resources we have available in order to effect the perfect trap."
Supercarrier and Titan pilots of EVE Online – sleep well.