New fleet commanders aren't born, they're made. The basic skill of calling targets is explained and dissected here, in order to further new players' understanding of combat so that they may more effectively lead fleets. Together with my previous guide on this subject, I hope to help new players make the leap into PvP, especially in a leadership role. You can kick butt, I know you can!
Calling It Like You See It
The single most important thing that a fleet commander needs to do is to assess the battlefield and decide what target to have his fleet members focus their weapons fire on. What target is called usually depends on where the fight is taking place, what his friendly fleet consists of, and especially what that fleet's capabilities are.
First and foremost, you need to assess what ships are within a range. Second, you need to assess whether or not they are an immediate danger to your fleet. Thirdly, you need gain superiority over the area and claim victory --or at least not lose too badly.
Assessing ships requires quite a bit of knowledge. It involves knowing the general capabilities of most of the ships in EVE Online, and recognizing their names. This isn't going to happen overnight, but with a good cheat sheet and lots of practice it shouldn't take too long for you to become familiar with the most common ships.
For the first six months that I played EVE Online, I had a printed list of ship names sorted by type, with the most dangerous and common examples highlighted. That may be a little bit extreme, but only a little. If you want to be good, you need to understand what ships do, and study aids are a good step on that path.
Primary Targets: ECM Ships
The most dangerous ships vary according to circumstance, but a general rule (outside of null-sec, anyway) is that ECM ships are the most effective ships that can easily be destroyed by concentrating firepower. There exist ECM ships of each class, but Blackbirds, Scorpions, Falcons, and Rooks are especially dangerous. Each of these is capable of shutting down at least one and probably more of your ships via electronic warfare, yet is fairly vulnerable to damage for a ship of its class. Target these ships, first, so that you don't constantly lose a portion of your firepower to jams.
Secondary Targets: Tacklers
Next you should be concentrating on ships keeping your fleet members from warping out when they sustain damage. This means taking out fast ships like interceptors, assault frigates, or heavy assault cruisers, especially the ones that seem to be sitting on top of your fleet and using warp disruptors. Even normal frigates flown by new players can tackle, though, so shoot them.
If you are in null-sec, you will want to shoot interdictors more than anything, because they disrupt an entire area of space, preventing ships from warping out. In low-sec and high-sec, they can't use their Interdiction Sphere Launchers, because game mechanics do not allow it.
The goal here is to allow your ships to warp out when they begin sustaining damage, then to warp back in after regaining hit points, or at least no longer being in the kill-zone. This way you preserve more of your firepower throughout the fight, and deny the enemy kills.
Tertiary Targets: Damage-Dealers
Once you have wiped most of the enemy ECM ships off the battlefield, and chewed your way through most of the enemy tacklers, you should begin hitting enemy ships that can dish out a lot of damage. Ideally, you should aim for the glass cannons first. That is, the ships that can dish damage out, but not take very much punishment.
A good example of this kind of ship is the Harbinger. When fit for PvP, it usually doesn't have much in the way of a tank present, but it can dish out a really high amount of damage. Since its damage is disproportionally high, destroying it disproportionately reduces the enemy's total firepower.
Other sweet targets with light tanks include destroyers, stealth bombers, many of the cruisers (like Caracals) and even someheavy assault cruisers (like the Eagle). Basically, anything with teeth but no scales.
If there aren't any ships that you recognize as a vulnerable target, you may as well start working your way down the list, alphabetically, or sorted by range.
If It Isn't Working, Switch Targets
If you order your fleet to shoot a ship and it isn't really in danger of dying, or you are losing ships faster than you should, don't be afraid to switch targets to something softer. The above rules aren't hard and fast, they're general guidelines that most fleet commanders in EVE Online follow, but they aren't true in every situation.
For example, if a logistics ship like a scimitar or guardian is repairing enemy ships faster than you can blow them up, you might want to shoot them first. Or, if enemy firepower is really dangerous and you think you will want to make several fast attacks followed by withdrawals, you will want to shoot tacklers first, especially interdictors if you are in null-sec.
Don't shoot ships that are very heavily tanked until you don't have any better targets. Especially don't shoot them if it seems like they are bait, they are likely to be more seriously tanked.
The quintessential bait ship is the Drake. Anybody can fly it, so it's decently innocuous, and there's a fifty-fifty chance that the pilot knows what he is doing or not. However, even if it doesn't do anything else, it can take a ton of punishment. Often, just getting a fleet to use its weapons so gates and stations are temporarily off-limits is the goal. Once a fleet is committed to fighting and can't dock or jump for at least a minute, it can be engaged by a fleet that might normally scare it off.
Other ships that tend to have more hit points than they know what to do with: The Dominix tends to have a ton of hit points and repair capability. Command ships of any kind are nearly invulnerable under any circumstance where they are likely to stay long enough to fight. Prophecies tend to have a ton of hit points to spare. Augorors and Mallers (both Amarr cruisers) also tend to have unusually high tanks for their ship class. Ravens have one of the best short-term shield tanks in the game. Any of these ships sitting alone on a gate or station is pretty suspicious, and your fleet should be ready to escape if necessary.
Taking The Field
When the tide of battle begins to turn and your fleet seems to be winning, the enemy will begin warping out or will stop firing their weapons in order to wait out the aggression timer so that they can jump through a gate or dock in a station. If the enemy begins warping out en masse, tell your fleet to try and warp disrupt as many people as possible. When their fleet retreats, anybody that gets stuck behind will die.
Savor the victory, and grab the loot, but get your fleet to a safe place as quick as possible. If you are in low-sec, get off the gate or station to get away from sentry guns. If you are in high-sec or null-sec, get a move on before reinforcements arrive.
And then come tell us about the fight on the Ten Ton Hammer forums. We're always glad to hear about it. Good luck out there!
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