Friday, 14 March 2014

Article: Doctrine Reshuffle

With the recent changes made by CCP, I sat down with corebloodbrothers to discuss the future of EVE fleet warfare

For those of you who don't read patch notes, and until recently, this included me as well, CCP has decided to change a core mechanic in the game, namely drone assist. However, in the last few months, drone assist has been the leading fleet doctrine for many large Alliances and Coalitions, including the Providence Bloc. Thus, I decided to ask corebloodbrothers, one of Providence's senior Fleet Commanders, about this recent change, and its effect on large fleet warfare in general, and Providence doctrines in particular.

What is drone assist?

For those of you confused, drone assist is a fleet doctrine built around the ability of fleet members to assign their drones to another pilot in the same fleet. This allows for one pilot to concentrate the entire drone damage output of the fleet, in one perfect volley when using sentry drones, who received a few upgrades to damage and tracking during the years. The assigned pilot is designated the "Drone Bunny" and is usually the Fleet Commander, giving him absolute control over the situation and eliminating much of the human error and waste in more conventional, turret based doctrines. 

The volley damage itself is overwhelming with large sentry drone fleets, easily melting battleships regardless of how many logistics ships are on the field. Often times, the target isn't even aware of its impending doom due to the "Drone Bunny" fitting a Passive Targeting Array, which does not alert pilots when they are targeted ("Yellow Boxing"). 

There are no known hard counters to this doctrine, except identifying and eliminating the Fleet Commanders and "Drone Bunnies" beforehand ("Head Decapitation"), which is not always an option. 

This doctrine favors mainly Gallente, and to some extent, Amarr ships, and saw the rise of the Dominix class battleship to the forefront of EVE fleet warfare after many years of neglect.

Is drone assist dead?

For those of you who invested skill points in drones, corebloodbrothers has a reassuring message. Drone assist, in Providence at least, is not dead. The change only limited the amount of drones assigned to one player, creating a "cap" of fifty drones per assigned character. This allows for a squadron to assign its drones to its squad leader, increasing the number of "Drone Bunnies" to one per ten members in fleet, making squad leaders have an actual function in fleets besides augmenting wing commander boosts.

In theory, with multiple "Drone Bunnies", the damage output on the field is still considerable, but also far more flexible, allowing quick target switching and overwhelming logistics ships, as damage spread on multiple ships is also possible now. It also decreases the effectiveness of the "Head Decapitation" counter, as there is a need to identify a larger number of "Drone Bunnies", and the likelihood of removing all of them from the field at the start of a battle is far smaller.

Of course, in practice so far, this new method has yielded mixed results. corebloodbrothers admits that it will take some time for Fleet Commanders to get accustomed to the change, and for a pool of skilled squad leaders to form. However, he remains optimistic.

The final days of the "Slowcat"?

The "Slowcat" is the name given to a specific fit of the Amarrian carrier - The Archon. "Slowcats" are heavily tanked Archons who use sentry drones for damage and remote repair and transfer capacitor between one another, creating what is called "Spider Tanking". Though their damage is anemic compared to battleships such as the Gallente Dominix or the Amarrian Armageddon, their unique properties allow them to fit more sets of drones, assuring they can shrug off the loss of drones by bombing runs and the like. Up until recently, "Slowcat" fleets were considered invincible, able to withstand attacks by numerically superior sub-capital fleets, even at four-to-one odds.

For those hoping that the patch will remove the "Slowcat" fleet doctrine from the battlefield, bitter disappointment awaits. Though the "Slowcats'" fitting will require a bit of tuning, to accommodate the need for Archon pilots to lock targets individually, the basic doctrine is still mostly intact. The only major change is the need for "Slowcat" pilots to manage their drones and targets during battles, a task which was at solely the Fleet Commander's before the patch.

What did become unfeasible after the patch, was the introduction of the "Slowmera", a variation of the "Slowcat" based on the shield tanking Caldari carrier - The Chimera. Pandemic Legion experimented with the concept shortly before the patch, but with the need to fit Sensor Boosters and ECCM modules to negate electronic warfare, Chimeras will be forced to sacrifice their tank in order to apply damage on the field, negating their effectiveness compared to the Archon itself.

What does the future hold?

According to corebloodbrothers, we will be seeing soon a return to a more turret based fleet warfare, as has already been witnessed in the last few days. The ship that will make its biggest return to the battlefields of EVE, is the Amarrian Heavy Assault Cruiser - The Zealot. Already successfully operated by Razor Alliance of the CFC and Black Legion, the Zealot combines speed, tank and damage in one small mobile hull. 

Northern CoalitionDot has lately adopted the Navy Issue Apocalypse, an Amarrian battleship, along their Proteus doctrine in their fleets.  

The RUS Coalition has made a wide use of the Minmatar battleship, the Typhoon, while other CFC entities that have deployed to the Catch region continued to rely on the Tengu and Harpy as their main combat ships. 

H.E.R.O Coalition continues to heavily use the Megathron class battleship as their main combat ship, along an increase in the use of the Thorax class cruiser.

The Tengu and the Caracal will remain the ships of choice for kitting fleets, while the Cerberus, the Tech II variant of the Caracal, might see greater use as a counter to said fleets.

The Dominix and Armageddon, though less powerful than before, still maintain considerable prowess in large fleet engagements, especially against capital ships, when they are Heavy Neutralizer fitted. While the Rokh will continue be the ship of choice for sniping fleets.

Dark clouds on the horizon

While the patch seems to have done much to increase the variety in New Eden, there is still one ship class that, according to corebloodbrothers, has become detrimental to PvP, specifically large scale one, the interceptor. 

With its ability to ignore bubbles, great agility and fast warp speed, the interceptor is able to quickly gather intelligence on the enemy and escape, allowing fleets to easily bypass gate camps and hostile defense fleets, decreasing the probability of two fleets engaging each other.

Not only that, more and more roaming gangs have adopted the interceptor as their ship of choice, decreasing the ability of counter fleets to form and intercept them in time. More combat pilots prefer to remain docked rather than engage in a futile chase that most likely will end with them empty handed.

CCP has acknowledged the problem and did decrease the agility of the interceptors. However, that did not solve the situation at all. Though bubbles do slow interceptors to a certain degree, the effect can be easily cancelled out by using Micro-Warp Drives. Until a re-balance is made, the interceptor will continue to be abused as a ship for easy ganks rather than any meaningful PvP.

Bottom line

The change to drone assist can be summed up as taking the sentry fleet doctrine down a notch,yet by no means did it make it worse than the other doctrines currently in use in EVE. However, it did invariably decreased the ability of the Providence Bloc to brawl with larger, more professional power blocs, as it required less individual skill in the past. And while other doctrines, old and new, will be pursued, adapted and practiced, the Providence Bloc's militia like attitude towards large scale PvP will mean that they will be less effective than in the hands of other power blocs.

Regardless, the staple of Providence, as corebloodbrothers put it, will remain the "Kitchen Sink" fleet, with its bizarre, often mismatched ships and random fittings. And while professional Alliances and Coalitions may look down on it, it is part of the Providence way, much like its political neutrality and tolerance of neutral entities in its sovereign space.

So the next time you fight a Providence fleet and kill a drake, check to see if it has a Salvager in its high slot, it is doctrine after all.

Special thanks to corebloodbrothers for giving me this interview

1 comment:

  1. For real? " However, it did invariably decreased the ability of the Providence Bloc to brawl with larger, more professional power blocs, as it required less individual skill in the past."
    No it did not. All it did was change the face of FC'ing to actually DO something rather than sit back on his lorrels.
    It is my view that the change has simply forced the FC's to delegate their allotted assignments, meaning now - that instead of just blabsing unsuspecting encounters, the FC has to step up his or her game and have an actual knowledge and plan going into battles.
    It means that FC's and squad commanders can work together, and when the FC gets dead, there is no reason for the fleet to be sitting ducks - regardless of the 'appointment' second in command.
    That is my opinion. To contribute such a small change to complete abandonment of a fighting style - is a clear indicator to me that perhaps that fighting style was obsolete in the first place.
    As for Provi's ability to brawl? You don't need a drone doctrine to flex muscle. Provi has shown itself, under the VOLT leaders to be a formidable force. Folk from all over Eve stop in on the "Carebear Null" to test and re-test their ability to fight hard.
    Bigger isn't better. Maybe try to apply what you have a little smarter, and surprise the 'professionals' !