Posts Tagged ‘PvP’

Zen PvP, or How to Learn to Love Risk

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Let’s talk about risk aversion. First, go read Azual Skoll’s interesting thoughts in The Altruist: Risk.

Here’s the core issue from that post:

Most eve PVPers are naturally quite risk averse, myself included. Nobody likes to lose, and when we’re offered the choice between taking a risk and making a relatively small change which would eliminate that risk, it’s only natural that most people choose the latter. …We rationalise it as common sense – why would we risk losing when we could win? Fighting fair is, after all, not what eve is about.

However in my experience, some of the best fights come when we put ourselves in a high risk situation and come out ahead. By avoiding fights where there is a risk of losing, are we in fact cheating ourselves out of our own enjoyment?

I love this. This is something I’ve thought a lot about since I first started playing this game and consuming its player-made lore. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone who read my “Ten Keys to Breaking into Your Killboard’s Top 10″. As a reminder, here was key number four:

4) Die. A Lot.

My attitude is that every ship I dock up is an unexpected gift. When you undock a ship, count it as lost but on loan. Make losing ships a goal. In addition to regularly being in the top twenty or so killers, I am also a regular member of the top losers club. But I mostly lose rifters on solo roams, so my ISK ratio is nearly always between 90 and 95%. Go find the stats portion of your alliance or corp’s killboard now. If you have serious PvPers in your group, you will likely see some folks in the top ten losers group who are also top ten killers. Kills cost losses. Learning costs losses. Rewards follow risks. Want to get good? Go lose some ships. In bonsai (Japanese art of training trees into miniature works of art) they say you have not begun to know what you are doing until you have killed 100 trees. And Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers that it takes about ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert at it. Start your ten-thousand-hour journey to PvP mastery by buying cheap PvP ships ten at time and get going. You have a lot of ships to lose.

So here’s my from-the-mouth-of-noobs wisdom for you today: risk is arbitrarily determined by your attitude, so you can become more powerful by an act of sheer will.

What do I mean? Just decide to not care. This is Zen PvP. Let go of your desire to not lose your ship, and you will increase your power over your opponents. This is especially true on the fleet/corp/alliance level, but also works on the individual level.

Some say market economics are essentially driven by two emotions: greed and fear. Ruthlessly purge yourself of these emotions and you can have an advantage over those who are still driven by them. Arbitrarily decide that you want to lose your ship, rather than preserve it. Set a goal for number of hulls lost this month and do your best to hit it. Embrace death with laughter.

There are two parts to this. First, you have to defeat your animal instinct to not want to die. You are, after all, immortal. Who cares if you “die”? You know this intellectually, but you have root level responses built into the “lizard brain” that sits at the heart of your nervous system, and it fights this notion. Yes, even in a game.

It’s more than just a fear of death thing. Through extension, it’s also all about fear of shame, fear of defeat, fear of loss of face, and a desire to be high in the pecking order. The ape that gets bested by the other ape has a lower chance of mating and reproducing, so your animal instincts don’t want to “lose”, no matter what the activity.

Let go of that.

The second part is more complex, because it operates at a slightly higher part of your mind. Your rational mind says, “Yeah, I’m immortal, but my ISK isn’t infinite.” In Eve, everyone says, death has consequences.

Eve is, essentially, a game of consequences. What you do matters. The fights big alliances get into have long-term consequences on the map. Becuase this game is not sharded, we are all participating in the writing of a single (albeit complex), permanent history. The Goons beat Bob. That happened. Not just to a few people on a single server. It happened to our universe. We all know about it, and future players will too. Even the smallest industrialist is contributing in a meaningful way to the overall economy, warfare and history of New Eden with every unit of ammunition that rolls off their manufacturing line. Every ship that is lost comes from the aggregate economic efforts of numerous players. And on a personal level, when you go boom, the personal cost of that loss is calculable in terms of minutes and hours of ratting, mining, trading, salvaging, scamming and grinding, or else in terms of real world currency converted to PLEX. Loss is meaningful, and that makes the game enjoyable. If losses don’t mean anything, then neither do victories. It’s why I don’t play any other MMO.

So how do you let go of that?

Well, here’s the thing: your brain is (probably) wired to overestimate the cost of risky behavior. I say probably, because there is a minority of the human race that seems predisposed to more risky behavior. Daredevils, Darwin Award candidates, fools. Also, entrepreneurs, pioneers, trailblazers, and doers of great things.

I say this as an ADD-riddled successful entrepreneur. And by “successful” I mean that those of my crazy ideas that worked were so profitable that they overwhelmingly made up for all of the hairbrained things I thought of that crashed and burned, or that never even got off the launchpad.

The secret to understanding your built-in risk assessment instincts, if you are not already one of those crazy people that is attracted to risk, is to realize that just one, single successful risk-taking action can wipe clean the cost of a long string of failures.

The great Eve PvP stories are the ones that early on involve someone deciding to do something that we all know is stupid. They attack an “obvious” bait ship. They take on a much more powerful ship in their smaller ship. And then they do amazing things.

But the thing is, these stories are not the norm. Most of the time, the people who have these stories to tell also have many, many more stories which start the same, but end in a more expected manner. The ship was a bait ship and its friends jumped through the gate and slaughtered them. Or they got further confirmation that, yes, their smaller ship generally doesn’t do better against the enemy’s larger ship. They welp their fleet.

But if you keep on taking against-the-odds PvP risks, you eventually hit the lottery. Only the odds are much better than an actual lottery. Because the other pilots out there do dumb things all the time. You are not playing against perfectly rational actors with perfect knowledge. There is a ton of assymetry in this game. And you can lose a dozen assault frigs doing stupid things and in the end come out with one badass kill that you will be describing to friends for a year or more.

Also, you are accelerating your learning curve. World Chess Champion Bobby Fisher famously said, “The only thing you learn from playing weakies is how to beat weakies.” In Eve, the main thing you learn by taking on easy fights is how to win easy fights. Play up. Take risks. And every time you lose some ISK (but not pride, because you’ve let go of that illusion, right?) in a fight gone wrong, you have the opportunity to learn and get better. And faster than the person you fought. It’s assymetrical. You are learning more from the transaction than they are. If it helps, think of it as spending isk to increase your real-world skill, which will save you isk in the long run.

Finally, you have to take fun into account. It’s why you play, right? So that fun has economic value. Let me put it this way: how much isk would you pay to have an amazing story to brag about? Or what would you pay for the thrill of taking down a low-odds big-ticket target? Put a number on it. Now subtract that from the isk you are risking losing and call it the price of fun.

At the alliance level, this can become way more powerful. Any corp or alliance that decides to use a different value system than the rest of the groups in the game will have an advantage. Goons did this. Early on they eschewed the all-mighty kill ratio as a valid measure of worth, and it made their noob-piloted hero rifters into a powerful weapon. Because they didn’t care about something that their enemies did, they could gleefully toss it away to achieve more meaningful strategic objectives.

Anyone can do this. It’s just a decision. Most people have a default value system that is drawn from the people and culture around them. But you can just decide to consciously reject it. High kill ratios. ISK efficiency targets. Avoiding LOLfits. Holding sov. Just pick something that everyone just knows is important, and give it the finger. It will make you powerful because you are magically changing the risk side of the risk/reward ratio.

So decide to take risks. Laugh at convention. Test common knowledge. Dare to be something more than average. Rewrite the wisdom of the day. And have fun doing it. In Eve, and in life.



10 Keys to Breaking into Your Killboard’s Top 10

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

As I’ve said previously, I am a low skill point player. I’ve been in Eve less than a year, and I haven’t bought a used character. So my PvP main has only just recently broken past 15 million skill points. I am by definition still a noob. But I’m a fast-learning noob.

As I write this, I am barely a dozen kills away from being the number ten killer on my alliance’s killboard, for the second time since moving to 0.0. I probably won’t make it into the top ten by the end of this month, partly because I’m not into killmail whoring, and right now we are grinding through the now abandoned sov in Oasa and Outer Passage, after chasing xXDEATHXx out of the Drone Regions; so everyone in the alliance has a ton of structures, etc, on the killboard. If I wanted to really bore myself to death, I could go out and shoot abandoned POS modules for a week, but I play this game for “fun”.

But back in October I decided to try to break into the top ten killers list for my alliance, and managed to pull it off: IRC kill board, October 2011. And no, I didn’t do it by shooting POS mods, or by splitting my fire across non-primary targets, or by using any of the other killwhore tactics that are so popular. No, my goal was to become a valuable PvP asset to my corp and alliance despite low skill points and limited experience, not to just cheat my way into a stat with an asterisk.

Now, if I can do it, so can you. Here’s what you do:

1) Show Up

Seriously, this may be the most powerful key in this list. The people who get to the top of their killboards are the ones who log on and fleet up. Now, you don’t have to quit your job and play Eve 23/7, but you do have to log in more than once a week. And when you are logged in, you have to look for fights. Be hungry. If reds come into your space, join the fleet that responds to it. If there’s no fleet, form one yourself. If you are in an Alliance that, by policy, blue balls roaming reds, then disobey that policy. Take them on no matter the odds. You can rat or mine or whatever, but watch intel and the moment it twitches, swap your ISK-maker ship for something with teeth before you say or do anything else. Look forward to intel flashing, and cheer when a CTA is called.

2) Know Your Enemy

When I first started fighting, I didn’t know one ship from another. Yeah, I knew the general classes of ships, but specific ships by name? Nope. I didn’t know a rorqual from a rokh. In large fleet fights led by a competent FC, that didn’t matter too much, but in smaller fights it kinda hinders you. So what to do? Easy: go read the amazingly useful Know Your Enemy series of blog posts by Azual Skoll of Agony Unleashed. They are indexed in the article section of The Altruist.

3) Hang with the Cool Kids

Look at your killboard. Who is in the top ten for last month? Now find them and hang out. Is there a coms channel they sit in usually? Make that your new favorite hangout. If they put up a fleet for any reason, join that fleet. Watch how they play and listen to the conversations they have with one another. Don’t be creepy or annoying about it. Just respectfully hang out and learn from them.

4) Die. A Lot.

My attitude is that every ship I dock up is an unexpected gift. When you undock a ship, count it as lost but on loan. Make losing ships a goal. In addition to regularly being in the top twenty or so killers, I am also a regular member of the top losers club. But I mostly lose rifters on solo roams, so my ISK ratio is nearly always between 90 and 95%. Go find the stats portion of your alliance or corp’s killboard now. If you have serious PvPers in your group, you will likely see some folks in the top ten losers group who are also top ten killers. Kills cost losses. Learning costs losses. Rewards follow risks. Want to get good? Go lose some ships. In bonsai (Japanese art of training trees into miniature works of art) they say you have not begun to know what you are doing until you have killed 100 trees. And Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers that it takes about ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert at it. Start your ten-thousand-hour journey to PvP mastery by buying cheap PvP ships ten at time and get going. You have a lot of ships to lose.

5) Turn Off Your Computer, Luke

Fly manually. There are times when clicking orbit is the thing to do, but good PvP flying involves a whole lot more than what your ship’s automatic navigation system is capable of. Learn how to spiral in to a target so that you close distance without dropping your angular velocity below an enemy’s guns’ tracking speed. Take your ship out, drop a can, and try orbiting it at specific distances with and without prop mods to figure out what orbit setting produces what actual orbiting distance, then reset your default orbit range. Never just “Approach” an enemy unless you know he either can’t hit you, or that he’s a missile boat (missiles don’t care about tracking). Learn how to reverse direction suddenly to break an orbiting enemy out of their loop. Figure out when to obey your FC’s align, anchor, and other navigation commands, and when to follow their spirit but not their letter.

6) Hit the Intertoobs

How do you learn these things? YouTube and the web. In particular, spend time studying the offerings at the following websites:

Read the guides, blog posts and articles on these sites, and search YouTube for fight videos. Then go out and experiment with ideas from what you’ve read and seen.

7) Ask Questions

Remember the “cool kids” you’ve been hanging out with? Ask them questions. You know the PvP heavy hitters in your alliance or corp who are not easy to hang with? Send them an eve mail. Be polite with your questions, and be up front and say you are a noob trying to learn to be a valuable PvP asset in your group. Ask specific questions, and ask for general advice. But don’t overwhelm them. One or two questions, then digest the information. Over time, you may be able to have one or more players willing to actively mentor you.

8) Shoot the Primary

When it comes to maneuvering, you need to learn to have a little initiative in fights, but when it comes to target choosing, shoot the primary the FC calls. Not only will this increase the likelihood of your fleet winning the day, but it also means you aren’t wasting your efforts on targets that may never generate killmails. While doing this, split your guns into two stacks, and stagger the two slightly when shooting. This way, if your primary target instapops when (or before, for missiles) your shot hits, you can instantly move half your guns over to the secondary target. Oh, and try to fleet up with FCs who call primary, secondary, and if possible, tertiary targets. But even if your FC doesn’t do this, you can still save time by locking up additional logical targets. This is where Knowing Your Enemy comes in handy even in large fights; once you lock the primary target, lock up several more likely future primaries. It’ll save you time when the current primary goes down.

9) Pick Fights

What do you do when there are no fleets to join? Form a fleet of your own! Recruit a more experienced friend to FC it, or have a go at leading the gang yourself. Be clear to people that you are new at this, and that you are on the “lose a hundred rifters” plan. And when you don’t have groups to go out with you, grab a ship and roam solo. Decide you are going to go out until you get at least one kill or get killed yourself. And expect to mostly do the latter for awhile. Then study your kills, and, more usefully, your losses. Ask yourself questions about how things went down. Examine later with a calm mind the decisions your panicky adrenaline-charged PvP noob brain was making in the heat of the fight. Make every loss count. Most importantly, though, don’t be passive. Accept every chance to fight that comes your way, and then fill every gap in between by making your own PvP opportinities. NPC nulsec is especially good for this sort of thing, but any enemy region can work. Be prepared, though: finding a “fair” fight while roaming–especially solo–is not the goal. It’s not really very likely. Pick unfair fights. Don’t just accept that a jaguar shouldn’t try to solo a ratting drake; pick that fight then find out if what you’ve heard is true, and why (or why not).

10) Fly Mainline Fleet Ships

There is a lot of fun to be had flying all sorts of specialty ships in all sorts of specialty roles. But when you are joining someone’s fleet while trying to run up your kill stats, fleet up in the main DPS ship called for, and be sure you are fitting it to the FC’s specifications. Not just because that will put you in the kind of ship that is going to get kills; frankly, you can get on tons of kills flying an ECM boat or an interdictor. No, the reason to fly the mainline ship called for is that you will live longer while getting your kills. Specialty ships either don’t get lots of kills (scouts and logi) or tend to be primaries early (ECM and, again, logi). Also, if it’s a maelstrom fleet but tempests are also accepted, fly maelstrom. Many FCs seem to target odd men out. You don’t want to be the solo hurricane in a drake fleet.

BONUS 11) Become a Great Scout

This last tip is a way to learn PvP so you can become a top ten killer, but it will actually hurt your killboard stats while you are doing it: become a scout. Scouting is possibly the most effective and intense way of learning about PvP combat in Eve there is. But scouts don’t get on a lot of killmails. So consider spending a month or more scouting, and then switch back to DPS ships to get on the board. (Or just ignore stats and become a world-class scout!) Scouting will give you an inside view to what the FC is seeing and thinking. It will teach you how to fly your ship. You will get practice dscanning and probing and maneuvering. And you will learn the map quicker and, if you are doing it right, accumulate a great stockpile of tactical and strategic bookmarks that will be useful to you in many other PvP settings. How do you become good at scouting? That’s another article altogether.

Until then, fly like you’re already dead!

War in the Dronelands: The Story So Far

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

My alliance, Intrepid Crossing (IRC), is in full-on war mode. For those who don’t follow nulsec politics very closely, the short version is this…

Two Russian alliances, Solar Fleet and Legion of xXDEATHXx (I always feel xXSILLYXx typing that name), went to war with one another at the end of 2011. IRC at first avoided involvement, but in the end entered the conflict because we owe a debt to Solar. While Solar and allies carved deep into Legion of xXDEATHXx’s territories in the south during Russian prime time, IRC waged a campaign to shut down Legion’s renter income by attacking Shadow of xXDEATHXx’s holdings in Oasa during U.S. and Euro prime times. Shadow is the renter alliance that is the source of most of Legion’s wealth.

Losing badly, xXDEATHXx hired uber-mercs, Pandemic Legion, with a contract to remove Solar from the Drone Regions. Along the way, Pandemic Legion, along with their occasional allies “NCdot” (not to be confused with the origional Northern Coalition, of course), ended up striking hard at IRC’s capital system, E-BYOS. We in IRC shifted to a suicidal insurgency model, since PL’s and NCdot’s super capital fleets were no match for our own forces in a toe-to-toe fight, but things weren’t looking great. PL and NCdot then brokered an agreement between IRC and xXDEATHXx: a mutual non-invasion pact. In other words, IRC would withdraw from trying to take systems in Oasa, and xXDEATHXx (and PL) would not try to take sovereignty away from IRC in Cobalt Edge.

There was a lot of grumbling within IRC when the pact was agreed to, but there weren’t many alternatives. Still, we were allowed to roam xXDEATHXx’s regions, just not threaten their sovereignty, nor place AFK cloakers in their system. So we had a new, closeby source of PvP experience, but had to otherwise bow out of the Russian Civil War.

xXDEATHXx (PL, really) then proceded to beat back Solar, forcing them to regroup and retreat to an extent. Solar handed all of their systems in Cobalt Edge over to IRC, while at the same time IRC began transferring its Tenal assets over to Raiden, who were preparing to fight against the Goons and their allies in the north.

Fast forward a few weeks. Solar begins to turn the tide, and with allies Against All Authorities (-A-) chases xXDEATHXx ally Red Alliance out of their homes, thus isolating xXDEATHXx. Then, in a move that so far appears to have been a gross miscalculation, xXDEATHXx broke the pact brokered by PL and NCdot with IRC. Cluster of Rebirth, who at the time were blue to IRC, suddenly started dropping sovereignty blockade units in IRC’s capital constellation, with xXDEATHXx corps doing the same.

This treachery kicked off a fierce multi-day campaign, seemingly coming to a close even as I write this, to head-shot IRC in the E-BYOS system, as well as the surrounding station systems. The height of the campaign included a dozen-hour period in which wave after wave of forces descended on E-BYOS and surrounding systems, while IRC pilots reshipped and reshipped. In the end, seven xXDEATHXx capital ships were destroyed, and billions of ISK worth of destruction was wreaked on both sides.

Now, as I write this, there are no sovereignty timers going in any IRC systems in Cobalt Edge.

Simultaneous with the defense of Cobalt, IRC launched a counter-offensive. Where before, we were in the fight to support our allies Solar and to disrupt xXDEATHXx’s income, this time things are different. xXDEATHXx have proved to be unreliable neighbors. For years they have not liked IRC, but also respected all mutual agreements entered into among the Drone Russian Forces. A betrayal like this, though, changes the equation. Add to that the likelihood that the powerful mercinary forces that saved xXDEATHXx the first time are not likely to get involved a second time with a client who sullies their diplomatic relations, and you can imagine the wild enthusiasm for all out war among the rank and file PvP’ers of Cobalt Edge.

But nothing is certain in New Eden, most especially during a time of war. The Goons have interferred several times, always entering in on the side of xXDEATHXx. And the story of the war for Tenal has yet to be written. But for now, I’m having a total blast as a scout and mainline PvP’er in Oasa, Perrigren Falls, and Outer Passage. Some of the battles I’ve fought, both at home and abroad, have been epic.

I joined Eve Online first and foremost for the opportunity to be part of the collective writing of the permanent history of New Eden. Hanging out on comms, going on roams, learning new parts of the game–peacetime is nice. But frankly, I find in this game I am a warrior (or perhaps a soldier–there’s a difference, you know) more than anything else, and so I am most in my element during war, however it fairs.

I started out writing an article I’ve been intending for some time, titled, “10 Steps to Becoming a Top 10 Killer for Your Alliance”, but realized that perhaps I should first post a little about what context I’m playing in, and where I’m coming from. I have one more sort of “intro” kinda article I’m going to put up, before I get down to the (to me) fun topics of becoming a top killer without a ton of skill points, triple-box scouting, and other such things. Until then, fly like you’re already dead.