You’ve been flying all night with only an empty industrial and an afk noob ship on your killboard. What started as an inaugural solo roam to try out your new Vagabond has turned into a boring slog through endless empty null-sec systems.
Having gone through most of Syndicate, you’re starting to get tired of watching that wormhole animation on screen. Every time that vortex forms, you hope you’ll find someone – but not too many targets! – on the other side.
The screen’s starting to blur now, and you’re just about back to low-sec. Maybe you can find someone heading through the null-low gate.
Loading grid, you see another neutral in system and start to perk up a little. A quick dscan shows nothing, but the other gate is 21 au away. Considering for a moment, you click the button and warp to 30 on the gate. Overheated, you can pull a 28 km point range, and you’re in a Vaga… it'd be easy to burn to the gate if necessary.
Within 13 au, you hit your dscan again, but don’t see anything. Curious. There is a station in system… maybe he’s docked? Switching overview tabs, you check for bubbles and probes. One mobile warp disruption bubble on scan. And you found out too late.
When you land, you’re unlucky and are deep in the bubble. But the grid is empty, so you start to burn towards the gate and hit your MWD. Just then, a Manticore decloaks and scrams you. Then local starts to fill up as you see the gate fire from the corner of your screen.
Anyone who has PvPed has experienced that moment when the proverbial feces is in flight, and the fan isn’t far away. This moment, the moment after engagement, is the most important moment during a fight itself. It’s the point when the most critical mistakes are made. It’s the point when an experienced pilot has a huge advantage over a newbie.
Sure, analysis was needed to fit your ship just as you wanted, and knowledge normally helps you decide which fights to take and which to avoid. But all the knowledge in the world can’t prepare you for the adrenaline surge the first time you find yourself in an actual fight. Your fingers will actually shake. The blood pumping in your veins will make your vision blur a little. You can tell yourself, “It’s just Internet pixels…” all you want before-hand, but it won’t help.
The first time, some people will freeze up and not know what to do. Some will instinctively burn back to the gate or to where they warped from. Some will start shooting wildly at whatever is closest. But the veteran will quickly assess the situation – or at least the parts that immediately affect your fate for the next few seconds – and implement the knowledge they’ve gained. Let me give you two examples, one good, one bad.
Two years ago, I was in Imperial Legion back when they lived in Geminate. I jumped into a system in my Drake and found a Curse sitting on gate. I immediately engaged, thinking, “missiles hit every time, I can take him down easily.” Within 30 seconds, I was capped out – I was MWDing towards him, after all – and all my active hardeners shut off. His drones made quick work of me as I desperately willed my scourge missiles to take him down before I died.
I didn’t think to switch to Caldari Navy scourge missiles and try hit the drones. I didn’t realize my active tank was particularly susceptible to a few cycles of a Curse’s neuts. I shouldn’t have taken the fight. Having taken it, I should have realized that drones were the Curse’s sole weapon. Instead, I watched helplessly as he whittled away my shields, armor, and structure, then moved in to scoop my wreck as my pod warped out.
Fast forward to last week. I wanted to make some safe spots at our new staging station in 4-EP12 in Fountain. Looking at my hangar, I passed over my Wolf and Jaguar. Normally, I’d go with a frigate, and I only fly T2 frigs. But I checked the stats, and my Vagabond was only 200 m/s slower than my assault frigs, had a neut, and 220mm guns. If I ran into trouble, I’d be better off with the Vaga than the AFs.
When I landed on the first gate I intended to make a scout point off, I landed in a bubble with about ten hostiles. A Stiletto was right beside me and immediately scrammed me. Carefully, I aligned back to the station and immediately applied my neut to him. I pointed him anyways (why not, right?) and activated my 220’s in case I got lucky with a shot. For a while, nothing happened. Then my neut dried out his cap and he ground to a halt. Only now did I launch my Hobgoblins – I held them in reserve because I knew they couldn’t keep up while he had his MWD on and I wanted to be able to apply damage immediately. He started to pull range without his MWD, but my drones only had to hit three times before he was dead. Freed from his scram, I recalled my drones and warped out before his friends could reach him.
The difference in my performance? Two years of PvP experience gave me the foundation that let me survive. Last week, I could have dropped my drones immediately, forcing them to travel much further before they could apply their damage – perhaps far enough that the other hostiles could reach me before I could kill my tackler. I could have opted for one of the AFs, denying me my most powerful weapon: the neut. I could have simply frozen or burned in some random direction instead of aligning out to a safe. The adrenaline was still pumping, but in those two years, I’d learned to manage it better.
That’s why you’ll constantly hear that the best way to learn PvP is to try it. You’ll lose ships – sometimes a lot of ships – but it all pays off in the end. If you want risk-free practice, load up the Singularity server and try a few ships and tactics out with a corp-mate. There’s a reason all alliance in ATXI do it. It’s time well spent.
But get in a ship and try it. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn to survive the moment after engagement.