Piracy in EVE Online can be an uphill battle. Often, it is more important to think of a specific methodology that allows you to find unwary targets than it is to be "good" at PvP. No matter what your method, this guide has useful suggestions for improving your performance as a pirate.
Even if you aren't a pirate, you may find some of the below useful as general PvP advice.
Keep Abreast Of New Developments
Planetary Interaction (introduced with the Tyrannis patch) has given normally risk-averse players some mighty good reasons to venture out of high-security space. The planets located just one jump out of high-security space are now a breeding ground for undefended industrials trying to move goods around. Planets in risky areas are lucrative enough that haulers can lose two thirds of their ships and still turn a weekly profit. To find systems with a lot of this activity going on, add Planetary Customs Offices to your overview, then warp to planets that have them and see how many command centers and so forth are on them. Particularly keep your eye out for plasma, lava, and storm planets, as these seem to be the ones with the most valuable materials as of this writing.
style="font-style: italic;">Part of being a pirate is being more prepared than your targets. Use these tips to your advantage, and devise your own ways to surprise your targets.
A pretty important part of piracy is mixing things up and doing the unexpected. If you adhere to a pattern too much, then one of the people that you kill will eventually poke a hole in your plan and counter-gank you. Be especially wary of people that exhibit the same behavior that got them killed, last time, because that usually means that there's a trap. Remember: if you suspect something is awry, you are probably right. Go with your gut and err on the side of caution.
Experiment With Ship Fittings
Try modules and setups that nobody expects but that are still useful. A decent example of this: fitting frigate-sized guns on a battleship will mean that you seriously undergun your firepower, but plenty of fast, small ships will fearlessly try to gank you before dying to your guns due to their superior tracking.
Another trick along the same lines is using a neglected module, the passive targeter, to one-volley frigate-sized ships that don't realize you're targeting them. You'd be surprised how often that works, and some overconfident jerk in a stiletto gets blown out of the sky before he can take evasive action. Try to think of your own twists on conventional ship fittings.
Survival Is More Important Than Kills
The most important part of any piracy encounter is not what you blow up, but rather what your escape plan is. Always shoot the ships that prevent your escape first, and try not to get backed into any tight corners. If there are too many tacklers for you to take out, it is probably better not to engage until things are more favorable, perhaps because you kited some people out away from the others, or perhaps because you separated your enemies.
Separate Your Enemies
One of the most important strategies when dealing with multiple ships is to split your enemy fleets. This can be done by warping to an asteroid belt at a planet with several, and hoping that the fleet following you will split up into different belts to try and catch you. It can be done on gates, where some fleet members will often hold their fire (to avoid being flagged for aggression) in case you jump through and they need to follow. Splitting up fleets means that you can engage smaller groups of pilots under more favorable circumstances, and is always a good idea if you know how to do it. Fights rarely take more than a minute or two, so estimating your available time before reinforcements arrive is also important, once the enemy is separated. The reverse of this is also an important skill: having the discipline to avoid being separated from the rest of the fleet is important, whether you are a pirate or not.
Profit When Possible
If finances are at all a concern for you, it is important to be able to make ISK while you pirate. This will offset your eventual losses. The key to being good at piracy is to minimize expenses. Have a place to store loot so that if you get blown up you won't drop all your hard earned swag. Perhaps a giant secure container anchored at a spot only you know about. If circumstances permit, you should keep an industrial ship of some sort on hand, in case you blow something up that was carrying a really sizable cargo.
Stick To One Area
It is all right to be a weekend warrior and only PvP every so often. When you are, though, you should try to stick to the same areas. By so doing, you gain knowledge about the local players. You will start to recognize names, realizing that this pilot is a scout, or that pilot is a starbase tender. You begin to get a piece of the big picture. If you move constantly, you will never see the patterns that emerge when you have an affinity for a single area. You won't recognize scouts for the local pirates.
You should also make bookmarks of locations that you will need, like a spot 200km above a gate that you like camping, or directly under a station so that you can instantly dock. Having a good library of bookmarks is one of a pirate's main assets: you've had however long you like to prepare places to warp to and from, while your targets are generally surprised. Make use of your advantage.
Specialize In Flying A Ship
Specialization in flying a ship class does not only take place on the skill point level. You as a player also need to learn how to fly your ship as effectively as possible. There is no substitute for experience. Keep flying the same ship, even when you get blown up. If you flit from ship type to ship type, with each playing a vastly different role, you will never learn how to really excel. A good idea when learning is to buy five or ten of a given ship, and an equal number of fittings, and then to fly it until you run out of supplies. Fly the ship with friends. Fly it by yourself. Vary the fittings a little bit based on what happens out in the field, but stick to it. You can take breaks, of course, but the harder you ride that ship hull, the better you as a player are going to be at flying it.
Balance Your Performance With Your Budget
Everybody that plays EVE Online knows not to fly what you can't afford to lose. It's the aphorism that quintessentially defines EVE Online. As a pirate, you need to avoid flying a ship that you can't afford to lose ten times over. Because piracy is often unreliable as an income source, you need to minimize your costs where you can. Don't fit fancy faction modules if you're going to wince when they get blown up. Don't cut corners, sure but neither should you double the cost of a ship with a single module unless you are very, very sure what you are doing. An extra 2% speed probably isn't worth it, while an extra 10km of range on a warp disruptor probably is.
Do Your Homework
One of my secret shames as an EVE player is my manila folder full of printed out maps of the areas of low-sec and null-sec that I hang out in. They're covered with notes about the locals, what stations are dangerous to hide in, and have important systems circled in highlighter. Yeah, it's goofy, I know. But it works.
I also have a list of ammo ranges and damage, a selection of rarer ship types and what they do, and a list of ships with tracking bonuses (the better to avoid them while flying small ships). The point is, any question that I could predictably need to know about, I have already researched and prepared answers for. This way I can quickly know what gate to warp to if I need to escape a solar system with getting stuck in a dead end. There is far more information in EVE Online than one mind can readily retain, so why not make some crib notes and make your life a little bit easier. Other suggested note topics include likely electronic warfare targets, what modules and commodities you like to keep on the market, and the exact ranges of the weapons and ammo used on your favorite ship type (with your skills).
Now go forth and plunder!
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