The following blog post is part of a series of guides I am writing about the PvP experience in EVE Online. Like any complex topic, it is impossible to cover every aspect of PvP in EVE. This is a particularly complex topic and as a result, these guides will be broken out into more than 20 documents covering different aspects of the PvP experience. Still, all of those concepts eventually come down to a set of fundamental principles... at their heart, all PvP battles are the same. Whether you are in a one-on-one honor duel with a single other player or a single ship on the battlefield with hundreds of others, a set of fundamental principles will guide your actions and a set of fundamental concepts will guide how the fight will go.
This guide attempts to address those fundamentals. Everything in this document is a guideline, not a rule. But as Morpheus would remind us, some rules can be bent... others can be broken. This document describes safe, conservative choices that will help you get started down this road. As you gain experience, you can learn what your particular PvP style is and you'll find yourself making riskier choices about some of these topics. That's perfectly acceptable, and part of the natural growth of a PvPer in EVE Online. But as you start to make those riskier choices, it's important to understand what the alternatives are and why you're making the choice you are.
And that's where it comes back to fundamentals... the basic understanding of what PvP in EVE is all about. That is what this guide talks about.
Player-versus-player combat in EVE is a rush that is very difficult or impossible to duplicate in other games. Your first few times in PvP battle, your heart rate will go up, your hands will shake, and you will have a visceral emotional reaction to what's going on. Even after months or years, from time to time you will still have this reaction. When you are killed, you will feel compelled to obsess about why it happened and when you succeed, it is something that will cause you to smile for hours or days afterward. Why is that?
PvP in EVE generates an emotional reaction because it has consequences. Success is rewarded with prestige, the pressing forward of larger organizational goals, financial rewards, or all three. Defeat comes with financial loss and potential loss of organization goals. When you kill an enemy's ship, you are taking away his ability to do PvP at all for a while. Every ship in EVE represents hours of work in terms of purchasing, fitting, building, and preparing that ship. The loss of the smallest ship -- a tackler that has the critical point on an expensive target -- can result in the loss of a battle in which hundreds of hours of work are lost, the equivalent of hundreds or even thousands of dollars or Euros.
That's what causes the rush, and that's what will cause your heart to shake.
But the first, best thing you can do in a PvP fight is to stay calm at all times. Take a deep breath. Before battle is joined, close your eyes and count to five. In general, the more calm, prepared pilots are going to win a given battle. Fear and panic are contagious, destroying your ability to think clearly and that alone may swing a battle to your enemy's side.
Once you start winning PvP fights and that rush is associated with the thrill of victory, you're going to find it's contagious. ;-)
The following general principles guide every PvP fight in EVE, from the smallest one-on-one battle to the largest fleet engagement.
Don't fly what you can't afford to lose.
As far as I'm concerned, this should be written in 5 meter letters of fire on the login screen. At all times, the preference here is to have an exact copy of what you're flying hangared somewhere else. And not flying what you can't afford to lose includes your clone! If there's the slightest danger, don't undock in a clone you can't afford to lose. Always have an up-to-date clone, and always have an awareness of where your medical clone is.Assume what you're flying is lost the moment you undock.
Assume that when you undock, your ship, the fittings, the cargo, your pod, are gone and will be destroyed. If that causes you any distress, then you're doing something wrong. Either fly another ship, fly with another group, change clones, do what you have to do until you are comfortable with the fact that everything you are about to undock in is already destroyed.90% of PvP in EVE is preparation.
The side that is more prepared for PvP is going to win the battle, whether it's an ambush or a straight fight. Think about what you're flying and how you're going to fly it in combat. It's preferable to have flown the ship you're in before, and to be familiar and comfortable with its capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Before battle is joined, understand how you're going to fly the ship. This will make it much easier for you to remain calm and focused.Don't blame others for what happens in PvP.
You are the master of your own destiny. Every ship loss in PvP can ultimately be traced to something that you did. Not the FC. Not your fleet mates. You. If you can't trace a ship loss back to something that you did, then you haven't traced the cause back far enough. Even if it's the choice you made to undock with a ship you're unfamiliar with, flying with fleet-mates whose capabilities you didn't know, or an FC you didn't trust, you made that choice. Don't blame others for what you did.If you are flying with an FC, the FC's word is law.
If you choose to fly in a fleet with an FC, the FC is always going to work under the assumption that you will follow his orders. If you do not, then the fleet's goals will fail. The FC is counting up his DPS, counting up his attacking ships, his electronic warfare, and his fleet's other capabilities. You are part of that equation. Therefore, you must commit yourself to your FC's orders, even if you disagree with them. If the FC gives you an order, you follow it... even if you are sure it will get you killed. If that happens, the time to talk about it is after what remains of the fleet is home safe. Until then, you and your ship are an extension of the FC's will. You do what he or she says, always.Movement is life.
A stationary target is a dead target. In a PvP situation, always be in motion. Never stop moving. How you move is a complex topic that will have its own guide as part of this series, but even if you're not sure how to move, be moving. As in real life, moving targets are harder to hit and harder to hurt.Maintain situational awareness.
It's far too easy to get "tunnel vision" in a PvP fight, focusing on little grey pixels on your enemy turning into little red pixels. As with driving a real life vehicle, always keep your eyes moving and don't let youself get too focused on any one thing. Watch your overview and your range to enemy targets. Watch your capacitor, speed, and your cycling modules. Watch what, if any, modules are being used against you. Maintain an awareness of all the information that the game is throwing at you during combat. The pilot that misses some key piece of information will lose.You are not your ship. You are not your pod.
At the end of the day, you're going to lose ships and pods in PvP. Don't take it personally, and don't get too emotionally connected with any given ship or pod. Everything in EVE is replaceable with enough time and effort. When you find yourself getting killed...Learn from your defeats. Learn from your victories.
A good pilot is compelled to evaluate his or her performance at all times, judge that performance, search for ways that he or she could have flown better... and learn from them. Whether you conduct this evaluation personally or with the help of corp- or alliance-mates, it's critical that this self-evaluation happen. The best pilots use video capture software to capture their performance in combat and then critically evaluate the footage afterward, searching for ways to perform better next time.
Stages of PvP combat
All PvP in EVE comes down to five basic stages:
Phase 1: Preparation
This stage involves deciding on the make-up of the ships that will be involved in PvP on your side, and preparing those ships for departure from the fleet's home system or staging point. If you are operating within a fleet, you will have a fleet commander, or FC. Your first job is to understand what kinds of ships the FC wants and to comply with that. If the FC is asking for cruisers and below, respect that. Do not bring your battleship.
Good FCs will have a specific doctrine, or fleet composition in mind. This is a group of ships whose strengths coordinate well and whose weaknesses are compensated for by the flying style that should be used by their pilots. It is also your responsibility to understand what range the FC expects to engage the enemy at and to fly a ship that is compatible with this engagement range. In general, a fleet composition will be able to engage at one of four ranges:
- brawling range (generally 10km or less);
- point range (10km to 25km);
- skirmish range (25km to 75km); or,
- sniper range (greater than 75km).
Your FC will also have a particular style, which you should understand. Will he or she accept questions, or squash them? Will he or she accept suggestions or input, or ask that they be held until after the fleet is over? As you gain experience with FCs, you'll get a sense of the style of your particular FC. Don't be afraid to ask in corp chat other corp member's experiences with this FC. On your first few roams with a new FC, if possible, get a corp mentor to watch your back and help you with orders. This is particularly helpful if the FC has an accent that you are unfamiliar with.
In many ways, the preparation for a given PvP fight will happen days, weeks, or even months before the fight takes place. If the FC calls for attack battle cruisers, then your pilot will need the capability to fly the type desired, with the skills for the guns needed and the support skills to fit your ship properly. That happens months before. Weeks before, you will need to assemble a hangar of the ships that you can fly, and fit them out properly for the requirements of commonly-used fleets in your organization. Days before, you'll need to assemble those ships, fit them, stock them with ammunition, boosters, nanite repair paste, and other essentials of PvP. In this way, a long-term player with a lot of skill points and a deep hangar will be at a significant advantage during the preparation phase.
Still, even the rawest rookie should consult his FC and his corp-mates and find a suitable role for himself within the organization's fleets and be ready with a selection of those ships he or she can fly.
Phase 2: Travel
Sometimes PvP will happen in EVE without travel: your enemies will come right to your doorstep and you'll fight them in your home system. More often, though, some travel is going to be required. When a fleet gets going, it will move out rapidly toward its first objective.
During this period, the smartest thing you can do is to understand your fleet composition and the roles of all ships in the fleet. Your fleet will be made up of the main body of ships, your FC, and your FC's scouts, skirmishers, and bait.
- Scouts move ahead of the fleet looking for targets. Most often, these are interceptors or other T1 or T2 frigates. These usually move a jump to a jump and a half ahead of the fleet along its path of advance.
- Skirmishers are tougher ships that also proceed a bit ahead of the fleet and engage targets the scouts find. These are often tough T1 or T2 cruisers fitted with lots of "tackle mods": points, scrams, and webs, plus almost certainly an energy neutralizer or two.
- Your FC might use bait ships or even a small bait fleet, to tempt a smaller fleet into battle.
As the fleet travels, keep the communications lines open so that the scouts and the FC can use them to converse. A good FC will give you interim destinations. Set your ship's destination for these locations. As you move, you'll hear your scout move ahead of you, declaring systems friendly or hostile. It's a smart idea to keep track of the fleet's location on a map, such as the dotlan or in-game maps.
Pay attention to what you're doing. Keep an ear out for the FC's orders, and obey those orders. Be particularly careful not to jump through gates without orders. Doing so gives away the fleet's location. Don't decloak on the far side of a gate without orders to do so. The FC may be using this time to think. Most important, don't get bored and don't get distracted! EVE PvP is often 30 minutes of boredom followed by 30 seconds of sheer terror. You're going to be spending a lot of time warping to gates, or sitting next to gates, or in safe-spots. A good FC will allow chit-chat, but remember, he's using this time to find targets. Don't distract him.
Phase 3: Engagement
This is the trickiest part of any PvP battle: setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side.
Sometimes, this is a no-brainer. In a type of PvP known as gate-camping, all your fleet does is sit on a gate and wait for things to come through. In this sort of PvP, your scouts will provide you with plenty of advance notice about what's going to be coming through the gate. All you have to do is stop them. This type of fleet will often have excellent capabilities in this regard. IF you're not providing that role yourself, all you have to do is provide DPS to kill things as they are caught.
More often though, your FC will have to attempt to get the other guy to engage. There are a variety of ways to do this and if you are not experienced in this process, the smartest thing you can do during this stage is listen, pay attention, and follow orders. In particular, do not jump through gates until ordered to do so and be careful not to engage targets unless ordered to do so. For instance, if you are separated from an enemy fleet by a gate and the enemy fleet's scout comes through, your FC might order you to cross-jump the scout so it can't get eyes on your exact composition. If you get trigger-happy and engage the scout as the rest of your fleet jumps away, guess what happens to you?
During this phase, do a lot of listening. The scout will tell the FC about the enemy ship or ships, giving ship types, the type of tank the ships likely have, and their likely engagement range. Your scout will likely tell your FC what type of fleet you're going to be facing, whether armor-tanking or shield-tanking, whether brawlers or snipers. The FC may send forward skirmishers or bait to get the other guy to engage. During this period, think about how you are going to fly the ship you are in against the enemy.
If your weapons allow for such a thing, make sure you have the proper ammunition loaded. Armor-tanking ships, in general, react poorly to ammunition that does explosive damage. Shield-tanking ships react poorly to EM damage. When in doubt, try to load ammunition that does thermal damage. Don't be afraid to ask your fleet mates what the best type of ammunition to use in a given situation is if you don't know yourself. Of course, if your guns are hybrids or lasers, you won't be able to select damage type for the most part, but you will be able to select range. As you listen, if he is smart, your FC will give you clues about his intended engagement range. That will help you with your ammunition.
As with all parts of PvP, the smart there here is not to get jumpy. Stay calm, stay focused, keep your ears open and pay attention to what's happening. Try to visualize what's happening and what's going to happen in your head. That way, once the fight starts, you will already have fought a portion of it in your mind's eye and will already have a jump on your opponents.
Phase 4: Combat
This is it: the big fight scene. Your FC will begin calling targets. Sort your Overview by target name, in alphabetical order. This will make it easier for you to scroll down the list, find the proper targets, lock them, and start shooting. Remember to stay in motion at all times! Your FC may call for you to align to a celestial as battle begins. Be ready to do that. If not, it's a pretty good idea to do it anyway. Positioning yourself so that you can both fire on the targets being called and are flying in such a way that you can rapidly disengage if needed is ideal.
Stay calm and focused at all times. Do not panic. Take a deep breath.
Your DPS -- all of your DPS -- goes on the primary target. Do not stray from this rule. The FC is counting on his maximum DPS going on that primary target. As the FC calls new primaries, switch your damage to each in turn. Early in the fight, your FC will probably switch primary targets quickly. Be ready for that. If you have electronic warfare, in general, use it on secondary targets. This will be covered in detail in later electronic warfare guides.
You've got about a minute to get some good kills. After that first minute, your FC or the enemy FC is going to think about bailing. Your FC will be pressing his advantage. Help him or her do that by staying on the called targets. The FC will continue to call the primary and secondary targets, repetitively. This is to keep everyone focused and on mission despite distractions. Continue to follow the FC's orders while also staying mobile yourself. Remember your weapon ranges and try to fly staying that distance from your the called target.
If everything on your screen suddenly gets a yellow box around it, you're being locked. If those yellow boxes turn red, you'll start taking damage. In most fleets, that is a good moment to be elsewhere. If you can align and can do so, warp out. Don't stay and try to tank it unless you have multiple logistics ships. Nobody can survive when they've been primaried by a fleet. Get out of there, then warp back in once you're safe. The enemy fleet will find a new target.
If you do have multiple logistics ships and can't run for some reason, then broadcast for repairs of either armor or shields, depending. More about this topic will be covered in the communications portion of these guides. Meanwhile, even though you can't run, try to get yourself into a situation where you can run. If the logistics are able to hold you up, then being in a position where you can warp off won't hurt. If they can't hold you up, then when you're able to warp away, do so. You can always come back. If you're not being repaired enough and you can't run and you can't do anything about it... then there is no need to share that information. When your ship is destroyed, let the FC know that in text chat by typing a minus sign, then the type of lost ship so he can keep up with what he still has.
Otherwise, stay on the primaries called by the FC, directing all of your gun, missile, and drone damage onto that primary. If the fight is going your way, the FC will call each primary in turn. If you have the ability to point or scram targets, use it! A later portion of these guides will talk about good targets for these tactics but in the heat of the moment, being able to prevent the escape of just about anything is a good idea. Your FC might have given the fleet orders on how to share this information. Follow those orders.
Move from target to target under the FC's direction, and be ready for orders to bail if needed. This is where movement in such a way that you can quickly align to a celestial and warp out if needed is a good way to fly.
Phase 5: Disengagement
Once the battle is over, this is when the fleet is its most vulnerable. Don't do something stupid.
If you won, the enemy now knows exactly where you are, exactly what your composition is, exactly how many of your ships they have destroyed, and they are probably watching you. This might be obvious, with interceptors or like ships sitting in view out of your fleet's reach, or it might be more covert, with invisible scouts or stealth bombers nearby, keeping an eye on you. You are extraordinarily vulnerable at this moment. It's a bad idea for the enemy to know where you are.
You'll be ordered to recall drones and "scoop loot". Do so. Go for nearby wrecks. But don't go for distant ones unless you're in a very fast ship. Don't get separated from the rest of the fleet. Being alone is a bad thing. The FC wants to get out of here. Keep that in mind. He doesn't want to be in a position where the enemy knows where he is, so expect fast movement orders. If you're 20km off the gate grabbing loot or salvaging, you could be left behind and killed.
Once the field is looted after a victory, the FC will order you out of the combat zone and you return to either the travel phase or the engagement phase (if you are going to attempt to engage the defeated remains of the enemy fleet in a second fight).
If you lost the fight, your situation is even more precarious. Your fleet is probably widely scattered, partially destroyed, and may have lost key figures like the FC or scout. Many PvP fights happen directly on a gate and it's probable that this gate is your most direct route home. If that's the case, the enemy fleet may decide to set up a camp against you on this gate. Even if they do not, you can count on enemy reinforcements arriving at the scene of a battle just ended. These will move to attempt to close off your escape routes and turn a defeat into a slaughter.
There are generally four disengagement strategies for a defeated PvP ship or ships:
- "safing"; or,
- logging off.
Docking is an equally obvious tactic, if not always available. However, if the fleet can dock up and wait out the enemy fleet, this is often the most successful form of disengagement since both the fleet's safety is assured and the fleet can maintain both situational awareness of the system in which they are waiting and alertness and readiness to undock and attempt extraction.
Extraction is generally regarded as the disengagement method most likely to be successful. In this case, the remains of the defeated fleet attempt to put several jumps between themselves and the victorious fleet while the victors are busy looting the field from their victory. Greed is a powerful motivator in EVE Online and although many FCs will attempt to chase down a fleeing opponent to secure one or two more kills, most will not. As a result, extracting the remains of a defeated fleet, particularly if it is done quickly, will often be successful.
Conversely, the least successful way of disengagement is "safing", the practice of keeping the entire fleet logged in, warping from safe spot to safe spot throughout the system. The longer a fleet is pinned down in this tenuous position, the more likely it is the fleet's enemies will scare up a probe ship or two and try to force the defeated fleet to pick one of the other options...
Sooner or later, though, even a defeated fleet will disengage either successfully or through the means of having their ships and pods destroyed. If enough of the fleet remains alive to continue the roam, a defeated fleet continues into the travel phase until it is time to head for home...
Whether engaged in PvP with a large fleet or engaged in solo PvP, virtually all PvP in EVE follows these fundamental principles. Again, as you gain experience with EVE PvP you can vary much of what is covered in this very basic starter guide. But always understand where you are varying from the safe conservative choices so that you can understand why you are doing so.
And at all times, critically evaluate your performance and then apply what you have learned. As with all other things in EVE Online, the pilot that learns from his past successes and failures will be more likely to succeed the next time! Don't make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. Make all new dumb mistakes. Good luck and good hunting!