This is the first article on a small set about my first year as Head Diplo of TEST (and “designated driver” because I don’t drink and EVE is a game where many things are better understood when drunk). Despite the fact that I am the second in command of TEST, this shouldn’t be taken as an official statement from my alliance, because it is written on my personal blog. Any official statement may be done by other means, but not here.
Learning to fail
Pretty much like in real life, you tend to learn more from mistakes than from success and mistakes, or to be precise, since the consequences of said mistakes aren’t a choice so its not like you have any other chance. A kid that had to touch a flame to understand that fire burns will not need a second attempt to reassure. Awareness is very important. Dodging responsibility only sets a small delay to your failure and you can’t fool people around you forever.
I had the opportunity of watching the monstrosity that TEST and the HBC coalition was to fall appart like a derailed train from the eyes of a brand new junior diplomat. But I had already experimented most of the problems that led to that point, and when I decided that I wanted to stick around I tried to make sure that we wouldn’t repeat the same story over and over.
Before that, I was director in a small spanish corporation that joined TEST during the 2012 Delve campaign. I personally was amazed by the propaganda that Tez Saurus did and I wanted to be a part of that, so I convinced my corpmates and we worked our way from a highsec newbie corp to become part of the biggest alliance in the game at that point. We made it, and I started to experiment how the life in nullsec was from the perspective of a newcomer in a neighborhood where everyone is already pretty much figured out.
I learned to love the big community that we had. The social aspect was amazing, but there were also many shadows amongst the good things. Now, with perspective, it is crystalline clear: everyone has their own objectives, ambitions and plans and many people aren’t loyal to anything beyond that, despite their public speech.
Loyalty can be a venomous concept in a game like EVE Online. It is definitely a double edged sword. Some people, thinks that loyalty entails sinking with a ship. Others, think that it is just a tool to gather whatever you want from who has what you want. And they will not doubt any second to jump to your back to backstab you when the time comes. EVE is such a great place for sociopaths, but I guess it is one of the many prices to pay. I think you shouldn’t owe loyalty to anyone besides yourself and as long as you are honest, breaking up with people should be easy. But it rarely is.
TEST suffered a collapse event. The alliance not only lost the effective control of over 7 regions, we also lost more than 70 corporations, two thirds of our membership, entire divisions of our leadership and a huge amount of assets and ISK. But not only that, the decisions that led to that point, salted the ground where we would try in the future to regrow and to this date, we still carry out the wounds done to our relations with external entities.
I was there the night that the HBC came to an end. When our then alliance executor BoodaBooda decided to pull out from the HBC and standings were reset after the State of the Alliance. I spent that night saying sorry to way too many people that found their assets locked after such a childlish and stupid decision that should have never been done, at least that way
People says that trust is the most valuable asset in EVE. But it is not because trust is difficult to earn, but because it is extremely difficult to have it again after you ruin it. And ruining it is extremely simple specially if you are rolling down a hill without any other plan than trying to not die after you inevitably crash onto something.
However, no one is exent of fucking it up and being executor is not an easy task so I can’t really blame anyone for making mistakes, specially in a chain of events like that. It was just another one. But that wasn’t even the biggest mistake. Because it was just the tip of the iceberg. Other worst mistakes happened prior to that day, that had bigger consequences. When the TMC logs were leaked, it came to the public light, but we already knew. Our former leadership fucked it up really hard with our former allies. There were different speeches, public and privates, that had nothing to do. People were being fed up by a twisted narrative to fall into a mob mentality, kool-aid drinking and such.
We found ourselves in a station in lowsec Aridia, dying from our own wounds, suffering the bleedout of people leaving and others trying to feed from our dying corpse. But we weren’t still dead. Some of us, still believed that there was a chance for us, and decided to stick around no matter how, to rebuild the house from its ashes. We were being harassed nonstop, we even had to leave our deployment in Curse because there was no way to sustain or rebuild under a permanent camp of our undock.
Booda resigned and SkierX took the ropes suddenly. One of the last things that he told me and Sapporo (our new exec) before resigning was to take care of TEST. SkierX was the executor that TEST needed during those horrible days. He is one of the most calmed and humble individuals I’ve had the pleasure to meet in this game. Not the typical entitled guy that loves to speak to listen to the sound of his own voice. His calmed head pulled the strings when people around were freaking out. We spent a whole year trying to rebuild an effective leadership again. He appointed me as Head Diplo after rob3r left and I became part of TEST High Command since then. And historically, the head diplo and mildir are the next in authority after the executor. So I became the “designated driver”.
The external noise
When you become part of a leadership team, you will have a different point of view of pretty much everything. Trying to get an unbiased point of view is very difficult. Not only because you have access to more information, and you take decisions, but also because it will be very difficult to get a honest and unbiased criticism. Everyone wants something and everyone will whisper to your ear. Many people will compliment you, for many different reasons.
This is why it is extremely easy to become an entitled and selfish asshole: because when cameras point at you and picture an image of yourself that you like, it is easy to believe that. And it is just a game. Leadership exists for a practical reason, it should not be a medal gathering contest where people lacking of ego and self respect fight to death for notoriety. Not everyone has the same opinion about what leadership is. I think it is a way to serve people you like, because you think that you can give something good to them and contribute to a cause bigger than yourself. I know that this is a stupid idealistic gimmick, but still.
Diplomacy -external diplomacy- usually happens outside the game. Either in chats or in games, or grabbing a bear. It is a social thing. To become a good diplomat, you should like to meet people and listen to what they have to say. You have to understand the power of your words and what you can say and what you can’t, without lying. Because lies are very easy to catch and once you are marked as a liar no one will take you seriously so you will be useless.
I like to speak with neutral entities and other players that have no relation whatsoever with me. Specially when they are more experienced. I value the criticism and I respect my rivals and enemies. Its very easy but equally as important to understand that standings and friendship are two different concepts, and when you are a diplomat, or when try to be a good one, many different people will talk to you on a constant basis and you will share your experiences, and learn from their perspective. You will share non compromising information (you are not a leaker, but an official point of contact) and you will gather information. This is the main vaccine against becoming a gigantic disfunctional circlejerk.
But one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the external noise. You will hear and you will read a lot of things that you don’t want to read or to hear and you have to learn which ones you should care about and which ones are people just wanting to see the world burn. And it is not easy. Specially when you see former friends trying to set you on fire. It definitely sucks. You shouldn’t care, but you care. Its almost impossible to not care. You are a human, after all. And we all like to be liked by others.
The main source of external noise after a collapse event is not the explosion itself, its all the people that have left and point fingers at you to remind everything you have done wrong (even if you had no involvement at all, or even if they unironically were responsible of these choices). Some will try to stick around to armchair everything around you, to tell you how to do everything properly and to remind you how bad you are because you fucked up. After all this time, it sounds extremely ironic, but still. Give it time and everyone will show who they really are. It is 2015 and we are still being judged by things people did back in 2012 and most of the times instigated by people that was involved in those mistakes, that left when the ship started to sink, and that have been acting as bitter exes since then.
As I said before, loyalty is a fucked up concept in EVE Online. You are free to go where you want. If you go and immediately start actively trying to damage those who you left behind (and I’m not talking about blowing spacepixels which is the purpose of this game) then its normal if people gets upset at you and don’t want you to stick around. However they will come with the “its just a game” fallacy. Yes, its just a game but you used our “friendship” to stab me repeatedly. Its funny when they distance themselves from that discourse yet they take the smallest opportunity to come back at you. Yes, exactly what a bitter ex girlfriend/boyfriend does.
Achieving a “clean slate” with external entities in this scenario, is almost impossible. Everyone will judge you by your past. And once your brand is cursed, there is little you can do. But I know that words get you only so far. And I prefer to act and to show and to exemplify rather than making people drink kool aid to believe. You don’t get to choose which cards you would like, you play with what you have.
But even after a huge storm, the sky comes out clear again. Its a matter of time that true friends show up in time of need and will understand the situation. We have found some of this friends across the path as well. This is where HERO and some other entities play a role. But thats material for another post.
Rebuilding from the ashes
It takes time, it takes countless of hours of time by devoted individuals, but it is doable. Of course, it is easier to push the button, disband, let it go and start over. I can understand now why many people do this. Because refloating can be extremely painful at times. But I think it is worth it.
The first priority during the fourty years through the desert was rebuilding an effective, top-down leadership again. Unfortunately you don’t have a deck to draw cards until you get everything sorted. It takes time to find valuable people that you can trust and that doesn’t burnout because of the many difficulties they will have to face. This is by far the most important and challenging part of rebuilding an alliance, because without an effective leadership, you will not succeed, you will not recruit more corporations and you will not be able to achieve objectives that make you grow.
As of today, we are still far from being happy with how our structure works. It works much better than the last year, and definitely much better than two years ago. But it is far from being finished. However, it allows us to operate and grow.
Our organization is a top-down dictatorship. We have our executor and CEO that has the last word. Then, we have different directorates that have one or two directors, each one with their own internal structure (some may have subdirectors). The executor has the help of a High Command formed up by the division heads and some other individuals. It is intended as a practical think tank to come up with decisions by the people that puts them into practice. It is not a council. Even if we are the heads of certain divisions, we help each other to fill gaps whenever they exist. No one is available 24/7 and sometimes you need to be there. So everyone in High Command has to be comfortable to decide and get things done. This means that you need to know who to talk with to get it done, rather than doing it by yourself. Delegation is very important, and coordination tasks can be very demanding in time and resources, so you won’t have time to do it by yourself.
I personally like to keep people on the loop and try to update as much as I can with what we are doing, because I know that it is not good when things happen and you don’t know or when you get the feeling that everyone but you knows what it is happening. Achieving a proper inter-leadership communication is difficult and we are still improving in that point. We have devoted many resources during our time in HERO coalition and faced many challenges due to the lack of communication between allies.
Once you are comfortable with the team you have, you need to start making people to believe again. Some people call this “having a narrative”. I can understand why. People will do unfun things if you provide them a good reason for that. Setting everything on fire around you or shitting on someone else’s breakfast can be a good starting point. However, getting the narrative that works with the particular set of individuals that make your community is not always an easy task. And for an alliance like us, where trolling and shitposting are the main reason of our existence, it is certainly challenging.
It took almost one year and a half to come up with a narrative in the proper time and form to get the alliance back on its track again. Now, in April 2015 TEST is a breathing entity again with a bright future. We are steadily growing, we are doing funny things by ourselves, we are finally capable of stand still. We can close the chapter of the failcascade because it is in the past. Now, with lessons learned it is time for new exciting stuff. I will speak about our time in HERO in the next part of this set of articles, because otherwise it would be way too long.