Fleet compositions are a great thing. They allow a large group of players to quickly have ships accessible for a variety of purposes. They allow the logistics team (or person!) to quickly buy, deliver, fit, and contract standardized ships for an alliance’s needs. They allow players to quickly understand how to fly their ships based on clear direction and guidance.
These “metas” (as they’re often called) allow quick, meaningful participation regardless of the fleet type. They’re the meat and potatoes of fleet PvP. And that’s a very good thing.
Unless, of course, you hate the metas. But let me back up.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t one of those posts longing for the days of solo PvP and 6-man gangs exclusively. More players engaging in PvP is a very good thing, and with increases in numbers invariably comes the increase in gang sizes. Besides… newer PvPers tend to stick to safer tactics while they learn the basics and gain confidence. That’s why we’re seeing so many Interceptor, BLOPs, and Ishtar gangs. They’re easy setups to use with a lot of safety built into them. Interceptors can’t be bubbled. BLOPs are executions, not street fights. Whether you live or die in an Ishtar has little to do with your own PvP skill, so mistakes don’t cause you to suffer as much.
I think the rise of coalitions stymied individual skill and promoted conformity with fleet doctrines in null-sec. Wormholes and low-sec have their own metas that differ greatly from the null metas, and which require players to do more with fewer numbers. And as a result, it’s “a thing” that individually skilled pilots tend to be tougher in those two areas of space than in null-sec, on average. They’re hardened more.
But we’re already seeing this tendency change among novice PvPers in null-sec. They’re trying new things and dabbling in smaller gang battles, using a variety of ships, and trying a bunch of different engagement profiles and tactics. They’re maturing, and their individual skill is improving. Metas are still important, but they’re starting to see the fun in taking a rag-tag gang out and reacting to the situation, instead of strictly controlling the situation from the get-go and electing not to engage if it’s not favorable.
Why is this happening?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can give an example from my own experience. Just yesterday, in fact.
I don’t enjoy hotdropping fleets unless there’s a very strong chance of being counter-dropped, for the same reasons I don’t hunt in real life. I don’t see the skill or honor in killing something from a distance with a high-powered rifle in a sneak-attack. But, if you tell me you killed a bear with a recurved bow (not a compound one) or a Bowie knife, I’m going to respect you. There’s a lot more danger in that.
I also hate Ishtar fleets because it’s not hard to acquire lots of kills for no real effort, and with little controllable risk. How many kills you get depends entirely on A) Whether the enemy has sufficient reps, and B) How long the enemy stays on field. Whether you die in an Ishtar fleet depends entirely on A) If your fleet has sufficient reps, and B) If your name is called primary by the enemy target caller. None of those four factors relates to your skill.
When I logged in last night, my corp was working to find the right WH connection for a mercenary contract, so I was still able to join even though I logged in half-an-hour late (no wife complaints this time… delays help sometimes). The fleet advert indicated sentry sets to keep in your Ishtar’s drone baby.
I was awake, I was logged in, and the corp needed numbers, so I dutifully bought an Ishtar from corp contracts – I strive to never keep one in my hangar; personal aversion – as I started up Teamspeak and connected my headphones (wireless ftw!). I undocked and warped to the Titan, only to see a bunch of frigates hovering nearby.
My heart skipped a beat as my CEO told me to get in a small ship. Suddenly, the world held so many choices! Harpy, Jaguar, Worm, one of my Confessors? Which one? What did everyone else have? What did they need? What would we be fighting and how would I fly it? It was as if a light had switched on that shifted the whole tone of the evening. No longer was this going to be a boring Ishtar fleet! The night was saved!
Or, at least, that’s the effect it had on me. All that because we changed the meta we would use.
Now, it’s worth noting that a lot of corps might not be able to swap to a “anything small” fleet and pull together a coherent, effective fleet, but this is Repercussus… we all do a variety of PvP, and will go out with any number of people. But it’s worth mentioning how awesome every line member was that they could bring something on a moment’s notice like that. We’d have gotten a similar response if we asked for smartbombing battleships or armor cruisers or nano ships. RP does a lot of off-doctrine roaming.
We ended up needing to move fast to reach another connection before the enemy rolled their static again, and Ishtars simply weren’t fast enough. But that simple difference highlighted a huge issue.
There are a lot of effective metas that simply aren’t engaging. No one can blame fleets for wanting to win, but using those compositions most certainly dampens excitement about these fleets. And that can make a big difference.
Sure, effective metas like Ishtar fleets are the meat-and-potatoes of any sizeable organization, but that meat is spam, and those potatoes are powdered scalloped potatoes. You need filet and roasted asparagus, too, or your numbers will invariably drop and pilot engagement with your corp will decline.
Particularly now, when the fleet metas that dominate the game really aren’t that exciting. Sure, it’s not the only time this has happened (“Can I bring a Drake?”), but the simple fact is that my heart sinks a little when a fleet ping calls for Ishtars. And that’s representative of an issue that CCP needs to look at. When an effective fleet is one that requires little from its members, no one really benefits.