This article deals with the anatomy of a PVP fleet, and how best to manage each portion. This series is intended to give a newer player a firmer ground from which to begin leading fleets or participating in fleet warfare. Once you have a general idea of the role of each part of the fleet, you will better be able to assess and utilize fleets when leading them, participating in them, or fighting them.
Every fleet has a leader. Sometimes there may be a few people in charge, or a few people in charge of different parts of the fleet, but when it comes down to it there can only be one leader. The most efficient way that human beings can give orders is verbally, over ventrilo or other voice communications, and listening to more than one person at once is impractical. Thus, one leader. One Napoleon. "FC" for short.
Ideally, a fleet commander should have experience leading fleets. He should have a working knowledge of game mechanics. He should be able to relate orders to his fleet clearly and with the expectation that they will be followed. He should be able to smell a trap and know what to do when things go wrong. Nobody is perfect, of course, but this is the ideal that fleet commanders strive for.
Things go wrong. Every fleet commander gets out-matched at some point. When an fleet commander is beaten or outwitted, he should be capable of learning from his mistakes, adapting his tactics (and helping his fleet members adapt their ships) to those of the enemy, and he should be capable of moving on without getting too upset.
From the perspective of an alliance or corporation engaged in a prolonged conflict, there is an additional virtue to look for in fleet commanders. More than competence or charisma, the most valuable characteristic of an fleet commander is endurance. The ability to running every night for a week, when needed. Or the ability to keep running fleets even after being handed a humiliating defeat. fleet commanders that weather misfortune and move on, are the most valuable commodity in EVE Online. Alliances in null-sec try and poach fleet commanders from each other, all the time, because their fortunes ride on them. Effective fleet commanders that make the cut and get results are pampered, and the high level of burnout associated with the profession ensures that there is always demand for more skilled commanders.
Shooting the fleet commander so that he is no longer present on the battlefield is a good way to sow chaos and rout an enemy, so fleet commanders often appoint secondary commanders to give orders when they die.
Every fleet needs a goal and a plan to achieve it. The most simple goal is "fly from point A to point B, and kill anything we find along the way." Other goals range from camping a gate to keep people from getting through, to more complicated situations involving dismantling player-owned starbases, capturing stations, or contesting sovereignty over a solar system. When everything goes to hell, the goal usually shifts to "get everybody safe while losing as few ships as possible."
Should the mission take place at predictable locations, the fleet commander should familiarize himself with the area via maps and the in-game browser. He should also review likely sites of ambush, such as choke-point systems or stations controlled by hostile forces. In particular, the systems to watch out for are the ones that connect different regions together, or connect high-security space to low- or null-security space.
If possible, have a route of escape planned, as well. This can include an escape route that is unlikely to be blocked, or the location of various NPC stations.
If an EVE player attacks another player or is himself attacked, he cannot safely log out in space for at least fifteen minutes. If a pilot does so, then that pilot's ship will remain at a random location within 1 AU of where he logged off, for a full fifteen minutes. It doesn't matter if that pilot waits one minute or fourteen, his ship will remain for fifteen minutes after logging out. Such ships can be probed out with a covert ops ship without much trouble. This is a key mechanic for when a fleet is badly outnumbered. Retreating pilots that are trapped in a system need to remain safe for a full fifteen minutes before logging out.
Ships are the backbone of a fleet, but they are only as good as the players that pilot them. A good corporation will have standardized fittings for the most important ships, and possibly a compensation program for when those ships are lost. But none of that matters if the player piloting the ship doesn't know his business, follow orders, and feel motivated.
Players should also maintain a sense of discipline by not talking over the fleet commander, nor shooting friendly ships out of boredom.
Major Ship Roles
Every fleet has different practices for their PVP fleets. They change all the time, too, depending on recent game mechanic changes, ship fitting innovations, and what is popular on a given month among PVPers. Fleet composition also changes radically depending on the fleet's mission and the nature of resistance that it expects to encounter. Nevertheless, there are five basic themes amongst PVP ships.
The heart of every fleet, ships that can lay on the hurt are the basic unit by which fleets can gauge their effectiveness. If a fleet can effectively deal more damage to its enemies than the enemies can deal to them, then it will win. Everything else is managing complications.
In heavier fleets, damage is dealt by battleships (like the Apocalypse) or battlecruisers (like the Drake). These ships will either be close-range fit, or sniper-fit. Heavier fleets will often incorporate remote repair capabilities to increase survivability. A good rule of thumb is that the closer a fleet is to its enemies, the more it is committed to the fight. At distances of 200km or more, sniper fleets have plenty of time to pick off enemies as they approach, or to warp out if they begin taking unsustainable amounts of damage.
In faster fleets, heavy assault cruisers (like the Zealot) or faster battlecruisers (like the Hurricane) are the rule, though even smaller fleets may use Stealth Bombers (like the Hound) or interceptors (like the Taranis). As of this writing, HAC fleets are something of a fad because with good support they can engage sniping battleship fleets with few losses. More stodgy PVP corporations often have trouble dealing with these fleets because close range battleships can't reach them and long range battleships can't hit them, but battleships are often required for several strategic goals. Now that titan doomsday weapons are localized rather than a huge area of effect, and battleships are thus not required to tank titanic damage, I expect these fleets to become more commonplace.
No matter the nature of an operation, it is important to focus fire on one or two targets at a time. Usually, the fleet commander will recite the names of the targets he wants the fleet to focus fire on, taking care to note ship type and range.
Tackling is the art of keeping enemy ships from warping off before they can be destroyed. This is done by using modules that turn off warp drives, like the Warp Disruptor, Warp Scrambler, and so forth. The most basic version of the tackler is a speedy frigate (like the Condor) that relies on its small size and speed to get close to larger ships and tackle them so that damage-dealers can destroy it. The next steps up from this are interceptors (like the Malediction), or assault frigates (like the Jaguar).
For heavier options, ships with heavy tanks (like the Drake) or close-range battleships sometimes fit Warp Disruptors or other tackling gear for heavy tackling against slower targets.
When it comes to pro tackling, interdictors (like the Sabre) are better by an order of magnitude. The interdictor class of ships can drop a Warp Disrupt Probe from a special Interdiction Sphere Launcher module. Any ships within 20km of that probe cannot warp out for two minutes. The sole exception to this is that certain tech three strategic cruisers are able to warp out of these so-called "bubbles." Ships may still jump through gates, however.
The heavier versions of this are the heavy interdictor class of ships (including the Broadsword). They field truly rugged tanks, and can either emit a continual bubble around their ship that prevents warp in up to a 20km radius, or focus their disruption into a 30km-ranged single-target disruption that can even affect ships that are normally immune to targeted tackling, such as titans. Because they are slow and sturdy, "hictors" are best used for gate camps or tackling capital ships.
Remote-repair ships are the best thing since sliced bread. By repairing friendly ships as they take damage, they improve the survivability of a fleet. Multiple support ships can maintain each others' hit points, creating a "spider-tank" where they sustain each other.
Previously, fleet PVP was all about avoiding death by titan doomsday, either by warping away from it, or by soaking it. Thankfully, this has changed. Now, the small, survivable logistics ships are suddenly worth having around. Each race has a single t2 logistics cruiser that excels at a particular task. They are:
- The Guardian, an Amarr ship that repairs armor and sustains capacitor, invaluable for sustained combat against player-owned starbases.
- The Basilisk: a Caldari ship that repairs shields and boosts capacitor, and is chiefly used for repairing the shields of player-owned starbases or other structures, though it isn't bad on the battlefield, either.
- The Oneiros: Unfortunately, the Gallente get the shaft. Their ship can only field four remote armor repair modules to the Guardian's six. It also has a bonus to tracking links, and five mid-slots with which to make use of them. Unfortunately, tracking links aren't that great. And because the Oneiros is best suited for armor tanking, it cannot use its low-slots for speed tanking, and is thus so much easier to kill than a properly fit scimitar. In short, this ship is a lemon.
- The Scimitar: Finally, this speedy Minmatar option can repair shields and use tracking links, though it usually eschews this in favor of a shield tank. It is so fast and tough that it is sometimes used as a tackler (see below).
The Guardian and Basilisk repair 50% more, but are less inherently survivable than the Scimitar. Because of the Scimitar's speed and superior resistances, the Scimitar may properly claim to be the best logistics ship for PVP purposes.
As a powerful force multiplier, the e-war part of a fleet suppresses enemy damage-dealers. A fleet that gains e-war superiority can expect to dramatically reduce enemy damage dealing. I have said much about electronic warfare elsewhere, so I shall only remind you that the Blackbird is the most newbie-accessible e-war ship, and is fast enough to tag along with most fleets. For slower, heavier fights, the Scorpion is desirable, and functions almost as an ECM-based sniper.
Intelligence about enemy locations and activity is gold. Whether it's a sturdy or expendable ship that stays a jump or two ahead of a fleet, or a covert ops ship (like the Anathema) that can warp while cloaked or probe down enemy ships, a fleet commander needs to be kept constantly updated with intel. If applicable, spies that have infiltrated the enemy fleet can also fall into this category. Processing information from multiple sources can be very difficult, especially if a fleet commander is trying to order his fleet around at the same time.
A good scout can follow an enemy fleet around a solar system or keep up with them during travel, without dying. Better scouts will remember names and add important ones to his address book. Scouts can watch to see when a fleet is aligning towards a celestial object in preparation for warp. Experienced players may decide to look at specific ships to see what modules they are fitting, in order to better inform the fleet commander about the most vulnerable targets.
That's the basic anatomy of a fleet. The next part of this article series will deal with specialized fleets and how they work, as well as some practical advice for leading fleets. In the meantime, I suggest you get out there and kill something with your friends, and then post about it on our forums. Space Junkie out.