Lowlife: From Grunt to FCNiden
Small gang fleet commanders make lowsec go around. They are the everyday heroes of space that bring content and social interaction, without them lowsec wouldn’t be half the place it is today. There is only one problem, there isn’t nearly enough of them.
As I was reading Mangala Solaris’ excellent article on higher level fleet command I found myself thinking of the initial threshold that all FC’s must overcome. To get to the point where Mangala’s words of advice will serve you well you must first wet your feet, and this first step has proven to be the bane of many a pilot with fleet command on their mind.
Taking the step from grunt to FC can feel like a difficult transition, one that a majority of pilots never make. There is however no component to lowsec PvP more important than the small gang FC and today’s Lowlife gives you the tools to take the step from content consumer to content creator.
Fear of flying
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– Bene Gesserit Litany, Dune
Everyone has been there; sitting in station, spinning your ship and wondering if someone’s going to form a fleet. The key to changing that is reducing the primary deterrent for FC’s: fear of responsibility. Cheap T1 frigates or destroyers are the solution, lowsec is filled with PvP content for these ships and people willing to fly them. Costing no more than a few million ISK a piece, they are the perfect platform to pick up new skills on.
The best way to get undocked and flying together is to start small and with low expectations. Defusing the fear of being an FC starts by asking for a wingman or two in corp or alliance and undocking a handful of cheap derp ships. The goal is not to get everything right, but to undock, find something to kill and learn by getting it wrong.
Because everyone does. You will die in horribly stupid ways, a fact that is best accepted when hitting the ‘undock’ button. There is no replacement for learning by doing however, moving from theory to instinct is the hallmark of true skill and going balls deep is the proverbial Autobahn between rank-and-file and respected FC.
Keep it cheap
As a green FC it is good practise to enforce the golden rule of ‘keep it cheap’. Allowing blinged out faction frigates in a tiny Rifter fleet is going to add a lot of unnecessary stress, and stress can cripple the mind’s ability to take action. A good way to ensure that this rule is followed is to simply fit up a number of cheap ships and hand them out before the fleet undocks.
A lot of meta 3-4 modules will give 90-95% of the performance of their tech II variants at a fraction of the cost. When learning to FC it is vitally important to do it under as little pressure as possible and these modules get the job done while being easily replaceable by anyone.
Keep it simple
Although mixed fleets can create some interesting situations it is best to adhere to some basic doctrine principles. The two most fundamental concepts of fleet PvP are propulsion and engagement range, tank type and logistics are of little concern at this level. A small fleet consisting of a mix between afterburners and microwarpdrives is going to get separated and picked off quickly.
Keeping the engagement range and speed of the fleet relatively similar means that it is a lot easier to command as a unit, a vital quality of any fleet, but especially so for those who lack experience. If the fleet is together and the FC can target and shoot something, the rest of the fleet can too.
When it comes to engagement range typically the fleet should be fit for either brawling (short range, high DPS), kiting (long range, low-moderate DPS) or sniping (outside of point range with medium-high DPS or high alpha damage). Of these brawling is the simplest to master and recommended for beginners. There are of course a myriad variations but it is good to start with the basics.
Stay on target
“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The singularly most important factor in a fleet is keeping it together. A close second is making sure the fleet is doing the same thing and behaving as a unit. Voice comms are unmatched in this regard and a vital component for any fleet. Demanding comms for each and every pilot in the fleet is a basic rule that should be adhered to.
Separation is fleet death, easily exploited by the enemy. Taking some extra time to make sure everyone is in the same place and knows where to go next is an investment well placed and worth practising. Being in the wrong place together is better than being in a bunch of right places separated. Indecisiveness is dangerous and FC’s should not be afraid to give orders even if they aren’t certain it is the right thing to do. Keeping orders simple and repeating them goes a long way towards turning a gang of ships in the same vicinity into a fighting force.
The primary reason for doing this is to allow effective target calling. Calling targets has been proven to be one of the things most new FC’s find difficult. It is infinitely more valuable for a fleet to all be shooting at the same target than spending precious seconds finding the right target.
Keep it simple. Sort by range, name or type and call the target on voice comms, clearly and repeatedly. Above all ensure that everyone is shooting the same thing. It may seem obvious, but it remains one of the most common mistakes made in fleets.
“I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.”
– Private Joker, Full Metal Jacket
Aggression is one of the more underestimated disciplines in small gang fleet fighting. Taking the offensive often has a shock effect to it and puts strain on the enemy FC. Speaking from experience I have seen decisive aggression in tandem with crisp target calling break fleets that could have easily held their own.
The budding small gang FC is in a unique position to try this tactic on for size due to the cheap ships mentioned above. Pulling it off is an amazing feeling and does wonders for confidence, while failing provides valuable lessons at minimal cost.
Let me give you an example: The other day we (Villore Accords) were flying one of our typical Thrasher fleets, about a dozen strong with a few support frigates along. Stopping by Kinakka we found a SniggWaffe fleet set up inside a plex, about equal in number and composed primarily of Wolf assault frigates and some fast tackle. Risking only a few million ISK per ship we took the fight on a moments notice, knowing full well that there was a very good chance we would lose.
Jumping in together, the FC picked a primary and we let the guns rip in unison. Had the enemy FC realized we were in fast-locking artillery Thrashers earlier he might have adjusted his tactic – the infamous ‘cockbags’ have zero tank and the correct way to engage them with DPS-heavy assault frigates is free fire while keeping transversal up. Our blitzkrieg approach and the simple facts of being together and shooting at the same thing at the same time allowed us to destroy well over 400 million ISK in ships while losing a mere 12 million ourselves.
Had we been more hesitant that opportunity may have never presented itself. The cheap ships allowed us to be aggressive whilst taking little risk ISK-wise, and the fight was won simply by sticking to some very basic rules.
Being aggressive and fearless within reason as an FC in training whilst using cheap ships is a win-win situation. At worst you die cheap and learn a lot, at best you pull off a crazy win.
Chewing the fat
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
– Winston Churchill
After a fight it is good practise to safe or dock up and talk it over with the fleet, making sure to take full advantage of the lessons learned. What went right? What went wrong and why? How was the enemy fit and what is a good counter to that?
At this time it is essential to be humble and accept criticism. Many a young FC have faltered because they could not take the critique of their actions. It is however an essential component of learning and it is good practise to step back and look at it objectively, leaving ego at the door.
Rolling with the punches and coming back for more pain in the next round is what seperates the men from the boys. Iron sharpens iron and any prominent FC today will happily tell you how horrible they were when they started out. The first step to success is accepting defeat and growing from it.
Keep it fun
“Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.”
– Dennis, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Nothing kills fleet morale faster than people who take it too seriously and it is something that should be avoided at all costs for those taking out their first fleets. Keeping it light and fun allows for creativity and learning, that’s why the ‘keep it cheap’ rule is so important in this scenario.
A key skill to develop as an FC is not only to accept criticism, but to be able to deliver it in a positive and constructive way. Maybe one of the guys was chattering on comms so the rest of the fleet could not hear orders, perhaps primary targets aren’t being followed by some of the fleet members or something else is not working as it should.
It is important to remember that almost everyone wants to do better. Being positive and suggesting change to a certain behaviour will often give a lot better results than scolding and blame. A good FC will first admit their own shortcomings and take responsibility before lecturing the fleet on what they did wrong. A brilliant FC with a massive ego and a bad temper will quickly lose members to a decent FC that is humble and fun to fly with.
I think Joe Rogan puts it best with his favorite saying: don’t be a cunt.
EVE Online needs more FC’s, and the primary target in that engagement is fear. Fear of mistakes, fear of ridicule, fear of weakness and fear of work. Trying your hand at FC-ing is stressful at first, there are no two ways about it. Following the guidelines in this article will help you minimize that stress and make it easier to handle.
So next time you find yourself spinning your ship, wondering if this or that FC will get something going, just fit up a Rifter or an Atron and ask if anyone wants to fleet up for some laid-back pew pew. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with a few friends, a good attitude and the undock button.
If anything, remember the golden rules of learning to FC:
Keep it cheap
Keep it simple
Keep it fun