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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #48 - The Trends of the Nullsec Metagame

Posted Wed, Jul 21, 2010 by The Mittani

We live in interesting times in New Eden; the metagame of nullsec is changing, and I don’t just mean in espionage. These are a number of long-term gameplay adjustments that are only now becoming obvious, and they will impact everyone who plays EVE, not just those participating in territorial warfare. Let’s examine them:

The Death of the Fleet Battleship: When the first detailed plans for Dominion began to leak in September 09, the more prescient among the fleet commanders began calling attention to the potential for a massive change in the way the game is played. Since the dawn of the conquest in 0.0, the ultimate tool of alliance warfare has been the sniping fleet battleship. In some corners of the galaxy, it is heavily tanked; in others, it is a more maneuverable glass cannon. Even after the rise of capital fleets, the vast majority of pilots involved in alliance warfare used battleships, particularly because only a properly-fit BS could hope to survive the AoE Doomsday weapons used by the Titans of that era.

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Nowadays, there’s nothing unique about a BS that a HAC or a Supercarrier can’t do better. The biggest influence here is the rise of the Logistics ship; with enough Logistics in a fleet, almost anything can survive in the post-Doomsday age. The current vogue is split between two primary fleet types. One is heavily armor-tanked HACs backed up by armor logistics, using skirmish mindlinks and boosters to lower the signature radius – and thus incoming damage – to anything in the fleet. The other doctrine appears to be some combination of shield logistics plus massive numbers of Drakes, relying on the high alphastrike of the Drake missiles with the durability of their inherent resistance bonus.

Personally, I think this is long overdue. There is now a tremendous ‘debate’ (of the sort which is played out in unpredictable – and thus entertaining – combats) in the metagame of fleet composition, and no clear winner has emerged. For more than six years the unquestionable endgame subcap ship was a sniping BS, but outside of a fleet context these ships were not much fun to fly – and utterly helpless if caught out alone. The shift in tactics to HACs,  battlecruisers and logistics ships has opened up a lot of avenues of subcapital gameplay which simply weren’t available before, or were consigned regretfully to the province of small gang warfare. In the present moment, we’re seeing alliances calling for pilots to train ships for main fleet work which would have been unheard of six months ago.

Supercarriers and Power Density: This is the flip-side of the end of the Battleship Era. Previously, to participate in nullsec politics on a grand scale, one needed massive fleets to contest for sovereignty. Now, however, Supercarriers have become so singularly powerful that they are a counter for themselves. A large number of Supercarriers (between five and ten on the field at once) is, itself, a power bloc that can only be answered by another blob of supercaps. While this is certainly less game-wrecking than the old Doomsdays, it does have an intriguing shift in the power dynamic away from large numbers of pilots. We’re beginning to see small, wealthy alliances with under a thousand pilots but with a very large number of Supercarriers wreaking havoc with traditional Great Powers. Who needs a battleship fleet if you have a corp with 30 Nyx pilots? The other side effect of this is that demand for Titans has flatlined; Supercarriers are much cheaper and still stupidly durable, and more capable of engaging in combat with subcapital ships.

Diplomacy as a Team Sport: As the Great Powers begin to balkanize and these smaller, supercapital-dense entities begin throwing their weight around, diplomacy as a profession in EVE is radically changing. In the past, one could have one or two people filling the role as an alliance diplomat. Now, however, there are so many entities involved in nullsec that diplomatic corps are beginning to expand into entire sections.

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This also has the practical function of making the lines between intelligence gathering and diplomacy blur, as there are now so many smaller entities around that it’s hard to fully infiltrate an area with spies. For example, the recent conflict around Scalding Pass and Insmother would once have merely been a contest between Atlas, Goonswarm, and Pandemic Legion. In the modern environment, however, these two regions were an ugly nest of squabbling microstates. While the blocs were certainly involved as main forces of pressure, the infighting between Honorable Templum of Alcedonia, Gentlemen’s Club, Cult of War and Primary required multiple diplomats working overtime just to keep track who was pissed off at who at any given moment.

Grief as a Sov Mechanic: After the disastrous attempts by the ‘Southern Coalition’ of Atlas, -A- and IT to dislodge the Northern Coalition, there are few people left in the game who honestly want to bother with the tedious process of the Dominion sov system, with its excruciating ‘sit around and guard a widget for between three and eight hours’ mechanic. Yet war and grudges must continue, lest we all run off and play World of Tanks (which, incidentally, is massively populated with EVE players). One of the more interesting workarounds to the whole SBU/TCU rigmarole has been using mass-scale griefing tactics to essentially harass the victim entity into giving up their territory and cutting a deal to evacuate. This was what was primarily used in the aforementioned Scalding Pass/Insmother conflict. Also of note is the fact that the ships used for griefing are never traditional fleet battleships, so this trend further accelerates the turning away from fleet BS.

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