Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lessons: Stick-Handling in a Phone Booth

Over the course of the past few days, I've been traveling through CFC territory hunting for ratters, miners, and other assorted PvE players. I didn't select this area of space because they were CFC pilots, but rather because CFC territory perfectly aligns with Guristas ratting territory.  Pure convenience.

Having spent about four years in the CFC, I did a lot of Guristas ratting, first in Pure Blind, then in Tenal, then in Deklein and Vale. I have three Tengus fit for Guristas ratting that allow me to run every cosmic signature and escalation solo (including Mazes and No Quarter III escalations), so I know a thing or two about fitting a kinetic tank.

And I learned - through hard lessons - exactly how squishy those ships are to, say, EM damage. They're like ripe fruit just waiting to be plucked, and more often than not, they ave faction modules fitting to them.

On the other side of the PvE spectrum are the miners, who I'm classifying as both rock-munchers and the haulers that support them. These pilots are actually more durable, since the rats that spawn are very weak and the greater threat comes from roaming pilots, but pose less of a challenge and risk. Miners must operate in locations that are easy to warp to, be it belts or ore anoms, so the chances of catching a miner are higher than of catching a ratter. But miners are generally more aware, and aren't as arrogant about their safety; having no weapons tends to make one more cautious.

So I decided to use that PvE knowledge I had to exploit the weaknesses in those ships and cause a little damage.

I decided to base myself out of Venal, whcih would allow me to hit Branch, Tribute, Tenal, and Vale with only a dozen or so jumps (PS: need more stations in Venal, CCP). That flexibility would allow me to vary my movement and reduce the chances of the local CFC residents learning my patterns.

I already wrote about a Procurer and a Tengu bait ship I was able to kill, albeit at the cost of my first Stratios. I purchased another with an improved fit after my first foray (slight adjustments = big difference!), but here's the original fit I used:
[Stratios, Gurista Hunter]
Damage Control II
Drone Damage Amplifier II
Drone Damage Amplifier II
Drone Damage Amplifier II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
50MN Y-T8 Compact Microwarpdrive
Large Shield Extender II
Large Shield Extender II
Kinetic Deflection Field II
Warp Disruptor II 
50W Infectious Power System Malfunction
50W Infectious Power System Malfunction
50W Infectious Power System Malfunction
Core Probe Launcher II
Covert Ops Cloaking Device II 
Medium Anti-Kinetic Screen Reinforcer II
Medium Anti-Kinetic Screen Reinforcer II
Medium Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
You'll notice something about that fit... there are no combat probes. An expanded probe launcher didn't fit, but that really didn't faze me much. When hunting ratters, you really only need combat probes for two things, probing out their deep safes and catching ratters running escalations.  Escalations tend to be very quick (most have blitz options), so the odds of running into someone while on one of those are quite rare. And while catching people at deep safes is useful for Venal, CFC space is lousy with safe towers and stations, and the odds of a pilot free-floating in the middle of nowhere are actually quite rare. So, it's not really that big of a concession.

The second thing you'll no doubt notice is the heavy kinetic tank. This tank serves a dual purpose.  First, when facing Guristas ratters, you will almost always be facing kinetic damage. Guristas rats are weak against it, and most pilots don't even carry other kinds of ammo. If they do, they'll first need to swap ammo types (either recalling drones or reloading missiles), which takes time. Plus, the rats themselves will likely switch their aggression onto you the moment you hit your target with a warp disruptor, webifier, or neut.

The neuts are meant more for shutting off miners' omni-tank or for dealing with targets who smartly dedicated at least one module slot to their EM hole. Two cycles of your three neuts should shut them down. Just be sure to stagger your neuts every 4 seconds to keep their cap low.

As far as dps... do EM against ratting ships' EM hole. An active-rep Tengu capable of tanking 2,400 kinetic dps has a mere 8,000 ehp against EM. An EM hardener buys him only a little more ehp, since your neuts will shut it off.  Praetors are your friend. While you may tend towards Ogres, Gursitas also do thermal damage (the Moa-model ships, in particular), and the base Tengu thermal shield resist is 50%.  Do EM damage, and you'll be amazed how even the most hardened ratting ship crumples.

After dying to the black ops ship that the Tengu called in before it died during my first foray, I bought my new Stratios in Jita.  The easiest route back into Guristas null is through the Taisy/M-0 gate.  I expected to have to fight my way in, but, surprisingly, there were only a couple bubbles and one lone Slicer watching the gate at a perch.  I spawned on the edge of the bubble, hit my MWD and cloaked, and bounced to a safe.  Easy-peasy.

Dotlan told me ratting was happening a few jumps away, so I made my way to CR-AQH. Very quickly, I narrowed the scan and warped in on a Proteus shooting rats with railguns. I decloaked and hit my MWD, reaching him before he could build up the speed to warp. He popped after my neuts drained his cap. As the Proteus was dying, an Ishtar I had seen on dscan earlier warped in to help him out. He began to engage me by dropping sentries - kinetic - and applied a web but no point on me.  That told me he was likely ratting fit as well.

At times like this, with victory in your grasp and your adrenaline kicking, it's easy to give in to the feeling of invincibility, which is when you make a mistake. Sometimes, you need to pull back and be satisfied with what you have, even in the heat of the moment.

My first reaction upon seeing the Ishtar was to go for another kill. But then, I stopped and considered.  I had the full aggro from the rats in the room, and my shield buffer was down to about 40%. Added to that, my capacitor was nearly empty after draining the Proteus. I was in no position to take on another fight. If he was fit purely for kinetic, I might be able to kill him, but I'd likely take armor damage and could end up dying to the rats.

It was a coin flip, but I decided that I didn't need to boil the ocean today. I warped off, leaving the Ishtar on the field.  In the end, he ended up leaving without touching the MTU that had sucked up the Proteus' loot, so I killed it and took what remained. It was hard to let the Ishtar go, but I think it was the right call to take what I could get and realistically assess the situation, rather than lost another Stratios.

The next day, I killed a Cerberus in a western pocket of Tenal in an attack that exemplified my goal... to penetrate a key ratting system - in this case JI-1UQ - of an alliance and pull out a kill despite help being nearby. I had been dodging a response fleet for a couple jumps, and in fact saw the first of them land on grid as I killed the Cerberus. No loot for me, but I did succeed in thwarting their response efforts.

But that first response fleet was a disorganized mess compared to the fleet that confronted me the following day.

I returned to Tenal, this time coming in through the south and rolling right up to R-YWID, a hub ratting system for Razor alliance that resides within a pocket accessible only through one system.  The moment I entered S-F, I knew I'd be flagged all over the Tenal intel channel, and in fact, when I warped to and jumped into R-Y the first time, I was greeted with a Sabre sitting on the gate.  I quickly burned back through and decided to circle to R-Y through the neighboring system instead.

Within five minutes, I was met with a host of no less than 10 pilots hunting me, including a Sabre, a number of faction frigates, and some heavier hitters like a Brutix Navy Issue, Gila, and Rattlesnake. Here's a screenshot of what was sitting at the station waiting for an opportunity to pounce:

And, boy, Bovril knew what it was doing. The Sabre pilot tracked me like a dog, moving from gate to gate in R-Y as intel reported me going from system to system that encircled it, looking for a way in.  My only opportunity came when I jumped into HB- and had a short warp from the in-gate to the R-Y gate; I was able to hop systems faster than intel could report me and the Sabre could warp to the next gate.

When I entered system, I did some quick d-scans, but the pilots within were sharp. Ratters shifted location, settling on POSes, and the response gang was distributed on all of the gates except the S-F gate to track me. At first, I was curious why they were leaving S-F free, as it was my escape route back to Venal. Only after about ten minutes did I realize it was part of an intelligent strategy... they were leaving me no option but to move on and let them be, all while actively hunting me. It was a multi-layered approach that sought to both destroy me and encourage me to leave. I hadn't seen anything like that in my time in Razor.

When roaming and invading someone else's space, it's inevitable that you'll face a response. Often, that response is going to be an overwhelming force. After all, you're the invader, and you should expect to be out-numbered. While the response fleet would love to kill you, their primary goal is to deny you any kills. They don't want you to remember your roam through their space as worthwhile, after all.

My challenge, then, was to thwart this well-organized and highly reactive response fleet by killing something. That's a tall order when facing an intelligent, flexible force that isn't making many mistakes. I saw a Brutix Navy Issue and Cerberus sitting on a gate at one point and debated trying to draw the Cerberus off, but I knew that within a minute, reinforcements would come from the station. I can still kill a single response ship in my Stratios, but I wouldn't be able to apply any serious damage until my neuts shut off his cap, and that would take time.

So, I sat and waited patiently at a perch off the station.  The interesting thing about response fleets is that they bore quickly.  Pilots can only "stay frosty" for so long before they start to lose interest, their attention wanders, and they start to make mistakes.  I had a cloak, so I watched them moving around carefully, while continuing to dscan for targets.

After a while, I saw a Miasmos warp to the station and warp off again twice.  Curious, I watched where he warped: a colossal ore anom off dscan.  I quickly warped in and out again to make a perch point bookmark and watched.  Before me sat a five-Skiffs multiboxer fleet with the Miasmos as an ore hauler.

It would be risky. The response gang was highly active, and I'd likely get only a few dozen seconds before I had company. But, it was a calculated risk, on the hope that none of the Skiffs had a point on it.  If it did, I'd likely be dead. When the Miasmos returned, a cargo container appeared in the middle of the Skiffs for a brief moment, and I bookmarked it a split-second before it disappeared again. No combat ships were within dscan range, so I decloaked in mid-warp.

Quickly, I locked, dropped drones, and took down the hauler. One of the Skiffs locked me, but I didn't see an icon indicating a warp disruptor. Another dscan, and still nothing, so I turned my drones on him, though they barely made a dent. Before my neuts could do their work, I saw dscan fill up, and I recalled my drones. The poor guys didn't make it back before a Slicer landed on top of me and I warped away.

On paper, a 48-mil kill isn't that impressive, and it was a hauler, a ship that couldn't fire back. Losing four Praetor IIs cuts into that kill value quite a bit, too. But, on the larger scale, I was proud of my accomplishment. Bovril put together a highly mobile and effective response gang to protect its ratters and miners and contest my presence. In one respect, they succeeded; whereas previously I had killed hundreds of millions' worth on my roams, today's kill was paltry.

But that kill also represented a patient approach on my part.  I didn't panic and run when I met a well-organized response fleet. I didn't shelve my plans and move on. And, right beneath their eyes, I was able to kill a target.

It's easy to make the mistake of trying to "boil the ocean". When you hunt, your goal can't be to score a juicy T3 kill; rather, your goal should be to kill what you can find and what you can catch. The fewer preconceptions or visions you bring to your roam, the more likely you are to maintain the flexibility to adjust to the situation without losing your head and either passing on opportunities that do come along or biting off more than you can chew.

Response gangs can constrain your options, and force you to fly closer to the edge than you'd prefer. They limit the time and space in which you can operate. But the opportunities are still there, and you can exploit the limitations on gangs - they must transmit information to each other, which necessarily takes time, whereas you can react instantaneously as you gather intel - to achieve your goals. In hockey, this is called "stick-handling in a phone booth".

In Eve, it's called a Thursday night.


  1. Admittedly, that's kinda how i felt!

  2. Awesome post Tal, probably one of my favorites so far. Shared it with my friends on facebook :)

  3. Being a big hockey fan, I especially like the hockey reference :)