Monday, July 28, 2014

Lessons: The Fighting Bears

With Razor based in Vale near Geminate, I’ve taken to roaming through Geminate to find ratters and travelers, hoping to find a good fight in the process.  However, the pickings tend to be slim in the USTZ, since X.I.X. is mostly EU or earlier.

Those targets I do find tend to be of the smarter variety.  I know Forsaken Hubs are the way to go, and many times I’ve warped to one only to find it 90% complete, but no target plugging away at red crosses.  The residents of Geminate are smart ratters, staying aligned and dropping what they’re doing to warp a safe POS when local gets a +1.

But, your most precious discovery, as a roamer, is when you find residents who don’t just safe up, but who actually switch to a PvP ship and come after you for the affront of entering their space.  Your heart skips a beat to find a viable target interested in a fight where you expected nothing but ganks or blobs.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Starting an Alt: Initial Skill Plan

Having started our PvP alt and begun training the first few skills needed to plug +4 implants in, you now have some decisions to make.  After all, by this point your skill queue is starting to wind down, and you need to start training the meat of your character.

To recap my assumptions for the previous article, I’m assuming:
  • That you are using four +4 implants as soon as possible after training Cybernetics (everything but Social Adaptation).
  • That this character is not your first character.
  • That you bought a PLEX to fund your new character’s skill book needs.  Ensuring that you don’t transfer isk between your main and your alt will open up a lot of awoxing, scamming, and espionage opportunities that wouldn’t be possible if your API shows sharing of isk between characters.
  • That you took my advice and have a firm goal in mind for this character.
  • That this character is intended as a PvP character.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Robert Frost, Good Fences, and Eve Renters

This is going to be more circumspect than many of my posts.  It touches in more than just Eve, but I promise that it does come around to Eve.  Bear with me.

Yesterday, a couple corp mates and I got into a very intense discussion about renters vs. PvE member corporations within Eve.  It was a very civil discussion – we were all clearly attacking ideas and not attacking each other personally – and we came to some common ground by the end of it, which is the sign of a great debate.

During this conversation, we agreed that it’s hypocritical for an alliance to be both contemptuous about PvE players and depend upon their efforts (via renter income) to fuel their own war machine.  In particular, we were talking about Razor and the CFC, but the sentiment that renters are scum holds similar sway throughout N3 and PL as well.  Basically, many players believe a player who states that he has no interest in protecting sov, PvP, or engaging in player combat of any kind has no place in null-sec.  This is foolish and hypocritical.

However, a position was also raised: that null-sec alliances should not allow renters on the one hand, then reject the possibility of put PvE corporations within their own alliance on the other.  This caused a lot of discussion back and forth.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What We Learned: Razor vs. Nulli

Last night during USTZ prime, Razor and Nulli Secunda tussled in a low-risk, but high-engagement null-sec fight in Geminate that was actually not only an enjoyable experience for the pilots involved, but resulted in some interesting lessons for the participants.

Wait… did I just say a null-sec engagement between alliances in major coalitions was… enjoyable? 

Indeed, I did.  While this fight was a bit thin on story, every battle needs a context, and context is the realm of “the narrative”.

The Context

While FCON was fighting XIX in Geminate, the rest of the CFC was politely asked to remain out of the conflict so FCON could test themselves in a deployment by themselves.  But, once FCON decided to leave, Razor swooped in to Geminate to stir the hornet’s nest a little and have a little fun.  Our goals for the campaign were limited to generating fleet battles, both spontaneously and through planned structure shoots.  We don’t really have an interest in holding sov, but if we do take some, we’ll keep it.  However, the success of the deployment will be judged more by how our FCs, scouts, and logistics teams conduct themselves than by taking sov.  Quite honestly, we’re not interested in sov far from Tenal.

But, we weren’t the only ones to deploy to Geminate.  A number of entities are floating around the area, including XIX, of course, as well as Nulli Secunda and Triumvirate.  Despite what’s being reported, the “EuroGoons” were not deployed, but rather Razor as a whole alliance.

We faced some questions going into this deployment, stemming from some instability within the alliance itself and whether the loss of TGRAD and hirr would signal the end of our problems or the beginning of them.  Some people suspected we were on the brink of a failcascade.  I shared that – from an internal perspective – it didn’t feel as if we were failing, even after TGRAD left the alliance.  But the question remained nonetheless.

All four groups were officially independent of each other, but Nulli had been helping XIX quite frequently against our fleets.  But it still provided a great opportunity for us to see how each group would perform when put into a difficult spot.  In the EU time zone, we had some mixed success, ranging from moderate victories to bloody noses.

The big wildcard was going to be the USTZ.  How well would we perform, given the fact that we’re traditionally the weaker time-zone within the alliance, and tend to be carried along with decisions, doctrines, and deployments that much more heavily affect the EUTZ.

In addition to these questions, the Eve community has leveled a lot of criticism at individual CFC alliances, suggesting that they can’t operate on their own without Goonswarm providing logistics for us.  Given Razor’s desire to run this deployment by ourselves – and the new necessity of doing so since the rest of the CFC is in the deep south – the truth of these concerns would be tested.  While our ability to run a deployment is based more on adaptability and being able to cope with the natural shifts of a campaign, kill reports would no doubt be scrutinized by armchair sky marshals, too.

Indeed, the Geminate situation is unique in that the CFC’s and N3’s second most-powerful member alliances are positioned to lock horns – Razor and Nulli.  How they perform against each other will no doubt be scrutinized by everyone interested in a knock-down war between the CFC and N3.

The Battle Itself

Nulli reinforced a tower in Razor’s staging system as a means of provoking a fight, and the timer came up at 02:00 Eve time on Friday morning – right in the USTZ’s prime Thursday play time.  For the first time in a long while, Razor was able to take the defender’s prerogative and wait while the enemy formed up.  We formed our Ishtar fleet by default, and stuck with the choice when we learned the enemy was flying Typhoons.

It’s worth mentioning that our FC group consisted of Med Lacroix, one of our newer FCs who did a fantastic job of keeping everyone informed about the intel on the enemy fleet.  He gave us general information that preserved op sec, but he did so in a way that kept everyone aware that a fight would happen, and projected timeline for when.  As it turned out, Nulli took longer to form than we planned, so we were sitting around for a good half-hour.

But, one member of our FC team did let slip that “we’re not using caps”, followed by an effort to downplay this comment (I believe that effort was, “Maybe I’m just saying that so the spies don’t think we’ll use capitals,” but that’s kind of weak).  As both sides clearly recognized that their comms were compromised, this comment was no doubt reported back to Nulli’s leadership.  Worth noting, for later.

Once the tower came out of reinforce, we undocked and warped to the POS so our logi could begin repping it while our Ishtars set up a defensive picket (which is a fancy way of saying we moved around a lot so we didn’t get bombed).  A few minutes later, we saw the cyno in system.

Med had prepared the field perfectly, sending interceptors to burn multiple bounces around the POS and provided clear instruction to seed cloaked dictors throughout the area.  One, in particular, was given the heroic job of warping to the cyno ship and trying to bubble the incoming fleet while killing the cyno ship, if possible. 

He died gloriously, but managed to bubble the enemy fleet and delay the fight for another four minutes.  It provided no real value in this engagement – we were ready for them – but it was a good practice for future situations in which a couple minutes could mean the difference between successfully engaging two separate fleets or allowing them to combine for overwhelming force.

Nulli’s typhoons landed 340 off our fleet, which warped to one of our bounce spots.  Shortly after, the Nulli fleet landed at zero and we began to fight each other.  Our numbers were about even, at around 75 each.

Apparently, Nulli FC progodlegend’s overview was set up incorrectly, so no HACs appeared on his overview.  As a result, he started calling our support ships as primary.  Med Lacroix was in a Thorax serving as anchor, and was consequently taken down almost immediately.

Fortunately, we had four other FCs in the fleet to support Med in one of his first major fleet fights, so new Razor Troika member Troyd23 rose up and began to command the fleet.  We began to pull range, but we had multiple Sabres keeping bubbles on us while Nulli burned towards our drones.  Nulli had hidden some smartbombing Typhoons in among their cruise Typhoons, so they began cutting into our drones, while we ordered those same drones to start taking out the Sabres that were following our fleet.  We lost a few Ishtars, our FC’s Thorax, our secondary anchor’s Ishtar, and a Scimitar, while Nulli lost one Typhoon and four Sabres, a solid isk win for Nulli.

Regrouping, we docked up to gather more drones.  Meanwhile, one of our FCs coordinated with a nearby Bastion frigate fleet.  Meanwhile, Med probed the enemy down, and we undocked and warped back into the fight just as Nulli lit a cyno and brought in jumped in 8 Dreads and 2 Archons to finish off the tower and assist their fleet.  The Bastion's fleet came in and killed the cyno ship, stranding an additional dozen or so capitals on the other side, cut off from their fleet.

We landed on field at a good range thanks to Med's warpin, and the results of this fight were quite different.  We were at a better range, allowing our drones to last longer before being smartbombed off the field.  Typhoon after Typhoon started to go down, as our replenished dictors kept the capitals bubbled.  

Why did Nulli jump the capitals in just then?  After their first victory, it appeared as if they had won the field, so they were trying to claim the spoils by finishing off the tower.  Presumably, they underestimated us, thinking we would disengage after a relatively low number of losses.  None of the capitals were smartbomb fit to clear away the drones, and without the typhoons being close enough to quickly take down all our drones, they were vulnerable.

As I worked my way through our targets (drone assist is for wimps), I saw at least one Nulli capital escape by jumping out.  The rest weren't so lucky.  With the typhoons going down quickly, Nulli disengaged, leaving the capitals to their fate, and we set to work killing the capitals, starting with the Archons before finishing off the dreads.

In the end, the butcher’s bill was to the tune of 34B (though it should be said that this report doesn’t include some of the early Ishtar kills Nulli racked up).  Without the capital fleet losses, the losses were still around 10B, a decisive win nonetheless.  One of my corp mates, Alice Karjovic, posted a battle video showing the second, decisive engagement.

The tower remained standing, but it would be a giant pain in the ass to repair, so we simply destroyed it ourselves and started over.

What Does It NOT Mean?

Now, before talking about why this fight, in particular, was important to us, I should explain the conclusions that a person should not draw.  Narrative can spin in all kinds of direction, but I can already see some of the comments that would be quite unfair and inaccurate.

First off, this fight says nothing about FCON’s experience in Geminate.  FCON was fighting XIX, not Nulli, and so any comparisons between Razor and Nulli’s fight versus FCON and XIX’s fighting is just ridiculous.  The situations are extremely different.  It’s obvious, but it’s worth saying.

Secondly, Nulli conducted themselves well, and competently.  Despite the result being what it was, the only questionable call was in dropping capitals into the fight.  Their typhoon fleet was sneaky (smartbombing and cruise mixed together to take on a drone-based enemy fleet) and was well-piloted.  By no stretch was Nulli incompetent or unskilled.  They knew what they were doing and implemented their plan.  Our good warp-in, strong target calling, and coordination with our own reinforcements - smaller ships instead of bigger ones - won the day, instead of Nulli's mistakes losing it for them.

This also doesn’t mean that the CFC “pwned” N3.  This wasn’t a fight between the CFC and N3.  Sure, The Bastion came in near the end, but their involvement only accelerated the inevitable, it didn’t tip the scales.  Further, Nulli brought guns to a knife fight (Capitals to a subcap fight) anyways.  All in all, the forces were pretty even, and the deciding factor was the tactics, not blobbing or trickery.

This battle has no impact on the meta game, either.  Sovereignty wasn’t at stake, and it has no bearing on the state of inter-coalition politics.  Yet there are a number of soft conclusions you can draw from this fight.

What It All Means

That said, what impressed me during the fight was the clarity of command and the smoothness of transition as our FC and first anchor died, then our second anchor was primaried.  Our secondary FC stepped in smoothly and kept the fight going.  Those kinds of transitions can be difficult at times, but our team was well-prepared.  Part of that had to do with them all being a part of RP and being familiar with each other, but our scouts, our tacklers, and our Sabres all worked together well, and they represented nearly every corporation in the alliance.

Likewise, Twenty Questions conducted themselves very well, too.  As the newest corp, this is their first Razor campaign.  So far, I’ve seen only good things from them… the timing of their tower reinforcement, their communication with the alliance and FC team, and their piloting on the field was all very slick and professional.

As I mentioned earlier, Razor’s USTZ is viewed as weaker than the EUTZ, but my personal unbiased *cough, cough* opinion is that some of the best solo and small-gang PvPers operate within our time zone, and it’s in USTZ when RP really shines.  The departure of TGRAD raised legitimate questions about how large of an effective fleet Razor could raise in USTZ… I think those questions were successfully answered yesterday.  Size-wise, we topped at 90 members (though, as I said, actual fleet size at the time of engagement was about 75), which is higher than any time in the past several months.

Moreover, this fleet demonstrated the viability of the support model championed by our new military directors, who have placed a heavy emphasis on the scout team, training new FCs, and providing resources and structures to help fleets run smoothly.  Given that we had problems with core fleet roles being targeted and destroyed, it was a perfect test of the system recently put in place to ensure there’s always another FC ready to step up and take over.  And I’d say that succeeded.

I’m proud of the USTZ.  A lot of my beliefs about their ability were borne out by yesterday’s fight against a competent, well-led enemy.  I like being right.

Oh, and having a correctly set-up overview matters.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When Narrative Gets in the Way of Accuracy

Yes, this is another response piece.  In this case, it’s to a piece on EveNews24 without an author listed (gotta love those…).  Essentially, it consists of an N3 member (based on the context clues) trying to reinforce the N3 narrative that the CFC operates by Goonswarm leeching power off the coalition’s other alliances to keep them weak and dependent.

Let me give my perspective.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m a member of Repercussus, a Razor Alliance corporation.  Razor is part of the CFC.  I can speak with some authority on the nature of my experience in RP, Razor, and the CFC. 

The Danger of Generalities

Any time you talk about coalition identity, you have to be very, very careful.  There is no single identity, only competing narratives put forth by the CFC and N3PL (and I’m not putting the parentheses or question mark that the other author does; these two entities are like Hanna and Barbara) about their adversaries.

In this case, the false generality is the idea that the CFC bows to TheMittani’s will.  I know this through personal experience.  No Razor goat has any concern whatsoever about pleasing or disappointing TheMittani.  We fly with the CFC because we get fights.  We fly with the CFC because of the Jump Bridge network.  We fly with the CFC because of the community that allows us, when we roam, to join up with local blues to take down larger gangs.  We fly with the CFC because someone in the coalition will do something stupid that generates a huge supercap fight (Asakai, anyone?).  We fly with the CFC because of content.

As a result, this whole B0TLRD universe we live in has a lot of CFC pilots grumbling, because it seems to run contrary to content generation.  That’s not a coincidence.

On the alliance level, there’s one simple fact that the original author overlooks that provides the most compelling reason CFC alliances follow TheMittani’s political leadership: the CFC has never lost a war.  GSF let Razor “crash on their couch” in Pure Blind, after which Razor provided the second most number of pilots during the conquest of the north (Behind GSF, who had about 4x our numbers at the time).  As a result, as the spoils were divided, we got exactly what we wanted… Tenal.  And through all the wars, we’ve kept it for the past two years, without any issue.  Razor is pleased to be a part of the CFC because of this track record of success.  The CFC stated that alliances who chipped in to the common cause would profit from the common spoils.  Through all the actions since, this has been borne out.  And all of the actions have seen us profit increasingly.

Has GSF sought to keep Razor weak?  No, we’ve done that to ourselves through incompetence and bumbling.  The only reason TGRAD was allowed to form its own coalition and hirr was not was because hirr had no connect with Eve Uni and didn’t have a critical mass of members to make a viable alliance by themselves (TGRAD is about 700, hirr was 350 or so).  Add to it the fact that TGRAD regularly put up huge numbers for alliance operations and hirr did not, and you start to see that hirr was significantly weaker and less valuable to the CFC than TGRAD.  In fact, if anything, the fact that the CFC accepted – without protest or the need for persuasion – Razor’s blacklist of hirr speaks to the respect the CFC has to component alliances.

The divergent results were the result of the same thought processes and policies, not an about-face or attempt to mitigate losses.  In all cases, the internal problems with Razor (which I admit freely exist) were responsible, not some external pressure from GSF to “poach” our best corporations.

TheMittani as Svengali

So, you tell me… if a leader tells you he’s going to do something, he does it, and he distributes the spoils fairly and according to everyone’s initial expectations, does that make him an egomaniac or a tyrant or a Svengali?  No, it makes him a fair leader.  Why is TheMittani the leader?  Because he runs the largest member of the CFC and the most organized alliance in the game and he spins a good motivating speech.  And leadership is about logistics and narrative.

Do I feel oppressed or duped?  Am I being oppressed or duped?  Not at all, and nor does/is Razor.  I suspect few, if any, of the CFC alliances do either.  TheMittani has kept the promises he made.

Not once has GSF or the CFC ever complained about Razor deploying somewhere.  Nor did they resist when FCON wanted to deploy to Geminate by themselves.  The CFC’s attitude was very much, “Godspeed, guys.”  Whether FCON succeeded or failed is of no consequence… the CFC and TheMittani (no one denies he’s the leader) didn’t seek to oppose the effort.

Some would argue, “Yeah, but TheMittani knew FCON would fail, and that failure would reinforce the belief that FCON needed the CFC.”  That’s just silly.  Even if TheMittani believed FCON would fail and wanted them to believe they needed the CFC to succeed, it’s still a tremendous risk to take.  Moreover, it’s a tremendous risk to take time and again.  When TheMittani doesn’t stand in the way of Razor deploying independently, FCON deploying independently, FA deploying independently, etc… those risks pile up.  If you’re always holding your friends’ coats every time they want to get in a fight, you aren’t trying to keep them dependent on you… you’re actually letting them have their own identity.

But I suspect that those who want to spread the narrative that GSF wants its allies to be weak would continue to spread that narrative even if TheMittani wished CFC alliances well on independent deployments a hundred times.  Narrative can’t be stopped by facts, silly!

The Far Side of the World

As for N3… I find it laughable to call it a “feature” that the alliances can deploy on their own effectively.  The success rate of N3PL coalitions deploying is no different than that of CFC coalitions.  First off, PL doesn’t deploy on their own; they tag onto conflicts and tip the balance (or they don’t, as has proven out more than once).  They don’t really play for their own objectives, but rather seek to maintain balance by assisting the weaker side for significant profit (“Supercaps for Sale or Rent, Supercaps for 50¢.”).  To claim that they successfully deploy is a bit silly… what sov objectives do they achieve when they go it alone?  The answer is… none; they never go it alone.

As to N3… perhaps I missed it, but it seems to me they operate pretty consistently together.  That’s their strength, they know it, and they apply it effectively.  Despite being beaten time and again by the CFC, they continue to retain their identity and come back in the next war equally strong.  This is admirable, and claiming that individual deployment success is a feature of their identity is as meaningless as it is inaccurate.

What You CAN Say About Style

I think you can say some things about the style of the coalitions very clearly.  The CFC can easily be described by the word, “Organization”.  Everything in the CFC runs from a central belief that organization and logistics rules the day.  For N3, I’d choose “Confederation”; a group of independent-minded entities joining together for common purpose.  And for PL, I’d use “War Chiefs”, as the alliance operates mostly from a highly de-centralized group of FCs who take up leadership in the short-term for specific campaigns or battles, then step back into the fold when it’s complete.

Those are descriptions of three very different styles, but they’re intentionally very loose descriptions.  To do otherwise is to constrain the reality, which is that each group is a giant mess of different opinions, beliefs, and realities, regardless of the utility granted to commentators who want to easily encapsulate the nature of the groups for a reading audience.

The entire gameworld isn’t conspiring to destroy the CFC.  Sure, N3 stated that their goal is to destroy the CFC, but that’s not surprising since it consists of a bunch of alliances who lost their original space because of the CFC.  Saying “People who we punched in the face want to punch us back,” is a far cry from, “Everyone’s against us!”

Conversely, the CFC doesn’t consist of one puppet master with all of the members of the component alliances worshiping him in cult-like fashion.  Rather, it’s one guy leading a good logistic system making deals with other alliances and creating a rising tide to lift all ships.  He knows that his power rests on continuing to successfully provide content and live up to the trust that honoring his past agreements with CFC alliances has earned him.

Final Thoughts

Based on the context clues, it’s pretty clear that the author (who is anonymous… always a bad sign for credibility) is very favorably disposed towards N3.  With that assumption – which I feel is pretty well-justified based on the tone, emphasis, and platitudes expressed – the whole article strikes me as being a, “Let me tell you about the other guy!” piece.

In this article, I’ve tried to share my honest thoughts about my own coalition, an exercise that is infinitely more trustworthy.  Some may claim I’m simply putting forth propaganda, but that’s a pretty thin argument.  Why?  Because I didn’t put this piece out first; it’s a response to someone else.  An essential element of propaganda is to set the tone of the conversation, not respond to someone else’s thoughts.

But more than that, I have direct, daily experience with being in the CFC, whereas the author of the EN24 piece clearly does not.  No one I’ve spoken to in Razor feels slighted by the CFC, or feels as if we’re being repressed.  None of us is angry at GSF or the CFC for what happened with any of the corporations who left us recently.  When we deploy on our own, our success is a matter of pride for us. 

And when we fail, no one has ever thought or said, “Boy, we best not deploy without the CFC.”  Rather, we look to our failures as indicators of where we need to improve, and make changes.  Sometimes, those changes work, and sometimes they don’t, showing us that we need to make further changes.

That’s the process of improvement.  It isn’t dependency, as the N3PL narrative would like people to believe.