OK, let's wrap up my series of AT11 posts with one that I've been orbiting but haven't quite dared really talk about yet. I'm going to try to make this a little bit low-key. I'm going to try. But it's a difficult subject. Here goes.
How many really good alliance tournament teams are there in EVE? Because frankly, with the current design of EVE tournament play, I don't think it's very many. More specifically, I think it's two: HYDRA RELOADED and Pandemic Legion. And the more alliance tournaments CCP has with its current design, the fewer really good teams I think we're going to have. We're going to see a snowball effect where fewer and fewer players will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be really good at this tournament thing... to really be competitive in tournament play... and I think those players will respond to it by moving either temporarily or permanently to alliances that support that play style.(1)
In short, tourney play in EVE is in serious danger of becoming just like every other play style in EVE: dominated by a small number of groups that wipe out their competition in the meta-game rather than the actual game-game. Like sovereignty. Like wormholes. Like moon-goo (yes, this is different from sov; it's just some of the same groups involved). The differences between AT11 and the Dota2 International Championships over the weekend were really striking, particularly how many really good Dota2 teams there are.
EVE isn't there. I'm starting to wonder if it ever will be.
After the Hydra/0utbreak embarrassment that was AT9, I had the opportunity to chat semi-publicly with one of the Hydra players. I mentioned that AT9 seemed so much more professional and hard-core than previous tournaments and more casual teams were ROFL-stomped pretty aggressively early on. Then I essentially said, "after dominating this tournament so forcefully this year, do you think we'll see Hydra's core of pilots break up into other alliances to try to build a number of competitive tournament teams?" The answer I got was essentially, no, this player felt like other teams were stepping up to their level and we'd see more competition.
We saw how that worked out in AT10 when Hydra was banned from competing. A lot of Hydra players were openly dismissive of the AT10 winners on the EVE-O and other forums after it was over. And now with AT11 in the books, we can see that was with good reason. Hydra crushed anyone they even came near, not even losing a single ship to their competition until we were down to the top four(!) teams in the winner's bracket. Sure, Exodus came in third, and sure, they feel there were extenuating circumstances that might have got them past Hydra and into the finals. Know what? No, there weren't. Exodus was crushed, too. The gap between the second-best team and the third-best team in AT11 was wide and deep.
This year, a few PL pilots said that no other alliance could have gone through the marathon they did in that loser's bracket. I'm not inclined to argue with them. I asked my own alliance-mates if any of them could say with a straight face we could have supplied the ships for and fought 17 matches, winning 14 of them. Nobody did. And Rote Kapelle isn't considered a bad tournament team... I don't think.
OK, I promised I wasn't going to make a big deal of this. I'll try to back off a bit.
But I'm gonna say it: this style of play is really really nasty and very few EVE players are stepping up to it. Putting together 12 or 15 or 18 players all in the same alliance, all willing to do it? Tough. Very tough! Oh sure, we'll continue to see competitive matches among the lower tier teams between each other. And some of those will be great fights! But right now, they're mostly fighting for the right to show who gets to be badly crushed by a first tier team. Maybe they get to say they gave their first-tier opponent a hard time, but probably they don't. And as the first tier teams continue to collect more and more tourney ships, that gap is only going to get deeper and wider. Thank Heaven the AT11 prizes were sub-par tournament ships.
For a lot of players, their best chance to get a sniff of those tourney ships isn't going to be to motivate their alliance-mates into doing the work. It's going to be seeing what they can do to convince a winning alliance to recruit them.(2) And that's only going to make the snowball effect protecting those top-tier teams more pronounced.
Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. I might be totally off the mark here. What do you think, Dear Reader? And in the meantime, no more tourney stuff until NEO. Or maybe until SCL.
(1) As a side note, as the CREST "battlespace simulator" becomes more and more advanced, I wonder if it will cause some EVE players to become more hesitant about flying in AT matches and have their every move scrutinized? It's yet another way that pilots competing at this level have to be absolute perfectionists at their play, because any mistakes will be seen...
(2) Apathetic Brent in my own alliance caught a lot of crap from my alliance-mates (including myself, truth be told) for trying to do just that before being selected as a commentator instead.