Recently I took out a scram-kite Incursus for a spin because I wanted to test the fit in a real fight. I ended up in a Placid backwater system with five CalMil pilots and I was ready for trouble. An Executioner I caught managed to disengage and run, and a Tristan forced me to do the same after he managed to get out of my scram range and kite me indefinitely.
After that, things went quiet. More of their corpmates appeared, one of them even in a boosting Tengu, but none would come out to fight. I became a bit annoyed with chasing them out of plexes so I taunted them in local. Eventually they left one by one while I resorted to capturing the plexes. After a while a Comet flown by the Tristan pilot from the earlier encounter appeared on short-range scan. I knew I should not take that fight. After fighting me before, he must know the general idea behind my fit and a Comet fit for the same purpose does everything better than an Incursus, also I had lost my single drone against that Tristan. Still, after smacktalking in local I felt strangely obliged to stay and fight. Naturally I lost, but had a nice few minutes of conversation with the other guy in the end.
That short episode made me think. Why did I do that? Sure, I could have counted on the other player being a terrible pilot and then I might have had a chance to win, but that was not why I decided to take that fight. I did it because my personal ethics almost required me to do so. After all, it was me who had called them all kinds of things in local. I wanted a fight and one guy eventually went for it. I simply felt like he deserved that I would not run but face him in a 1v1 duel even if I was heavily outgunned. Not only that, in the ensuing conversation the other player told me that he didn’t want to fight earlier when his corpmates had discussed ganging up on me because he did not want to blob a solo PVPer.
Both of us applied a set of ethics related to PVP engagements and I kept thinking about that until I decided to write this piece..
Respect and Disdain
Many people will tell you that there is no such thing as a fair fight in EVE. Everyone plays to win and victory is achieved with traps, dirty tricks and outnumbering the opponent. Being ethical in PVP is often the subject of smirking mockery. On the other hand, ruthlessly pragmatic gankers and blobbers also do not get the most respect from the general public even if some find their antics amusing. More regularly, appreciation goes to the skillful solo pilot or the small-gang fighters who manage to win fights against overwhelming odds through superior tactics and skill.
There are limits to that admiration however. Those who fly with ganglink boosters, high-grade implants, booster drugs and fully maxed skills are again seen as people who are stacking the deck “unfairly” in their favour. The main criticism leveled against them is their elitism which makes the whole playstyle only accessible to those who have years of skill training behind them and the ISK to afford the high-end equipment no year-old player could risk in combat.
That criticism becomes even more outspoken when older, wealthier and more experienced players deploy overwhelming supercapital forces which can become almost unbeatable. From Goons through Test Alliance to Brave Newbies, large groups of players have rejected that approach and set out to prove that even new players with cheap ships can have a fighting chance when they gather in sufficient numbers. Of course, their detractors would accuse them of just being mindless hordes of “F1 drones”. Those views are tossed back and forth in discussions and arguments, but ultimately the EVE player community fails to make up its collective mind about what it regards as the pinnacle of PVP combat that would deserve the highest respect. Neither is there a unified set of fighting ethics, but there are certain guidelines which re-appear in different places
Bring The Fight
EVE is a very PVP oriented game, but finding a fight can still be difficult. Many players seek to stay out of combat altogether. Be it that they stay in highsec where the opportunities for attack are limited, in sovereign nullsec protected by communities with intel channels and large threat-response forces, or sequester themselves away in wormhole systems where they are hard to reach and can hide easily, the tendency of players to avoid PVP is widespread. Opposite to that are those who play EVE because they are seeking PVP combat. To them, avoiding fights is to reject the basic nature of the game and they might go as far as accusing players who do so of being unsuitable for EVE. From this moral high-ground some would actively force PVP onto those who would avoid it. Most often that happens in highsec through ganking or wardecs, but wormhole space has its own version. There, players who consistently refuse to engage in fights may eventually face an eviction force which would try and destroy all their assets to effectively drive them from wormhole space. The rationale is that those who do not engage in PVP have no place in that region of the game.
In other regions it is also generally frowned upon to not engage in PVP. Lowsec may be the area which is most purely a fighting arena, but even there one will find players who are only motivated by farming faction warfare plexes. It is considered a major “sin” for a lowsec player to fit warpcore stabilizers, and those who get killed despite such precautions can not count on any sympathy. When Test Alliance lived in the Gallente/Caldari warzone, they were widely viewed as the lowest form of bottom feeders because of their farming activities. Not even the rest of the Caldari Militia – who were technically on the same side – would work together with them.
In nullsec a rather split-personality approach to the idea of “bringing fights” is applied. Like in lowsec, those who refuse to undock or who run from fights are ridiculed and looked down upon. On the other hand, there are widespread systematic avoidance tactics. Generally speaking they exist in two forms. On one side are the true “nullbears”. Players who mainly live in nullsec to make money through PVE and hide behind the security screen provided by their alliances. They will occasionally engage in combat, but only in the safety of large coordinated fleet operations where they are not actually risking anything because their ships will be replaced. On the other side there is the psychological warfare tactic called “blueballing” where an opposing force is baited with the prospect of a fight, but at the last moment the instigator withdraws from the field and hides in the safety of a station. Usually a lot of smacktalking will be the order of battle after that. The idea behind this tactic is to wear down the opposition by having them gear up, assemble for combat, build the tension and then let it all collapse in an anticlimax. Eventually opposing pilots may not be willing to respond to yet another call to arms that leads to nothing but preparing for an engagement that never happens. In true double standard, nullsec alliances often accuse their opponents of being “nullbears” or “blueballing cowards” while being guilty of the same.
The Right To Run
Even the most puritan PVPers would agree that there are situations where it is legitimate to avoid a fight. Coming back to my little anecdote at the beginning, I am sure it would not have been held against me if I had chosen to not fight that Comet with my Incursus. Similar scenarios play out all the time, and the superior force may even rejoice in having routed the enemy thoroughly. That form of victory can turn sour though. As commanders of the currently popular Ishtar fleets will know, very few will engage a force that is too difficult to counter. No accusation of cowardice is truly sustainable when entering the field with an overly powerful force. Quite the contrary. Over time the community will unify in demands to nerf ships which prove too effective.
Tactical withdrawals are justified under such conditions, and it is up to the attacker how they want to respond. Smacktalk is what many will resort to for chest-beating and as an attempt to make the opponent feel bad about not taking the fight. The more dedicated fleet commanders may chase their quarry and try to set a trap for them. An opponent who disengages is obviously not in the shape to win and therefore the potential source of cheap killmails. At this point another ethical consideration comes into play: is it legitimate to fight against an outnumbered and outgunned opponent? Some “elite PVPers” will actually choose to look for more powerful opponents at that stage. The definition of that can vary though. There are those who will look for a fight with equals but it is also often seen as legitimate to attack a tactically weaker but significantly larger force. Sometimes an opponent’s attitude can also be a deciding factor. Overly pretentious or excessively smacktalking groups can usually count on being attacked in any case to get taught a lesson in humility.
A more positive attitude of an opponent can also lead to another response. In cases where the target of an attack is genuinely too weak or not skilled enough to field a fleet of comparable size and strength but are in principle willing to engage in a fight, the attacker may “ship down”, i.e. engage them with a smaller force or one comprised of less powerful ships. This behaviour can be equally motivated by ethics and pragmatism. The ethical consideration is to engage a willing opponent in a more fair fight – just like my opponent in the opening anecdote would – to show appreciation for the fact that they are actually prepared for combat, just not under the given conditions. The practical point is, that it is more desirable to get a fight at all when the alternative is that the opponent would otherwise avoid confrontation completely.
Mix And Match
As I stated, the EVE players as a collective do not have a single ethical framework on how to conduct themselves in combat. There is no Geneva Convention in the game and theoretically everything goes. The spectrum of applied ethics can vary widely and even differ within one group from one engagement to the next. Most notably there is a major difference between fights which are sought for entertainment and killmails and those which serve strategic goals. The latter will definitely be more vicious and less ethical. In other cases it may be entirely dependent on how the attacker feels about their target. Many ethical decisions come into play and may change from one fight to the next. Will an opponent be podded or not? Should they be given the opportunity to pay ransom and will that ransom be honoured? Should they be allowed to get away because they might just not be worthy of attention or maybe even due to lenience?
Despite their generally bad reputation among the non-combatants, PVP players often do act according to a set of ethics. Many would ridicule those who do, but on average it is seen as respectable behaviour. More importantly, PVP players with a constructive attitude who do not simply gank their targets and then try to squeeze them for tears may even help with player development and retention. Sure, a victimized player may decide to join the griefers and gankers just to be on the winning side rather than staying a victim, but that is a deficient motivator. Fear only turns people into sycophants and connivers. Someone who is taught why they lost a fight and potentially even helped along the way to become a competent PVPer themselves will be positively self-motivated and is more likely to stay engaged in the game.
Tags: ethics, pvp, 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.