Back in March, I predicted that the sanctum/haven nerf was going to be disastrous for the small sov-holding alliances in EVE. Let's see how that prediction is playing out, shall we?
Yes, I'm being sarcastic. ;-)
I don't think I have to lay it down for most of you: the last four months have been an unmitigated disaster for anyone not part of a 1500-ship blob. The only small alliance winners this summer have been CVA, who -- thanks to the near-worthlessness of Providence -- have retaken much of their pre-Dominion holdings and look set to reestablish a NRDS coalition in this area. They're back over 1000 pilots and apparently doing fine. Delve/Querious is also -- somewhat surprisingly -- turning into a hot-bed of smaller-gang PvP activity. Catch and Period Basis are also doing pretty well in this regard.
These days, the message is clear: if you want small-gang fights, run southwest as fast as your warp drive can carry you.
For surrounding these five regions are the blob. From Fountain in the southeast, clockwise north through Deklein, east through Tribute into the drone regions of the northeast, south through the Great Wildlands and Scalding Pass, down into the southern Russian and AAA space in the southeast and far south, the latter touching into the southern parts of Catch, the blob holds sway.
On paper, separate alliances hold these regions, but the way they fight is the same. Goonswarm is over 7000 members at this point, and their pets push them well over ten thousand. I shall henceforth be calling the residents of the north "NC Reloaded." They might object, but there were 5000 rat kills in the 52-JKU constellation in Tribute in the last 24 hours. That makes any objections they might make laughable and hollow. Mord Fiddle declares them pets of the Russians, and I don't see any particular reason to argue that conclusion at this time. My opinions of the Russians across the eastern half of the map remain unchanged. Hell, I've pulled all of my PvP stuff out of the regions bordering Scalding Pass and the Great Wildlands over the last few days. It's clear that unless I care to learn Russian or play EVE during the U.S. work-day, I won't be visiting my old stomping grounds there ever again.
EDIT (28/Jul/2011): Just to be clear, now that I read this again, it reads like I'm including GS as part of NC Reloaded. I'm not. NC Reloaded = Raiden/Ev0ke/NCdot and their subsidiaries, potentially including PL (though I'm willing to be convinced otherwise on that last one).
Will AAA be next? We'll see over the next few months. The most recent fight was in Tenerefis. The only winner of that fight was lag.
Mord at Fiddler's Edge and corelin at Haberdashers Run Amok are chatting about what the null-bears are going to do, but that isn't a difficult (or honestly, an interesting) question for me. Wildly Inappropriate is now a single corp in Goonswarm. That says all that really needs to be said on that topic, honestly. Hell, it might say all that needs to be said about null-sec politics in 2011.
But no, the next canary in the coal mine are the small unbounded PvP alliances. Not mercenary, not particularly sov-holding, these alliances have been the drivers for small-gang PvP in null-sec. For my money, the most important alliance to EVE's future right now is Merciless., currently living in Venal and holding down a small section of Tribute, spoils of war captured when NC Reloaded pushed the old NC out of that region. It's tempting to just dismiss them as part of NC Reloaded. But it also feels wrong to do so. Merciless are a very solid small-gang PvP bunch that have moved around the EVE map pretty freely, as the winds of PvP have carried them since the alliance's creation about ten months ago. They have a few super-caps at their disposal, but are not what you would call a super-cap alliance.
From the outsider's perspective, Merciless. seems to be suffering. Their member count is down 30% -- to about 500 -- in the last month, in part due to a slow bleed, in part due to a few member corps apparently seeking their fortunes elsewhere. Garst Tyrell, the lader of Merciless., says 100 of those lost members were a corp they had leadership issues with. I know Garst has little to no interest in holding sov. And Garst both leads the alliance, and the alliance's founding corp, No.Mercy (down 25%, to 60 members). The job of renting out or selling their few sov systems in Tribute seems to be in progress.
So what does the future hold for Merciless. (and by extension, similar small PvP alliances in EVE)? It's hard to say. I have no predictions for you this time.
A few days ago, Garst announced they would be resetting virtually all of their blues. That strikes me as a good place to start. ;-)