New fleet commanders aren't born, they're made. Use these five tips to sharpen your leadership skills when leading fleets in EVE Online.
#1: Focus On Your Objective
Decide what you want to accomplish, and ask your fellow corporation members if they are willing to help you achieve it. Be up front about being new to leading fleets, and that the risk of ship loss is high. EVE players are always looking for something to do. Even suicide can be fun, done properly. As long as the people that join your fleet know what they are getting into, they have no right to complain if things get hinky. Ask pilots to fly cheap ships that have a high cost to effectiveness ratio.
The least stressful objective you can try is gate-camping. I love camping gates. It's like sitting on the porch, drinking and smoking with your friends. That's usually what most of the players are doing, except instead of rocking to and fro on a plywood porch, they're orbiting a star gate in a choke point system, hoping for someone stupid enough to jump in without sending a scout ahead of him.
The other basically easy kind of fleet is to take your friends through a stretch of space where potential targets might be, and try to find them at belts, in anomaly sites, or at gates. I don't recommend trying to probe out hidden enemies, for newer players, because such targets will often cloak or hide at a starbase to frustrate your efforts. When fleets tarry too long trying to find an elusive target, it gives locals a chance to react to your presence by forming their own fleet. It also will bore your pilots to tears, and will get really old if you do it repeatedly. Thus, my advice is to keep moving and not worry too much if a target is in space but can't be found.
Don't rip the rug out from under your pilots if you want to change the purpose of your fleet. If you are roaming across a section of space and you hear about a fight somewhere else, ask your pilots if they want to go join in, or would rather continue what you're doing. Changing your objectives without soliciting feedback is a sure way to give people sore thumbs.
#2: Know Your Territory
Most PVP fleets for newer players will probably take place during empire wars, or in low-sec. This is unfortunate, because both of those battlespaces have complicating factors that are in many ways more complex than null-sec.
High Security Space
Firstly, when PVPing in high-security space, under an empire war, watch out for neutral alt characters. This is a pretty unfair technique used by just about every pro empire war corporation out there. Basically, one or more characters that are in an NPC corporation or otherwise not involved in your war will sit in a ship that can repair a lot of damage and, when you start fighting, he will intervene on behalf of his friends. Repairing shields, armor, or hull will flag that ship as hostile to you, and you will be able to shoot it without concord intervening for fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, it does not flag that ship as aggressed. This means that it can dock or jump through a gate, as soon as you actually start to threaten it. Because you have presumably been using offensive weapons, you will not be able to dock or jump through gates for a full minute. The really rotten thing about this is that you usually can't see it coming because the repair ship is not obviously partisan until it actually starts to help, which makes it difficult to gauge the size of enemy fleets in empire. The best counter to this is to always move in force, when PVPing in empire, or to focus damage on weak targets first, even if more tempting targets are present.
Low Security Space
In low-sec, the most dominant factors are the sentry guns, which guard every gate and station. Whenever a ship opens fire on a non-war target, the sentry guns will open fire on him. This gives a ship being attacked something of a defensive advantage. Fortunately for pirates, the gate guns are pretty weak. A battlecruiser with a strong tank, like the Drake or Brutix, can take the punishment during a fight and still kill plenty of things. The neat thing about the guns (there are two per gate) is that they will intermittently cycle between multiple targets that have attacked a target that did not attack them first. If you and your six buddies are sitting on a gate in Drakes, the guns will each shoot a target for a few seconds before moving on to the next target.
The other concern about low-sec is the security status loss when attacking a pilot out of self defense. Every time a pilot attacks a non-war target that has not attacked him first, his security status is lowered. Every time a pilot destroys a pod that is not a war target, his security status is lowered by a great deal. "Sec Status" is viewable on your character sheet. If it gets below -2, you will no longer be able to go into the most secure high-sec systems (1.0 sec systems), and as it gets lower you will find more and more systems to be effectively off-limits. Not that CONCORD gets involved, mind you. It's the faction police who attack pirates, pouring out constant damage and generally making it hard to operate in that space. Fighting back just makes more show up, and lowers your sec status even more. Fortunately, a pilot's sec status is raised every time he kills an NPC pirate, such as those encountered in asteroid belts or on many missions. Kill enough of them, and you will again be welcome in high security space. Still, these sec status hits are a complication that makes operating a fleet in low-security space difficult, and a vice that cannot be practiced too often by those who wish to continue to operate in high security space.
Null Security Space
In null-security space, there are no rules. CONCORD doesn't care whom you attack, and doesn't give you a sec status hit. Nor do you need to be at war to open fire. There are, however, additional game mechanics available that will be confusing to a pilot that has only ever fought in high-security space. The most important is the presence of various kinds of warp disruption bubbles, whether from the deployable structure, or from an interdictor class ship. These will pull ships in if they attempt to warp near them, and any ship within their radius will be unable to escape.
#3 Ask For Advice
Everybody started somewhere. If you aren't Mr. Wizard when it comes to EVE Online, or at least not yet, it is all right to just ask. It's likely that somebody in your fleet will have some idea of the answer, whether it's an obscure game mechanic or the basic capabilities of a particular kind of ship that you have never seen, before.
It would be a mistake to confine inquiries to game mechanics. Ask your pilots if they know of any good spots to find targets. Ask them how their day went, to keep them engaged and entertained. Do not, however, ask for detailed advice when in combat. Combat is a time for action and quick decisions, and perhaps very brief yes or no questions. A good question: "Should we retreat?" A bad question: "Does anybody know the route back to high-sec from here?"
A technique that seems to work for many people is to have a newbie lead a fleet, but for there to be a backup fleet commander in case something goes wrong or the situation becomes too difficult. The backup FC gives the newbie confidence that he can lead, and that if something begins going horribly awry there is someone to step in. If you don't have such a person available to you, try asking in your corp chat. You never know who might be willing to step in.
#4: Be Clear And Precise
If nobody can understand you, nobody can follow orders. Fifty percent of commanding a fleet is calling out the names of whom your pilots should be shooting. Keep repeating yourself, so people with lousy speakers can understand you. Use clear diction, and spell out the first few letters of your target's name if is difficult to pronounce. Mention his ship, too.
A good firing order: "Shoot Space Junkie, in a Drake. S, P, A, C, E, Junkie. After that, shoot Chribba, in a Malediction." The idea is to be as unambiguous as possible, in order to prevent your pilots from getting confused. It also serves to reinforce your authority, especially in larger battles. There are always people that ignore orders and do whatever they feel like, and in EVE this usually comes out as shooting easier targets instead of the targets you are calling, in order to get more killmails. If you repeat yourself enough, you might guilt them into actually contributing.
If you lack a microphone, you're basically screwed. It's impossible to relay and process information fast enough, with text in EVE Online. Wait a day, buy a microphone, and then lead your fleets to glory.
#5: Learn From Everything
Learn about EVE Online. Read guides about EVE combat, from any source you can manage. Learn to recognize ship types and know their roles, so that you know not to target heavily tanked ships first, and how much electronic warfare is sufficient to paralyze your fleet. Learn what ships you need to achieve you fleet's objectives.
Learn to work with your fellow corporation members, so you can improve the material you have to work with, as well as your personal skills. Effective cooperation and group learning are at least as important as your leadership.
Most especially, learn from your mistakes. You won't win every battle, especially at first. But you can learn something significant from every battle. Ruminate about what you could have done differently. Talk to the people that were in your fleet about what went wrong, and bounce ideas off each other about what you will do differently, next time. Try and be optimistic about it: sometimes you get the bear, sometimes he gets you. Even if your fleet gets completely destroyed, there's a darn good chance that you'll enjoy it, if you like the pilots you are flying with.
If you try your hand at leading fleets, let me know how it goes on the Ten Ton Hammer forums. I'm always interested in success stories, or pre-success stories. Good luck!