October 6, 2017

Drama Finally Strikes Mercenary Academy

Drama is a way of life in EVE. As a director and former CEO, I'm all too aware of this fact. But it's still never pleasant when it happens, especially when it comes as a surprise from people who you never thought would be its source. Yesterday, as some of you may have already read, some students (acting independently of Mercenary Academy) were under the assumption that they had a binding contract with Mercenary Coalition (or at the very least, some of its members) to help defend an Astrahaus in wormhole space. Of course it didn't turn out so well, or I wouldn't be here telling you this.

When I first heard about the situation, I was playing DCS World (A-10c module) with Mercenary Academy's CEO, Cassidy Skye. One of the directors of 007, Dani, dropped into our Mumble channel to let us know that some students were freaking out about a wormhole. Cassidy casually mentioned that the students were made aware that Mercenary Academy wasn't ready to branch into wormholes officially and that they were wished luck, but had no official backing. Dani kind of reiterated that they're freaking out, and Cassidy said he'd drop in and handle things when we were done playing. We didn't know at the time the details, of course.

We continued playing until I realized Cassidy wasn't in my Mumble channel any more and was in a chat with Sabre A and Deletor - Mercenary Coalition High Command. Clearly something bigger was happening. I continued playing, assuming things would get sorted quickly and Cassidy would jump back up and resume flying with me.

Unfortunately not.

It became clear soon after that two members of Mercenary Coalition had set up a deal with four members of Mercenary Academy (again, acting independently of the academy) to defend an Astrahaus for a price of 1B ISK. 

Issue #1 and #2. We'll come back to these.

After reading the logs, the order of events as I see it is  as follows:
  1. Student contacts MC member for help
  2. MC (A) member says they'll help using an MA fleet (so far, no issues from MC's perspective)
  3. MA member mentions an ISK amount
  4. MC (A) member seems to misunderstand, thinking that they're offering a payment
  5. MA member, perhaps flustered, continues the line of thought, legitimatizing the payment
  6. MC (A) member likely doesn't feel comfortable leading the MC fleet and passes to the other MC member (B)
  7. MC (B) member takes ISK payment
  8. MC (B) member can't muster enough people for the op (Issue #3)
  9. MC (B) member notifies MA members that the contract is off and refunds payment of 1B ISK
  10. MA members are justifiable confused, angry, and betrayed as they watch their Astrahaus destroyed
I don't believe that either MC member were acting maliciously and did have the goal of defending the Astrahaus. It's clear to me that MC (B) was looking forward to receiving payment directly for a contract, which is something that doesn't happen very often in MC any more for pilots, as I've reported before. Both MC members claim that they did not (and still do not) see how anyone could misunderstand the conversation and think MC was officially involved. As I've told MC (B), this is naive. When you do anything in EVE, especially take contracts - intentional or not - you are a representative of MC.

Regardless of intent or miscommunication, there are four major issues that I've outlined that are, in my view, unacceptable.

Issue #1

MC does not and will not ever take money from Mercenary Academy or its students to support their ability to learn or have fun. It's in Mercenary Coalition's best interest to ensure that Mercenary Academy is a welcome, enjoyable place to be. We support the alliance for free. Any member of MC should know this and the fact that they still took money is appalling to me.

Issue #2

There is a proper way to set up contracts. Members have been made aware and there is a stickied forum post with the people on the team. When this procedure isn't followed, critical steps can be missed, prices may not be accurate, and any number of issues may arise. There is a reason we have this procedure, and this example is proof of why.

Issue #3

The internal communication of this event was equally horrid and poorly executed. if you're going to accept a job, even inappropriately, at least do something right! Not a single member of leadership within Mercenary Coalition or Mercenary Academy knew this event was happening. If any one of us did, we could have at least defended the Astrahaus successfully, averting so much of the drama that ensued. Points #1 and #2 would still remain and have to be dealt with, but the fallout wouldn't.

In the end, the people involved from MC have been dealt with at the corporate level. I'm pained to say that one of them is a member of Noir. In Noir., we've worked tirelessly to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We believe that our reputation is our calling card and our word our bond. Mercenary Coalition also shares these values. I can't convey the frustration and disappointment that Noir. leadership has over this incident. It's unacceptable and once we understood the situation we reacted immediately to fix the problem.

I reached out personally to the main person from MA who was involved and was reassured that he was not upset at us and was incredibly happy with the resolution. He said the incident, "leaves us in a much better position than before with access to mentoring to learn what we are passionate about." A small silver lining in an unnecessary event.

In the end, I questioned whether I should write this whole post, but I felt that it's better to lay out the actual order of events and steps taken rather than let people make guesses and conjecture when they're not informed. It's inevitable that something would happen eventually. An alliance like Mercenary Academy who accepts anyone into the organization with no check is going to have people who like to try and flame a spark into a flame. Internally, this incident is already over and done. It was resolved in a matter of hours and no one actually involved from MA's side could care less. 

I like what the student said: this incident leaves us in a much better position than before. And that's true. Drama happens, that will never change. But I am very proud to say that, internally, we're stronger than we were before this. We've all learned something from this: the students from MA have learned how serious MC takes their situation and our reputation. In MC, we've created better processes to avoid and facilitate future situations, and we can now move forward to tackle the next real challenge rather than an imaginary one.

P.S. I don't know why I didn't publish this at the time, but I noticed that it was in my drafts, so I hit publish. Very late, but still an interesting topic.
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January 8, 2017

How to Contribute to Your Corp as an Administrator

One of the Mercenary Academy students really surprised me the other day when they asked me to teach a lesson on being an admin based off my experiences in EVE. It's the first time I've ever had such a request and it's really not something most people are interested in, so I was (and still am) a little unsure how to approach the topic. What follows is my attempt on laying out some of the basics of playing an admin role in your alliance which you can build from. Take what I write below with a grain of salt, it's entirely based off my own limited experience; I've never been anything but a mercenary after all, and many of these things may not translate to a non-mercenary focused organization.

To start, I think it will help to outline some of the duties I've held in my time as a mercenary. My first position of authority was when I became the CEO of Noir. Academy in early 2013. I learned a lot about processes during this time and I'll spend a lot of time covering what I learned below. Unofficially, I became a source of information for Noir. through my Contract Recaps. Related, as the current Press Secretary in Mercenary Coalition, I inform the alliance of important events in the past month or two (as often as I can create one of the reports). These updates can cover anything from a contract recap style update to major events in the alliance that may have slipped under someone's radar. As a director in Noir. I'm responsible for making sure the corporation runs smoothly day to day and also fits into the larger goals of the alliance. This is a lot more hands-off than the other roles I've done, in my opinion, but I feel it's also the most critical job I've had in EVE to date.

Good Processes Make Perfection

Never overlook creating a good process to tackle a problem. Processes is a very broad term that encompasses the plan, order of events, and requirements to make a specific goal a reality. This can be anything from a well-formatted Excel spreadsheet to a war campaign in EVE.

A lot of what I do in EVE I learned through real-life work experience. It's really important, as a good administrator, to have strong processes in place. This can be as simple as actually writing important things down in a specific notebook so you'll be able to reference them later to having a daily check list. The purpose of strong processes is to make sure that a project goes from start to finish with minimal disruption in the creation process, especially because of oversight or forgetfulness. Sometimes tweaks are inevitable as a project progresses, but it should never be derailed because you didn't prepare properly.

For example, to write my alliance updates, when something important happens I write it down in a centralized Google Doc and I link the bullet point directly to the source, whether it's a killboard, an article, or a forum post. This makes it really easy for me to go back and find everything that's happened since my last post. With a small bit of extra work, I can check with other people who I know are plugged into the news and make sure I didn't miss anything. Once that's complete, all that's left is to create the outline and write the post, but I didn't have to spend any time in back tracking, double checking, cross checking, or worrying that I missed something critical.

The most complicated process I've had to create so far was the Noir. Academy program. Making sure students progressed through the entire course in a specified amount of time was a lot of work and I couldn't have done that without the help of a great team of instructors and volunteered IT development. But the initial plan was critical in their success. A good administrator will be able to lay out an entire plan with clarity because you've thought through the entire process - all that's left is to actually implement it. When your plan, process, and vision are strong other people will buy in quickly and lend their support.

People Make the World Go Round

As I mentioned earlier, I couldn't have accomplished what I did with Noir. Academy without the team that surrounded me. Their work carried the success. Remember, however, that no one in EVE is required to log in. Everyone that plays does so because they find it fun. Sometimes administrative work can be fun, but it's often a bit of a drag. As an administrator, especially if you're in a leadership position, you have to remember that none of your "workers" are required to show up or do anything you say. You have to get them to buy in to the overall goal so that they're invested in its outcome as well. To do that, you need to understand their perspective.

In the business development world, I found it was very easy to finalize a deal when I became friends with the people I was working with. I got to the point where I'd be Snapchatting the guys who I was making $500,000 deals with and getting drinks when we were in town. We wouldn't be talking about business, but when we did get around to business we were friends. We approached the situation from a point of mutual desire of resolution - we both wanted to walk away happy, and so we were willing to compromise and work with each other so we could go back to grabbing drinks.

Similarly, when you're working with people in EVE, it's absolutely critical for you to have a deeper relationship with the people that help you than just "you're a person that helps me with this thing". Spend time with them outside of the work you're doing together, when you're chatting with them in Slack or in game, don't always talk about the work. By doing this, you'll be able to better understand them as a person, which means that when they have issues, complaints, or problems you'll be able to comprehend their actual point, which is often not verbalized (which is why it's critical for you to know them, otherwise you won't understand what they're really saying).

By having these relationships with the people you play with, having their buy in through your strong process, and going the extra mile to understand where they're coming from, you'll have a stronger team. A stronger team means you'll be able to accomplish more, faster.

Administrating is Playing

If you really delve deeply into the admin side of EVE, it's important to remember that your game changes. Instead of playing by shooting ships or creating modules, you'll be answering EVE mails and slack messages, you'll be planning corp meetings, you'll be looking at the current process flow of your corp applications and trying to improve it. This will become a major part of your daily EVE career, so you'll need to be prepared for that.

This can be very rewarding, but (especially if you're like me and in a PvP focused organization) a lot of your work will go unnoticed. There are few written records of your successes like a killboard and most people in your corp or alliance won't care or have the patience for the work that makes things happen smoothly. For instance, in Mercenary Coalition our SRP is submitted with one click of a button on our killboard. But people have to then review the request, check that it's legitimate, and send the correct payment amount. But the average player doesn't care about that. To them, click equals ISK. 

Only the Beginning

What I've written above are truly broad, general guidelines and tips. These aren't meant to be a step by step guide into becoming a behind-the-scenes guru in your corp. To do that, you really just have to dive in. What your organization needs isn't what mine does. Most of the time, the needs one corp in the same alliance as another are different, so there's no way to write an end all be all guide. 

Take the first step, get in touch with your directors and ask them how you can help assist in a particular function you're interested in or just how you can help alleviate some of their work load. As you get more involved and continue to do good work, you'll get more responsibility. Remember to apply the lessons above and add on your own experience and you'll be an admin master in no time!
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January 2, 2017

Is Mercenary Coalition Becoming Too Big? Are We Losing Our Focus?

Black Omega Security joined Mercenary Coalition yesterday, becoming the largest corporation in the alliance and pushing MC over 1,500 characters. Their addition was a surprise to most of the alliance, a well kept secret during its initial stages, and a bit of a surprise to High Command. OMEGA wasn't on our radar of corporations to recruit and we didn't even know they were looking until they approached us.

I'm happy to have them, knowing a few of their members for the last couple of years, but I do wish they had a stronger US time zone.

With their addition, a common theme has begun resurfacing in Noir.: the feeling of drifting further away from being a mercenary.

Before addressing these points I want to again establish my personal definition of a mercenary.

A mercenary corporation is a group of players whose main game-play is provided through contracts given by other players for a fee.

To give examples, I don't consider most high-sec "mercenaries" to truly be mercenaries because, while it is true they take wardec contracts from time to time, their main form of gameplay comes from wardecing corps and alliances of their own initiative rather than by paying customers. Likewise, I don't consider many of the alliances that had a major part in World War Bee to be mercenaries because, while -- again -- they were paid, their day-to-day gaming doesn't revolve around contracts.

So how does this definition stack up against current-day Mercenary Coalition? I can only talk about my experiences since Noir. joined Mercenary Coalition in August of 2015, but since then we've had an active contract every single month with the exception of (I believe) three times. Two of those times Noir. went and did a mock contract, splitting the loot for our members. The other time MC had a break, the entire alliance assisted in setting up our new home.

Based on my very simple definition, we're absolutely, 100% mercenaries. So why do some people feel like we're not?

If you ask 10 people you'd get 10 different answers, but some of the more common reasons I've heard include:

  • We're too large, so they don't know people in fleets
  • We have too many blues
  • We don't get paid as individual pilots
  • We only had one employer for almost a year
Some of these complaints are frustrations against change, like growing too large. It's understandable, especially for people who were in Noir. before we joined Mercenary Coalition or right as we joined. In those days, you knew every single pilot and understood their individual capabilities. There are a lot of positives in that environment but I can attest to the fact that contracts are limited by your size. Doors were simply closed to us when we didn't have the raw manpower. Like all things in EVE, there are trade offs to purposefully limiting your size. Years ago, in Noir., we used to dream about the types of contracts we're receiving now. We always wanted to help shape the political map of EVE but we didn't have the capabilities due to our size. Mercenary Coalition has grown to a point where we're major parts of historical wars and, yes, that does come at the cost of not knowing everyone, but that doesn't mean we're not mercenaries.

I also understand the frustration of having blues. We're discounting temp blues for contract purposes here. Some people think that, as mercenaries, we shouldn't have *any* permanent blue forces. This is a frustrating opinion for me because the people I've heard say this have never been on the other side and don't seem to have a firm understanding of the politics of EVE. The fact is, to survive in EVE you need friends. That's true from the macro (which we're analyzing here) to the micro (such as joining a corporation). It *is* true that, as mercenaries, we can't have *too many* blues or we arbitrarily reduce potential employers to a point of staleness. By the way, as of this post, Mercenary Coalition has two permanent +10 alliances that aren't alt corps or training corps.

Like most of these points, I also understand the frustration from not being paid. In Noir., the top 40 pilots were paid a percentage of the contract pay out based on efficiency and activity. The pay out wouldn't change your life, but it was a nice perk. The highest single pay out in Noir.'s history was 2B ISK. Average pay outs were in the 60M to 200M range. In Mercenary Coalition, despite being paid hundreds of billions of ISK, pilots don't see any of that directly. Instead, we get SRP. We did not receive SRP in Noir.

To put this in perspective, in October, November, and December, Mercenary Coalition paid out 39,970,787,023.34, 73,425,202,782.66, and 13,100,368,867.68 ISK in respective SRP. 

It's true that pilots who don't lose ships don't benefit from this set up, but as you can see, even when we were paid it was never very much. To create a fair pay out system in MC, the payments would have to be split over a much, much larger number of pilots and the pay outs probably would be somewhat similar to old numbers. You're not going to be buying AT ships from pay outs. The alliance is far, far better off using this money to replace ships and fund programs versus paying pilots out directly. I admit that, at some point, I hold out hope that we're making enough profit to pay out pilots, but to say we're not being paid is a misconception.

This last argument is the most strange to me. For those of you who aren't aware, Mercenary Coalition was hired by Lenny for almost a year. One of the breaks I mentioned earlier in between contracts was because we were waiting for another contract from Lenny. We even turned down contracts during this time because the amount of ISK Lenny was offering was too high not to wait. I don't understand being upset about having one employer. What's the difference between one and many? The ISK still comes, the fights are still present, we still have our objectives. I can tell you, from the top-level, it's much easier to deal with the same person multiple times than multiple people one time. A relationship forms, trust is gained, and the process is streamlined when you work with the same people over and over. It's less of a headache for the contract negotiators, High Command, and the line members. With untested, unproven employers, things often fall through, contracts don't pan out, employers don't show up to the event they hired you for. When you work with the same person, you know what you're getting into.

It's been a while since I've heard the age-old EVE adage: adapt or die, but it still rings true. As mercenaries, we've adapted. Let's not forget that Mercenary Coalition, as an entity, did die once. For a long time, there were less than 10 true mercenaries, and sometimes Noir. was the only one. Mercenary Coalition has come back, and in a big way. This time we're evolving with the political landscape, we're staying ahead of the game. I can't stress how much being a tiny mercenary organization sucks when you see the potential that's there but can't reach it. When employers are confident you have the capability, they will pay. And by being paid over and over and over again, we're mercenaries in spirit and reality.
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