Monday, May 21, 2012

ATX - How to: evaluate AT setups

7 ways I use to evaluate effective vs non-effective setups for the Alliance tournament. I meant to get this out sooner, but it's been rough and this post turned into quite the novel. Excuse the lack of handy pictures, I didn't want to delay this post further but looking for nice images, maybe later...

1. Field control

Now when I say this, there are a variety of effective means of field control, I lump them all together, here. By field control I mean, ability to dictate combat ranges on the field. Since the AT arena, is limited in size, to a sphere who's radius is 125km from the center-point, and there is now inter-arena warping allowed, this aspect of any fit plays a large role.

Viable field control methods-
Speed - not just straight line speed, but the agility to stay inside of the arena, while remaining outside the reach of your opponents. AB fit ships tend to use mobility as a form of tank as well. I'll call this being "slippery."

Webs and Scrams - These are more traditional methods of field control. Indeed, they are quite effective. Webs obviously slow a ship down from 50-90% depending on the ships employing them, and scrams stop the MWD's of other ships, slowing them down significantly.

Now obviously, some ships get bonus to range and strength of webs and range of scrams, but no ships gets a bonus to both. I think that's what we would call overpowered. However, this is also where light tackle in a setup becomes important, the ability to land a web and a scram on a target, anchoring it in place to allow for a more precise execution of the target, well, that is something that is important.

In short -
Field control is the ability of a setup to maintain range, or dictate the range it wants to be in effectively. Through the use of webs, scrams, and speed to maintain and or close the distance into your weapons effective range, while dictating to the other team the range they will be fighting at.

Field control also takes into account where on the field you land your team. Are logistics coming in at distance, is your fleet clustered in a ball, do you have your tackle in the front or back, range control dictating ranges from where on the field.


Ah EWAR, never is one thing so anger inspiring. EWAR of any kind is an essential part of most AT setups. Especially in later rounds where fleet sizes will be more than 5-6 pilots and damage mitigation will become increasingly important.

When one speaks of EWAR in Eve, usually it is in reference to ECM modules so we will start there.

ECM - Caldari based EWAR, and un-arguably the most used EWAR, and to make it even better or worse, it only gets stronger when coupled with other methods of EWAR. ECM is either an area affect model, the burst, that has a chance to disrupt target locks in that area, while directed ECM, the more traditional variant, is directed at a single target and has a chance to disrupt their ability to lock for up to 18 seconds. Now ECM also comes with some very widely used drones the EC- series drones, with 300's being the smallest and most used and the 900's being the largest and least used.

In the tourney right off the bat, one cannot know the drones each side is fielding. But once a swarm of ECM drones is launched, their impact is always felt. Just the light drones, in a big enough swarm, can completely jam out a target, even one with ECCM fit.

Sensor dampners - On TQ proper, aka not in the AT they are one of the least used types of EWAR because of some heavy nerfs and the general use of ECM on TQ overshadows them. When used in conjunction with ECM, their effects become even stronger, and more frustrating.

Sensor damps reduce lock range, or signal strength, making it take longer to lock any targets, or both, if not scripted. When used with ECM, this can lead to a period of time that even though a target it not jammed out by ECM, their ship is unable to lock anything before the next jam lands. Often called cycle-jamming.

In the Alliance tournament, Sensor damps are much more heavily used because they effectively and easily provide for both a little bit of field control, by driving down your opponents lock range, forcing them closer together, or closer to your fleet, or by preventing logistics from being able to lock and repair before your fleet's DPS can kill off or at least damage past saving, the intended target.

Tracking disruptors - On a kind of love and hate scale, these things easily bounce between the two when used in the Alliance tournament. On one hand they are incredibly effective vs turret based ships, by reducing tracking or optimal/falloff of the turrets. When faced against missile ships, they are utterly useless, having no effect at all. With TD changes coming in inferno, there has been talk about TD's messing with missile explosion velocity and ranges.

If this change makes it through then I expect to see far more TD's fielded then ever before since this would be a huge buff to their ability. Currently, a Curse or two loaded down with Neuts and tracking disruptors can easily change the tide of a turret based battle, be it against capless weapons like autocannon or cap dependent weapons like Hybrid or lasers. They will be an even better part of a AT comp if they can also gain the ability to shut down or at least disable missile based DPS.

Last and least we have Target Painters - The basic function of this ewar module is to increase the signature size of it's target. No over-all target painters are one of the least used ewar, both in TQ and during the Alliance tournament. They aren't really something who's effect can be overlooked.

Energy Neutralizers/nos - Not traditionally considered "EWAR" but falls nicely under this category during the AT than it would anywhere else. Neuts and nos are also a form of field control, but really you are effecting a targets ability to take any action, be it fire their guns, actively tank, or even MWD freely around the arena.

Increased signature size means that missiles can hit harder, guns appear to track better and hit for more solid strikes on target. Especially against ships that focus on the use of signature tanking for their logistics ships. Just one or two target painters can increase the size of the Logi enough that it's tank will be unable to sustain the damage applied to it by missile or even drones.

Bottom line about EWAR:
How much/how many EWAR modules or possible slots for EWAR does a setup have? If they have ships dedicated for a specific type of EWAR module, how many of those ships are present and are they complementary types of EWAR (ECM and Damps) or stand alone (Target Painters and Tracking Disruptors).

This rating fits in closely with my ratings for section 6 and 7.

3. EWAR resistance

Obviously this is the resistance to any of the modules above. Specific planning is usually includes sensor boosters to combat Damps, but most often includes the use of Racial specific, on board ECCM or remote ECCM to prevent jamming. Let it be a testament to the effectiveness of ECM that even though near every fit in use for the tourney, especially heavy DPS, and Logistics ships will have at least a ECCM module, that ECM is still so effective and widely used.

Truth be told there are few counters for Target painters, besides using an Afterburner and fitting to keep your signature radius low, but those are things that one should already be doing if you are signature and or speed tanking.

Tracking disruptors can be mitigated to some extent by fitting tracking enhancers and the use of remote tracking links and tracking computers, but their effect is usually still strong enough that simply fitting those modules isn't enough.

Still, EWAR resistance is also an racial trait. Up until Inferno, if the change makes it, Missiles would not be effected by the use of tracking disruptors, much like recon ships who start with a very high base lock range are naturally resistant to the use of sensor damps. Caldari on the other hand have some of the highest base signal strength, and that makes Caldari ships less vulnerable to ECM as well.

One of the other tactics used would be to split your fleet between races, forcing hostile ECM to fit jammers for each race, and if they do not, then off-racial jams will have even less of a chance of successfully striking a target.

I've talked a lot about strengths vs EWAR, but what about weaknesses? Projectile and hybrid weapons suffer heavily from tracking disruptors, and while some classes of ships start with huge lock ranges, other ships start with smallish lock ranges, like logistics (80ish km) and can easily be damped down to force those ships to move closer or huddle.

In addition, Minmatar are the weakest race vs ECM, as their base sensor strengths are lowest across the board. Even off-racails have a higher change of "hitting" a minmatar target. Flying a single race setup more than once provides your opponents the chance to show up with all one racial ECM module, but doing it for the first time gives you a distinct advantage as any ECM vs your setup will be 1/4 more distributed between Racial and off racial jammers.

4. Number of ships/possible EHP of fielded ships

Historically, AT setups have varied in size, but one thing has remains true. The number of ships fielded tends to play a large part in determining who wins. There are many reasons why this is true, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

Last year, the setups with more ships, once we hit the 10 man stage, would usually win. Having more ships forces your opponents to spread tackle, divide their DPS, or rather attention on keeping track of where everything is. Provides built-in redundancy for most setups effectiveness, allowing more than a single or small group of ships to fill a role allows the loss of one or two of them means that your tackle, for instance, is now completely ineffective.

Having more ships on the field also speaks to being able to use more advanced tactics and to force your opponent to decide between similar ships in order to neutralize the effectiveness of your setup. Indeed it forces all of your opponents strengths to be spread out over a larger surface area. EWAR becomes less effective against more targets, Remote reps become more pronounced, gang and field bonuses make more of a difference. Everything just works better with more ships.

EHP is self-explanatory and one of the reasons that the tier 3 BC's add such an interesting element. Traditionally I would have said more EHP in a role is better, but now, with tier 3 BC's pumping out DPS like it's going out of style, EHP matters both less and more. All at the same time.

In the 6 man setups EHP still counts for more, since DPS arrayed against the setups will be lesser, so more EHP setups will last longer (duh) but also provide the ability to engage and use whatever the ship is fit for. Now in the 12 man setups, it gets tricky. Tier 3 BC heavy setups will be pushing 4-5k DPS, even high EHP setups with lower DPS will melt in the face of all that firepower. By melt I mean that amount of DPS can push completely through Logistics reps, even on the sturdiest targets. The only chance is to push enough DPS yourself to take out their DPS, or enough EWAR yourself to mitigate it, and allow your Logistics to cover the rest.

5. Field of fire (effective ranges of the setups)

Field of fire, basically meaning the range of the setups. Do they match, for instance, are some ships range fit while others are short range? While not always bad, if you have many of the same ship, for instance 4 oracles, and 2 are pulse fit and 2 are tach fit, the ships will not have the same engagement envelope and the tach fit setups will either need to be guarded by the pulse setups, or at least will have to sit back from the fight, and be effective at different ranges.

However, sometimes different ranged setups can be very complimentary, like for instance, Tach oracles and pulse harbingers, with some light tackle. The light tackle and the pulse harbs have enough EHP to hold tackle on their targets while getting fire support from the distant oracles(yes it is a bad example). This way the Harbs and light tackle hold the enemy setup off of the tach oracles and hopefully in their optimal range, allowing the Oracles to maximize their DPS at range.

6. Fleet continuity

Slightly different than an overall grade, this is how the fleet setup plays into it's own strengths, and how the ships are combined to limit it's weaknesses. This is where things like fielding a huginn with a short range fleet makes sense, or Bhaalgorns with cap warfare fleets, to add DPS. Bombers and the like with speedy Sleipnirs...

Alternatively, if the setup scores poorly here, it's usually because the setup isn't maximizing potential cross strengths, or focusing too heavily in one area (DPS or EWAR or field control).

This also measures the complexity of the setup. Some setups are so complex to operate that they can be easily defeated if one thing goes wrong. See many many of the fights of AT8 for setups that were so complex that a single cog being removed made everything crumble. Easier setups, just like easier strategies, tend to stay intact in the heat of battle, and tend to survive under fire. Complex strategy that relies on your opponent doing and moving as you expect is out the window by the time you land on the field, everyone is nervous and people start losing ships.

7. Overall

Taking everything into account, this is the final score for the setup. This is a step further than just "fleet continuity," this takes more of the gut-feel of the setup and figures in my head as a "taking pilot skills" into account factor in here as well. Some fleet comps are so complicated that every though they score high in every area, they end up falling flat with one missed step by one person in the fleet.

Final words

These 7 items cover what I consider to be the meat of every setup, but short of "7. Overall" we don't really count much on pilot skill. Now in the Alliance tourney more than any other environment, the old eve idiom "you've already won and or lost by fit alone" holds very true. Saying that pilot skill does not play into the fights would be a incredible overstatement of the truth. Pilots that are used to being under pressure, used to dealing with nerves and fight effectively every time, in addition to having the near maxed skills, where every single percent advantage matters, that's the heart of the tournament. That extra 1% jam strength could be the difference between allowing your logi to live or to die. Capping out when repping, or the extra EHP provided by comp skills to 5 definitely play a role.

But that's not really speaking to pilot skill, but more pilot trained skills. Pilots who know when to turn, or how to maintain transversal, or minimize damage, keep range, fight in optimal, know when to risk their ships and when not to without having being told, or use of overheating and repairing. These are all skills that more elite pilots have, and more importantly, use, on a regular basis without the need to be told "overload" or "stay at range."

FC experience is key as well, in most of the Rote fleets, let alone alliance tournament teams, all the members have a solid understanding both of their fits, their fleet-mate fits, the structure of the fleet,  what's expected and at least and idea of how to take over target calling. Now magnify that time 10, or even 100 for the importance of each decision and you start to get the picture. A team can't rely on a single FC to manage the fleet, or any other single point of failure that can be alleviated. I find that most of these factors, short of an amazing World of Tanks-ish XVM algorithm taking in pilot skill, it's roughly impossible to discern. 

Next up, I will take a look at some previous successful fits and grade them using the scales above, in addition to scores, 1-10, with a overall score.

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