Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Art of Cheesecake

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.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

We're all going on a summer Pewliday

I’m pretty sure Ludis made that word up the other day when he said “Oh, you’re on pewliday” to me upon noticing that I’d left Serene Vendetta with Jay to re-join Concentrated Evil. This may be obvious, but pewliday is a portmanteau of pew-pew and holiday and the only reason I’m mentioning this is so that I can have an excuse to use the word ‘portmanteau’.

So, yeah, Ludis had seen this before. I’d call it a PvP sabbatical, myself, but Pewliday works also. So, the idea is that if I wasn’t getting enough PvP in a particular place, I’d put a toon into a different corp so I could chill out and shoot stuff when not much else was going on back at the ranch. I’d flown with Concentrated Evil before as part of learning more about PvP and brought 13. Into F.E.R.A.L. to learn more about nullsec. This time, there wasn’t much learning involved, except for how highsec PvP worked after crimewatch.

The other motivations were completely different this time around. CEVL were now part of the Marmite Collective, who seem to polarize opinions as readily as their namesake would imply. My initial thoughts on them was that they are just a carbon copy of the 0rphanage. The irony there is that the 0rphanage’s dominance of highsec trade routes was ended by the Privateers who were assisted by Concentrated Evil and Count With Teddy Mercs (whose notable members were Cannibal Kane and Tora Bushido). Given how easy it was to break these guys up, it’s no surprise to see these high sec groups come and go like flash in the pan. This time last year, Marmite were playing second fiddle to Whores in Space, but MYM8 was still there, so the way I saw it, Tora Bushido had to be doing something right.

While I was intrigued at how Tora had managed to keep things going for as long as he had, what I was really looking for was a place where I could log on, get some easy kills to pad out the killboard while being safe enough to sit in a +5 set. For this, it was fine. But it was very different from before. Gone were the days where we'd add all the war targets to watchlist and then go hunt those foolish enough to log in and prepare traps for them once they developed a false sense of security. It seemed like Tora managed things by deccing half of Eve, and maintained this by taking huge ransoms from people to end the wars early. It made hunting pretty difficult and most of the guys tended to camp trade routes or hubs. This is not PvP. It's scarcely even actually playing the game but I can see why they do it. Without going out and working for the kills the old fashioned way, they can still kill faction battleships and freighters.

In between effortless ganks, I still had toons in Serene Vendetta. I'd not intended the pewliday to be a permanent thing, but it seemed I'd lost diplomat and recruiter privileges. Fair enough if people want full commitment, but only having 2 people turning up to PvP ops had left my appetite un-sated - plus, I can take a hint. So, time to find a new corp! I'd seen United System's Commonwealth had a recruitment post up and knew that the active members of Delete Inc had joined them and Calgura had said they were a good group. Despite threats from certain BLK members about if I ever joined up with Cal, they'd hunt me down (for which I can sort of understand - Cal can take some getting used to, but is just about the most loyal and dependable guy I've ever flown with), I got in contact and made the switch.

Straight away I was getting the type of fights that I knew I was missing. Proper small gang fights that weren't a foregone conclusion from the outset. First kill was some ex-test/ex-goon that BLK had recruited and in their home system. Apparently, he and a couple of guardians had remained on the hole after their fleet (which outnumbered ours) had run away. Just an interceptor, but an auspicious start nonetheless. The week continued with small, but frequent kills and culminating with a very enjoyable fight with Team Pizza.

Then we received a notification from CONCORD that tickled my fancy; a declaration of war from the Marmite Collective. Now, I'd made sure that I'd asked very specific question about these kind of situations to Kypp Durron before I joined and his answer was: "We don't care where your alts are..." I'm not quite sure why he put the ellipsis in there. I'm fairly convinced he wasn't sure either so I will assume it's merely a misguided way of trying to look both dismissive and clever while ending a sentence.

Also, he might not have meant it that way, but I took it as carte blanche to bring fights to these wardecs. Knowing that the guys would have been very complacent just gatecamping, (which I had seen before with Privateers after they took down 0rphanage - and in the same spot too) I was going to exploit that complacency.

We hadn't found anything to shoot at in the hole, but had found a highsec connection 3 jumps from Madirmilire. I suggested a quick expedition to not only retrieve my Orca (1 jump from the highsec) but to get some easy kills in the process. I was very quickly accused of being a spy - to which I couldn't deny, being on USYSC and MYM8 comms simultaneously. I'd never intended to be a long term fixture in Marmite anyway. Concentrated Evil was a shadow of its former self and it was sorely missing pilots like Cuckoo and Black Wrath. It wasn't just their skill that was missing, but their positively was  needed as a foil to the perpetually grumpy magic preacher. So the plan was to break up the Madi gate camp, which had dwindled in number to four very bored pilots, one of which was me. While I was making up the mainstay of MYM8's dps on the Madirmilire camp, I was also going to be bait for UYSYC. Obviously I'm not going to be applying that dps to myself, especially not in expensive tech 3's. No, Jay was there to give them a false sense of security and while they were engaging the Proteus, then hopefully they wouldn't notice the fleet moving through the next system to assist.

Sounds like a bit of a double-cross, right? Burning bridges and breaking hearts? Quite likely. But they declared war on me first and rather than have a conflict of interests, I picked a side. Plus, I didn't tell them to engage me and if any of the old CEVL guys had been around, they'd have known. As things stood, the Stiletto and the Jaguar both tackled the Proteus as soon as I decloaked. 3ulldog's Loki wasn't far behind them, leaving my Loki orbiting idly... since I was busy on the other screen, popping the Stiletto who had got a little too close to the Proteus. At this point, I called in the fleet to join in the fun. MYM8 did spot the trap before it was sprung, but it was too late. They were red-boxed and when 3ulldog called for fleet to get out, it was too late for him (although I loyally followed his orders with Jay). I had him scrammed and my fleet and I were rubbing our hands together with glee at the impending Loki killmail. Highsec Loki's were surely blinged up to the nines with deadspace and faction modules, so imagine our disappointment when this horrible, scrubbyfit appeared to disgrace the killboard. [EDIT: Hi to my MYM8 fanbois - just remember this is not supposed to be a big secret - it's a blog] 

Subsequently, I moved Jay to where my Orca was parked (already packed full of my WH gear) and dropped out of MYM8  to switch to other team. It wasn't long before we moved a fleet into highsec again and Marmite fell for a similar trap. Once again, they lost some tackle and a horribly fit HIC. One of their Vindicators got out by the skin of his teeth as he took advantage of USYSC's lack of highsec practice to execute a tactical withdrawal through a gate after de-aggressing. I was a second or two too late with tackle, but late nonetheless. The better fight was on the way home when we found a Loki, and Astarte and a Harbinger camping the highsec. The Harbinger managed to escape through the WH but the others made quite satisfying explosions. More, let's call them 'progressive' fits though, but at least they put up more of a fight than highsec's finest.

I'd elaborate on than one a bit more, but I had intended to make this post short and sweet since I haven't put anything on here for a while and I have been intended to put a post on here, but something a little different and a little special. It's actually nearly finished, and hopefully it should be a good one, but I'm not going to end this one here. I will mention a really good fight we had with Trapped. We noticed them in chain since midday, but they didn't start logging on until the evening, by which time we were itching for a fight. The only problem was our guardian pilots had logged off by then, so if we wanted a fight, the only option was to commit an Archon. Thankfully, Trapped got this one on fraps. I would have also, but I have a habit of turning off fraps if it looks like we're going to lose or I don't want people to see me de-aggressing to save ammo if enemy logi is holding. Anyway, hats off to Trapped and here is their vid: