I recently joined a new alliance, and with it, I've been thrown into a different culture. Repercussus is filled with pilots who generally know what they're doing, and TISHU added to that the swagger to throw around the big toys regularly and with extreme skill. In both groups, it's easy to forget about the skill involved in every little piece of making a fleet successful.
More importnatly, it's also easy to forget that some of the things bittervets take for granted are actually difficult skills to learn. One of those is serving as a scout in a fleet. I was recently on a fleet where our scout was struggling to position himself effectively for a warp-in on the enemy fleet. We were on grid for perhaps five or six minutes as he worked up a suitable warp-in... far too long for tactical purposes.
This was his first time fulfilling the role, and he deserves credit - not scorn - for trying to learn a new role. And to the credit of our FC and fleet members, they were all patient and respectful as he worked through the struggle.
So, here we go. How do you scout in Eve Online?
The purpose behind any fleet is to find content for its members. That might mean achieving a strategic objective, finding targets, or successfully killing a high-value target. To make that happen requires a lot of coordination and specialized roles. Beyond FCs, back-up FCs, logi anchors, target callers, bubblers, and cyno pilots, generally speaking your fleet will need someone to act as a scout.
Now, being a scout can mean a lot of different things. In some cases, it could include being bait for blops fleets, or it could mean being initial or hard tackle (distinguished by whether you warp off once the rest of the fleet arrives or you keep tackle for the whole engagement).
For the purposes of this guide, though, I'm referring to being "eyes" for an alliance-level fleet, finding and tracking the enemy fleet and providing tactical assistance on-grid.
In this role, the chief objective of any scout should be to stay alive. A dead scout can't provide intel. That means a scout shouldn't try to be a hero or solo targets of opportunity. In many cases, that means you won't get on many killmails. Nonetheless, the value you provide to the fleet is immeasurable.
As scout's responsibility changes as the life of a fleet progresses. Most frequently, the first task of a scout will be to find and track the enemy fleet, jumping through gates with them - perhaps behind them - and avoiding contact. Your goal here is to follow the enemy fleet and report back their composition, location, and movement to your FC. As you load grid after jumping a gate, track which gate the enemy fleet warps to (a task made much easier now that grids are so much larger and you can follow ships' movement for longer).
If a fleet starts moving quickly, chances are that they'll start to get strung out. Don't worry about following the first ship to leave grid; they'll all be generally going the same place, and the first warps could be lemmings making mistakes or going the wrong way. You want to stay close neough to the fleet that you can track where they go, but not so close that you jump into their combined fleet.
Often, especially for fleets in null-sec, you'll be following fleets that include at least one interdictor, and bubbles can put a quick end to the life of a scout who isn't prepared to cope with them. Often, enemy fleets will also include tacklers specialized in quick lock times, if not true instalocking ships. For that reason, almost all scouts will fly interceptors fitted for instant warping and speed. Interceptors move incredibly fast normally, and with the right fittings, they can warp almost instantly.
If properly fitted, your interceptor will be almost uncatchable. I say "almost" because of server pings. A ping is the time it takes for a packet of information to go from your computer to the Eve servers in London, and back again, and is measured in milliseconds. Your server ping is dependent upon how close you are to the London servers, how strong your Internet connection is, how fast your computer is, and how the connection is routed. All other things being equal, an Eve player in London will notice less delay between taking actions in-game and those actions starting to have effects. If a London insta-locking ship tries to catch an Aukland insta-warping interceptor, there's a chance he can catch him.
But that's where speed will come in. With enough tank and an MWD to overheat, you should be able to escape any warp disruption you may come across. At 5 km/s, it's very difficult to keep a target within even point range.
Eventually, your fleet will close distance with the enemy fleet and start looking for an opportunity to engage. At this point, the "chase" usually comes to an end, and the role of a scout shifts to provide tactical information about the situation in system. At a minimum, that should include the number of pilots, how many are with the target fleet, and the composition of the fleet.
But there's no reason to stop there. There are a lot of other valuable pieces of information for an FC:
- How many dictors or hictors are on grid?
- Do you observe any recon ships cloaking and uncloaking (Arazus, Rapiers, Falcons).
- Where are the ships in relation to each other on grid? Are they all bunched together? Are they at a perch?
- If the enemy is flying ships that can be fitted multiple ways, can you get close enough to "Look at" one of those ships and tell anything about the fit? For instance, if they're in Tengus, can you see turrets or missile launchers on the hulls?
- Are they shooting rats on the gates? If so, at what range are they doing so? That could tell you whether they're long-range or short-range fit.
- Do you see different flashes on their hulls representing active repping effects or hardeners?
- Do they have a cap chain set up (streams of energy leading between various ships that connects all of their logi together)?
- Can you identify one pilot all the other ships are following, or serving as the "anchor"? Do you see a logi anchor that all the logistics ships are following?
- Did you see a command ship or strange (ie. unique) strategic cruiser during any of your travels, which would be serving as links?
- Do you recognize an odd ship with a reputation for tankiness in the fleet? For instance, a Proteus or Tengu in a fleet of Hurricane Fleet Issues? If you do, this might be the enemy's FC.
- As the ships move, are they moving at MWD speed or AB speed?
- Do you see any deployables on-grid? Mobile cyno inhibitors and mobile warp disruptors can influence the approach an FC takes. On dscan, do you see any mobile scan inhibitors that could be hiding reinforcements.
It's important to update this information as it changes. Are they warping to your in-gate? Are they burning off or warping around the system? Intel becomes increasingly obsolete from the moment it's reported, and experience will help you decide which info is important to relay. While the addition of two or three more DPS ships in a fleet of 15 wouldn't be that big of a deal, the addition of 2-3 logi or Rooks would make a huge difference to the fight.
Once the FC is ready to engage, he's going to need some help tactically. This is the second shift in responsibility, and one only a very fast ship can perform. Every fleet in the game will try to stay at their optimal while keeping their enemy away from theirs. The nature of the enemy fleet will influence how you can help your fleet.
If you're fighting a brawling set-up, chances are that your enemy will be trying to stay as close as possible. If properly set up and led, that means they'll be hugging your in-gate and waiting for you to jump in. In this situation, your chief objective will be to report when it's safest for the fleet to jump in, and report when the enemy is incoming or (if they're on grid with you) aligning down to the gate.
If the enemy is flying a range setup, though, they'll likely be at either a perch or their optimal, and you'll need to do some work to enable the fight to happen in the first place. This is where you'll need to demonstrate some careful flying to gain a good position to provide a warp-in for your FC.
Maneuvering into a favorable position requires attention to detail. In most cases, the enemy fleet will have its dps ships clustered in a blob, with logi on the far side of your fleet and theirs, protected. Depending on which portion your FC wants to engage, you'll need to move yourself to the opposite side of the enemy relative to your fleet so your FC can warp at range to you and land squarely in optimal range of your weapons.
Of course, the enemy isn't going to be keen to let you do that. Any tackle they have will be burning towards you to try to at least disrupt - and preferably kill - you from you objective. They know as well as your FC does that a good warp-in can end the fight before it begins. So not only do you need to pay attention to your position relative to the enemy fleet and your fleet, but also watch for outriders trying to intercept you.
Ultimately, though, if your FC is on the ball, he'll be aligning to you already, and all he'll need is a moment to click fleet warp and move into position. Once he reports that they're in warp, your job is done for the moment; pull range to escape those tacklers and get ready to do the whole thing again as the situation requires.
The measure of success in positioning yourself for a warp-in, however, is in speed. You need to get into position so your fleet can warp in before the enemy can align and warp off, which can be quite a challenge. Too often, scouts move too slowly to provide an actionable tactical option. In those situations, the best-case scenario is your fleet constantly aligning but always missing the enemy; at worst, the enemy is kiting your fleet members and picking off the fringes.
Just remember: even with enemies on grid and your fleet nearby, the most common rookie scout mistake is to try to engage targets. Getting blown up as a scout is the worst thing you can do, for it means you can't be of any more use to your fleet.
It can take some trial and error to learn how to position yourself relative to two fleets and keep a range that's dangerously close to an enemy, particularly a kiting fleet. But the skills you learn in combat maneuvering without the need to engage your guns and get into the thick of combat will help you when you solo roam and attempt to do the same thing while also applying dps and managing incoming damage.
And in the interim, you can enable fights, learn to prioritize important information, and provide a critical logistics function to your allies.