The Ishtar is getting another long deserved nerf. There have been a long series of weaksauce nerfs that have not been able to stem the tide of Ishtars Online, the latest one appears to have some teeth, however. The damage bonus to sentries of 10% per level is being cut in half to 5%. There was much rejoicing; CCP Chair was eclipsed in popularity in an instant as CCP Nerfbat took center stage.
When the numbers are crunched, it turns out that the nerf comes down to a DPS decrease of roughly 17%. That kind of DPS decrease is a lot, but it doesn’t fundamentally stop the Ishtar from reaching out and touching people in the worst possible way. It does not make it slower, nor is not directly easier to kill. Voices in the community have come forward with the argument that the nerf is not enough. They say it changes one quantitative number but leaves the ship qualitatively the same. Are they right? Answering that question requires that we delve into the theory of EVE PvP.
The most important thing to understand is that EVE is a nonlinear game. Small changes have large consequences. This may be confusing, so let us examine several scenarios we should all be familiar with: namely shooting at primaries. In theory, a fleet has a DPS value. Many of you shitlords do not shoot the primary, so the actual DPS a fleet applies is going to be lower than the potential DPS with perfect piloting. As your fleet’s applied DPS scales against the enemy ship’s EHP and remote repair, entirely different kinds of behavior occur.
When the DPS is comparatively high, it is glorious. The FC is broadcasting primaries like mad. You are in a race against all the other guys in fleet to get on the killmails. You just lock broadcasts, and fire as fast as you can. If you get on enough kills, you can go AFK for months without getting purged. There is an incredible feeling of power watching the enemy fleet melt under the fury of your guns.
Imagine your fleet has slightly less DPS. The FC is broadcasting targets slowly and carefully. Sometimes targets catch reps, and the FC has to tell her people to unlock it. When you shoot the secondary, you fuck things up for everyone. It is tense work, and very skill intensive. These fights tend to be balanced on a razor’s edge, and every moment counts. That’s why everyone is so upset that you shot the secondary. The guy broadcasted for repair early, and the enemy logistics were able to save him. Your FC spends a moment raging about how dumb everyone is, and broadcasts a new primary.
Reduce DPS just a little more. The FC is broadcasting one target at a time. You hear his sweaty mouth breathing in your ear as he counts down, “three… two… one… FIRE!” If all goes well, the furious hand of God wipes one bad guy away and it’s time to move on to the next. This is a common time dilation experience; you see this style in big sov fights where ships have few damage mods, loads of EHP, and massive reps on call.
Finally lose a bit more DPS. You are staring impotently at the screen as every primary catches reps. You do not have enough alpha to volley targets, and nothing you do works. The enemy will not die, your fleet is burning down around you, and ships are scrambling to get out of bubbles. The FC is saying something, but he sounds panicked and confused. As your rage subsides while staring at your new pod, you slowly realize that there will be much explaining to your parents/girlfriend/wife why you just punched a hole in the wall.
It is possible that the DPS nerf will push Ishtar fleets from scenario A to scenario B, from scenario B to scenario C, and so on. It does not necessarily take an overwhelming nerf to make Ishtars much less powerful than they previously were. A DPS nerf can theoretically result in qualitative changes. There will certainly be times where that little bit of DPS is going to change outcomes. The only question really, is: How often will the DPS loss be important? This question will be resolved on the battlefield.
We will not have to wait for explosions to see the effect on how people use EFT. The Ishtar has been the dominant doctrine for a long time. That is, in a large number of situations that mostly relate to skirmishing, the Ishtar is the best ship for the job in the same way that a hammer is the best thing for poking nails into wood. It isn’t that the Ishtar is the only answer; a much more expensive nail gun also gets the job done excellently. The backend of a screwdriver can also work in a pinch. In fact, the Ishtar can be countered by gaming resists or killing sentries with area of effect damage. The Ishtar isn’t the apex of strategies. A creative theorycrafter would be much better served by looking at how to exploit the ship’s weaknesses, given how popular it is, than just using the Ishtar itself. When everybody is throwing rock, you should toss paper. The problem here, is that the Ishtar does constrain the metagame significantly. It’s hard to find good paper to beat the Ishtar’s rock.
It bears mentioning that many FCs don’t use Ishtars. Some of them are just doing it wrong. Many of them have found doctrines that have a niche outside of the very large space the Ishtar has claimed for itself. For example, T1 cruisers are dirt cheap, and they work extremely well for people that are strapped for cash or experience. This entire discussion revolves around the niche the Ishtar occupies.
A theorycrafter who is designing a skirmishing doctrine right now, has to look to the Ishtar. He could just phone it in and tell his FCs that the Ishtar is best, but if he is intending to make a difference, he has to do something more than that. So he loads up the Ishtar in EFT and puts it in one corner of the screen. Whenever he has a new idea, he goes back and compares his new idea to the Ishtar itself. The Ishtar sets the minimum bar. If his new idea can’t handle the Ishtar it’s no good. In this way the numbers on the Ishtar are incredibly important. An FC looking at a theorycrafter’s idea will ask, “Will I be able to beat an Ishtar fleet using this doctrine if we both have the same numbers of people?” If the answer is “no,” the FC will choose to use the Ishtar. He does not want to lose fights. The Ishtar will obviously give him more wins.
Imagine a theoretical doctrine that’s very similar to the Ishtar. It goes about the same speed, and it has about the same hitpoints. At curator range, it does 600 DPS. Right now that ship is no good. Curators do 660 DPS. This theoretical doctrine is useless because flying an Ishtar is just better. A game theorist would use the words “weakly dominated.” My vernacular is “piece of shit.” 660 DPS is better than 600 DPS. However, after the nerf the Ishtar will do 550 DPS at that range. Suddenly, 600 DPS is looking pretty appealing. The nerf opens design space that was previously closed to us because of the Ishtar. That is the numerical effect of this Ishtar nerf making room for other possibilities. 110 DPS might not sound like it, but it represents a great deal of design room. It is like a sign at an amusement park, “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” A six foot tall sign will not let many people on the ride. A five foot tall sign is much more permissive. When you are trying to take your 5’4” girlfriend along, that extra foot makes all the difference in the world.
Some people have made the ridiculous argument, “I’ll just bring 20% more people.” They claim that they can find more people somehow, and negate the impact of the Ishtar nerf. This ignores the possibility that after the nerf some other ship will do better than the Ishtar, and the fleet would be better served by using that ship. Put the 20% extra people in that ship. Even if the Ishtar is still best, it is not that simple to find 20% more people somewhere.
The number of times I have seen an FC intentionally limit fleet size can be counted on one hand. They were pre-arranged honor brawls. What really happens, is that FCs bring as many people as they can. They cajole their members, annoy them with constant pings, and promise to lead them to unmitigated victory. FCs shout “MAX DUDES,” “HYPE,” and “CTA” across the message services. Bodies, more than anything else, win fights. FCs that do not win are not given the time of day. The absolutely only limiting factor for an FC when he is pinging for a fleet, is that an FC who plans to roam cannot get away with calling it a CTA. A POS grind cannot be called a fight. If an FC lies about what he is doing, people stop believing him and they stop coming.
Given that FCs already bring as many people as they can, how would they bring 20% more? Short of throwing the recruitment process open to everybody and their spy alt, there is only one way. The FC can ping more and wait for more people to show up. Maybe UP-BOAT COMMANDER420 was out getting a soda at the local store. Give him five minutes and he will log in to join fleet. Any FC who makes the “I’ll bring 20% more people” claim is really saying something like, “We have 100 people and I would have been happy fighting with that many before the nerf. Now I’m going to wait 20 minutes longer, and maybe 20 more guys will show up.”
The first problem with that approach, is that it is self-defeating. People do not want to join the fleet of an FC with a reputation of taking too long to form up. The second problem, is there are comparatively rare windows of opportunity where something is actually happening. That roaming fleet is probably going to get bored and leave our territory in about 20 minutes. We can tackle the titan for another 10 minutes without reinforcements, but by then all our dictors will be dead. You want to spend an extra 20 minutes forming for 20% more dudes? Too bad, the roaming gang left and the titan escaped. When a window of opportunity opens, you grab the opportunity before the window closes. You do not wait for 20% more dudes. You take as much fighting power as you can lay your hands on, and you go in swinging. Sometimes you just can’t form enough people in time to catch the targets and win. The baddies escape. The titan jumps out. If that happens because the Ishtar damage nerf stopped you, I would say the nerf is doing its job.
When we talk about qualitative change, the core quality a pilot experiences isnt about exact operational ranges or the details of drone mechanics. Instead, it’s what does it feel like to fly? How badly does it maul the enemy? What is the experience of a fleet of this type of ship? After this nerf, the Ishtar will struggle more and other ships will look sexier by comparison. As a theorycrafter, I already have a number of doctrines that I like more than the Ishtar. Certainly after the nerf, they will feel even better. Most FCs will stick with whatever they are doing, and a few will strike out into the unknown hoping the nerf has created new fertile ground. The Ishtar will see many battles. If the nerf is successful it will lose more of them than it previously had. Ishtar pilots will not get to experience dominating the enemy the way they have in the past. This is a real qualitative change.
Tags: ishtar, Mukk