This discussion of the PVP meta across different regions of EVE will continue using the classification schema I have introduced in the first part. If you did not read that, you may want to have a look at the introduction for clarification. With that out of the way, let us carry on.
Zero Security Space
Beyond empire space are two distinct environments. The majority of nullsec is claimable through the use of sovereignty mechanics and warfare there is strongly determined by that framework. Then there are the pockets of space officially held by NPC organisations. PVP groups in those areas do not fight for control – they are similar to the outlaws of lowsec in motivation and fighting style.
All over nullsec no gateguns or criminal flagging limits engagements. That freedom results in a wide variety of fighting doctrines and styles.
Nullsec space, particularly sov space, is a favorite hunting ground for solo PVP specialists. Usually they hunt ratters or small groups of players who may be inexperienced in fighting outside larger fleets. Unlike their counterparts in lowsec they often fly heavy ships like battlecruisers and battleships or they make use of advanced cruisers. The main reason for that choice lies in the nature of nullsec solo PVP. Other than in lowsec, there is no way to choose fights based on ship class. A lone fighter therefore needs a ship that is versatile and offers strong defenses so it can be used against a wide range of possible opponents, or at least escape a fight. To sustain themselves through extended trips into hostile space, such ships will often fit active tank, especially when they rely on armor as their defense. Nullsec solo PVP is not an easy feat. It requires well developed skills in positioning, target selection, aggression management and module overheating. Some ships that are widely used demand a lot of attention from the pilot, like the triple repped Myrmidon or the dual propulsion Cynabal.
Consequently, some of the best solo players can be found in this region of space. Like their lowsec counterparts, they often make use of an alt with ganglinks. That is usually the point where they are least flexible. If their link-alt is not in system, some are less likely to engage.
Small gangs in nullsec can either be residents or roaming NPSI fleets. Certainly, it is not easy for a small roaming gang to find targets and avoid being swarmed by massive retaliation fleets, but the small gang meta is alive, particularly in NPC regions. Some of the most proficient small-gang fighters reside in there. The knockout stages of alliance tournaments are like a who’s-who of NPC nullsec. Many of them will also venture into claimed territories to hunt for ratters or more serious targets.
Because warp disruption fields are often used as focus points to force an engagement, shield-tanked ships are commonly used since they can quickly escape to the perimeter. Fleets of interceptors have also become popular thanks to their new immunity against interdiction bubbles. The most wealthy groups will use gangs of interdiction-nullified strategic cruisers to roam around and look for kills. When avoiding chokepoints, black ops fleets are also a favorite tactic to ambush the unwary.
In nullsec, logistic ships are a staple of medium sized fleets. To counter them, massive alpha-strike damage is necessary. Eagles, Ishtars and artillery fit Muninns or Lokis are often used for that purpose. Due to the rebalancing of pirate faction ships, Gilas are also becoming more popular for small gangs. Like in lowsec, some fleets are scaled up by using triage carriers, usually the Archon. Rooks & Kings have developed an innovative tactic for those heavy small gang setups.
Several of the claimed regions are also often the scene of small to medium engagements. Providence is a long standing favorite for that but there have been several instances of so-called “Thunderdomes” in the past. The idea behind that is to limit fleet sizes and dedicate an area for roaming fleets to find engagements.
In contradiction to the often held stereotype, many renter corporations actually engage in small roams for entertainment too. Since they are not risking much in terms of strategic value – that is taken care of by their landlords – spare ISK can be invested in PVP. They may not be the most practiced and organized fighters, but some of them are definitely less risk averse than the commonly held cliche about renters would suggest.
The typical small gang fleet of nullsec tends to be larger than a lowsec or wormhole space equivalent. A squadron or two of fast tackle and support for a fleet fielding dozens of damage dealers is not uncommon. In the age of the major coalitions, chances are high that an opponent will assemble a large and powerful fleet to drive a roaming gang from their space. As a result, an attacking force has to be large enough to contend with such retaliation.
Large fleets of heavy ships have long been a mainstay of nullsec combat. Alliance theorycrafters compete constantly by developing doctrines for major engagements. Over time many different fleet concepts were designed. Some more prominent ones of recent times are:
Baltec Fleet: Developed by the CFC during the Fountain war. Long-range Megathrons notably supported by Celestis range-dampening ships to engage the enemy from a distance while preventing them from doing the same.
Foxcats: An expensive doctrine based on Navy Apocalypse hulls. Excellent in damage projection at medium distance due to high optimal ranges achieved by using Scorch Crystals. In addition to logistics and tackle, those fleets are often supported by “Firewall” T3 cruisers; heavily tanked ships with smartbombs in their highslots for defense against missiles and bombs. Mainly used by the Honey Badger Coalition during the Fountain war.
Pipebombing Fleet: Battleships with smartbombs flying in a formation with overlapping explosion radiuses. Pioneered by Rooks & Kings for destructive ambushes.
Potato fleet: Dominix battleships with Sentry Drones as main offensive weapon to engage at long ranges. When fitted with blasters and webs those ships can also defend well against small tacklers. Due to the current popularity of sentry drones, different alliances make use of that fleet doctrine.
Shieldcat: Rokh battleships with long-range railgun fits and shield tank. Used widely for fire support from long distances. The Shieldcat was originally a Pandemic Legion design, but became widely used all over EVE.
Techfleet: The advanced replacement of the CFCs venerable Alphafleet Maelstroms. This doctrine uses Tempest Fleet Issue hulls with artillery and armour tank. It was a direct answer to the increased use of bombs in fleet warfare which lead to doctrines with low signature radius.
As I have hinted in this short list of examples, stealth bombers have recently become common in larger fleet battles. They are either flown by the warring parties themselves in an effort to clear battleships and battlecruisers off the field, or they are used by third parties who specialize in that kind of harassment tactic. Bombers’ Bar was the NPSI group who established this as their main activity, but today several groups exist who make use of it; Spectre Fleet and the Confederation of xXPizzaXx for example. This has lead to a change in the nullsec fleet meta which has long been dominated by shield fits. The higher hitpoints and lower signature of armor tanking setups offer a better chance to survive those bombing runs. Even so, bombers have become a devastating weapon on today’s large fleet meta and seem hard to counter.
Naturally, large fleet combat in nullsec often draws significant numbers of capital and supercapital ships. Titans are mostly used to bridge fleets at this stage, but they may be deployed as weapons against the heaviest enemy firepower. Due to the restrictions of the BOTLord Accord such fights have become rarer in sov-nullsec, though.
Of course, strategic fleets are also formed for small objectives. The way resulting conflicts are staged and develop is very similar to comparable ones in lowsec. The battles nullsec is really famous for are the fleet fights of the great wars, however.
There is much speculation whether the current political landscape of sov-nullsec prevents large conflicts like the recent Halloween War in the foreseeable future. Still, no discussion of nullsec PVP would be complete without featuring the massive strategic fleets of subjugation campaigns. Immense fighting forces are formed to achieve the major objectives in sovereignty warfare. They assemble at set timers for the destruction of sovereignty structures and to capture stations as dictated by the current mechanics. Such fleets will unify the aspects of all doctrines I have discussed previously. Battleships as damage dealing backbone; logistics ships and triage carriers for repairs; various support, EWAR and tackle; dreadnaughts, supercarriers and titans for large scale destruction and any number of (heavy) interdictors to keep supercapitals from escaping.
Spectacular and historic as those massive battles are, they also suffer from many problems. In the past they regularly caused server crashes. In today’s EVE they slow a system down to the point where a fight that could otherwise be over in thirty minutes will take several hours to complete. Since time dilation only affects the local node, forces far away have plenty of time to jump in. Those additional ships then exacerbate the problem.
Compounding on the server load problems are the developments of the strategic PVP meta. Issues like supercapital proliferation, force projection and the mechanics behind sovereignty have been tossed around in the community as root causes for the stagnation of strategic fleet warfare.
Since there has been so much material written on this, I will not repeat what others have already covered. At this point CCP have created the impression that they are working on a fundamental fix for sov warfare. Time will tell whether the strategic fleet of nullsec will be reborn in a new form.
This is my personal blindspot when it comes to EVE PVP. I have been inside wormhole systems and I have traversed them to reach empire space from nullsec, but I have never lived and fought in one. Fortunately I have a friend who did, and there are also many excellent sources talking about the ways of wormhole PVP. Among them, our own Joran Jackson
It is generally assumed that life in wormhole space is practically impossible without banding together. There is, after all, no infrastructure other than the stations players build and maintain. Still, that does not mean solo PVP is nonexistent in wormhole space. Some of the lone predators are embedded with corporations but go hunting alone. Others use several alts to move around ships in a nomadic style and set up camp in a wormhole next to potential targets. Many of the latter category will often maintain a base in highsec or lowsec and operate from there, searching for wormhole systems they can enter in the search of fights. This playstyle is called “wormhole diving” to indicate someone who does not actually live in a wormhole.
At the basis of all wormhole PVP lies the fact that there is no local in that region of space. Other than using probes and the directional scanner, there is no way to know whether someone is in system, except if they type in local chat. Consequently wormhole dwellers rarely – if ever – do that. This obscurity makes the use of cloaks particularly effective because they shield ships from scanners and probes. Vessels that can warp cloaked are therefore a staple of wormhole combat; covert ops frigates, stealth bombers, force recon ships and strategic cruisers with the covert ops subsystem. Because opponents can see scanner probes on their directional scanner, wormhole hunters have developed techniques to avoid giving themselves away before it is almost too late for their quarry to notice that they are being stalked.
As I mentioned, multiboxing is commonly used by solo players in wormholes. Usually they will use at least use one scout – often in a covert ops frigate – and one ganking ship – generally a strategic cruiser fit for high damage output. The blaster Proteus or heavy assault missile Tengu are common choices for that role. Some will combine the roles of scout and killer in one T3 hull with the right subsystems. Since such ships tend to be weaker in damage output and tank, they are used for softer targets.
The nature of wormhole connections limits the amount and size of ships that can move from one system to another. This creates a cap for fleet sizes and ship classes. Wormhole space is therefore a haven for small gang warfare. Especially in the lower wormhole classes, a connection can be collapsed with the mass of a few battleships. Consequently fleet compositions need to offer the highest effectiveness per ship. This restriction again favours strategic cruisers above all other hulls. Sometimes powerful faction battleships are brought in as last measure to finish the job once a gang has captured a few enemies. The pattern of solo PVP repeats itself here. Long periods of scanning, stalking, baiting and laying traps usually precede the actual fights.
Targets for the roaming fleets of wormhole space are either groups of PVE ships running sites or other gangs of wormhole fighters. Killing those who clear sleeper sites is not as easy as killing ratters in nullsec. Because the sleeper NPCs cause heavy damage across all resists, PVE ships are generally much better tanked than elsewhere. In the higher wormhole classes, such sites can also not be run by single ships anymore, so those who seek to engage PVE players have to contend with a gang that can easily be as large and powerful as their own. The NPCs themselves also pose a threat because they switch aggression to new targets, and they focus fire for devastating strikes. Logistics ships are a necessity to survive such a confrontation. In general, wormhole gangs will use a lot of force-multiplier techniques. Electronic warfare and capacitor warfare are used regularly to increase the impact of smaller numbers.
Wormhole gangs tend to be limited in size. On average they have the same numbers as comparable lowsec fleets, often even less. Their skill and the advanced ships they use make them very dangerous, however. On their homeground they are hard to beat by those who are unfamiliar with wormhole space.
Because of the aforementioned mass limitations, wormhole space usually doesn’t see large fleets outside of strategic engagements. To assemble a significant fighting force, long preparations are required. As a result, such fleets are only used to achieve specific objectives and I will discuss them in my last section.
Wormhole space is very disjointed and coalitions such as in nullsec do not exist. Not even groups of several alliances flying for the same cause such as lowsec Faction Warfare are a factor. Every once in a while, wormhole corporations and alliances will band together for larger operations. Usually this will happen for the purpose of evicting a third party from their home by destroying their towers and other infrastructure.
Wormhole space greatly favours the defender. Even the highest class of wormhole connection will allow only a handful of capital ships to enter before they collapse. On the other hand there is theoretically no limit to the amount of capital ships a resident alliance can build in their own system. Wormhole systems also have special celestial effects that favour some types of ship or fitting. A defender can thus force attackers to engage on even terms or suffer severe drawbacks.
The strategy used by wormhole residents to prepare an attack involves two methods which they call “Hole Rolling” and “Seeding”. The “Hole Rolling” method is also used by smaller fleets looking for engagements or favourable routes to Empire Space. To do so, carefully calculated ship masses are jumped back and forth through a wormhole connection to collapse it intentionally. This results in the immediate spawning of a new connection which will lead to the same class of wormhole. A fleet looking for a specific class 5 wormhole – for example – can collapse a class 5 connection until chance opens a route to their desired destination. Due to the random nature of this process, it can last for days.
Once that goal is reached, it becomes time for “Seeding”. During that process, the attacker will try to get as many combat ships – often capitals – into the defender’s system after they manage to temporarily wrest control over the entrance from them. The pilots flying those attack ships then log off and lie in wait for the rest of the force to arrive. It is a long winded process during which many intermediate fights can occur. The defender can also try to rally their own supporters and use the same methods as the attacking force to bring in more ships.
Fleet compositions follow the pattern of the smaller engagements by maximizing the effect of every ship deployed. Armor tanking fleets are usually favoured, except in cases where the target wormhole has an effect that makes their use untenable. Many of the ships fielded will be familiar from “elite PVP” gangs of lowsec and nullsec. Heavy Loki tacklers, Proteus damage dealers, Legions and Bhaalgorns for capacitor warfare, logistics, triage carriers and finally dreadnaughts to break through the heavy reps. The Moros is a particular favorite for that role.
For an example of the many stages that a wormhole invasion goes through, I recommend this excellent narrative. It is a few years old and almost 40 minutes long, but well worth watching.
Now, as this journey through the PVP meta of EVE Online comes to its end, you may have read one thing or the other which might inspire you to try fighting in regions which you have never frequented before. Maybe you happen to have read all of this without ever having done ship combat at all, or at least not voluntarily. While this is not a comprehensive guide – that could fill a whole book – there are enough pointers to prepare even a newbie for the first steps into the exciting world of EVE PVP.
There is something for everyone out there.
Tags: meta, nullsec, pvp, tarek, wormholes
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.