Okay, you want to engage only on your own terms, and you want to achieve combat superiority…the question now is that Hurricane ratting at the top belt. You’re pretty sure your ship is better than his, but it depends on his fit and skills. You also wonder whether he might not be bait for an entire blob. In this game of rock-paper-scissors, is he the paper to your scissors or a rock poised to smash down on you? That’s the trick, isn’t it—knowing the answers to these and a thousand other questions.
What’s wanted is intelligence (“intel”)—not something high-functioning between your ears so much as some good data with which to work. Warriors throughout history have bemoaned the fog of war; in this article I’ll suggest ways to cut through much of that fog.
The most basic source of intel available to every pilot in New Eden (except those in worm-hole space) is the local communications channel (“local”). This channel starts by helpfully counting the number of pilots sharing the same solar system. That number alone bears on a few interesting questions. If the number is high, then others have probably already observed the Incursus ratting the asteroid belts; the fact that none of them have attacked the Incursus may suggest the Incursus is their friend (and thus may have backup) or he may be a feared combat pilot. Many pilots in local always means one should consider the fact that one’s target may be able to call for quick backup. But then, it can also mean that someone is likely to be vulnerable in space, whether mining or ratting or fulfilling some mission; it’s worth looking around some. And pilots with lots of friends in local may lull themselves into a false sense of security.
In addition to the total number of pilots in space, “local” further offers the identity of each and every one. Take a look at that list. Any pilot who is subject to a 15-minute Global Criminal Countdown timer (“GCC”) may be so indicated by a red skull (whether this actually is the case depends on your overview settings). This tells you there is a pilot on the hunt in the same star system as you. It also tells you that sentry guns will shoot at him on sight—so while you’d have sentry guns on your side if it comes to that, it’s unlikely he’ll go near them in the first place. If you’ve identified any pilots, corporations, or alliances as particularly friendly or hostile, you can see indications of this next to each pilot’s name—pilots with excellent standing can have a blue symbol, for example, while pilots with horrible standing can have a red symbol. This makes it convenient to see at a glance how “on guard” you should be.
Take advantage of even more free intel afforded you by the list of pilots in local! Right-click a pilot’s name, then select “show info.” Note the pilot’s security status. A high security status means the pilot probably won’t initiate hostilities with you, unless perhaps you yourself are an outlaw. Setting out bait is unlikely to work with such pilots. Quite possibly, they’re combat-inexperienced. A low security status, on the other hand, means the pilot has a history of attacking people for no lawful reason. He’ll probably attack you if he thinks he can win, and he’s likely to be experienced and to have a plan.
There are two tabs of information on each character particularly helpful to a combat pilot. The first tab I go to is the Employment tab, which provides a complete record of a pilot’s past employment. How far back does this record go? The older the pilot, the more skills and experience he potentially has.
The Employment record provides useful intel not only about how much skill and experience a pilot may have, but what kind skills he is likely to have learned and what kind of experience he is likely to have gained. If you see a string of PVP corps in that history, you can bet the pilot is both skilled and experienced in combat. If you see a string of mining corps, he may be skilled but likely has devoted much of his studies to industrial pursuits rather than combat, and while he may or may not be experienced at evading combat, he probably doesn’t have much experience in actually fighting. Long gaps in an employment record could indicate periods of inactivity, in which case the pilot may not be as skilled as his age would suggest. However, watch out for pilots who seem to have several years in NPC corporations (corporations not controlled by actual players)—that is a sign of a player’s alternate character (“alt”), and that could mean a scout or support pilot of some kind.
After gleaning what I can from the Employment tab, I’ll check a pilot’s Bio tab. Is it full of links to contracts? Does the pilot use it to remind himself what sorts of damage rats can tank? Does it assume you’ve just been ganked, and claim enjoyment of your loss? Such information can be a real clue as to what you may be up against. Just realize that the Bio tab is less reliable than the Employment tab; while the Employment tab is generated by the authorities based on public records, the Bio tab is under the complete control of the pilot, and many a pirate has used the Bio for misinformation.
With time, you’ll find yourself collecting a body of useful knowledge. Especially if you hunt in a series of “home” routes, you’ll start recognizing people by name. You’ll look at local and recognize this pilot as a macro mission runner, that pilot as a POS maintainer, and the other pilot as a pirate. You’ll get to the point where you know what ships that pirate likes to fly, and what tactics he likes to use. I know some pilots who make written records of every encounter they have with another pilot, noting ship types, tactics, associates, etc. While I myself don’t often write this sort of thing down, I’ve never complained when a gang member informs me “he never flies alone; he always has a Falcon alt nearby.” You might want to start creating your own intel files of such useful information!
In the Tuskers, we have an Intel section of our forums for sharing information of use to us all. We have a list of known Falcon pilots there, for example. We also describe traps we fall prey to, so that our mates won’t make the same mistake we did. We note which corporations work with each other. We describe “prize targets” we’ve observed, rich vessels in space and any vulnerabilities we discover about them. We identify major threats in the area, and discuss ways to deal with them. If you have the opportunity to pool intel like this, do it!
Many pilots post records of their kills and (less frequently) losses on publically-accessible databases known as killboards. One widely-used and long-running killboard is BattleClinic. Just look at the intelligence bonanza a killboard can provide! What ships a pilot tends to fly, how he fits them, which other pilots show up with him on killmails, whether he fights (and wins) against other combat ships, or whether he sticks to weaker prey, which systems he is active in, etc.—useful intel indeed. If you’re sizing up the situation in a solar system, you could do worse than take a few moments to check a pilot out on the killboards.
Finally, let’s consider the role of scouts in acquiring intel. A scout is some other pilot who looks around and reports what he observes. “Local” provides useful information; having access to that information before you or your gang jump into a system can be even more useful—send a scout in ahead of you. As you size up the numbers in local, you may determine your gang has the advantage—but what if there is a hostile gang sitting at a gate ready to jump into your system? Having scouts watching those gates would be great. Is that pilot’s Falcon alt nearby? How many corpmates can the target call on for backup in the surrounding systems? Will the next ship to jump into our gate camp be a rich cargo vessel or a camp-busting gang? These are all questions scouts can answer.
A scout can be in most any ship type that is difficult to detect or engage. Some scouts like to fly in rookie ships, making themselves beneath notice for many. Others like to fly ships fit to tackle, so they can hold down a target while their gang warps in. Yet others prefer ships that can warp while cloaked and probe out targets.
It’s useful for a scout not to be in the same corp as yourself or your gang. You don’t want people connecting you with your scout, if you can help it. You want people to underestimate your gang and to underestimate the threat posed by the scout. Many players have two EVE-Online accounts primarily so that they can have an alt scouting for them—it’s just that valuable.
A scout can go ahead of you or your gang, looking for targets (and probing them out and/or tackling them if those are options), locating gate camps, and keeping an eye on things in that direction. A scout can trail behind you or your gang, watching out for gangs stalking you or juicy targets coming from behind. A scout can "shadow" a hostile fleet, reporting on its movements and composition. Multiple scouts can fan out through several systems, covering you from all directions or finding the best targets in the least amount of time.
By paying attention to local, keeping records, checking killboards, and employing neutral scouts, you can achieve more PVP success. All else being equal, the pilot with the best intel will not necessarily win—but the pilot with the best intel should be able to make sure all else is not equal, and that the inequalities are in his favor.