Eve Online’s Alliance Tournament is a tradition as difficult to explain as the game itself, and nearly as old. In the tournament, which now sprawls over four weekends, ace pilots represent their home alliances in timed arena-style battles. It’s been called the World Cup of Eve, but it reminds me more of the America’s Cup: a specialist event with ever-changing rules, played by team-hopping mercenaries who are not infrequently caught cheating.
Unlike the esports competitions where teams win, say, five million dollars, the Alliance Tournament is mostly about bragging rights. However, the Eve community has a more than casual interest in bragging. Despite the complex format and the difficulty of filming a 24-player dogfight, the tournament is a major event. Developers and players do live commentary from Iceland and a desk of analysts fills time between matches in segments that can be charmingly reminiscent of public access TV. A host of sites let you gamble in-game money on match results.
The name of this year’s winner (The Camel Empire) and the details of their prize (unique ships) won’t mean much to most people. But the genius of the Alliance Tournament is that it’s also a platform for alliances to promote themselves. CCP gives players free ad time for 15-second spots, and the submissions are like tissue samples from the roiling alien brain of Eve.
Here’s one from 2011, when Skrillex ruled the earth:
By contrast, this year’s fourth-place finishers The Tuskers ran a minimalist tribute to scrolling crack intros:
While some ads follow the posturing of CCP’s own cinematic trailers, the best of them either puncture myth-making efforts or go so aggro they lose their minds. This year, four-time AT winners Pandemic Legion used most of their spots to joke about their alliance’s losses a few months back:
But the MVP of Alliance Tournament XII marketing was perennial contender Hydra Reloaded, whose trolls remained strong even as their championship hopes faded:
They also provided a snippet of target-calling by Hydra’s PVP legend Garmon:
Not all Alliance Tournament ads are worth watching. Some appear to be directed by a copy of Adobe After Effects that came to life when someone left an old silk hat on it. Other spots are just very serious about making bodies hit the floor.
But underneath most of them, I think, there’s a genuine effort to crack open the game’s dull UI and reveal whatever hidden quality has kept players hooked for so long. Every alliance ad is an ad for Eve too. But they push the raw, strange world that players actually log in to, not the scrubbed spectacle of CCP’s official promos.