by: Vivien Sureflight, Repossession Overseer
The more you play EVE, the more rules you will hear as to how you should conduct yourself in a fleet situation. These include, but are not limited to, “Always listen to the FC”; “Keep comms clear”; “focus fire/shoot the primary”. While these are generally good rules, they are not the whole story – the most effective fleets are the ones in which many of these rules are broken. Detailed below is a REPO guide to proper conduct when participating in a small gang of pirates (many things I will say here do not translate well to fleets of 10 or more).
I fully expect these words to spark some amount of controversy.
I am the first to admit that I’m not the greatest FC. While I have commanded many fleets throughout my EVE career, the death toll under my leadership has been staggeringly high and the successes of my fleets have been less than stellar. Even though I usually fly with very experienced pilots who have tremendously impressive records in solo combat, more often than not we all end up heading home in our pods. And every time a fleet that I’m part of meets with failure, I consider the inevitable question: what went wrong? While being outmatched is always a potential cause of death, and my own ability at target calling is rather lacking, the three most common reasons a fleet is defeated can be summed up as follows: communication, marionette syndrome, and martyrdom.
I’m sure all of you have heard it before: keep comms clear while in fleet, especially in combat. The reasons for this are fairly obvious: chatter is distracting, it prevents the FC’s orders from being heard, and it inevitably leads to backseat FCs inadvertently taking control of a fight, leading to disarray. It is therefore paramount for voice communication to remain clear in large fleets, and to that end “comm discipline” is a term that is widely thrown around in AARs (After Action Reports).
But there is an enormous and fundamental difference between “comm discipline” and “comm silence”. The truth of the matter is that FCs cannot pay attention to everything all at once, and while they are generally focused on the state of the opposition, more peripheral – but no less important – factors, such as teammate HP, short-range directional scans, enemy primaries and EWAR-capable ships, tend to fall by the wayside. It is very useful, therefore, for other members of the fleet to supply information topical to the engagement, so that the FC can focus on what really matters: killing the opposition. This information is best received when it is concise and pertinent. Some examples of this: “Viv’s at low armor – going down fast”; “Massive local spike”; “Three Hurricanes on close-range scan”; “Tengu has ECM”; “Falcon uncloaked”; etc.. It is very important that these statements take the form of facts, not orders. For instance, “Kill the Tengu, he’s jamming me” is an awful thing to say mid-engagement, as half of your team will obediently switch targets to oblige. Likewise, saying things like, “local spike, everyone get out!” is simply horrible, and will inevitably lead to those who were tackled to die horribly as the rest of the gang warps out. Orders like these should only be delivered by the FC. That’s what they’re there for.
Of course, there is a lot of information that isn’t important, and should be kept to yourself. Don’t shout out “Viv is tackled” or “Viv is jammed” – that’s not important, and is usually expected of any engagement regardless. The one exception to this is if you’re in a logistics ship, as killing the guy who has the Logi tackled might be worth a change of primary. But again, that decision is up to the FC – you should not be the one making that call.
In fleet fights, you will often find that the amount of work is unequally split between fleet members. In general, FCs are very busy, constantly monitoring the situation, giving orders, and piloting their own ship. Similarly, Logistics pilots must be constantly alert, making sure the right ships get reps while avoiding enemy tacklers. But aside from those roles, action in a traditional fleet is limited to finding the right range and making sure you’re shooting the right thing. A lot of fleet combat, when viewed by the DPS pilot’s perspective, is just sitting there, occasionally hitting F1, and waiting to die. In my opinion, this disparity of work is not conducive to fleet functionality. The work can and should be spread around to every pilot. Before an engagement, assign a DPS pilot to watch close-range scan; another to watch long-range scan and local. The forewarning this information provides can easily save a fleet.
You’ve all heard it before: follow the FCs orders, shoot the primary, and don’t warp out unless the FC says so. While there are good reasons to follow all of these points, they are not the whole story, and doing so results in a phenomenon that I will call “Marionette Syndrome” (MS)
MS manifests as a sudden inability to pilot your own ship. You’re so used to listening to the FCs orders that you can literally do nothing else in an engagement. You’re sitting there, shooting the primary, watching your own shields drop and thinking, “gosh, if I were FC, I would totally order me to retreat.” But you aren’t FC, and the FC hasn’t mentioned that anyone should retreat, so you sit there, and tough it out, and select a planet to warp your pod to. If only the FC had called the Inty primary, you reflect, as it totally shut down your ability to kite the opposition’s brawlers. I probably could have killed it myself, but we’re supposed to be shooting this Brutix, so that’s what I did. Oh well.
It’s incredible how prevalent MS is, even among veteran PvPers. I myself have fallen victim to it on several occasions. Most EVE players have been indoctrinated to believe that, while in fleet, they are simply an extension of the FC’s will, dancing as he pulls the strings. This kind of thinking is not only counter-productive, it is dangerous, and is the most common cause of needless casualties in a fleet engagement.
As solo pirates, you’re used to making the decisions; selecting targets; engineering your escape. You know how to fly your ship to the best of its ability. Sadly, the same is not necessarily true of the FC, and it is not his responsibility to tell you how to fly it. The goal of any fleet fight is to kill as much as possible while suffering the fewest possible casualties, and to that end, a fleet functions best when there is a good degree of autonomy involved. Here’s a contrived example:
You’re piloting a shield Hurricane in a group of brawling ships. Your gang encounters another gang of brawlers, with three frigates as support. Your FC calls a Brutix primary, and your gang goes to work. Here is where MS begins to manifest.
Problem 1: Range. Rather than moving in close to apply your full DPS, it is your responsibility as a kiter to fly the ship how it was intended. The advantage to kiting is the ability to dictate range and escape if necessary – it does you no good to throw away those strengths in return for a bit of added DPS. If that’s what your gang wanted, they would have made you reship into a brawler.
Lesson: Do not put yourself in compromising situations unnecessarily.
You are maintaining a comfortable orbit, but there’s a problem: a Kitsune has arrived on the field 30km away from you. Your FC has said to ignore it, as it’s too far away for the gang to engage.
Problem 2: Relative contributions. There are always a variety of ways you can affect the outcome of an engagement, and your specific ship might be better-suited to certain applications. You can continue shooting the primary, which is going down anyway, or you can attempt to go after the Kitsune and vastly increase your gang’s effectiveness. The FC has made the correct decision to leave it alone, as it’s much too far for a bunch of brawlers to engage. But you, in a kiting Cane, have the unique ability in this engagement to move around the field and apply DPS at range. While staying and shooting the primary will supply ~400 additional DPS, the Kitsune will have two of your guys jammed on average, meaning a net loss of around 800 DPS. There is therefore more expected DPS in the engagement if you, and you alone, kill/chase off the offending EWAR boat.
Lesson: in certain circumstances, it is better for you to ignore the FC in order to apply your ship more effectively. This is probably the most controversial advice in here, as it can be very detrimental to a fleet if it is not handled properly. For instance: imagine if every member of your gang suddenly decided to shoot down that Kitsune. A lot of time would be wasted in trying to close range/apply DPS – meanwhile, your ships would continue to be shredded. It is therefore important that only ships uniquely capable of resolving the situation should take this course of action, and even then, there needs to be permission from the FC to do so. If you find yourself in a position to positively affect the engagement against the FC’s orders, ask for permission to switch targets. This is best accomplished like this: “Viv is 25km from the Kitsune. Permission to engage?” – Short, to the point, and easily responded to. If the FC still says no, there’s a chance he knows something you don’t, and you should therefore not pursue that course of action. [Although in that specific case, there is some flexibility, and I think it would be totally acceptable to assign a flight of light drones onto the offending ship]
Another way in which MS can manifest is through peripheral blindness. You become so focused on the primary that you fail to pay attention to all the other ships in the engagement, trusting that responsibility to the FC. While in many cases this just leads to poor piloting, it can also impact the distribution of EWAR. It is not uncommon for pilots equipped with EWAR mods to focus all of them on the primary target, resulting in the primary being jammed, dampened, webbed, scrammed, and tracking disrupted. As I’m sure you will realize, many of those effects are completely wasted – the gang would be much better served if that EWAR was spread around. Still, a remarkable number of pilots just throw everything at the primary and wait for it to die. It is your responsibility to fly your ship to the best of its ability. If you have any sort of EWAR on your ship, chances are the FC isn’t going to tell you where to put it. It is up to you to identify where that EWAR is best placed. Placing a sensor damp on a Falcon will have a much greater impact on a fight than placing it on a Brutix. Be smart about how you fly, and don’t wait for the FC to give you specific instructions.
I was in a fight a while back with Xedam and Disco. I was FC at the time, and had called a Thorax primary. When I looked at the KM afterward, I was the only one on it. Why was that? It turned out that Xedam had been in the process of running down a Falcon 70km away, and wound up chasing it off, allowing us to score the kills that we did (this is an example of an uncalled target switch that resulted in a net improvement – good job). Also, the Thorax had been out of Disco’s range, and so instead of wasting ammo on a fruitless target, Disco had turned his weapons on the ship tackling him, in order to increase his options and potentially get out, because his tank was failing. While he wound up going down anyway, he’d had the presence of mind to engineer an escape, even without FC input. Which brings us to point #3…
Let me make this clear: there is nothing noble about dying for your fleet. Unless your death saves something of much greater value than your loss, this form of martyrdom is completely out of place in a pirate fleet.
It is important to keep in mind the objective of a pirate gang: maximizing kills while minimizing losses – pure and simple. Because of this, fleet engagements should be treated as solo fights when it comes to determining how you fly. If you feel that you’re about to lose your ship, always attempt to escape, be it a warp out or breaking tackle. At the end of the day, a roam’s success will depend on the losses sustained, and it’s your responsibility as a pilot to do everything in your power to prevent your own death. Sometimes it’s inevitable – no one’s going to fault you for losing a ship – but there is also no reason to stick around if your ship is going down regardless. Moreover, getting out of a fight allows you to come back in a better position, possibly repped up, and continue to influence the battle, whereas your death would simply result in, well, your death.
As far as gang etiquette is concerned: if you find that you need to get out, say something like, “Viv is going down; attempting to escape.” You should only stick around if your FC responds: “No, stay on grid”. This is rare, but there are times when it will be necessary. As an FC, though, I would much rather prevent a loss than score a kill (unless it’s a good trade, like losing a frig to kill a BS).
Fleet fights are really just a bunch of solo fights happening simultaneously, and should be treated as such. The FC is there to coordinate the ships, not to pilot them. It is almost never the case that a fleet engagement will require you to do something you would not normally do solo, and if it seems like it’s going to, make sure you consider the ramifications before doing it. If the primary is out of range, try to get in range, or don’t shoot it. If you see a course of action that will greatly benefit the fight, take it. And if you’re going down, don’t go down without a fight. And if you notice important information, don’t hesitate to share it with the FC.