I’m serious: there’s a war taking place right at this very moment, in space.

I know because I’ve been part of it since Saturday night, and currently I’m one of about 1 000 ships camping outside a space station in the 0-W778 star system, waiting for enemy vessels to undock. When they do, it’s going to be pretty damn messy.

Yeah, I’m a late comer to EVE Online. About 11 years late in fact. Most people who’ve always wanted to play EVE but never got round to it are put off by the fact that they’ll be up against players with more than a decade’s experience in this Massively Multiplayer Online Game. But not me. I wanted to see if it was still possible to be newb in the EVE universe.

And so far, in this little experiment, things are looking promising.

Things get messy more often than not, in EVE Online. The war that’s raging now didn’t kick off on Saturday. It also didn’t kick off with the battle of B-R5RB, which took place a few weeks ago. You might have read about that encounter – the biggest in EVE’s history – which saw virtual spaceships worth $300 000 (around R3.25-million) being destroyed. For the best report on what went down at B-R5 GiantBomb’s excellent write-up has everything you need.

No, this war’s been raging since November last year. And what’s going down now has the potential to end it.

For me and my zero hours of experience with MMOs I couldn’t have chosen a better time to finally take a look at Icelandic developer CCP’s online space opera, which first landed on shelves 11 (eleven!) years ago. Talk about a baptism of fire.

On its own EVE is already incredibly complex. It is massive – there are more than 5 000 star systems to explore, and more than 500 000 players – and the game’s open-ended design means you can do anything you want. Make a living mining planets and selling minerals on the market? Go for it. Feel like being a space mercenary who collects bounties (which are set on players by other players)? Good luck. You can run corporations, become a famous fleet commander, play the markets, train to be a spy, or even run a very lucrative shipping business in the game. Those 5 000 star systems are far apart, and when you need things moved in a hurry carriers are the best way to get it done.

Except you can’t do any of those things on your own. EVE’s complexity and open-ended nature mean that it’s suicide for new players trying to make themselves space famous by going it alone. That’s where the game’s corporations come in. These are player-run companies inside the game’s construct that let new guys get help, money, advice, and free space ships from those who’ve been around for a lot longer.

Thankfully, I registered an account at the Something Awful forums nearly a decade ago. This meant I was able to join one of the EVE universe’s biggest player-run corporations: Goonfleet (so named for members of Something Awful forums being referred to as “goons”, online). Goonfleet’s CEO is Alex Gianturco, whose EVE character The Mittani controls most of the galaxy. A space Jesus to the near-40 000 disciples in Goonfleet and its alliance partners.

Asked whether it’s possible for new players like me to get into the game, especially since it’s grown more complex over the years, he says, “Absolutely, there are a number of organisations dedicated to mentoring newbies and making it easier to play EVE – places like EVE University, Red vs Blue, Goonswarm Federation, and Brave Newbies all accept and cherish new players.”

“EVE is a very hard game to play solo,” he concedes, but adds that “with friends and mentors the ‘learning cliff’ ceases to be a problem, and you can get access to the fun content in the game much faster.”

As somebody who’s completely new to MMOs (I’ve never been interested in World of Warcraft, Ultimate, or the others) there’s a whole lot to learn. There are hundreds of skills to master, and each takes many real-world days to hone. When you start training beginner skills they take between 10 and 30 minutes to level up. Once you’re onto the art of piloting capital ships, the most prized ships in the game, it can take literal months before your character is ready to take to the bridge. All of that’s before you’ve even started trading on the markets to make money, explored the galaxy, bought your first proper ship, or died in a battle.

Thankfully, EVE’s history on the internet means there are tons of resources to study and get to grips with most things. In my case, Goonfleet’s infrastructure outside of the EVE game helped a lot. These include voice and text chat servers, private forums, and dedicated help channels in the game. All of those keep operational security (OPSEC) among players in the corporation – well, mostly; there could always be spies and potential defectors – and help new guys like me get familiarised a bit sooner.

Even with all of those resources it’s still incredibly daunting. While camping outside the space station in 0-W788 (which I later found out can simply be referred to as 0 tack W) one of my fellow Goonfleet members, Chickenwing, confessed that even after six years of playing EVE he’s only just scratched the surface. Another player, SmilingVagrant, took me under his wing the day I started out, giving me free space ships and a few million ISK (the in-game currency) to get started. He told me which skills to study, what careers I could make for myself, and added that “EVE will be a terrible game if you play it alone”. He also mentioned that the first six weeks of playing the game would be spent reading up tons of articles on the many EVE-related wikis and newbie guides, as well as asking questions.

Now, those six weeks of learning are being crammed into a much shorter time. Last week The Mittani called for a State of the Goonion (SOTG) address, which was held on Saturday evening. Nearly 2 000 players logged in at waited outside the station in the AF0-V5 system. In a live stream on Twitch a music playlist set the mood. Some inspirational battle songs, like Hell March and Primo Victoria. Followed by the official Goonfleet anthem, and a propaganda song called Little Bees (Bees swarm, and Goonfleet is sometimes referred to as Goonswarm, get it?).

Then, the speech. Mittani delved into the history of the war that started in November, and detailed what was going to happen next. Despite the fact that I was obviously in over my head, I immediately asked for help on how to join a fleet and get in on the action. Fellow goons were patient and told me where to click, which fleet to join, and who to listen to. I even got a random donation – one well-off player donated 100-million ISK because I’m a new guy. In the long run that’ll be used for new ships and upgrades.

The war I’m part of now will potentially see Goonfleet crush its biggest enemy, N3 – another player-run organisation. EVE’s virtual spaceship wars are made possible by the real life politics its players create among one another, either in the game or on the EVE Online forums, and this time Mittani wants to exert his dominance by showing N3 who’s boss. He’s called for a headshot: thousands of Goonfleet members will go to N3’s staging system in 0-W778 – basically, the space station where they have all their war ships – and camp outside. If the mission is successful, N3 will be crippled. Goonfleet takes control of the station and all of N3s ships remain inside, with no way for them to dock. If it’s unsuccessful, Goonfleet evacuates, and N3 retains the station as well as the expensive ships inside – and those could be used against Goonfleet allies.

Just how serious is all of this? Well, after Mittani’s speech many opposition players complained that his dominance is what is ruining the game for them. Asked about this, he said, “We lead a powerful coalition at the moment, but the game is ever-changing.”

Today Goonfleet and its alliance is feared, but Mittani is aware that no empire is invulnerable.

“We could be out on the streets tomorrow, you never know,” he says.

Hopefully I’ll figure out how to fly a Dominix and mentor a few newbees, before then.

EVE Online costs $15 (around R165) a month to play. But prepare to spend more than just money on getting into it. 

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to the Dominix as a Domixtrix.