The Limiting Factor

The minutes of the Winter Summit obscure many things behind the NDA, but one thing has become obvious: several CSM members have asked for a rebalance (read: nerf) of certain ships and weapon systems. According to a certain consensual wisdom, the chief offenders which supposedly skew the current PvP meta in unacceptable ways are stealth bombers, Tengus and Ishtars. To begin with, a little nuance is in order. The aggravation voiced by CSM members and other public commentators is only directed at specific aspects of all three ships. For the readers who are not aware of what those are, I will quickly explain each one in turn. Stealth Bombers These frigate-class ships can fit a covert-ops cloak and therefore offer the ability to warp while cloaked. What really makes them unique however, is the ability to fit battleship-size torpedo bays and bomb launchers. It is the latter feature in particular that is the focus of criticism. When employed in sufficient numbers, a swarm of bombers can decimate a battleship fleet with their area-effect bomb explosions. Since bomb damage depends on signature radius, they are particularly effective against shield-tanked battleships and battlecruisers. Consequently, this ship class is accused of constraining the nullsec fleet meta to ships of low signature, which means armour tank and ideally something smaller than a battleship. This brings us to our next two “problem ships”. The Tengu Like all strategic cruisers, the Tengu has many different potential configurations but there is only a very narrow selection of those which are considered to be overpowered (i.e., railgun fit versions). Using the full potential of T2 and faction ammo types, this type of ship can engage very effectively at a number of different ranges.Their damage output tends to be low and some specialized configurations have abysmal EHP levels, but again in large fleets they become very effective when maneuverability and low signature radius is a prime concern. Particularly in nullsec they gain an added advantage because of their immunity to warp-disruption bubbles, but it is the versatility of medium railguns which made them a focus for the rebalance demands. The Ishtar In the times where long-range damage projection and small signature radius are the staple of many fleet concepts, the Ishtar is a logical choice. As the only one of two cruiser-sized ships that can launch a whole flight of sentry drones, the Ishtar offers both at the same time. Similarly to the Tengu, their individual damage output is nothing too impressive, but they compensate for that in several ways. First, their large drone bays offer them the ability to choose widely between different drone types and thus ranges, damage types and overall engagement profiles. The drone-assist mechanic also allows them to stay independent of the main battle and have others direct their drones for them. When used in that way, they can be very fast when fit with a shield tank, and that forces an enemy to deal either with them or with their drones because they can maneuver around the battlefield freely. The Ishtar is almost as much maligned as the stealth bomber when it comes to fleet operations because of its many advantages. 71he54i

The Source Of The Problem

Each one of those ships has come to prominence because of certain prior developments. When it comes to stealth bombers there was one specific change which made them so incredibly easy to use in large numbers. The Crucible expansion (winter 2011) brought the change that cloaked ships would no longer de-cloak each other by proximity. The result was that coordinated bomber attacks became much easier, especially for multiboxers who could give the same commands to multiple bombers at the same time. Aptly enough, players predicted what would happen. In the meantime, CCP has declared input replication a bannable offense, but that has not stopped the bomber fleets of amassed individual pilots. The same expansion also laid the foundation for the current rail-Tengu meta, but it took some time for that shift to come. Even during my last days in nullsec during 2013, many people considered it ridiculous to use railguns on the Tengu. Back in those days, the large fleet meta still dictated missiles. Despite them being sub-par in many PvP applications, their excellent long-range damage projection made them very successful in combination with 100MN afterburners. Incessant complaints by players eventually lead to a nerf of all heavy missile types and that was the beginning of the end for both the missile-fit Tengu and the Drake in the strategic fleets of nullsec. The emergence of the Ishtar as premier fleet-PvP ship came comparatively late. The reason was twofold. During the HAC rebalance of 2013, the Ishtar received a specialized 7.5% bonus to sentry drone optimal range and tracking speed per level and an operation distance range bonus for all drones which had previously only applied to scout and heavy drones. Furthermore, its old drone-bay bonus per level was replaced with an increase of base drone capacity. All HACs also gained a reduction in microwarpdrive signature bloom. Those changes made the Ishtar a highly maneuverable dedicated long-range sentry platform especially when fitted with a shield tank.

Or Maybe Not?

You will probably have noticed one common theme when it comes to the supposed problems those ships cause for the PvP meta. They only manifest in major nullsec fleets when those ships are used in large numbers. Elsewhere, bombers either do not function the same way like in lowsec and highsec, or they are simply not used in such numbers like in wormhole space. Tengus are seen with entirely different configurations in wormholes, the only other place where they are widely used for PvP. There they are most likely to be armor-tanked ECM ships or cloaky short-range gankers. The Ishtar is also widely used in lowsec, but because fights there hardly ever escalate to the same numbers and feature a lot of smaller ships like frigates and destroyers, the effectiveness of sentry drones is reduced. An Ishtar fleet can be a tough force to fight, but hardly something lowsec players gripe about with the same regularity. KJfJKe9 It is not a new phenomenon that nullsec theorycrafters design fleet doctrines which end up causing widespread calls for nerfs. The reason why the heavy missile launchers were reduced in range, for example, resulted from complaints that 100MN missile Tengus were overpowered. We had complaints about Drakes, Hurricanes, tracking titans, drones on dreadnaughts, drones on supercarriers and so forth. Each time the complaints came, they were, to a large extent from the players involved in nullsec fleet warfare. The irony is, that current problems are the result of similar protests. Players clamoured for medium railguns to be improved in performance, for HACs to become more useful and for cloaked ships to not decloak each other. In fact a recent attempt by CCP to make the latter undone was scrapped again after widespread objections. There is a lot to be said for accepting feedback from the playerbase, but there is a major caveat when it comes to listening to the vocal crowd of nullsec players who mostly fly in massive fleets and tend to repeat the same grievances over and over again because of their strong group mentality: everything becomes overpowered when used in large numbers. Way back when, Goonswarm won against much more powerful fleets of experienced players by attacking with large numbers of T1 frigates. HERO coalition forces have recently achieved victory against Pandemic Legion in very similar ways. While the more elite players did complain about such tactics and still do, nobody would have called for nerfing the Rifter or Maulus because that would clearly be ridiculous. Asking for a more specialised or more powerful ship to be cut down a notch is much easier to rationalise, but in the end it is often just as baseless. Manfred Sideous recently stated in his Cap Stable CSM interview that a form of apex force will always exist because players will try and find the most optimal way of fleet combat and use it to the utmost. Endie of Goonswarm said in a similar interview that the current state of affairs is largely due to the players gaming the system. Those two individuals can definitely be considered experts when it comes to strategic fleet warfare, and their statements show that nerfs will not help, they will only degrade ships for every other role except large fleets. Power creep is a danger for MMOs and developers need to be wary of its lure, but what we see in EVE these days threatens to become the opposite. Now we might want to nerf Tengus, then the next ship that replaces them in the strategic doctrines, and the next and so forth. Major powers who can bring sufficient numbers of people in mediocre ships after every ship type has been weakened will just have to attract more people. Players will have to concentrate into ever larger forces to counteract a runaway nerfing tendency, and those who cannot or would not become part of a vast coalition are left with underperforming ships which are hardly feasible for anything but massive fleets. In addition to that, rising demand because of necessarily increasing numbers would also drive the prices of widely used ships up.

There’s Got To Be A Way, How Do We Kill It?

I will stop mincing words and say it right here: to cry for nerfs of ships which are widely used in large fleets is in many cases nothing but laziness. Of course there are ridiculous things like the doomsday-through-a-cyno of old or the fact that ISBoxer made it possible for one person to annihilate a battleship fleet by running a dozen bombers at the same time, but in most cases there are ways to counter an enemy doctrine. Often enough, players come up with them by themselves if CCP does not nerf ships. The CFC for example found a very good counter against the Pandemic Legion Navy Apocalypse doctrine used during the Fountain War by fielding sensor dampening platforms against them. Bombers could easily be reduced in effectiveness if people wouldn’t concentrate into dense fleets and anchor like they do, but rather fly in smaller groups and looser formations. Railgun Tengus can be damped or tracking disrupted, Ishtars are very vulnerable to hit-and-run attacks by smaller ships. The main problem is, that in TiDi blob-warfare there is no room for such tactical diversity. The hundreds of people in each fleet should preferably fly a limited number of different doctrine ships because everything else becomes too difficult to manage at that scale. Furthermore, massive fleets often include many players with little experience in individual tactics and FCs compensate for that by keeping things simple. The only remedy would be smaller and more diverse fleets, but as long as there is no reason to scale such operations down, nothing will stop the continued emergence of a handful of doctrines which appear superior in comparison to others. If there really is a thing that needs to be curtailed in this game, then it is that tendency. No matter whether it is 1500 T1 frigates or 150 supercaps, the ever escalating N+1 game would have to be limited in one way or the other. b-r_Image_2-small As proof of concept, I would not even have to look elsewhere but EVE itself. Places where PvP is subject to limiting factors tend to generate much less objection to ship performance. In wormhole space the limiting factor is mass. In lowsec it is the Factional Warfare plexes and the lack of bubbles and bombs. In highsec it is the aggression mechanics and the war-declaration system. In all those areas there are problems with finding satisfying PvP engagements, but none of them seem to result in a PvP population that is constantly calling for ship nerfs. In nullsec, there are no limits enforced by game mechanics and thus players develop their strategic fleets to a point where they become a limiting factor in themselves. Instead of complaining that some ship is overpowered, the players of nullsec will have to take on board that their own organisational structure and fleet tactics are a major contributor in the creation of a small number of effective doctrines. Wormhole players for example, have long accepted that their fighting environment compels them to use certain ship types over others. They do not complain about it, but rather enjoy their signature PvP meta. Most importantly, I would implore CCP to remain continuously mindful of who they are listening to. Nobody in their right mind would consider nerfing Catalysts despite the endless stream of complaints by highsec players that they are too effective at suicide ganking. The same sober approach should be applied elsewhere as well. In the end, it is also much more rewarding for the players themselves if they come up with their own solutions, rather than being granted their wishes and become like spoiled children.
Tags: balancing, doctrine, nullsec, pvp, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

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.

  • Naoru Kozan

    Came expecting a bad article…left pleasantly suprised.

    Good read and a salient points 🙂

  • Hello

    Great article, I like the view you are taking. One correction, the Vexor Navy Issue can field a full flight of sentries so there are 2 cruisers that can do that, not the Ishtar alone.
    I hope CCP looks at balace with solo, small, and medium groups in mind. And look at other areas to break the narrow metas of large fleet doctrines.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Thanks for the correction man. Funny that both me and Niden missed that considering that we were in a VNI fleet just on the day before that piece got released 😀

  • :))))))))

    >The Ishtar is also widely used in lowsec, but because fights there hardly ever escalate to the same numbers and feature a lot of smaller ships like frigates and destroyers, the effectiveness of sentry drones is reduced

    lol you’re kidding right

    • A Merc

      Ishtars are used to initiate fights through structure grinding.

      However in a number of contracts we have been counter dropped by battleship fleets with triage support because there is no threat from bombers. Which I believe supports the point he is making.

      • Eyes

        Very true ishtars and tengus are so goodbecause the obvious counters battle cruisers and battleships are not available due to bombers

      • Kamar Raimo

        Also, I have been in destroyer fleets harassing Ishtars very successfully when they are not deployed yet.

        They have a lot of trouble when not sitting somewhere on grid but are on the move.

  • Forlorn Wongraven

    Biggest limit in null atm is the easy combat probing mechanic though.

    • Kamar Raimo

      What’s the specific trouble with combat probing?

      • Clearly Stupid

        Well with easy probing you can get perfect warp ins, or nigh on, with bomber gangs with ease, i dont think Bombs are OP but i do think there should be a counter to them, defender missiles being able to shoot them out the sky i think is the best option, with the ability to limit bombs you bring in the battleship and then the tengu and ishtars not so OP as apocs will reach them and stroms will alpha them.

        • Kamar Raimo

          Yes, the defender missile option is something I have heard before and would make a lot of sense considering that those things are practically useless for everything else.

    • quesa

      This is by far the largest issue with bombers. If you reverted combat probing to ~40 seconds (like the previous system), you wouldn’t be able to land on a group before they have a chance to start moving out of warp.

      • Forlorn Wongraven

        That would be a good temporary fix. 100% results shouldn’t be warpable the exact point – 10km to 20km range away from the probed down ship would be better.

        • quesa

          I can’t agree with that.

  • Le Guest

    If EVE had line of sight shooting implemented, blobbing would be harder. When you may hit friendly ship because it is between you and your target, forming large blobs of ship becomes more and more counterproductive. Suddenly players have to all mind their own position or risk hitting friends. That of course would cause lot of awoxing opportunities in high sec (and elsewhere), but it would also increase server load immensely. That last point is why I don’t think we’ll see LOS shooting implemented anytime soon, if ever.

    • Bagehi

      The server would melt doing calculations like that on the scale of fleet combat in Eve. Otherwise, it would be a good idea.

    • quesa

      LoS sounds cool when people bring it up but I can assure you, it would be horrid in Eve…even if the servers could handle it.

  • Zlocho

    Things like people are lazy is true but what also is true is that Bombers make BCs and BSs obsolate, they are too powerful to be so easily manoeuvred.
    Another thing is that not Tengus but all T3 ships are so damn OP. They do all things better then their specialized counterparts.
    When these 2 things are settled Ishtar wldn’t be that more op because we’d see much more BC’s and BS’s in null.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Me and others have adressed how the bomber meta could be defanged. Even if not following that advice for whatever reason, bombers can be decloaked at gates and they otherwise die extremely easily. They may be powerful againt battleship blobs, but in the end they are just a one trick pony.

      Now T3s indeed do many things rather well, but not really better than specialized counterparts. Their command role is worse than a T2BC, their logi role is much worse than a T2 logi, they do less damage than some HACs and their EWAR role is generally worse than its T2 counterpart or combat recon. The one thing that makes them stand out is their high tank.

      That being said, the T3 ships areone of the few things that tactically advanced high-skill players can use against massive low-skill blobs. As such they have a lamentably rare role in EVE where they offer the possibility to beat the N+1 masses.

      Nerfing them into being unable to do so, would just make them very very expensive ships nobody flies, like the Nestor.

      With that in mind I would rather see T3 ships on all battlefields rather than none.

      • quesa

        You might be surprised to learn that there is little difference in training time between a Hac and a T3.

        • Kamar Raimo

          IIRC HAC takes even longer because you really want to have HAC 5 while the subsystem skills are really short skills and strategic cruiser isn’t that important as a skill in itself. The fitting skill prerequisites for T3s are higher, but to fit a HAC properly you need those on 4 or 5 anyway.

          I may be off a bit, sitting at work with no possibility for fact checking.

          • quesa

            Given the same inability to fact check, I will say that Hac 5 is under 30 days to train which is approx the same time as a strategic cruiser 5 skill. It’s an additional 30 days for each subsystem (5x ~6-ish).

          • Kamar Raimo

            Gotcha, but who trains strategic cruiser to 5? Besides overheating you don’t need it for any bonus.

          • quesa

            Overheating is a big part of running a T3. Heck, overheating is a big part of playing the game in PvP encounters. When I’m flying (typically a logi) I don’t have hardeners on, they are ticked to overheat for when I get primaried.

  • quesa

    Thanks for the article.

    My thoughts: Combat probing is by far the most glaring issue with bombers. With sub-10 second probing, you can initiate a scan as you see them come on d-scan (at a specific distance, depending upon ship class) and have a hit just as they land, thus warping to the target before they have a chance to control their ships. It’s been argued that some softer nerfs could be levied that wouldn’t make bombing useless. One would be increasing the explosion radius a bit, this would reduce damage to nearly every ship take less damage. Two, you could reduce the structure HP of bombs slightly, which would reduce the amount of bombs you can launch from a single vector at a time. Three, make the bombs themselves targetable, thus can be destroyed (I like this over the defender suggestion because defenders is just a button mash instead of deeper player interaction). Without the other changes, I feel that a change to how bombs do damage would be an interesting change, for example: bombs do full damage from 0-5k, 66% damage from 5.1-10k and 33% damage from 10.1-15k. This forces bombers to either bomb in waves (increasing the chance they’ll get caught) or do substantially reduced damage to a fleet while doing *full* damage to other bombs launched within the same group.

    As for T3’s, they were never meant to out-perform any T2 varriant in any metric. They were intended to be hybrids, the ability to fulfill any role but master of none. Sure, they may do slightly less DPS than some Hac fits but DPS means nothing in a large fleet, it’s all about alpha. Additionally, it’s hard to even compare Hacs with T3s when T3s can sport 3-4x the EHP.

    Ishtars. My biggest issue isn’t the ship itself, it’s Sentry drones. On bonused hulls, they can dish out BS level damage with near-cruiser level tracking. I think if you reduced *ONE* of these stats, they would be in a much better place. Couple that with a decent boost to heavy drone speed and you’d now have a platform that couldn’t use sentries for everything simply because they could’t track. Maybe this issue wouldn’t be so bad if the introduction of damage and tracking drone mods had never reached live, who knows. Apart from sentry strength, Ishtars are just another Hac. Calls to increase the sentry drone bandwidth to reduce total sentry drones that can be deployed won’t work because of the ever present numbers creep.

  • March rabbit

    Good article