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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #66: EVE's Outliers

Updated Tue, Sep 06, 2011 by The Mittani

Time to confess: I’ve finally gotten around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books, particularly Blink and Outliers. Gladwell is of one of the most gifted science popularizers; his writing is tight and anecdotal, using singular examples to illustrate academic research - an alchemy of storytelling and science guaranteed to rocket one to the top of the bestseller lists while leaving a trail of bitter critics in one’s wake - in Gladwell’s case, both scientists and writers have had their turn at green-eyed pitchforkery. Yet Outliers has a special significance to EVE.

Patrolling

Outliers could be summarized with one sentence, followed by several hundred pages of maddeningly well-crafted anecdotes. Ready? Here: Successful people are born in the right time and place to maximize opportunities, and then they bust their ass - usually “10,000 hours” of ass-busting - to become a world-class expert at whatever it is that propels them to the top.

As the accidents of birth are completely beyond our control, the most practical real world lessons from Outliers are the “10,000 hour rule” and the concept of accumulated advantage. In a way that would the most jaded Marxist crack a smile, Gladwell illustrates that the ‘Great Men’ of the modern age reached their apex not due to an innate genius of birth, but because their circumstances allowed them an opportunity to rack up those 10,000 hours of practice. An early head start becomes magnified into ever more chances to practice their chosen craft and polish their expertise.

Yet unlike the stratified and scarcity-plagued real world where accident of birth features so prominently in an individual’s ability to acquire 10,000 hours of practice in their field, the sandbox of EVE presents the closest possible approximation to a level playing field. Pilots cannot truly die or starve; their mobility costs nothing, and they are free to join and leave societies at will. Even a lack of skill points can be gotten around through character arbitrage. Horatio Alger stories are the fairytales of fools and excuses of reactionaries in the real world, but in EVE you actually can pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Meet Ribeye Jaksom, the best interdictor pilot in EVE. Nearly eight thousand pilots have met their deaths on the wrong end of Ribeye’s Sabre, and the majority of his kills have been solo. Average players think interdictors simply camp gates and catch ships entering a system; Ribeye barely does that anymore. He figured out how to use inline bubbles between gates and jump bridges to hunt down ‘uncatchable’ ships like covops and ludicrous-speed interceptors. Then he invented something called a “zero man gatecamp” which amounts to a hard counter to blockade runners. If a Sabre can do it, Ribeye knows about it, and is better than you at it. What enabled this special genius?

Sabre

Ribeye first began flying Sabres in late 2007. He got a taste for the hull and began specializing his character entirely towards it while flying it every day. Where other pilots end up dabbling and bouncing between hulls, Ribeye maximized every single skill related to his Sabre, including such minutiae as Small Autocannon Specialization or Tactical Shield Manipulation. And then he flew and lost Sabres hand over fist as he refined his techniques. He has thousands of hours of experience accumulated over four years of dedication to a single hull, and has reached a point where his engagements are more like executions than fights. Due to this mastery, he almost never loses a Sabre while flying solo - not because of some innate genius, but time in grade and a vast repertoire of experience.

Ribeye isn’t the only ship specialist. What Ribeye is to the Sabre, Dagaon of Stain Empire is to the Curse. In early 2009, Dagaon gave up his Sacrilege and hopped in a Curse and hasn’t looked back, leaving a trail of dead bodies and quite a few Curse wrecks in his wake. Like Ribeye, Dagaon works every day in his Curse, allowing him to rapidly rack up hours of combat experience with a particular fit compared to the average scatterbrained training path of an EVE player.

Despite his Finnish modesty, Shadoo is widely heralded as one of the greatest Fleet Commanders in EVE, well known both in nullsec for his prowess and in the wider public from his commentating during the most recent Alliance Tournament. Yet his origins were humble, first setting foot in 0.0 as a pilot in a ‘pet’ alliance, Knights of the Southerncross, a vassal of Lotka Volterra. Repeatedly frustrated by the poor quality of the scouts in his coalition’s fleets, young Shadoo started out as a covops pilot, having taught himself the basics of probing by doing PvE exploration.


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