It’s all well and good to fight only on one’s own terms, but what should those terms be? When should you choose to engage, and when should you choose not to? The short answer is: Engage when you have combat superiority. In this article I discuss a number of factors that enter into the equation for determining combat superiority.
First let’s consider numerical superiority. While “blobs” are often denigrated, the truth is they are a valid way to win fights. All else being equal, the gang with the most ships wins.
Next we have hardware superiority. Most pilots easily recognize the importance of flying a hull recognized for its combat prowess well-fit with the right selection of high-tech modules. As CCP constantly tweaks combat mechanics in the quest for balance, and as creative pilots and alliances test new setups in real combat situations, the flavor-of-the-month hull and setup can change. For this reason I won’t be providing lists of hulls and how to fit them, but in a later section I will suggest a philosophy selecting and fitting out ships.
Any pilot serious about winning in PVP needs to understand why each module is or is not selected for fitting. It’s better to mess around with your setup and make some stupid choices—revealed in the crucible of combat—than to ignorantly copy a setup gleaned from BattleClinic without understanding why that setup was put together.
Your goal should be to make an intelligent choice regarding the setup of your ship. Chances are, you’ll end up with a “cookie-cutter” setup (so called because they are de facto standards that many people fly)—there’s a reason why one setup is passed over by most pilots while another is appreciated by so many—but seek to understand the philosophy behind it, and you’ll recognize when game changes signal the time to re-evaluate your ship’s fit. For now, just remember: all else being equal, the ship with the most well-conceived setup wins.
It won’t be long before your planning how to fit your ship directs your thoughts to a third factor in combat superiority—skills. Many popular modules require a minimum skill level of some sort just to be fitted, and the ultimate capabilities of most ships and modules are affected by at least some skill. So you won’t be able to fit that T2 gun, for example, without having the relevant specialization skill, and the higher your skill in that specialization (and in such things as Gunnery, Controlled Bursts, Motion Prediction, Rapid Fire, Sharpshooter, and Trajectory Analysis), the more effective your gun will be—it will lock faster, shoot farther, fire more rapidly, hit more often, and do more damage per shot.
Don’t focus too narrowly in evaluating skills to train for. Many pilots concentrate on obvious weapons and “hit points” skills and overlook the so-called “support” skills; wiser pilots recognize that support skills can be just as decisive in battle. “Support skills” are skills that affect your ship’s energy grid and capacitor, your motor and warp speed, and the like. Support skills can directly impact the damage you do and the damage you can absorb, but they can also less obviously impact your ability to win battles by increasing your ability to dictate range or get out of a losing fight. Leadership skills, when they are applied as gang bonuses, can be every bit as powerful as multiple levels of gunnery skills, as useful as an expensive faction module, or as powerful as rare mind implants.
I recommend PVP pilots only fly a ship when they can fly it fully T2-fit with all relevant skills at least level IV. (Often the time taken to get a skill to level V is better spent getting some other skill to IV.) The reason is that, all else being equal, the pilot with the most relevant skills wins.
A fourth indispensible factor in the combat-superiority equation is PVP experience. While much about PVP can be learned from a book, there’s no substitute for actual practice. I’m good enough at PVP that you’re reading my guide, but I can remember vividly times when I “froze” in the rush of battle: my mind simply shut down, and I just sat their staring stupidly at the screen as the red-flashies had their way with my ship. Human athletes train so that during a competition their muscle memory and instincts take over; their experience enables them to quickly grasp what’s going on in a contest, and their minds are freed up to focus on higher-level obstacles to success. In the same way, PVP experience conditions the mind to “automatically” take certain basic actions, freeing up the mind to focus on more complicated barriers to coming out on top.
The first time you get ganked, you may be excused for freezing up and doing nothing. Adrenaline is coursing through your veins, you are overwhelmed with flashing symbols and scary noises, and a hundred ideas are all vying with one another for your attention. Chances are it won’t be until minutes or hours later that you’ll truly begin to appreciate the true nature of the situation you were in and what you might have done to get away or even to turn the tables on your attacker. The next time you get jumped that idea will spring to mind—and it won’t be until minutes or hours later that you’ll truly understand what was different about this time or why some silly thing you did worked. As you gain experience, it will become harder for others to catch you by surprise, you’ll think more clearly under pressure, and you’ll be able to do multiple things right without really thinking at all.
For this reason, I’m a big proponent of the advice that inexperienced combat pilots stock up on 10-20 cheap T1 frigates and just go on a PVP spree until all are lost. It’s much more affordable to lose a T1 frigate than a T2 cruiser, and the lessons are learned just the same. Furthermore, the lessons are learned through personal experience rather than filtered through someone else’s written account. At the end of the day, there really is no substitute for experience. And, all else being equal, the pilot with the most PVP experience wins.
A fifth element contributing to combat superiority is force multiplication. If we think of the two sides of a battle as having a series of hulls of X effective hit points (EHP) and a series of weapons dealing out Y points of damage per second (DPS), we can think of a force multiplier as something that has the effect of providing more X or Y for the friendlies or less X or Y for the hostiles. One might of gang bonuses as a kind of force multiplication--and legitimately so; leadership bonuses and gang assist modules can easily enhance one’s fleet’s DPS and EHP by more than 20%. Still, electronics warfare (EWAR) and logistics most frequently come to mind when discussing force multipliers.
We discussed EWAR a bit in the previous section, in the context of evading or breaking tackle. Now consider how EWAR affects DPS and EHP. The Falcon is probably the most infamous EWAR platform in New Eden, with a full array of electronics countermeasure (ECM) modules. In melee, a single ECM module can jam a hostile vessel’s targeting system, effectively subtracting that ship’s DPS from the battle—and Falcons equip several such modules. In other words, without dealing any DPS itself, the Falcon just disrupted the DPS-EHP balance of the fleets engaging one another. Tracking disruptors diminish the hostile fleet’s DPS by decreasing the effect of their turrets; target dampeners diminish their DPS by diminishing their effective range. Target painters effectively increase the friendly fleet’s DPS by enhancing her ships’ tracking and increasing the damage dealt by each volley.
Or consider a small gang being supported by a pair of logistics ships. Most PVP ships either do not repair themselves at all, or fit one (usually) to three (rarely) repairers of some sort. Logistics ships such as Scimitars or Guardians can apply multiple remote repairers to whichever ship the hostile fleet primaries—and they can do it again and again. If each ship in the fleet drops its own local repair modules, they can use the space for other modules that enhance their DPS or tank; the 4-8 remote repairers on the pair of logistics boats are effective in repairing any ship in the fleet. Instead of being able to kill a ship in a matter of seconds, the hostile fleet may find they just don’t have the DPS to kill it at all. And if they do manage to kill a ship, taking say three to five times longer to do it, they have had to absorb much more DPS themselves in the process. Logistics ships often operate at a distance and can be hard to attack directly, but as they often operate in pairs (or more), attacking one logistics ship still leaves the second to repair its shields or armor.
You know what I have to say next: All else being equal, the gang with the best force multipliers wins.
The final factor in achieving combat superiority is tactics. All else being equal, the gang with the best tactics wins. There are so many common tactics to consider, I’m choosing to write more on tactics in a later installment in this series.
I’ve briefly discussed combat superiority in terms of numerical superiority, hardware superiority, superior skills, superior PVP experience, and force multiplication (really a subset of both hardware and skills), and I’ve mentioned tactical superiority as well. Each element of combat superiority has been described as potentially decisive—all else being equal. The problem, of course, is that all else is rarely equal. One may and often does have superior numbers and PVP experience but inferior skills and hardware; or one may count on superior PVP experience and force multiplication but not really know what they’re up against. For that reason, I consider PVP an art rather than a science; as much as we play a game of hard-coded numbers, fixed sets of hulls and modules, and a wealth of documentation, we also play a game of random number generators, frail humanity, and deceit.