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I focus almost exclusively on PvP, whether solo, small gang, or large bloc warfare. In the past, I've been a miner, mission runner, and faction warfare jockey. I'm particularly interested in helping high-sec players get into 0.0 combat.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The End of the Small Scale Fight?

This one is going to be odd.  I don’t know where I’m going with it as I write it, so we’ll see how this turns out.  I’m of two minds regarding whether small-gang warfare is truly coming to an end, or whether it’s simply in desperate need of innovation.

Over at Jester’s Trek, Ripard Teg talks about how it’s becoming increasingly harder to find small-gang fights.  In a nutshell, the average size of a roaming gang is increasing rapidly because:
  1. Effective logistics ships are easier to fly,
  2. The number of skill points of an average pilot is increasing, meaning they can fly better ships and more easily fly with boosters
  3. Warp speed changes make slowing down and tackling roaming gangs easier, meaning nano and kiting gangs are nearly impossibly to fly these days (a familiar tactic of hunters).
  4. Pilots are generally very risk-adverse, and simply won’t engage unless odds are overwhelmingly in their favor.

This has, he states (and re-states from his alliance mate), caused a general up-tick in the size of “small gang”.  The risk-adverse nature of Eve players naturally means fleets responding to invaders are increasing in size – no one wants to reward roamers with a whole fleet of kills, which only encourages more roamers.  But hunter gangs themselves will increase in size: defenders are bringing more logi, which means the hunters need more dps to break that logi.  As players become more experienced, they learn to anticipate everything, which tends to make them more risk adverse (“I’m not undocking without five logi”).  So fifteen is increasingly becoming fifty.

Ripard also adds some worthwhile comments about fleet doctrines, and the way they’ve changed dramatically over the years, essentially negating the possibility of smaller gangs successfully out-flying larger ones without using fleet boosts.  Sure, you have pipebombing, bomber runs, and things of that sort, but using area-of-effect weapons to destroy multiple ships is simply the intended use, not brilliance.

And, in these comments, he’s largely correct.  The mechanics changes and greater access to force-multipliers like jammers and logi means using the tried-and-true roaming tactics with the same effectiveness requires more pilots.  And smaller corporations and alliances are increasingly being “crowded out” into accepting ganks as sustenance.

But is this the whole story, or is it simply the inevitable toll of the bells of change?  Aren’t there plenty of tactics that can make small gang viable?

The increase in skill points cuts both ways.  The counter to increased numbers of logi is to fit jammers that can take them out of the fight entirely.  Oneiroses and Scimitars are the norm, so fit Minmatar and Gallente jammers.  A well-skilled jamming pilot can remove them from the fight entirely, and the cost of one more fleet member.  No need to triple your DPS after all.  And while defense fleets may frequently have fleet boosts, simply move the fight into another system.  You’re the attacker, attack elsewhere.  Force them to come to you.  If they try to jump their booster in, set your interceptors on them (you do have fast tackle, right??).

The ways of making isk are well-known; players are making more money, yet statistics from CCP indicate the increase in player wealth is not seeing a direct correlation with increased costs.  In other words, players are able to afford more and higher-cost load-outs than in the past.  Plus, faction equipment is steadily dropping in price.  So the improvement in your targets’ skill points can be counteracted with better bonuses from more expensive equipment.

As far as the warp changes, it does help frigates and destroyers intercept a roaming fleet, but you have neuts and webs fitted to your ships, right?  If not, how do you expect to fight off anything smaller than you?  Luck?  And their heavy DPS ships are still going to warp in at the same speed as you.

If anything, the warp speed changes have opened a new weakness: pursuit fleets can more easily become straggled and susceptible to being picked off bit-by-bit.  I’ve yet to see a fleet of Rapiers roaming together, but I know for a fact one dual-web Rapier can kill three assault frigs by itself, and about 4-5 interceptors.  A fleet of them would make interceptor fleets not engage, and can conceal their true numbers.  Even one can reduce their effectiveness significantly in a mixed fleet.  And once the tackle is gone, you can continue to kite the dps ships as they lumber in to the show late.

I doubt Eve players have become more risk-adverse over the years; if anything, the easy availability of isk has made players loosen up their flying.  But there’s another consideration that may change very soon… the player base hasn’t be increasing very much over the past few years, so players are all much older now than they used to be.  This means players are much more likely to think they “know better”, and take fights that perhaps they shouldn’t, under the thinking that they “have more skill than the other guy, since I’ve been playing for all these years”.  Great skill leads to overconfidence, and that leads to mistakes.

What’s the recent occurrence that I’m referring to that could change this?  B-R5RB (a system, incidentally, I’m jumping out of as I type).  Hordes of new players have subscribed to the game following the marketing push that happened in its wake, and those players have new characters.  Could it breathe new life into the game and bring us a new host of fresh players?  Enough that doctrines and behaviors change?  Perhaps.

But, regardless, it’s still possible to roam in smaller groups, but it requires using tactics a lot of small gang PvPers find distasteful… jammers, boosts, good scouts (okay, so only two of those are distasteful).  Ripard Teg is correct that the days of killing 15 with 5 ships and not using anything that isn’t on field, jamming anyone out, and winning purely by superior flying are, indeed gone.  His blog, this one, Eve wiki pages, are the cause… information.  Players can find out how to fight all types of ships now.  No single ship is overwhelmingly overpowered the way Dramiels and Cynabals used to be.  And that’s a good thing.

Whereas “elite PvPers” used to be shrouded in mystery, now the reasons they win are clearly known.  Maybe boosts made the difference, or a Falcon that locked down all the ewar and logi, leaving the rest of the fleet easy pickings.  Regardless, now, the loser can point to clear difference-makers in a fight.  And knowing the reasons you lost is the best way to remove the mystique.

But it also allows the losers to learn.  And that’s a very good thing.  If you think otherwise, what you’re really bemoaning isn’t the loss of small-gang PvP, but rather of easy marks that never learn from their defeats.

No, pilots won’t be spoken of with awe, but you can still win outnumbered, provided you choose the location of battle, recognize the fleets you can and cannot defeat, and have scouts watching for reinforcements.

And isn’t that better?  Victories are born from causes, not mystery.  Blobs are a problem and always will be, of course, but blobs also include bloat (ships that provide little value to a fleet because they’re off-doctrine or have conflicting engagement profiles) and overconfidence (“I have 40 dudes, I can take them.  Who has tackle?  Anyone? Anyone?”).

But, more than any of this, isn’t it a good sign that more pilots are able to get in the same fleet and find fleets of an increasingly large size?  Doesn’t this mean the game is doing well, and gaining engaged players?  I’d argue that the increase in fleet sizes could also be taken as a sign of success.  More players are organized and able to come to the same system at the same time.  This simply didn’t happen in the past.

I remember and most-enjoy the fights that happen on the small-gang level, and the ones where I’m outnumbered.  Fleet battles are – pardon the pun – fleeting, since my personal skill has little to do with the result.  Ganks are good for passing the time, but don’t represent any real learning or skill.  In all that, as well as the basic facts he puts out there, I agree with Ripard.  I just think that while the board is changing, it’s not dying as quickly as he fears.

Yes, that means I have to have combat ships in Tenal, in Razor’s staging system, and in a central low-sec system so I can jump to where the action is.  Remaining in only one location may not work all the time, as a single region of space tends to be cyclical.  So maybe Syndicate isn’t as good for small-gang as it used to be (hopefully Curse will return to normal now that the Halloween War has moved on).  But there are still pockets where 15 is a good number.  Just look at wormhole space.


So, changing, yes.  Dead, I don’t buy it.  I’d argue small-scale sov warfare is far worse on that account than small-gang fights are.  But, nonexistent is much worse than rarer, I suppose.

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