Fleet PvP: ControlApothne
A lot of different ideas are bandied about when discussing PvP engagements: the EHP of each ship, the number of logistics and the DPS output of ships and how well it can be applied. One of the more interesting and less talked about factors of each engagement is control. Control of an engagement can sometimes be very hard to quantify, but its impact can be devastating. In my experience, the best FCs use the previously mentioned factors to exert more control over the engagement and leverage that control to achieve victory. Now, that’s not to say having control means you’re going to destroy the opposing fleet, but it generally does give you, the FC, more options.
Pinning down a definition of control is a very difficult thing to do. The best one I can come up with is: The fleet in control is the fleet that has the most options, and will be making the decisions about the progression of the engagement, whereas the other fleet is forced into a more reactionary role. Of the factors mentioned above, raw speed/maneuverability may be the most important, but it won’t make up for extreme deficits in the other factors.
Let’s go over some examples to be more explicit:
Chessur and Gorski are out and about with T H E R A B O I S. They’re in their usual composition of Orthruses, Confessors, Intys and Dictors. The key to small-gang nano, perhaps more than any other type of PvP, is control over the engagement. They come across a small group of AB cruisers, for instance a BNI Rail Moa fleet. Let’s assume that BNI do not have enough logistics (after masterful Keres damping) to hold reps and that their tackle is token or non-existent after the first few moments of the engagement. Here, the T-bois, due to their speed and projection, will always be dictating range. They’ll be able to apply full DPS to their targets, while the Moas will be forced into low-damage ammo. On top of that, without any tackle the T-bois can just warp off individually if any one of them get low on HP. Here, the T-bois are going to wipe out the vast majority of the BNI fleet; they have the control. The T-bois are under no pressure to kill specific ships. They chose the range. They were not threatened. The only decision the BNI fleet has is when to give up and leave.
Let’s take that first engagement, add a few more tacklers to the BNI Moa fleet and give them a prober too. Here, the T-bois are under constant threat of being warped on, tackled and killed. They have to be careful not to fly beyond 150 km for fear of being warped upon or closer than 40km or so for fear of being blapped. BNI suddenly has a lot more options available to them, and the T-bois are in a far more cramped decision-making space. They’re in constant fear of having tackle warped onto them. In this scenario, the T-bois and BNI are vying for control with each ship lost on each side giving the other fewer ships to worry about, potentially opening up more avenues of attack. Generally speaking, the loss of a single ship in small gang can mean you no longer have critical mass to stay on field, especially if a significant amount of EWAR is present. If BNI manages to catch the anti-support of T-bois, their tackle can burn straight at their opponents. If the T-bois kill enough Moas, their local-tanked ships no longer have to worry about being caught, and they can stop being so careful and burn through the rest of the BNI fleet.
Let’s again take that first engagement, but instead of having more tackle and a Prober, let’s give BNI several more Moas and Scythes and some damps of their own. Here, T-bois have a much harder time getting kills because they have to break through the reps. They’ll need to reply on splitting up the BNI fleet, teasing over-eager tackle outside of rep-range or finding targets with low transversal to volley. BNI still do not have more than fractional control over the engagement, certainly less than in case 2, as they can do very little to force an engagement and get kills, but they’re now able to stay alive as opposed to dying in droves.
BNI get both the tackle and probers from case 2 and the extra core ships from case 3. Here, they have almost total control over the engagement. T-bois still have the maneuverability advantage, but they have to use it to constantly retreat from ships being warped at them. Their control is minimal, and unless they can split the fleet into more manageable sections, their only option is to leave.
Look at how control shifted over the different scenarios. Yes, DPS/rep power/tackle changed but only insomuch as it affected which fleet had the most control over the engagement. Case 2 could contain as many Moas and Scythes as there are pilots in new Eden, but T-bois could theoretically just kite and pick off stragglers from the blob.
15-40 Fleet Members
For a long time in Waffles, my main roaming fleet comp was the DickCat, a dual-prop armour Thorax. As T1 armour cruiser fleets go, it was not the most popular across New Eden. A far more common sight would be a Maller looking something like this. Here, of all the examples I’m using today, it is the most clear distinction of philosophy between winning and not losing. The Maller is a beast. It puts out decent DPS to a reasonable range thanks to Scorch and has an epic combined sig and EHP tank. That said, it’s slow as balls and it doesn’t do much other than sit there and slug it out with whatever ships come within 25 km of your fleet.
In a straight up fight, excluding numbers so small that the Mallers could not break the tank of the Thoraxes, the Mallers will win 90% of the time if not 100%. It is objectively the stronger fleet design. Why do I prefer the Thorax fleet? Control. Having the opportunity to make decisions and exert my will on the fight is one of the main things I love about FCing. In the Maller fleet, all I do is land on grid and call targets. In the Thoraxes, I get a 50m3 drone bay to play with. If a Falcon decloaks 50 km away and starts jamming my logi, I can send a swarm of medium drones after it and force it off. I can even use those drones to split fire, hopefully confusing the opposing logi. Speaking of Logi, should I choose, I can burn my Thoraxes in on top of my opponents logi and start burning them down, whereas in the Mallers, i’d have to warp off grid and back down onto them, losing any that were tackled. What’s more, the Maller may have a higher tank, but the DPS of the Thorax is insane. You need far fewer Thoraxes to get the critical mass needed to break opposing logi than you do Mallers, and that may be a huge factor when you’re too far from home to get reinforcements.
Even with the tackling modules, having a web is far more useful than many people give it credit for. If a fleet of ABing AFs, get on top of your Mallers, you aren’t tracking them. The web and tracking bonus on the Thorax mean your opponents won’t be sig/speed tanking you in that manner. Webs also mean that in scram vs scram/web, your opponent can’t slowburn out of AB range if you spread said webs across the enemy fleet. Sure, you could get half of your Mallers to refit to webs, but then you lose half your scrams. When disengaging, the FC has to decide what acceptable losses are. Can he lose 2-3 guys from his 40 man fleet? Sure, but what if ⅔ of the fleet is tackled? He may as well fight it out to the bitter end. Mallers and Thoraxs aren’t expensive, but the concept still applies to much more expensive hulls.
All of these decisions on the part of the FC (in my opinion) are also to the benefit of the fleet member. This may be subjective, but I firmly believe that flying a Thorax is more fun than flying a Maller. In the Maller, you anchor up, shoot targets and change ammo as necessary. In the Thorax, you manage two prop mods. You use the MWD sporadically to burn on top of the enemy or to get out of DPS range when primaried and the AB to sig tank and maintain some maneuverability in sub-10k range, even when scrammed. The decisions the FC makes regarding the drones and burning around the field are personal missions to achieve by individual pilots who are not being dragged around, perhaps not even noticing the positioning being fought over by the fleets while they idly approach the anchor, alt-tabbing to reddit.
Even with all this, the Maller is still the stronger fleet comp. The EHP is just too much for the above advantages to overcome. It is seriously good at not dying, even if the Thorax is far more likely to allow you to get killmails. You can always add more ships for more DPS, but EHP is inherent to each ship.
This is the part where some readers will rush to the comments and say “Apoth, each ship in a fleet should do its own job as best as possible. DPS should max EHP/DPS and let the tacklers do the tackling. Ships should do their singular role as best as possible, E-Uni teaches you that on day one!” Yes. I Absolutely agree, but if you bear with me, I’ll come back to that point in a bit once I’ve rounded out my examples.
50+ Fleet Members
As I mentioned, small/micro-gang nano is where control is perhaps the most important but is also the easiest to observe. There are, however, important considerations of control in much larger scale warfare. Let’s say Legion of xXDeathXx is fighting SOLAR. It’s a Russian civil war and they’re forming as many rail Tengus with Scimitars as possible to brawl outrageous.
Let’s say SOLAR have a significant Tengu advantage. What normally happens in these fights is that you trade spaceships in a war of attrition (in T3 fleets it’s usually logi, then T3s), and the first person to kill enough DPS to hold reps with whatever remaining logi they have, wins. With a numerical spaceship advantage, you lose that edge. The fleet at a numerical disadvantage now has to dance around and try to pick off targets, maybe getting a good warp-in behind logi to even the tides. Their options to take the engagement diminish, whereas the opposing fleet can still use that tactic, even when taking the fight is more advantageous. In this example, some of the control has gone to SOLAR.
Okay, let’s talk caps. Let’s say you aren’t the CFC and live within jump-range of PL. PL automatically gain an amount of control of every engagement with you, especially as you scale up beyond cruisers to less maneuverable hulls, due to being able to drop More Supers Than You Can Handle™. This, of course, has adverse effects. People are less likely to engage PL, and even then only in doctrines they know can pull off a hasty retreat.
Alternatively, let’s say BL and PL are staged close to each other and BL magically gains enough supers to be able to contend anything but B-R levels of PL commitment. Now, we go from on-grid control to geographic control. The further away one side is from their supercapital staging system(s), the less control they have because it takes longer to burn cynos, bring subcap reinforcements, worry about fatigue, run into gatecamps while you’re committed, etc. While not a direct form of control over a fight, any factor that restricts or extends a fleet pool of options can be said to alter the balance of their control over an engagement. Naturally, the likelihood and potential strength of incoming reinforcements, as well as their distance from the field is always a consideration but is all the more important when committing ships so expensive and comparatively straightforward to hold down.
Winning vs. Not Dying
Back to the Tengus. Typically speaking shield HACs are awful at direct control. While they excel in tank, DPS and projection, they’re slow and have no extra tackle ability. What’s more, your standard shield support ships for the role of tackle and EWAR are orders of magnitude worse than their armour counterparts. This is another example of choosing not dying over winning. You’re sacrificing some of the key elements of control in exchange for a higher likelihood that if your opponent chooses to take the fight, you’re more likely to win.
Going back to the point that I asked you to wait for at the end of the Maller/Thorax discussion, let’s look at this world we live in where tackle ships only tackle and DPS ships only do DPS. Currently in these fights, and certainly in the large-scale ones, only 2-4 tackle ships seriously affect the act of winning the fight. Note the difference between winning the fight and how many kills you get after the fight has been decided. It’s largely the key webbing ships (Lokis, Huginns etc.) that let you apply damage and the bubbles that stop re-positioning in null-sec. You must have the critical mass of DPS and logistics so that you’re comfortable winning the fight. Then, whichever pilots you can absolutely spare from those roles end up flying tackle. This leads to the style of fighting where one side realises it’s losing, spends 10-15s hazing tackle and moonwalks out. Every single person in the winning fleet feels like shit seeing the vast majority of the enemy fleet warp off. You’re turned up to fleet, maybe your FC has pulled some l33t maneuvers, your pilots were on point and you got the advantage, then the other fleet notices and just leaves. It’s infuriating.
That’s just the impact on the engagement itself. Let’s say you’re fighting a war, sov or otherwise, against some entity. Let’s say you’re an early BNI fighting BL, and day-in and day-out, your Moas are getting slaughtered by the BL Tengus. Then one day, your FC tries something different. He overcomes the odds and starts winning the fight. The way things work right now, the BL FC says “oh” and leaves. In my opinion, the BNI fleet should absolutely get to dunk the BL fleet, killing the billions of ISK which BL risked in order to have a heavily advantageous fleet comp. The course of campaigns are now far more impactable from the result of the battles themselves regardless of whether or not it was over an asset of value.
To make my views a little more pithy (and to create a closing paragraph as this was initially one 4.7k word article), I would summarise my opinion as being that your strength should be inversely proportional to how easily you can run from the fight. It is the classic risk/reward concept that EVE is founded on, the more risk you take, the greater the reward. The extent to which your fleet doctrine commits should (in general) make it proportionally more likely to win against a fleet comp that is designed to take very low risk and not need to make hard commitment to the fight.
Part 2 of this article will be published next week, so keep your eyes peeled!