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Can Eve Online work as a spectator sport?

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Eve Online is separated between two servers: Tranquility, the server for most of the world and Serenity, the server for Chinese players. It's time for them to battle it out.

"The greatest pilots of Serenity and Tranquility will meet in combat for the first time in a conflict of staggering proportions where the stakes are enormous, and the bragging rights will last for eternity," the event's official page states. "A mirror match in the truest sense of the phrase. In the cold depths of space and in this world’s frozen north – Worlds Will Collide."

And they did it in Iceland, in front of some of the the most hardcore Eve players in the world.

How this happened

"Whenever you have two markets, or two communities competing in the same game, you’ll ask yourself what it will be like if they meet," Ágúst Ingi Óskarsson, Community Developer of CCP told Polygon.

They threw around the idea two years ago and couldn’t quite make it happen last year, but now it’s time.

Eve Online is all about the meta-game, and trying to use any means necessary to get an advantage over your opponent. It’s a world where might often makes right, and being underhanded is a valid strategy. There were rules for this tournament, however, including a point system for what ships could be brought into battle, and the battle took place on a test server controlled by CCP. Marauders were banned completely, as they are seen as overpowered.

The Tranquility meta-game for combat often relies on Logistics, or support ships. The players from Serenity went in a different direction. "They have their own meta, and I think they’re going to surprise people with their setups," Óskarsson said. There is also a fair amount of betting on the outcome online in ISK, Eve Online’s virtual currency, and the odds heavily favored the Americans.

So how did it go?

Presentation needs to improve

Eve Online is a game for hardcore people by hardcore people, and trying to keep up with the game when you don't have an up to date knowledge of the ships and visuals isn't easy. This wasn't helped by the fact the team's colors were swapped on the screen for the first match, and then swapped back. This was after technical issues forced a late start and long pauses between matches.

The crowd was enthusiastic, but Serenity only won one of the four matches, which gave the whole thing an air of inevitability. The whole event was fun, but it felt like really enthusiastic school kids putting on a play rather than a smooth operation. This may have been one of CCP's first attempts at competitive Eve played live, but the situation was hard to tolerate if you weren't already heavily invested in the outcome.

Tournaments of this type are an interesting way to engage existing players in new ways, but it's unlikely they'll bring in any new players without some serious technological and presentation improvements.

What happens now?

Óskarsson wants to give the community the tools necessary to hold their own tournaments to replicate this experiment. "In my mind, that's the only way a game can become a sport where people want to participate and invest in it, because members of their own community are the ones running it."

There were real stakes for this event as well, even if you're not gambling on the outcome.

"The real reason you should cheer for your champions is that every player active on the winning server at the time of the match will receive a special ship: the Victorieux Luxury Yacht. It is an opulent vessel in which the contraband-mongering Intaki Syndicate bosses traverse the universe with in utmost comfort and style —perfect for the mighty capsuleers and fitting as the prize for such a marquee event," CCP announced.

"This ship will be given once — and only once. The losing server will never receive it. Ever."

This gave everyone at the event a reason to cheer; if their home team won they would walk away with some fresh new hardware. Those real-world stakes necessitate the use of the test server, but how do you share that with others?  Óskarsson has helped to set up the test server for fairness in other player-run tournaments, but that model won't scale.

So how will this work in the future? "That's a very good question, and it's a tricky question as well because if we add another server, which has been discussed in the past, where all the PVP-centered people can go for structured tournaments, we're effectively segregating the single-shard server we're so proud of. That's something I don't want to see happen."

Will structured PVP tournaments work in Tranquility in a way that's safe, without being crashed by surrounding players? It's possible, but it's unknown if the community even wants something that's fair.

"You want to maintain the cutthroat nature of EVE where nothing is completely safe and everything can be manipulated or assaulted directly," Óskarsson said. "I can't answer this yet, because we're still just discussing this and trying to figure this out ourselves."

These are the wonderful problems Eve Online faces; even when trying to make tournaments fair they have to worry about removing the cheating and intrigue.