Initiative in the Farms and Fields

 

– How I found Eve to save myself from the grind, and I hope Eve saves itself.

The end of 2012 was a tumultuous time for me as a gamer. I was playing on a competitive League of Legends team, Riot Games had just announced the creation of a professional tournament called the LCS which the top 32 North American teams would gain entry to via a “play-in” tournament. At the time my team was often winning the top League weekly tournaments and was easily placed in the top 32 of the Ranked 5s ladder for North America. We had ambitions to qualify for the LCS tournament and become pro video gamers.

From a personal perspective this time for me was frenetic. Keeping up with the Joneses at the top of a video game requires intense practice. Most of my teammates were still in school or unemployed. I had a mortgage and a full time job, I’d come home from a day of work and spend 8-10 hours playing League only to pass out, wake up and do it again. A lot of the things I enjoyed doing – keeping up with politics, finance, and falling deep down the rabbit hole on a Wikipedia chain – were put aside. I distinctly remember talking to a friend one day and essentially having to fake my way through a conversation about a current event because I just hadn’t heard about it at all.

“I was looking for a game to get involved in seriously, but not one that demanded I give up my social life, my interest in learning, and many other things.”

Riot Games eventually came out with a rule list for this tournament that disqualified our team on a technicality and all our focus and effort frayed and fizzled in the way they often do, with an acrimonious breakup. I was able to reflect on the journey I had been on, it really was a ton of fun competing at the top of the game, but I was in my late 20’s, I could start feeling my reaction time slipping ever so slightly. Going forward, I was looking for a game to get involved in seriously, but not one that demanded I give up my social life, my interest in learning, and many other things.

Praise Boat: you could say DBRB is responsible for me playing Eve today. I had played in 2009 because I heard about Eve’s “no-grind” leveling system which really appealed to me, but after a few months of playing and doing group Drake ratting with my corp I realized that the grind wasn’t the experience, it was the gold (or ISK in this case). It just wasn’t for me. Growing up in the 90’s I got to experience some of the great old-school MUDs like Gemstone III, but long before EverQuest or World of Warcraft brought grinding to the gaming masses I had burnt out on “stance offensive/attack rat/stance defensive” and had vowed to not spend my time grinding anymore.

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Around the time Asakai was in the news I happened to be glancing through the “MMO HMO” subsection on the Something Awful forums, not an area I often read. I saw the Eve thread and remembered how Asakai had piqued my interest again but thought back to Drake ratting. Still, I popped in and mentioned to them my issues and I was informed “Oh, you can train into this particular ship, called the Ishtar, and you just have to set up your drones and then they will do the work for you”. I thought, “Well, I suppose I can play for a month and see if I enjoy it”.

When I started playing in 2013 I was lost for what to do. Ted McManfist, the “Space Dad” of Theta, took me under his wing and showed me how to rat, how to defend the homeland, and generally how to have fun in this game. It was a great time for me. I spent time ratting and chatting on comms with friends, we’d talk about all kinds of topics. I’d put my Vexor Navy (later ishtar) in anoms and tab into Wikipedia while keeping one eye on the excellent Deklein intelligence network. If a bad guys came close we’d dock up and grab one of our terrible doctrine ships (this was about when I started tentatively taking my first steps into theory-crafting and coming up with ‘great’ ideas like cloaky remote-rep Myrmidons). We’d set up a gate camp and wait for the (inevitable) bomber or cloaky nullified T3 to come through. We’d try to get the decloak (we got pretty good at this), we’d bitch about nullification being a broken mechanic, but we’d still at least catch a T3 5% of the time and then we’d have a 700m ISK killmail to enjoy. If a gang came through, we’d fight them, if a fleet came through, we’d dock up and wait for a real FC to call for a fleet to counter them.

“One thing that was important to me was that I could spend a lot of time in the game, but I didn’t have to go back into what I’d experienced with League.”

One thing that was important to me was that I could spend a lot of time in the game, but I didn’t have to go back into what I’d experienced with League. I could read the news, chat with friends, watch YouTube videos on the 2nd monitor, etc. All that was about to end.

Up until this time ratters had a reasonable amount of “initiative”. That means they had options that they could initiate to positively affect their gameplay. If enemies came near you could set up a gatecamp and try to stop them. If you missed them you could fit your ratting ship with a surprise scrambler or disruptor and try to hold down the T3/bomber/other ship that attacked you until reinforcements got to you. Then CCP Fozzie revealed a change he had for interceptors where they would receive warp nullification by default. We were very wary about these changes because up until this point nullification was something that only very expensive T3 hulls could achieve.

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As soon as the changes happened most of the previous dedicated hunters immediately switched to interceptors. At first we saw a lot of mixture; Taranises, Crusaders, Claws, all types. Our previous Slashers and Dramiels meant to decloak frigates were replaced with fast locking Kereses and Stilletos to try and catch these guys as they came through a gate. For the first few weeks we had decent success catching people at our gate camps and also changing our fits slightly to fight off the couple of Taranises that had us tackled. Then came the murderous Crows. At first we were just frustrated that our fits weren’t locking these interceptors but we were sure if we could increase sensor strength we would eventually get them locked. We experimented with over 4000 scan res and still couldn’t lock them. Doing some research we found out that there was a speed at which your ship “insta-warped” and because of a peculiarity in game mechanics even if your ship had no cloaking device the enemy gate camp had no chance of locking your ship.

“As the Crows started murdering Ishtars by the droves, getting HAC kills with one single interceptor, we started seeing Crows everywhere.”

So our gatecamps were broken. We still had our intel network but these new interceptors moved so fast that if you saw a report five or six systems away it meant they could be in your system very shortly if they decided to skip “checking” a few intervening systems, so the only way to be safe from them was to dock up if they were within 5+ jumps. Previously, this number had been one to two jumps. As the Crows started murdering Ishtars by the droves, getting HAC kills with one single interceptor, we started seeing Crows everywhere. There was no way to rat safely because there was always a Crow(s) within five systems of where you were.

I remember spending many days on the JU- undock researching counters to these Crows. We tried pipe-bombing but as these ships were warping to anomalies first we were almost always out of align. We tried putting a strong tackler like a Hawk at zero on the anom warp-in, but he would take aggro and have to warp off. It did work a few times but then the Crows started warping to anoms at 20 and warping off if a tackler was there. We put scramblers on our Ishtars but the Crows orbited at 30km and were too fast to catch. Ditto for light drones. We tried insta-’Nados but even with 1600 scan res and full tracking it was near impossible to lock and fire on a Crow before they warped back out, and you still took aggro in your glass cannon ship. Many other strategies were tried but eventually we realized there was no effective way to combat interceptors.

“Up until this point carrier ratting had been an oddity…”

Up until this point carrier ratting had been an oddity, you were using a really expensive ship to barely tick more than an Ishtar and the people who died in them were often mocked. However, around this time more and more people started to move over to them, they could effectively ignore Crows/Maledictions (these became the de facto ratting hunter after the Crow was nerfed) with their capital rep and tank anoms. Looking back at our old fits they seem comical now, they were mostly cap rechargers to perma-run a capital repper and some drone damage mods.

Our enemies adapted pretty quickly. The carriers had cynos but there wasn’t usually anyone to jump to them, our capital reps were barely stable around 30% and reaching jump capacity of 72% took about 90 seconds (or docking up, similar amount of time). The interceptors we had gleefully started ignoring in our carriers quickly started carrying cynos. They would warp to the carrier, point it, light the cyno and 30-40 bombers would appear. These bombers would quickly overcome the local reps (even if a triage module was equipped) and the carrier was dead in half a minute. Our enemies were trading interceptors for carriers and we had no response. We briefly set up a group of people who sat on the undock ready to jump to any cyno, but this group required 24/7 vigilance as there was always a cloaked guy or interceptor flying through our space. Our enemies only had to form up for five minutes, drop and kill, and be done, whereas to defeat this strategy we had to have our response force primed to go in 15 seconds from downtime to downtime. It wasn’t sustainable.

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It was around this time that Tiberizzle started pushing what eventually became known as the “Tib-Fit” Chimera – an outrageously pimped x-type Chimera with a confusingly downsized medium shield repper. This four billion ISK loot piñata seemed insane, but once explained, the plan became clear. The Tib-Fit had an extremely stern tank, enough so that the 30-40 bomber drops we were seeing took three minutes to kill it. Because the tank was strong, the medium repper was all that was needed to maintain shields at a high level, and because the medium rep didn’t draw much cap you could rat at 72% capacitor level, meaning you were instantly ready to jump to the aid of an ally.

“It’s incredibly empowering to be able to defend yourself…”

After a year and a half of being easy prey with no recourse we finally had the initiative back. It’s incredibly empowering to be able to defend yourself where before you were basically forced to either dock up or roll the dice on dying randomly. Our enemies began to adapt, they started dropping mobile cyno inhibs when they dropped, but we were often able to get in before they onlined. Then they began watching what anoms carriers were doing and pre-seeding what they judged to be the most likely next anom with a mobile cyno inhib. If/when the carrier warped into that anom they would light their cyno, the carrier couldn’t counter-light and poof: dead 4b ISK carrier.

We settled into a comfortable equilibrium where Deklein is (according to zKill) the region with the most carrier losses in the last year, but we have options to defend ourselves. Being in carriers means we are online, in space, and usually in comms. We have a community built on mutual protection where each person relies on others to save them. And importantly, to me, it doesn’t require you to be tabbed in solely paying attention to only Eve. I can do that a few hours a day, but because of the happy accident CCP stumbled into with carrier ratting, I’m logged into the game, in space as a target for much longer. I spent more time engaged with friends because I haven’t burnt out trying to grind out some focus-intensive ratting activity.

We have a wide group of people who play with us in this style, moms with kids, a 73 year old man, many adults with kids in college (some even play the game with them) and people from all walks of life that aren’t hardcore gamers, who participate because CCP has given them a way to play this game that fits their lifestyle. CCP developers are hardcore gamers (it only makes sense) and I worry they may not see this. To the hardcore gamer who runs level 5s or incursions or WHs for his ISK, it only seems right to force others into this kind of style. I had always assumed we had a detente between these two groups. Where the incursion runners and L5 blitzers could make more ISK in almost complete relative safety, whereas each account I run makes me 60 million ISK an hour but I have to wager a four billion ISK ship in open space to do so. This always seemed fair to me.

The new fighter mechanics for carriers are RTS style in nature, requiring focused micro-management. Current CSM Chance Ravinne has compared them to RTS style games like Starcraft and mentions that corps may start looking for players with high “Action Per Minute” skills, a metric used to by Starcraft professional players. As it currently stands, CCP Larrikin has stated that CCP will not be programming auto-aggro mechanics that carriers currently enjoy into the new fighters that carriers must use.

“I worry about the grandfather who I spend time with on comms, his voice is not being heard by anyone but me.”

In the end, my hope is that this article reaches the right eyes at CCP, because I read all the same forums and subreddits that they do and I know the perspective of the hardcore gamer is represented there, but I worry about the grandfather who I spend time with on comms, his voice is not being heard by anyone but me. I want to put it out there. Many of the carrier ratting people I know are saying they are going to liquidate their carrier investments (market tip: if the changes do go through as announced watch for carrier character prices to plummet and a big depression in the price of skill injectors as these pilots are gutted by extractors and tons of SP added to the market) and put that money into moon-reacting. Reacting is an almost completely safe way of making ISK that doesn’t require you to micro-manage targets or run mission pullers around space, or all the other distasteful things many of us thought Eve wouldn’t require. In moving their money out of space into passive ISK making CCP will have done a great disservice, not only to the community who likes to carrier rat, but those who hunt them. Right now farms and fields is in full effect, soon that space could be barren except for a weekly check-up on reaction moons to ship in new materials.

Game developers have some latitude to force people to change, but you can’t force people to not have children anymore, or to just not be in a place in their life where spending 100% of your focus to manage a game account doesn’t burn you out in 30 minutes. CCP has stumbled on a happy accident in space now where there are copious targets and people who are happy to be targets because it fits their lifestyle. Pray that they don’t unintentionally get empty space and a less diverse group of subscribers because they decided to cater to only a subset of vocal Eve players.

 

Tags: Asher Elias, carriers, fighters, pve

About the author

Asher Elias

Asher Elias is the host of The Asher Hour Eve podcast and an FC in Goonswarm Federation.