EVE Online is a big, complicated game — and even then, I use the word “game” lightly. In a sense, EVE Online is to video games as building model cars is to Hot Wheels. All of them are fun, and in the case of Hot Wheels: way too much fun for someone my age. But what I’m trying to highlight here is that EVE Online is more akin to a hobby than a game. It’s deep, intricate, and it’ll take some time before you begin to show any mastery of it. People jump into EVE the same way I jumped into building my first model car, and all of us wound up hours later staring at the steaming wreckage of twisted struts wondering what went wrong. I’ll tell you: you didn’t learn.
Of course, learning in EVE Online is akin to being a parent. One day you give into your animal instincts — you do the unspeakable thing of giving CCP Games your credit card info — and before you know it, you’re responsible for something that you have no clue how to take care of. Fortunately, just like being a parent, EVE is full of people just dying to tell you why you’re doing something wrong. And, just like being a parent, most of them are idiots. But today — today is a special day because today, I’m about to introduce you to a group of people who know exactly what they are doing and are certainly not idiots. So dust off your pokemon cards, toss on a shirt with a cartoon alligator on it and go wait outside for the bus. Things are about to get elementary.
School is in Session
EVE Online is, as far as I’m aware, the only game that has both the capacity and the dire need for its own education system. The game is infamous for being an incredibly obtuse and hard game to learn, so much so that it has spawned memes, viral videos, and all manner of jokes at the expense of the game’s difficulty curve. But, in the true spirit of the game, the players have always found a way to meet their needs, and EVE has seen the rise and fall of many in-game educational institutions. Enter EVE University, one of the longest standing educational corporations in EVE Online. Boasting student and faculty numbers well over 2000 members, EVE University maintains a longstanding reputation throughout the reaches of New Eden.
The University also maintains and operates one of the largest repositories of information about the game via their wiki, which CEO Azmodeus Valar informs me, sees more than two million unique monthly visitors. For 11 years the University has been instructing players on just about every aspect of EVE Online.
“EVE University tries to give people an avenue to experience as many aspects of the game as we can,” Azmodeus Valar said during an interview with me. “Right now, we have groups organizing in hi-sec, low-sec, in […] npc-null, and in wormhole space, which is most of the major areas of the game.”
The University aims at giving players a foundational understanding of each area of EVE, and the various activities associated with them. But the jack-of-all-trades approach is not without its own drawbacks.
“We’re never going to be as good in any one area as a corporation that is dedicated to it,” Azomdeus explained. “We don’t hold sov[reign]-null space because it requires the types of political alliances we aren’t willing to make.”
Regardless of minor drawbacks, EVE University enjoys a friendly, vibrant culture of learning and growing together. New students are introduced to other players at a rapid pace, and are quickly categorized by what interests them in the game.
“It’s the chance to actually be in a small group, a segment of our university — we call them campuses — and try out a section of space and learn with others,” Azmodeus said. “Each one of those campuses will have new players who are learning along with you, and some older players who have gotten some experience in that section of the game and are passing it along.”
“It’s a continual process: as the older players leave, the new players rise up and take their spots and people continue cycling through and passing on their knowledge.”
EVE University features two approaches to teaching: players (both students and those not associated with university) can sign up for lectures, and then there are hands-on classes taking part in the field that are typically available only for actual students. While both have their uses, there is a certain value to learning things firsthand and getting a little dirty in the process.
“You can take a lot of different classes on [player versus player combat] that talk about the theory of it,” Azmodeus explained as an example, “but none of that is going to prepare you for the time you are actually in-game.”
“A lot of new players get that adrenaline rush, where they talk about shaking a little bit when the fight is happening.”
Theory is crucial, but Azmodeus knows the value of experiencing things for yourself. To that end, the University aims to constantly offer students the ability to cut their teeth on all of EVE’s avenues of play.
“We try to have continual […] fleets going out, where somebody will guide you through how PVP works and you can just jump right in.” But experiencing is only one aspect of the learning process, however. “Afterwards you can talk about it with the people who were in the fleet with you and kind of get some feed back and try to improve.”
“Repeat and repeat as much as you want until you feel you are getting better at it.”
While the University offers a variety of skirmish exercises and opportunities for one-on-one duels, their primary focus is getting their combat-minded pilots into live-fire situations against players who, as Azmodeus so simply put it, “kill you.”
Dying in EVE Online isn’t like dying in your average MMORPG, however. In EVE, dying is a severe consequence that can part players with millions of ISK (the in-game currency), which can represent, for many, weeks of hard work. Losing ships and their valuable modules is a tough hurdle for the new player to jump.
“To help mitigate that, we give free ships and free modules — which is EVE’s version of equipment — to all the new players,” Azmodeus said. “They can go out on a fleet, get blown up, be given new stuff to try it again.”
“You’re going to die when you learn — it’s EVE.”
Combat is an integral part of every EVE experience, whether a player wants it to be or not, but the University instructs on far more than just the basic principles of blowing someone up. Exploration, trading, mining, manufacturing: all of these and more are covered by the University’s extensive curriculum. Even scamming, a dubious career at best, has a home within the corporation.
“There isn’t much that we’re, you know, morally or ethically against; it’s a game and we’re here to supply information about the game.”
That information is also made widely available for anyone who wants it. The EVE University wiki is one of the foremost resources on just about every aspect of the game. It isn’t merely a dumping ground for raw information about skills and ship statistics (though it has those aplenty), but also a vast repository of recorded classes, lessons, and lectures given by faculty and guests over the years.
“If you can’t actually manage to make one of our classes,” Azmodeus said, “we have recordings of them posted on the wiki, so you can listen to it later.”
Lectures and hands on learning is important, but Azmodeus is a strong proponent of the importance of the community fostered by EVE University. Quick communication is key for a new player, giving them access to information the moment they need it. Players are encouraged to socialize and ask questions in the various chat channels, forums, and other avenues offered to them. The University also offers one-on-one mentoring for any player that requests it.
“We found that those avenues tend to get more of a meaningful experience for the students.”
Beyond the scope of logistics and organization required to run an in-game community that rivals the population of my high school (and is likely more legitimate), perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of EVE University is that all of this is done by volunteers. Even Azmodeus Valar is a volunteer, receiving no payment for the time he commits to the game on an hourly basis.
“I have had to make changes in my personal life.” Azmodeus explains, but is quick to add, “my family comes first.”
“Thankfully, I was playing EVE Online before I met my wife.” He said jokingly, “She knew what she was getting into.”
Azmodeus, however, is quick to deflect the spotlight afforded from overseeing such a prestigious community.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the organization that I’m lucky to be apart of and now in charge of,” he said. “EVE University is very well known across the EVE universe, my name is much less so. I don’t try to put myself out there, I just try to do my job and make sure the University continues to do it’s [job].”
In the past, the University has operated on various donation programs to cover the upkeep of such an ambitious network of wikis, forums, and their core site. Now, due to the generosity of companies like Dediserve, they can focus their attention on what really matters: the students.
So if you’re going to get yourself killed while playing EVE Online, here’s a tip: make sure you learn something from it. EVE University will most certainly get you killed, but they’ll also do the most important thing and make sure you know why. With a staggering amount of information for all types of players, the University is one of the most unique player communities in any online game.
EVE Online is a tough place to get started. Imagine moving to a foreign country without any previous experience of their customs, culture, or laws. You’re likely to make a few awkward mistakes. In EVE, those mistakes can cost you your life. CCP is hard at work tweaking the new player experience as best they can, but there will always be a need for players like Azmodeus and corporations like EVE University to help turn EVE Online from an intimidating experience into a compelling one.
“We do what we can to mitigate that to some extent, and in doing so we form bonds that last for a long time.”
Any player wanting to traverse the harsh, inky blackness of EVE Online with a community willing to teach and grow alongside them should be sure to reach out. The University can be reached through their main site, or through the in-game chat channel E-UNI.Related: Column, Community, EVE Online, The Final Frontier