It is often said that EVE is essentially a PVP game revolving around spaceship combat. While there are definitely other forms of PVP, I will concentrate on the fighting meta. Over the years, I have acquired PVP experience in all theatres of war in EVE, except wormhole space. I do admit that I am only just learning true solo-PVP now after six years. To cover the gaps I will refer to private consultants and outside sources.
For my overview of the many aspects of ship-to-ship combat, I will categorize different fighting styles by the number of participants.
In this category I include the true single-ship pilots as well as the ones who fly with alts providing combat boosts or other utilities. Where it is applicable I will also include multiboxers who fly alone even if they are controlling a dozen ships.
What qualifies as a small gang can vary a lot. Depending on the theatre it can range from a handful of ships to several dozen. More on the specifics when I discuss the different regions of EVE.
This bracket has almost as much of a sliding scale as the former. Its boundaries lie where the small gang ends and it can even overlap with the next category. Major fleets can range from tens of ships to a few hundred. Again, I will go more in depth on the fine points later.
Those are the largest congregations of players joining up for a fight in their respective arenas, fielding the most powerful ships. Such fleets are considered to be a staple of sov-warfare, but they can occur elsewhere as well on different scales. Most importantly, a strategic fleet is assembled for major operations with a definitive objective.
Now that I have outlined my classification of combatants, I will apply it to the different regions of EVE and discuss them in turn.
High Security Empire Space
Highsec may be restricted when it comes to aggression, but ship-combat still exists in many forms. Two main streams of PVP are prominent. On one side there is griefing and ganking, a style of fighting that requires specialized tactics including psychological manipulation and cunning traps. On the other side there are the mercenaries and wardeccers. Those fighters choose their engagements in a more straightforward way. Applying my schema of classification, I will discuss the play styles of both.
Solo PVP in highsec is the main form of engagement for (suicide) gankers. They are usually very good at working with aggression mechanics and fit ships for maximum impact in a short time. The aim is to score a kill before CONCORD retaliates or the prey escapes. There is hardly a tradehub where they are not waiting for a target of opportunity. Ships that are good at front-loaded alpha strike and fast lock speeds are the favorite here. Catalysts, Thrashers, Tornadoes and Hurricanes are common choices. The ships will have literally no tank, opting instead for damage modules, sensor boosters and tracking computers. Gankers often use alts who scan incoming or outgoing ships for valuables. They will also have nimble haulers on standby in order to pick up loot as quickly as possible, and escape before someone can make use of their suspect timer and destroy them in turn.
There are more cunning solo players in highsec too. Lone predators who stalk newbie corps or mission runners. They might make use of wardecs to legally shoot their targets, or cleverly manipulate them into a position where they can be attacked without CONCORD intervention. The main example of the latter are ninja-looters. These clever terrors of every mission runner often fly rather advanced ships, employing bait-and-switch maneuvers. They scan down mission sites, take loot from the wrecks and provoke an attack that way. Once they have an engagement timer or even a kill right as a result, they will quickly return with a ship set up to counter mission running fits. Their chosen targets tend to have strong active tanks and considerable damage output. That makes high DPS T3 cruisers, battlecruisers or battleships, all fitted with energy neutralizers, common choices.
A sizable collection of stories on ninja-looters, and how they get their prey just where they want them, can be found at the blog My Loot Your Tears. It’s a bit dated and some of the tactics used there do not work anymore, but it is still a treasure trove for those who want to learn how to avoid those griefers or become one of them.
In general, highsec solo PVP players are not particularly dangerous if you avoid falling for their ruses, but even a lowsec or nullsec pilot can be caught unprepared when they are unfamiliar with aggression mechanics. One great example of a perfectly laid trap that makes use of highsec mechanics can be found on the blog of Cedric Cayne.
A newer group of PVP pilots in highsec are the duelists. They specialize in 1 vs. 1 fights which they might stack in their favour by bringing ‘neutral’ parties in. Some of them are genuinely looking for single combat challenges, others use the dueling mechanics as yet another way to lure the inexperienced and unprepared into a fight.
Griefers and suicide gankers will band together, especially when a target cannot be killed by a single ship. Small gang tactics are more commonly used by other groups however. There are those who declare war on less organized targets for tears and loot, and mercenaries who are employed to fight such griefers. Highsec is home to a number of small merc corps who are routinely employed by industrialists or mission runners with large wallets to punish those who have ganked them. The borders are fluid though – a crew who are hunting griefers one week, may be wardeccing carebears the next. Like every true mercenary they know no loyalty except that which ISK can buy, quickly turning into marauders between jobs.
For most fighting forces outside of highsec, the small-gang PVPers of the core regions may appear like amateurs, but their experience with the crime-and-punishment mechanics can still make them serious opponents on their home turf. They are very well adapted to the restricted conditions, distractions and pitfalls of highsec.
There are actually some substantial PVP organisations in highsec. Most well-known among them is Red vs. Blue. Although they do fight third parties on occasion, their primary focus is permanent war against each other. In general, they will not field elaborate doctrines, but focus on cheap ships in large groups, blowing each other up for fun. They have become rather good at it though, and as a result RvB is one of the best groups where a new player can learn PVP, without the need to leave highsec. Even older players who just want some easy and fun PVP may have an alt in one of the two corporations; the Red Federation and the Blue Republic. On occasion they join together for larger roams outside of highsec or to fight wars. Their most well known activity are the public RvB Ganked fleets which form part of the NPSI (Not Purple Shoot It) community. CZ’s own Mangala Solaris is a leading member of RvB and I recommend reading his articles if you are interested in that specific PVP meta.
On the more serious end of the spectrum are the larger mercenary and griefer outfits. Groups like The Belligerent Undesirables, Marmite Collective or Pursuit of Happiness can assemble major fleets for campaigns, on occasion going toe-to-toe with alliances outside Empire Space.
The fleets of highsec combatants are generally smaller in scale than those fielded elsewhere. To begin with, the lack of capital ships in highsec limits their engagements to hulls below that class. Often they also lack the funds or overall skill points to fly doctrines based on T2 and T3 ships used in the outlying regions of EVE. Their fleets are commonly comprised of capable lighter ships or T1 battleships as a result. The average size of a serious highsec combat fleet will usually number in the dozens, but in exceptional cases – like the war between RvB and EVE University – they can involve over a hundred players.
Recently a major ganking campaign was undertaken by Darwin’s Lemmings, targeting CFC members and their alts. I would personally call that the most concerted effort I have ever seen in highsec. Still, in scale and organisation it can hardly be called a strategic fleet under my definition of the term. That level of combat is effectively non-existent in highsec.
Low Security Space
Like highsec, lowsec is a theatre with two main fighting metas. One revolves around Faction Warfare, the other is shaped by the tactics of pirates, outlaws and marauders who seek the fight for it’s own sake. In this section I will be covering a lot of ground that has already been discussed by my CZ colleague Niden. If it appears that I am a bit brief on some subjects, it is because they have already been covered in his Lowlife column.
Lowsec is a paradise for the solo fighter, especially Faction Warfare space. The nature of complexes limits engagements because only certain ship classes can enter specific variants. A solo player benefits from knowing what they will potentially face but the pendulum swings both ways. Militia pilots as well as those who hunt them can pick and choose targets easily by using the directional scanner in the vicinity of a plex. Of all the regions in EVE, Faction Warfare space probably offers the closest thing to instant gratification if one is looking for fast fights.
Frigates and destroyers are the favoured weapons platforms. Once that meant flying either a Rifter or a Thrasher, but thanks to rebalancing efforts the choice of ships has become considerably more varied. Atrons, Tristans, Merlins, Kestrels and Breachers are very popular ships, as are the various faction frigates. The Thrasher still remains one of the most used destroyers, but newer ships like the Talwar and Dragoon also feature in solo engagements. Fitting varies from high-DPS brawlers with strong tackle to fast kiters with long range. Even active tank is popular for some ships, like the Incursus. Frigate fights are generally decided so quickly, that a ship will rarely deplete their capacitor charges or ancillary shield boosters before the fight is over.
Apart from solo fighting around plexes, there are various specialists who fly alone looking for kills. They will often use heavier ships designed to engage whole gangs of frigates. The Caracal or Bellicose equipped with rapid light missile launchers are very well suited for that purpose. An example of a particularly feared specialist is Santo Trafficante. This crow of the battlefields flies smartbomb-fit Proteus hulls modified for very high warp speeds and specializes in killing pods or ships bailing in the wake of larger engagements. Others like him prowl the regions of lowsec with their own highly focused methods and ship fittings. In many cases they will use an alt with gang links parked close to a station or a gate so they can get to safety quickly.
Just like solo PVP, small gang fighting is very popular in lowsec. It is here that the first manifestations of so-called elite PVP can be encountered. Pirate and outlaw groups in particular make use of heavy assault cruisers, strategic cruisers, T2 logistics, command ships and black ops battleships in groups numbering between five and twenty. With high-skillpoint pilots and superior tactics they like to engage larger fleets and often achieve impressive victories. Because of their tendency to fight at gates and against larger forces, they favour armor tanking for its higher number of effective hitpoints and low signature radius. Armor-fit heavy tackling Lokis, high DPS Proteus hulls and the classic Zealot AHAC are often employed by these groups.
Faction warfare gangs on the other hand often favour shield tanking because of the higher maneuverability offered and in order to keep low slots free for damage mods. Since they mostly engage enemy militia, they need not worry about gate guns or station defenses. Moas, shield-tanked Enyos, Harpies and even shield tanked Thorax cruisers are regularly fielded. Outlaws who hunt the faction warfare gangs use shield tanked ships as well, but often choose more advanced hulls. The shield tanked Ishtar is a common choice for such fleets.
Smaller groups of pilots also assemble into gate camps, a staple of lowsec PVP. Again, Faction Warfare fleets tend to go for high speed and high DPS fits while outlaws prefer heavier tank. Both of them will use fast-locking ships with sensor boosters to quickly tackle targets. In addition to Interceptors, the Hyena is very popular for that purpose because it can use webifiers at extended ranges and has an extremely low signature radius, making it hard to hit.
Many lowsec corporations and alliances have the numbers to assemble large fighting forces. In most cases they will be upscaled versions of the small-gang fleets, but heavier compositions are fielded regularly. Despite the general focus on smaller ships, major players of lowsec have contingents of capital ships on standby. The Archon carrier in its triage configuration is as popular in this theatre as it is elsewhere. To counter the capital-ship logistics, dreadnaughts are necessary. Subcapital hulls flown in such engagements focus on a combination of heavy buffer tank and high damage output. Battleships like the Megathron are a common choice for that role, as are heavily tanked battlecruisers like the Prophecy. Because speed is less of an issue with such heavy fleets, armor tank is favoured over shield. Large battles in lowsec often attract many different parties and nullsec alliances often jump their fleets in to participate. Pandemic Legion are known to to drop on anything that promises a high number of kills, and they are known to even deploy supercapitals. Every once in a while, lowsec becomes the scene of a truly large fight like the Battle of Asakai.
Despite the lack of sovereignty, there are strategic objectives in lowsec. The capture of a Faction Warfare system requires a concerted effort of many pilots over time. Faction Warfare is unique in the sense that strategic fleets happen in various stages. During preparation for system takeover they will be comprised of large number of frigates and cruisers to make a system vulnerable through the continuous capture of plexes. Once a system can be conquered, battlecruisers or battleships with logistics support are deployed to attack the infrastructure hub. The more powerful Faction Warfare alliances might even keep capital ships on standby for such operations.
Destruction of enemy POSes also requires heavy firepower. When it comes to structure bashing fleets, capital ships are widely used. While system control can only be achieved by faction militias, attacks on POSes are committed by all parties. The aforementioned Battle of Asakai actually escalated from such an operation. The attempt to destroy a structure can be an actual strategic objective to weaken the enemy economically or militarily, but occasionally the intent will be to draw them out to fight. As the preparation for Asakai shows, there can be many parties assembling for such confrontations. Some even approximate major engagements of nullsec in scale and can escalate up to supercapitals and titans.
At this point it will already be evident that there are many forms of spaceship PVP meta, and how it changes in different regions. Obviously, much more could be written about each aspect, but the intention of this piece is to provide an overview. The many links I included will provide more depth for various facets. Return next week when I will discuss the PVP meta of nullsec and wormhole space.
Until then, fly deadly.
Tags: fitting, highsec, lowsec, meta, pvp, tactics, tarek
Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.