May 02 2012

Fleet Size & PvP Style: A Very Short Introduction to Eve Online – Part 6

A Large Fleet in Eve Online

A Large Fleet Warping Together in Eve Online (Image courtesy of http://evepics.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/1701/)

Sorry for the delay in getting an Eve Article out to those of you who have been following my series. Real life sometimes has a way of interfering with internet spaceships, much to my chagrin.

This week I want to talk about fleet sizes. Fleet sizes in Eve are far more than just the number of ships that happen to be in your fleet. Instead, fleet size strongly reflects the purpose for which the fleet is intended and is a major influence on the types of fleet compositions used, and the actual player experience of flying in Eve Online PvP; from the casual atmosphere of the small gang, to the disciplined machine of large fleets and the challenge of solo PvP, Eve presents very different PvP experiences based on scale.

More after the jump…

Previous Instalments:

Part 1: A Very Short Introduction to Eve Online

Part 2: Futuristic Fascists and Internet Space Ships

Part 3: Exploding Internet Space Ships

Part 4: Sociopathic Corporations, Roaming Gangs & Gate Camps

Part 5: Fleet Roles in PvP

[Note: The use of terms in each of my articles assumes that you have read my previous instalments. If you are unfamiliar with Eve Online I strongly suggest you read my previous articles otherwise there will be many terms I use here that you won’t understand.]

Fleet Size: From Soloists to Gigantic Blobs

Fleet size and fleet purpose are very closely connected concepts in Eve Online. While it’s obvious that if you want to solo you will only be needing a single ship (leaving aside alt accounts that can be used to scout or provide fleet boosters…or *shudder* a Falcon alt…) it may be somewhat less clear how close a relationship fleet size and fleet purpose have more generally. Think of it this way; if you want to just go roaming around low-sec or null-sec and just find some fights then you are going to have to give some consideration to not bringing so many in fleet that no one will have the numbers or the courage to engage you (this consideration applies to fleet composition as well actually). On the other hand, if you want to attack a heavily defended sovereignty system as part of a war campaign then you are likely going to want as many people in fleet as possible, as scaring the enemy into not showing up to defend that system is a strategic win (while it’s usually considerably less fun for the fleet members who end up only getting to shoot at structures).

With that in mind I’ll give you a quick run-down on the broad scales that fleets in Eve Online tend to fall within:


This is the seemingly simple concept of just grabbing a ship and heading out to go find someone to shoot. In practice, however, solo PvP is the most difficult kind to become skilled at as it requires you to be fairly good in a number of different areas: using  the in-game map browser and external tools such as Dotlan to locate potentially target rich areas to head to, using the directional scanner to locate potential targets in-system and avoid getting jumped, various aggression mechanics around stargates & stations, avoiding gate-camps, navigating null-sec alone while avoiding drag bubbles, knowing well what ships you can engage and which you should avoid, what ranges you should engage different targets and what ammo to use, manual piloting, judicious use of overheating, and when to run away.

As you can see, there are quite a few things you should at least be pretty good at before you can plan to have much success in solo PvP.

People tend to solo in smaller ships in Eve, generally in Cruiser sized ships and below. While some people will solo in certain Battlecruisers, BCs are already large enough that avoiding getting blown up to gate-camps starts to become a little problematic. By far the most popular ships for Solo PvP tend to be Assault Frigates (an advanced frigate variant with more tank and DPS), certain Interceptors (especially the Gallente Taranis), regular frigates (like the Minmatar Rifter), and certain Heavy Assault Ships (advanced cruiser variants that are to Cruisers what AFs are to Frigates).

Oddly, solo PvP also does not always entail flying around with a single ship. Many players in Eve will use a second account in something like an Interceptor to scout ahead for them, especially if they are using larger, more expensive ships to engage targets. People can also use an alt with fleet boosting abilities (I covered those briefly last time) to give them bonuses that make the ship they are fighting with more deadly. Finally, some people will resort to flying around with a cloaked Falcon alt that they can de-cloak during fights to surprise opponents who thought they were getting into a 1 v 1 fight and jam their ability to lock targets, making for an easy victory.

I’ve done a little bit of solo PvP in Eve and it can be both fun and challenging, however my major issue with solo PvP is that flying around by yourself with no one to shoot the shit with on voice comms can be quite boring. PvP in Eve tends to feature long periods of flying around looking for people to fight, punctuated by brief bursts of excitement when you find someone to shoot, and many people really enjoy the banter on comms to fill those gaps. In any case, this is a type of PvP that I would recommend players in Eve not pursue until they’ve had some experience with the other scales of PvP first. As I have mentioned previously, flying the role of scout/fast tackle for small gangs is probably the best training you can get to give you the skills necessary to solo effectively.

Small Gang PvP

Small gang PvP in Eve tends to occur with fleets of 5-30 ships and quite a number of unique aspects to it that distinguish it from larger fleets.

Firstly, small gang PvP tends to heavily concentrate on roaming gangs and gate/bubble camps (both fleet styles I discussed in Part  4). While there are a decent number of players in Eve Online who enjoy gate camping, either as a primary form of PvP or as something to do in their home system between organized roams, it isn’t in my view the most challenging or rewarding form of small gang PvP. I think roaming gangs are a much better exemplar of what makes small gang PvP great in Eve Online.

Small gangs require a Fleet Commander, a few (or one) Scout/Fast Tackle and can benefit from (but don’t absolutely require) a little bit of Logistics or Ewar (all of these roles were covered in Part 5). That plus whatever kind of relatively mobile DPS ships (generally something Battlecruiser sized or below) and you can head out looking for people to shoot. One of the great strengths of small gangs in terms of player enjoyment is that small gangs are usually comprised of people from the same corporation(s) who fly together on a regular basis and get to know each other reasonably well. This is not only useful in a tactical sense of being able to work together effectively, but also (and almost as important) it gives you a group of people to shoot the shit with on comms while you’re looking for targets to engage. This is also possible because small gangs are small enough that it isn’t necessary to keep voice comms completely clear except for tactical information like it usually is in larger fleets. As long as everyone understands to shut the fuck up when tactical information or orders are being given on voice comms, you can spend the rest of the time chatting/insulting each other/talking shit about people/etc.

Beyond that social aspect, small gangs also allow the most room for individual fleet member skill and for developing that skill in fleet PvP in Eve. Newer players in a PvP training corporation can grab some cheap ships and head out to learn the ropes of small gang PvP together and as they continue to fly together over weeks and months their skills will all improve together. Not just their individual skills as pilots but also their ability to work together as they get to know each other.

For more experienced pilots, small gang PvP offers a forum where you can fly with other people but where the individual skills of the pilots still makes a significant difference to engagement outcomes. This is true on a couple of different levels at once. First in that experienced pilots who are used to flying together will be able to keep up with and follow complex orders from an FC quickly and correctly (the advantages a small gang gains this way can be very large, I’ll explain when talking about fleet discipline).  The other major thing is that experienced pilots used to flying together will usually end up good enough at piloting their ships and understanding what the situation during engagements to be able to manage themselves without having to be micro-managed by the FC for every little thing.

This is the kind of thing that is easier to understand with an example, so I will give you one. Lets say you’re in a small gang flying ships that want to engage enemies at 30-50km, especially enemy gangs in ships set-up to fight at close (sub 10km) range. You get a hostile gang to chase you to a gate in nullsec or lowsec, and then your FC orders your fleet to jump through and align star. Experienced small gang pilots will understand that the FC wants you to jump through and align your ships towards a celestial object away from the gate with propulsion mods (microwarp drives usually) on until you are ~30km from the gate  so that when the hostile fleet jumps in after you, you start the fight at your ideal engagement range.

This part is simple enough, but in an experienced small gang the pilots will also understand that this means they may need to manually adjust their course in space to avoid running into the gate (if they spawn on the opposite side of the jump gate from the celestial the gang is aligning to) but also that the idea is for them to actively manage their range so they stay within 30-50km of the enemy gang. This may mean stopping in space if the enemy is not burning towards you, it may mean aligning without prop mods or it may mean burning as fast as possible, and this can change repeatedly as the fight develops. Basically you’re expected to manage your own range and keep an eye on where the rest of your gang is so you don’t end up too far away from them.

You’re also expected to help the FC by keeping an eye on local chat to see if possible reinforcements to the enemy gang jump into system, plus watching the directional scanner for combat scanner probes and/or possible inbound additional hostiles. Basically the point is that you’re all supposed to work together without the FC having to tell you every little thing that you should be doing leaving the FC free to focus on what enemy ships to primary and to trying to best take advantage of the overall tactical situation as it develops during a fight.

It is this combination of individual pilot skill and coordinated gang tactics plus the social aspects of the open voice comms of small gangs that makes this my absolute favorite form of PvP in Eve Online. Add to that the complete disregard that small gang PvP usually gets to have for strategic considerations (i.e. small gang PvP is about finding fights, not usually about a larger objective such as taking territory or moons from other alliances) and you have a recipe for fun.

Large Fleet PvP

However, for a lot of players in Eve Online this isn’t enough. Rather than focusing on individual pilot skill and just looking for good fights, they instead care much more about being strategically important in the world of Eve Online. These players gravitate towards the large fleet PvP of the large sovereignty holding alliances and coalitions.

Large Fleet PvP can mostly be divided into two major kinds. The first is large roaming gangs (and large home defence fleets). These fleets, while having some things in common with small gangs, tend to have a much larger variety of fleet roles filled. This means there is very likely to be significant logistics and ewar, as well as bubblers (for nullsec) and some possible capital/supercapital support (if nothing else they will at least sometimes use a Titan to to cyno-bridge them directly onto hostile gangs) as well as a tendency to focus on heavier DPS ships, usually from Battlecruiser and up.

However, because larger numbers of pilots in fleet combined with larger ships means that it usually takes considerably more time for the fleet to move around system to system and that there will be much fewer hostile fleets that will be willing to engage you, large roaming fleets can have something of a difficult time finding targets to engage. Worse still, the sight of a juicy large roaming gang is much more likely to incite hostile corporations and alliances to form up large fleets of their own designed specifically to counter the composition of your large roaming fleet.

It also becomes more difficult to form up a fleet with a coherent fleet doctrine using specific types of ships and sets of modules as the numbers in fleet grow larger. There will simply be a greater likelihood that a number of pilots will not be able to fly the specific ships and fits you want in fleet, leading to a greater tendency to mixed ship composition fleets (often disparagingly referred to as ‘pots ‘n pans’). This is of course not always true, as several large alliances and coalitions can at least the vast majority of their pilots to be able to fly several of their alliance’s established fleet doctrines.

Most of these obstacles are more or less surmountable, but for me the biggest drawback with large roaming fleets is simply that for them to even work with so many people on the same voice comms, they virtually require permanent “fleet comms” where chit chat has to be shut down entirely and comms are used solely for the fleet commander, scouts, logistics commander and ewar commander (if those two roles are being used) to give orders to the fleet members.

Often for operational security it will further be necessary to have a separate voice channel on comms where all of the discussions between the FC and scouts over where to go and what potential targets are available which the main body of the fleet cannot hear, leaving large periods of seeming comms silence while fleet members wait for decisions to be made.  I personally find both the lack of bullshitting on comms and the amount of time spent waiting at gates for decisions to be made to be quite boring, and so do many others.

The other downside to large fleets is that individual pilot skill and initiative becomes far less relevant as fleet scale increases, so that in very large fleets the bulk of fleet members will not have a chance to understand the larger picture of what is going on and are simply reduced to blindly trying to follow the FCs orders and simply primary the correct target to shoot at.

This only gets worse when we start to talk about strategic fleets. Because of the nature of sovereignty mechanics in Eve Online, strategic fleets usually have to attack or defend sovereignty structures at specific times dictated by timers on those structures. This can mean an attack/defence has to be staged at 5am in whatever time-zone the pilot is in, and alarm clocking to fight an internet space ship battle can be a bit of a chore. In addition to this comes the vast amounts of waiting that are often necessary between form-up and actually getting moving when you are trying to form up fleets of several hundred pilots. Lastly comes the dreaded cock-block, where one side or the other will assess what they believe the relative strength of each side’s fleets are and simply decide to stand down and not engage at all on unfavourable terms.

So then, why do such large numbers of Eve’s players do it? Why do so many people put up will all of these things in order to be involved in large scale strategic fleets? The answer is actually really simple: They want to part of a larger narrative. Large scale PvP in Eve is not simply or even primarily about the enjoyment of the fleet itself, It’s about being part of the narrative of conquest and defence of vast swathes of in-game territory, about mattering to the meta-narrative of the game, of being part of the story and being part of battles and wars that get talked about for months and years afterwards. Plus there is the sheer wow factor of being part of battles with 1500+ ships in systems, of seeing huge numbers of capitals and super-capitals hot-drop onto an ongoing battle and decimating the enemy fleet.

So actually, I think it’s two things rather than one: The first is the desire to be part of a larger narrative, to be part of an alliance or coalition that shapes the in-game landscape of Eve through territory and infamy. The second, but equally important reason, is the desire to be involved in the biggest battles, the most epics fights in all of Eve.

This is the “I was there…” factor, which has such a strong pull on many players that CCP made an Eve Online trailer about it:

(Let’s leave aside that the specific type of engagement in this video had become something of an anachronism by the time it was made. 200km sniper fleet compositions haven’t really been viable for quite some time for a variety of reasons, but that’s not particularly relevant to the point I’m making here.)


When I started writing this series, it was in part a way of trying to explain to a few gamer friends of mine who didn’t play Eve why I was so enthralled by PvP in this game. I think the series up to this point has done a pretty good job of trying to convey why I’m so obsessed with small gang PvP in Eve but also what attracts people to the large scale PvP of sovereignty warfare.

Next week I’m planning to talk about Fleet Comms but to focus on Fleet Discipline and what a dramatic role it can have on the outcome of fleet fights.

Till next time,

That’s Yo “What do you mean I can’t talk shit on comms?!” Garbage!

About the author


Lorenzo tends to utterly emphatic opinions on the things that interest him: Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Video Games, Anime, Tabletop Games, Technology and Internet Spaceships.