This one’s going to be a little different than usual. I’ll go into that a little more in a minute, but first off, let me introduce you to ‘Cheesecake’. No, not the culinary variety. Cheesecake in this instance was something that a particularly drunk Ryane Omega suggested for the Blackstar corp warcry. I’m not quite sure how it stuck, but it did and it became synonymous with PvP. For example: “Get in fleet, we’ve got cheesecake in the static” or “You just missed some epic cheesecake”.
So, I got this idea after I’d led a null raid that had gone bad. I used to get a good return from these. Quick and easy, get some kills and be gone before anyone realises what happened. I can appreciate that it’s not always going to work out quite like that and bad runs will happen, but surely that’s part of the buzz? Surely it’s more fun taking the risk and seeing what cards you get dealt rather than waiting till you get an unbeatable hand? But losing isn’t a lot of fun and this latest one made want to stay away from taking charge for a little while.
I’d lost my mojo. This all got me thinking. How big a deal is it for an FC to be confident? As I thought about the answer, more questions started to manifest and the analysis of it all reminded me of way Sun Tzu’s Art of War analyses its own focus. Now, I don’t want to place too much weight on the book in relevance to this subject, mainly because I believe it is the most misquoted and abused text in terms of the bio’s of Eve pilots who think it’s cool to have a quote from Master Sun in some way associated with their awesome PvP prowess. And I’ll bet 9/10 of those pilots haven’t even read the book.
That’s not to say that I don’t rate the book or think it has any relevance to PvP in Eve. Having read it, I think the simple terms it uses are perhaps too broad to translate effectively into your average spaceship battle which can last from anything from a few seconds to several minutes and are often affected by the minutiae of the fight. It’s easy to see how the rendition of the book’s attacking philosophy in modern business management is an easy transition, but using those principles in Eve would already be second nature to a good FC. Especially the parts of the book that give specific advice to not shit where you eat!
The Book of the Five Rings is something I consider to have more weight behind it in terms of being able to apply fighting philosophy to serious spaceship games. Now, I’ll bet 9/10 of those pilots who misguidedly quote Sun Tzu in their pilots bio’s have never even heard of Miyamoto Mushashi. So, let’s do a quick comparison. Mushashi was a real person while historians are unsure who Sun Tzu actually was. Battles that have been attributed to Master Sun, record no mention of the man himself (at least not by that name). Battles as well as the duels that Mushashi fought in have all been chronicled. And let’s just put that into perspective – he fought duels to the death. To fight that many with confidence that you will come out the other side the victor requires balls of steel.
That word again: Confidence. How important is it? I had my own theories, but I wanted to know what other FC’s thought. I talked to a few, but ones I and had flown both with and against. (there was meant to be three, but one was unavailable at time of writing – this might get updated later).
First off is Zane Voidstalker. I’ve mentioned him before as we both had the same, humble PvP beginnings in highsec and he is a recurring fixture in Concentrated Evil, to which he recently recruited me back to before he left after becoming disillusioned with the Marmite Collective’s way of doing things. We’ve flown with each other a fair bit, from the Drake Directorate, Blackstar and in Concentrated Evil where he FC’d a 5 man fleet against 22 war targets and won (21 kills, no losses and guess who was flying as bait?). I flew against him while he was spending some time in null. Once I found out where he and Kreszch had moved out to, I couldn’t resist paying them a little visit. I made sure to take some kills off their blues while out there and both Zane and Kreszch tried to intercept me in their webbing Loki’s while their blues set up a trap to get a bit of revenge. Once I decided that they’d had enough time to set their trap, I stopped toying with my old CEVL buddies and went home – straight through the20 man fleet waiting there with HIC’s, ECM, tackle and various other fun stuff. Zane tells me those guys were raging about me getting away afterwards which made me uncharacteristically smug.
Second is Noir head honcho, AlekseyevKarrde. I did have a brief stint in Noir and have always admired that they are one of the few groups who have the skill to fight anywhere in eve. As Enigma Project, we found this out the hard way during a C3 eviction. Our objective was to set up one of the new corporations with a WH system. With all the good ones seemingly taken, I thought it was time to put the alliance through its paces and see what we could do when we pooled our resources. Looking at it objectively, there were a few mistakes. Firstly, the timing of the operation. Getting Zexxi to set up his POS for the first time while he was steaming drunk was not a good start. I already had the fleet neutralising the enemy POS, so Anselm had to talk Zexxi through it in another channel. The next derp was letting an enemy scanner get out. Ludis decided to solo the Zephyr, which was scanning from a safe without calling for interdictor support, allowing the pod to get away along with the bookmark for the WH. We did however have a small force waiting on the WH for such instances which is where derp number three comes in; The HIC pilot went AFK without telling me. The next mistake was mine in not rolling the hole instantly. We had additional ships coming to reinforce us, so we decided to mass it so it would be ready to roll when they arrived. Next mistake was from one of the reinforcements as he flew his loki blind into lowsec and started screaming for help over comms. During the confusion, Noir made their grand entrance, making short work of our WH guards, including our now at-keyboard HIC pilot. With our main fleet outnumbered and the alliance POS inadequately set up to mount any kind of defence, we were asked to leave. Well, it would have been rude to decline and true to his word, Alek let our alliance wander out with tails between our legs. Top bloke.
And then of course is me. Despite my best efforts to avoid the responsibility, I’ve FC’d almost everywhere I’ve been but when all is said and done, I probably ought to thank Psychotic Monk and his Skunkworks cohorts for wardeccing Blackstar several times and being terrible - all while we were still finding our feet in highsec. If they weren’t so bad, this might never have happened (just check out those Drakes!), and I’d never have had the confidence to take charge.
So here it is! And in the style of Sun Tzu's art of war in that several Generals add to the point Master Sun makes:
How important to you is bringing home the whole fleet?
Jay: Bringing people home is often more important than the win itself. Losses not only affect a pilots ability to PvP, but their perception of the FC. If pilots believe their FC does not care about fleet losses, the less willing a pilot is to commit in a fight.
Alek: When I take a fleet out, I always aim for a flawless victory. When ganking that's usually not a problem, but for fleet vs fleet combat it's more of a utopian ideal instead of a reality. Still, my view is if you're not aiming to dumpster someone while bringing your fleet back intact you aren't trying hard enough. Losses are inevitable though, so while you can try to keep everyone alive it's important to not let losses rattle you so you can make a rational decision on when to tough it out and fight or start to disengage.
Zane: Well, unless its a suicide run, I like all my guys to come home.
Does it matter if the whole fleet gets whelped?
Jay: Whelps matter, dependent on the circumstances. You are never going to have a 100% win record, but a full whelp can be acceptable if both rare and for a purpose. It’s about recognising the situations where there is no escape but you can take down more than you’ll lose.
Alek: I try to avoid full fleet welps when possible since it really gets my pilots down.
Zane: If I'm only going to lose 1-or 2 guys out of a 15-20 man fleet I'm ok with that but I don't like losing a whole fleet.
How important is confidence for an FC?
Jay: I believe it is one of the most important factors in any engagement. A lack of confidence can lead to hesitancy or indecisiveness. The fleet will see that and react negatively.
I’ve often engaged larger fleets after recognising certain signs that might show that the opposing FC is not confident. Committing with confidence is sometimes enough to break the resolve of the opposition.
Alek: Super important. If you don't have confidence your fleet hears it and it shows in your slow decision making. If you play 100% cautiously it really lowers the targets and fights you can get so you take a fleet out for 1-2h and have nothing to show for it; not good for morale.
Zane: Very. If your not confident your fleet will feel it and they wont be [confident] either. That causes delays and that loses fights.
How do you stay positive after a loss?
Jay: It is important to stay positive and not dwell on losses. Deconstructing the engagement and recognising what could have been done differently can help, as long as it isn’t done too critically. So long as losses are learnt from, it can be taken as a positive. This applies to all pilots in the fleet. The more practised the fleet is in similar situations, the easier it is for the FC
Alek: Staying positive after a loss can be really hard, especially if A. You made an embarrassingly bad call or B. You made great calls but your pilots didn't follow them. Often times making the decision to take a break is hard because if you're this critical and passionate you're probably one of the better FCs in your organization, and your pilots need you in order to bounce back from said loss. But it's important to remember the concept of being "on tilt" which is when your emotional state is causing you to make bad decisions and have negative reactions. If you can learn to recognize this and step away from the game for a few days it will help you get back on track.
What factors can affect your confidence?
Jay: Familiarity accounts for a lot of it. Familiarity with the fleet, the pilots, the capabilities of both, the territory and the mechanics. Some people can be affected by reputation, both of FC’s and organisations. Form is also a factor. Once you are on a winning streak, the easier it is to keep on winning as can being stuck in a rut be also be hard to get out of.
Alek: Probably too many things to name but level of comfort/experience in the doctrine you're using, balanced fleet comp, trust in the pilots in your fleet, good scouting/intel, and your recent FC outcomes. Those stand out to me.
How important is it that a fleet has confidence in their FC?
Jay: Hugely. Without confidence in the FC, pilots are less willing to commit without second-guessing the FC and judging the situation for themselves. Hesitancy like this works against a fleet. Pilots without confidence in the FC are less likely to commit fully
Alek: Pretty clutch, but it's one of those things you don't really appreciate until you fight a fleet who doesn't have confidence in their commander. I've FC'd against some 0.0 fleets (wont name blocs) where key pilots would warp off in ones or twos in the middle of a pitched fight. Obviously that fleet lost, and maybe they would have anyway but they will never know because they didn't trust their FCs call to keep fighting when the battle could have gone either way.
Also those scardy ships died to cepters. That's what ya get!
Zane: Very. If they don't, they don't follow the commands as fast as they should and that lag can lose kills or cost lives. Without that confidence you will get a lot people questioning the FC to and adding there thought in as well. and that causes a mess on comms.
What are the most important elements of FCing?
Jay: Being able to understand the situation and how to deal with it, which comprises of fleet capabilities, those of the opposing fleet and local mechanics.
Alek: Confidence, good scouts, clear communication, knowledge of ships and meta, ability to read maps, and a solid understanding of how to build and run the fleet you have. Could be a great FC but if you run a kitchen sink vs an average FC who has a thought out, coordinated fleet concept which he knows very well that guy will kick the crap out of you.
Zane: You have to know your fleet and theirs from the intel right off the top of your head; their dps, their tank, and yours as well to be able to say bring this or that ship to ensure a win. If you cant and you call for the wrong stuff and engage - bye-bye fleet. The next would be confidence and that comes from just plain old getting out there and doing it. Yeah, you have to make the calls fast and be right or *pop* fleet goes down. I think being able to "size up the enemy fleet" is a good phrase for it.
How important are the actions of individual pilots in terms or brilliance/mistakes?
Jay: Sadly, mistakes are often the ones that stand out more. If one person drops the ball, the consequences are felt by the fleet. Being switched on enough to notice something that no one else has can also have a big effect. Having the wherewithal to force ECM off the field, or spend a weapon cycle or two popping light tackle are harder to notice, but can trigger a butterfly effect
Alek: At lower levels they are incredibly important but as the size of the fleet scales up it's harder for individual decisions to impact a fight. Not impossible mind you, especially for intys, interdictors, and anti support ships where independent action can have major impact on the fight.
At the fleet size my alliance usually fights at, individual piloting can make or break entire engagements. As much as possible we encourage people to constantly evaluate the fight, their role in it, and what their FC is trying to do so they can make strong plays without being micro managed. FC word is law but each pilot is responsible for their own ship, so it's a matter of communication and trust that's pretty brilliant when it works out.
The harsh reality is if you do something independently and it works you're a god. If it doesn't, you're shit and should have followed FCs orders. General rule of thumb for your readers? Dont do anything not worth getting yelled at if you're wrong :)
Zane: Very. A good pilot will know when its better to shoot something else like the blackbird de-cloaked in scram range - grab it fast. Most pilots will orbit at optimal so sometimes a call for primary may be out of his range so he knows when to ignore the FC and grab something else. Neuting targets right with staggered neuts and transversal and blah blah are all signs of good pilots that wins fights. Bad mechanics from the fleet loses fights.