Saturday, October 30, 2010

Faction Warfare - Making it work (From Issue #21 of E-ON, 2010)

Getting Into Faction Warfare

Fighting in Faction Warfare (FW) requires a little more patience and perseverance then the other realms of combat in EVE.  It's rare that you'll find pilots in 0.0 banding together with strangers to try and take out an organized alliance.  It's even rarer to find them succeed - but regardless of your interactions with faction warfare in the past, and the concepts of it you may hold, everyone needs to understand the sole concept when it comes to militia fleets; it's about taking what you've got, and making it work.

More often than not a Militia FC is guiding a group of random pilots, in almost as random fits, looking for something to shoot.  Organization in a Militia is something that comes with time and patience, and expecting too much out of a group of pilots that are mostly just trying to get their feet wet, PVP-wise, is often a cause for a militia fleet's downfall.  

But what can the average militia pilot do to overcome this?  The answer is one I'll discuss, however every pilot has to understand that they are accountable for themselves first, and everyone else second.  Making sure you're prepared and then lending assistance to others, if needed, will always yield a better result than scrambling to throw a ship together while instructing others on why their Drake's don't need that 1600mm plate.

If you've ever been in a fleet with me, you'll always hear me say two things regarding ship fittings:  the first is that every ship must have a role, and the second is that being able to dictate the range of an engagement is the foremost advantage one can have.  But what exactly do these things mean? 
Having a role is important.  It defines function in a fleet, provides the FC with detail about his overall fleet composition, and gives you a defined set of actions to undertake once combat begins.  Being in a ship which is dedicated tackle tells the FC that he's got a ship and pilot which he can call on when needed to disable high priority targets, or to break off from the fleet to help avoid the possibility of someone running away through another gate.  Good tackle is critical to fleet success, not only will it prevent enemies from leaving an engagement when it starts, but tackle can also present new combat opportunities when sent ahead.

Tackle also presents new pilots with a chance to learn the game.  It teaches understanding of ship maneuverability, transversal, weapon ranges, common ship setups, damage mitigation, etc., while letting a fleet member fill a vital role with a relatively inexpensive ship.  When it comes to tackle, Interceptors are obviously the ideal ship for this role - let me be noted, however, that their T1 counterparts can also be utilized effectively in disabling other ships.  

Going hand in hand with tackle is dictating range.  A skilled interceptor pilot will tell you that staying further then 13k from their target will generally keep them safe from being counter-tackled, as well as having their capacitor neutralized by medium-sized ships.  

I mentioned above that the ability to dictate range is the single greatest advantage one can have.  I'm sure I won't be the first person to call a Microwarp drive a Mandatory warp drive.  It's a cute modification of the acronym, but the results speak for themselves.  In battles where a few kilometers of positioning can completely change the outcome of the fight,  turning on a module for a few seconds and being able to close or open your range on a target gives you the best chance of being in the right place at the right time.  Now don't be foolish, every ship flown does not need a microwarp drive.  The fact remains that adding one to almost any ship setup in the game provides a level of tactical options few other modules can match.   

Also of note are afterburners, which also provide tactical positioning flexibility without many of the drawbacks that microwarp drives come with, such as increased signature radius, an overall capacitor penalty, and heavy capacitor usage.  Afterburners are also easier to fit, but only provide a portion of the speed bonus of a microwarp drive.  You can, of course, fit an afterburner and a microwarp drive to your ship at the same time, however only one can be active at a time - this is a useful tactic for tacklers as if their primary speed module is disabled via a warp scrambler, the secondary can be used for extra avoidance and potential escape capability.

There are also various modules which can alter your maneuverability in space via the low-slots of your ship.  Nanofibers will increase your speed and maneuverability, overdrives will give a flat speed bonus and intertial stabilizers will give a flat maneuverability bonus.  How you use these in conjunction with your propulsion module is up to you - many viable setups can be configured with any or all of these modules.  

 So up until this point, we've covered the idea of ships fitting a role, discussed interceptors being a great ship for pilots to learn the ins and outs of PVP with, and taken note of the versatility of range dictating propulsion modules like the microwarp drive.  But what does all this have to do with faction warfare?

It would be easy to say 'everything', and in doing so defend the position that the majority of FW pilots are new, low skill-point, pilots, and thus lack the ability to fly these ships correctly or fit the modules necessary for success.  I am of the widely-rejected opinion that any pilot can provide the fleet with a ship that can not only be useful, but even be potentially game-changing in a combat scenario.
The downfall of many FW pilots is comfort fitting, a term many people are not familiar with.  Comfort fitting is the act of loading up a fitting program outside of EVE, and playing around with a ship setup until it reaches numbers that a pilot is comfortable with.  

As an example, many pilots enjoy flying around a Drake that can tank 800+ Damage Per Second (DPS), but only provides around 350 DPS itself.  It's silly to think that a low-primary ship, such as the drake, needs tank, when it can do 75% more DPS, and knock targets out of the sky at a much faster pace.  

Not only does comfort fitting degrade the potential of a ship, but it also violates the golden rule of every ship filling a role.  In the above example, the tank-drake fills the role of... tank?  Why?  Let me provide you a scenario - either your drake out tanks the last few members of an enemy fleet, they disengage and run, OR, your drake is blown out of the sky by a fleet utilizing all its firepower on you, the last remaining ship, as your 800dps tank cracks under the 3,000 DPS of the combined remaining fleet.  

Tanking has a role in PVP.  Bait ships need to tank, Remote repair ships need a buffer tank so their comrade's can have time to lock onto them and provide remote assistance, these are both viable, and valuable roles to any fleet.  The average fleet member having a large tank contributes almost nothing to a battle, except another second the enemy fleet will have to focus on you to break your tank and kill you.  This is one of the hardest concepts for new pilots to understand.  Very few ships in the game tank fleets once called primary.  It's better to do 600 DPS to an enemy fleet throughout a fight, then to tank 800DPS for an extra second or two while dealing 350 DPS.

I will continue to suggest to all pilots, militia and the seasoned veteran, that a simple hit point buffer of shield or armor (I usually suggest a buffer of 7k or more for cruiser sized or larger ships) will suffice to give you the necessary time to escape or maneuver in combat.  The fact remains that once called primary, the chances of your survival plummet exponentially.  Contributing something to the battle while you are alive is key, and you should take any measures necessary to increase that contribution however you can.  

Comfort fitting aside, though, what can the average pilot do to contribute to a faction warfare fleet?  You'd be surprised how effective the little things you add to a fight can impact the big picture.  First and foremost, pilots should take the time to ask questions.  There are many acronyms, tips, tricks, and fitting niche's that everyone can benefit from.  

Also, don't be afraid to think outside the box.  One of the greatest faction warfare fleets I saw was a fleet of vexors and thoraxes equipped with blasters, damage mods, microwarp drives, tackle, and full flights of ECM drones.  They managed to take T1 cruisers and have them fill three roles; Tackle, DPS and Electronic Warfare (EW), in an unsuspecting manner.  Not only did this fleet frustrate all they came across, but they did it in a manner which utilized specific modules and drones to their advantage.
To further beat a dead horse, thinking outside the box only works when you're attempting to fill a role in a surprising manner.  The vexor/thorax fleet mentioned above utilized two hulls with damage bonuses and drone bays to combine DPS and EW roles in a devastating fashion.  Filling your drone bay with electronic warfare drones always provides a ship with an unexpected, albeit chance-based, advantage.

Suppose you don't know what you'd like to do yet, and you're just starting to discover PVP?  What's your first stop?  I can't stress enough how important having a plan is, wandering aimlessly through the universe is a great way to waste time, and more importantly, money.  ISK isn't free in EVE, and unlike most games there is actually a penalty for failure.  While failure usually amounts to learning, nobody wants to spend most of their time spending money on ships that will get blown up the first time they are undocked.

Looking forward - enjoying your PVP experiences in EVE.  After your first few fleets, you've had some exposure, you've probably had a few ships catch your eye, and could see yourself piloting, and enjoying, that hull sometime in the future.

If tackle isn't your thing, and you find frigates too fragile, you should set your eyes on a Tech2 cruiser, and start skilling yourself towards it, keeping in mind the setup you'd eventually like to utilize, the skills that will benefit you the most while piloting it, and the modules you'll need to pilot it effectively.  

While skilling for your T2 cruiser, spend time in its T1 variant.  Check killboards frequently and see what's working, what's failing, and don't be afraid to ask why if it isn't clear.  Try out various fits yourself, and remember to keep your eye on the future.  Learning is a big part of that.  EVE is a big game, there's plenty to learn; from ship bonuses to weapon ranges, to popular setups and how to spot a pilot's technique even before you engage in a fight.  No kill mail should come without a lesson.  You'll be surprised how cheap experience comes in EVE, there's always someone out there willing to teach you one.

You don't always have to get blown up to learn a lesson, however.  There are a wealth of knowledgeable FW-oriented corporations out there just dying to recruit eager to learn pilots.  The advantages of joining a dedicated faction warfare corporation over just diving into general militia are obvious, but there are a few key factors that one needs to evaluate before joining any corporation, especially one dedicated to PVP.

First and foremost, one needs to examine their prime time hours of activity in EVE.  Activity doesn't mean sitting in station 'on line' and maybe going out - consider this time period the average span you're actively logged into EVE and willing to roam about looking for a fight.  Joining any PVP based corporation without compatible playtimes is a futile effort which will often leave you wondering where everyone else is.

The second factor to consider is your finances.  Some corporations enjoy flying their expensive ships looking for high-profile fights.  However limited or available your finances are, make sure they're in tow with the expectations of the corporation.  You don't want to end up fielding a drake when the rest of your fleet is in T2 cruisers, and on the flipside, you don't want to be the sole T2 cruiser in a fleet of Caracal's.  

And finally you need to take into account the size of the corporation you're joining, and their activity level.  Having 30 people on at all times is nice, especially when they're all active players eagerly awaiting fleets to form up and head out.  It's another thing entirely to join a corporation full of alts and AFK players who simply enjoy logging in, chatting, and occasionally PVPing for an hour or two a week.

The best advice I can give any player seeking a corporation for any type of playstyle is quite simply, 'sleep on it.'  Joining on a whim without doing some homework or getting to know a few people that you'll soon be affiliated with is a good way to make a mistake, and potentially make some enemies.  It never hurts to ask questions and to fly with a group before you commit to their cause, however or wherever it might be.

Perhaps you're one of the few players that would rather take the lone wolf approach to EVE, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  While the focus of this article has been focused around the fundamentals of cooperative play inside the faction warfare system, it certainly goes without saying that the right FW pilots have no problem establishing a name, and a great kill record, for themselves.
Soloing in FW is an extreme amount of fun for the right pilots.  It allows the individual to do their own thing, and still contribute to the cause.  Also, there is no rule that says the solo pilot also can't join FW fleets when they choose, leaving the flexibility and playstyle choices entirely up to the pilot's current mood.

Solo itself in EVE is tough - it not only requires an understanding of game mechanics, but a familiarity with all ships, the common setups for each ship, how to spot a setup/how a pilot plans to use it against you, and to some extent - luck.  Not luck in terms of how combat evolves, and how choices effect outcomes, but luck in the sense that the pilot you're about to engage doesn't have fifty friends next door.  Without adequate scouting, you can never be too sure what you're getting yourself into, and there are far too many pilots in New Eden willing to agree to 1v1 combat, only to turn around five seconds later and call in their buddies when it's too late.

It's a dangerous world out there, armed with the right knowledge and a bit of determination, I'm completely convinced a pilot can accomplish any goal they set their sights on.  Regardless of how you play the game, or if you've ever been a part of faction warfare, fun can be had, things can be blown up, and you'll probably make some friends while doing it.  I'm one of the growing number of players realizing that while faction warfare isn't the ideal PVP scenario, it provides an excellent mix of opportunity with risk, all while giving the participant the freedom to choose just how much of each they try to grab a hold of.  I highly recommend that regardless of your end-game goals in EVE, if you're looking to get started, or even to get refreshed, in PVP combat, that faction warfare be your first stop.