Friday, May 27, 2016

Lessons: Breaking Reps Through Trickery

Earlier this week, White Legion had one particular battle with the CFC and the MBC in the thunderdome known as Saranen. In this case, TISHU brought Machariels, Pandemic Legion brought Armageddons, White Legion brought slippery pete Tengus, and the CFC showed up in Hurricanes.

Now, as to what happened, Wilhelm Arcturus's write-up about the battle was incredibly detailed, so I'm not going to even attempt to do so again. Just go ahead and read that post for the full story.

Rather, I wanted to talk about one aspect of it in particular. Early on in the battle - at least from the White Legion perspective - we were having some trouble breaking the reps on the MBC fleets. In particular, we would target a TISHU Machariel, only for it to catch reps well before we could apply damage.

Now, part of it was because we were applying damage at 200 km. Yet, a pete Tengu is capable of projecting incredibly well without being able to be probed, which, of course, is crazy overpowered.

But the other part was the result of standard target calling behavior, and that's where our story begins.

Each time we would land on grid, we'd start off by aligning off to our safe, then following the broadcasts. At first, the FC (who was also managing target calling) would call a single primary, and we're fire at it. We'd apply our damage, but it'd take 3-4 volleys from the entire fleet before we could destroy it. That was about 16 seconds, plus a lock time of a couple seconds.

Going up against TISHU and Pandemic Legion, it's safe to assume our opponents were using broadcast best practices - ie. broadcasting for reps the moment they saw our fleet yellow-box them. So, before we even fired a single shot, the enemy logi was likely already locking our targets to save them. Reps were landing too quickly for us to chew through them.

This is a common problem with fleet fights; if you don't bring enough alpha, often times you disengage without having killed anything. CCP recognizes the problem and changed capital reps to require a FAX to be in triage - and thus un-reppable itself - to apply reps effectively. But that's not the case with Scimitars, Oneiroses, and Guardians. It's still quite possible for subcap fleets to be fully one-sided if the other side doesn't have enough alpha.

In the past, I've seen the CEO of Repercussus employ a similar tactic that the White Legion FC started using midway through the fight, and to similar effect. It's a tactic you can employ in your own fleets, provided that your pilots are disciplined enough and you communicate effectively enough with them.

But first, let's look at what happens within a logistics wing of a fleet. The moment you land on grid, the logi anchor positions himself appropriately with friend dps ships between his logi ships and the enemy fleet, maximizing his access to his fleet and minimizing the enemy's access to his logi. The rest of the logi pilots typically orbit the anchor and set to work following broadcasts for reps.

Okay, so far, so good.

When the fighting starts and the broadcasts start coming in, logi pilots begin shifting their attention between watching for new requests, managing their cap (if not cap stable), and coordinating who's applying reps to which ships. That may happen on comms or in a logi channel. The key is not to over-rep one ship to the extent that you leave others to die.

Shield logi has to react more quickly, since the primary tank takes damage first, but their reps activate immediately to compensate. Shield logi has to be fast as a result, but the delay between recognizing that a ship needs reps (ie. its shield is becoming increasingly red) and successfully applying your reps is short. So short that it's effectively real-time.

In armor fleets, though, armor logi has a little more time to react - since shields deplete first before armor - the value you can provide - becomes a factor - but armor reps land at the end of the remote repper's cycle. So, while you have more of a cushion as an armor logi pilot, the delay between activating your module and the effects of your module - the reps landing - is long. It's like firing an arrow a great distance - you've already loosed your bolt, but whatever you're shooting at could move in the interim.

When an armor logi sees someone broadcast for reps and their shield starts to deplete, you need to make a call to activate your reps before they're in armor. You can't afford to see how quickly they'll deplete before activating, since you have a full cycle's activation time before you know if your reps land in time.

As a result, it's very easy to be tricked into wasting your reps as an armor logi. Shields will deplete quickly, so you activate the reps, not wanting to lose your ally's ship because you hesitated too long. But, what if the incoming damage isn't as great as you anticipated?

That's exactly what our FC ended up doing. He would start calling a couple ships primary and having us fire one ship at the first ship before switching to the second with our second shot. The enemy logi would see a couple pilots broadcast for reps, lock them all, then react to the first ship's shield deplete by activating reps on that one. After all, that's clearly the primary, right? To them, at least, it would look like it.

By the time the second volley hit the second ship, many of the logi ships' reps would be mid-cycle, and the second ship wouldn't be able to get any help until the end of the cycle after that - two complete cycles. And that was enough time for us to chew through the secondary "primary". If the enemy logi adapts and waits a little longer to see if the damage endures, then you can switch tactics to include a third ship, or just keep attacking the first the next time.

After all, at the other end of every computer is a human being, trying to make the best decisions they could with the info available to them. The enemy logi doesn't know what your tactics are, and it takes a couple seconds for them to recognize the pattern. Into that uncertainty, you can create a little time and space for your fleet to get a few good kills.

Vary up your target calling strategy and sow a little uncertainty in the minds of your enemy. You don't always have to plug away at a primary until it either explodes or catches reps. Sometimes, a little trickery is called for.

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