Monday, April 12, 2010

Scouting, aka dancing on fire with back-up

In my last semi-tutorial kind of guide I talked about the making of bookmarks and evasive maneuvering while flying through hostile space in an attempt to fly a slight bit safer into unknown territory as well as well-known space ways. I had written this guide with solo flight in mind with an interceptor fit to kill other scouting frigates and inties, and even certain cruisers. If you want to know, that fit has also been able to put a serious dent on some battlecruisers and battleships but I admit that those had to be seriously fail-fit; a flight of Warrior II drones would spell trouble but some people's fits are mind-boggling.

But this guide will not be about avoiding trouble if you happen to find it, but quite the opposite, to find and pin-point trouble to hopefully smash it to bits. Once again, I will write this based on the way I would do it so feel free to dissect my techniques and please leave comments both if you think what I write is correct or if it's full of fail. Enjoy!

The clone

Must I really repeat myself? Yes, I must. People fly carelessly all the time. So make sure your clone is updated, and make sure you don't have any expensive implants in your head, unless you're uber rich and don't care. Don't come crying if you get podded cuz I would just laugh at you!

The ship

This is where things get interesting. Unlike solo flight where you have to be in something comfortable and survivability or death affects only yourself, fleet scouting demands that various ship types be used and that their pilots be ready to do everything the fleet commander asks. In fact, the FC and the scouts should be the only ones to say anything on comms, but more on that later. The ships used most of the time for scouting are the following, in no particular order: Covert Ops with combat probes, Stealth Bombers, Interceptors, E-war frigates, cheap/fast T1 frigates, and Force Recons, except for Falcons due to their nature (unless you are Unzer or Loofaro, who are true Falcon artists). One has to be a very experienced pilot in order to field Recons because they are hard to fly correctly and very expensive to lose. Bombers can now be used as scout since the change that allowed them to warp cloaked and hit at shorter ranges, but they are known for being paper-thin and slow, which is a bad combination. So by far the two most popular choices are the Covert Ops as forward scouts and the interceptors as secondary scouts. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but let's look at how they are used.

You do not see me

Out of the two most used ship classes for scouting, the Covert Ops is the clear winner. Being very agile and its hability to warp cloaked at 13.5 au/s, it is also the ship of choice to fit expanded probe launchers, which allow the use of deep space and combat probes, thus making it the perfect choice to find ships in cosmic anomalies, deadspace complexes, hidden belts, or hiding in safe spots. Since the changes to the scanning mechanics in Apocrypha one can now get warp-ins on ships within seconds. It is the perfect ship to use for prolonged observation of an enemy fleet; an interceptor can also do it but not for more than a few minutes, and it risks getting caught by a fast enemy cloaker. A Cov Ops on the other hand can litterally stay within spitting distance of a fleet for hours on end if flown right. And this creates the main use of the ship in combat, its hability to become the warp-in point for the fleet, the maneuver AMC had dubbed "Poetry in tackling" where the Cov Ops can position itself perfectly for the fleet to land on an enemy at zero where not only are ships in web/scram range but interdictors can bubble an entire enemy fleet in one pass, but usually this is done to kill a single target or a very small gang. All the Cov Ops pilot has to do is fly around the intended target while in cloak, and position himself lined up with the direction the fleet will arrive from, and put his ship at the 50km point on the opposite side of the target. When he is in position, all the Cov Ops pilot has to say is "Warp to XYZ at 50km", where XYZ is the pilot himself, as there is no "me" in a fleet. Hilarity should follow :))

Speed... I am speed!

For those like me who want a more hands-on approach to scouting, with hair-raising flying stunts around enemies and gates and the hability to lock up a single ship for a fleet to dine on, the interceptor is where it's at. For those with very deep pockets, the changes to Faction ships in Dominion have turned the Dramiel into the best interceptor in all but name. While it still has the base 6 au/s warp speed of frigates, a few Hyperspatial rigs will take this close to 10, and its normal space speed is simply unmatched. But let's face it, a 150mil ISK tackler is kind of ridiculous! If you can throw that money around go for it, but normal interceptors are cheaper and easier to replace. All the interceptors do the job, but my suggestion is to have the ship fit the fleet it is in. For example, in a small gang or below-cruiser-size gang, it's better to use the more combat oriented ships like the Taranis because every little bit of damage counts, but in general the faster tackle oriented interceptors like the Stiletto are a better choice; my own fit allows for a 19.4 au/s warp speed, and the shield buffer and tracking disruptor makes it able to tackle something potentially dangerous and survive long enough for the gang to arrive. Here's the fit:

          [Stiletto, Fleet tackler]
          Nanofiber Internal Structure II
          Overdrive Injector System II
          Micro Auxiliary Power Core I

          1MN MicroWarpdrive II
          Warp Disruptor II
          Balmer Series Tracking Disruptor I
          Medium Shield Extender II

          150mm Light AutoCannon II, Barrage S
          150mm Light AutoCannon II, Barrage S
          Salvager II

          Small Hyperspatial Velocity Optimizer I
          Small Hyperspatial Velocity Optimizer I

X goes here, Y goes there

The scouts have a few advantages that go with the job: in a perfect world with ultra-tight comm discipline they are the only ones apart from the FC who should have a voice on comms, and because of the nature of the job they have more freedom of movement than the average fleet grunt. Before a fleet is to set off, scouts must be dispatched along the path of a destination in the case of a roam (maybe 2 jumps before the fleet departs, and then 1 jump ahead as the fleet advances), or in the surrounding systems in the case of a static operation like a gate camp, POS take-down, etc. The job is simple yet crucial: to warn the FC of ship traffic, and more specifically the ship types and numbers. One of the worst things a scout can tell an FC is "there are lots of reds here!". Sure seeing Local full of reds can be stressful at first, but "lots!" doesn't give any information about numbers or if any ships are about, and if so, what they are. I have heard before a scout freak out like this and the way he was talking we thought he had jumped into a 100-man camp... turned out it was 10 reds and they weren't even in space!

Something that can help a scout a bit is doing bookmark runs the way I described them a while ago (linky), especially in unfamilliar space. Of course one has to know beforehand that he will be scout for a fleet but at the very least it should be done in the stellar vincinity of the corp/alliance HQ. A fleet op will not be the best opportunity to make a full survey of the constellations the fleet will travel through but the scout has to be ready to make safe spots on the fly because it's a sure bet that the fleet will attract attention at some point, especially in hostile space.

Giving intel and GTFO tactics

So let's say you're the forward scout of a medium-sized roaming gang. In theory, the FC should have at least a couple guys checking possible trouble coming from the back and the sides of the fleet, but when the fleet is on the move your job is to stay one jump ahead, sometimes refered to as "getting +1", calling whatever you see. Of course there is a method to this, and here's how I do it. After getting +1 and the system has loaded, you have to make sure the fleet can safely go through the gate you just went through (warp bubbles, ships on gates, rats, etc.) and check the status of Local. When it's clear the fleet can proceed but if there are people, you have to give a quick list on comms like "SCOUT SCOUT! 10 in Local, 4 reds, 2 neutrals", followed by which corp/alliance the people belong to. Remember, noob alts in Reaper/Ibis/Velator/Impairor are usually scouts so don't take 'em lightly. Something you can do really quickly is hold CTRL and select say the reds from Local and drag them into fleet chat. Since Dominion it's much easier to link stuff in chat because there's no more option menu, it goes straight to "Show info". As you warp to the next system towards destination, refered to as "outbound", you scan repeatedly with the directionnal scanner to see what is out in space, not only towards the outbound gate but also out and about. When you do see ships you have to figure out if they are POSed up, in a belt, in an anomaly, etc. This is when having a probing Cov Ops can come in handy because he can scan down a ship in deadspace in a very short time. Believe me, finding a lone Marauder BS when you're in a Jihad roaming gang is quite funny!

But eventually something will happen, much the same way as it did when I was explaining bookmarking. You'll jump straight into the waiting arms of a camping fleet with bubble up, tackle, ECM, the whole nine yards. But this time you may not want to evade them; you may want your fleet to destroy them utterly. First thing to do as with anything in EVE PvP, Don't Panic™. If you're in something fast you should survive this ordeal. Here's how I do it, in this very order, and about as fast as you're reading it:

  • Jump and !! HOLD CLOAK !!
  • Notice the enemy about me
  • Hit the scanner exactly once
  • Give number of Local, and click-drag a couple random reds into fleet chat
  • Decloak, reapproach gate at max speed (careful not to bounce off), JUMP!
  • Get safe quick because 1 or 2 tacklers will try to follow

Suddenly your scanner window becomes the most precious thing on your UI, especially to your FC, and the intel it gives has to be transmitted. The way a lot of people do it isn't the best way. Yelling "THEY'RE HERE!" is totally useless.Yelling out the entire fleet list on comms at the top of your lungs does give an idea of what's out there, but if there's more than 10 ships it's also useless because the FC is thinking about 20 things at once (learned this lesson the hard way, but it was worth learning; once again thanx BOZO). The best thing to say would be something like "SCOUT SCOUT! Enemy on the VOL gate in ARG... List coming up". Take your time... ok, do it quickly but without rushing it, sort your scanner by ship type and write down the list of ships in fleet chat in the following fashion:

Apocalypse x2, Ares, Blackbird x2, Claw, Crow x2, Hurricane x4, Jaguar, Kitsune, Rapier, Sabre

As you can see, this is 16 ships neatly written in a single line. You can even use abbreviations for known ships such as Apoc, BB, Cane, Ruppy, etc. The more complete the ship list the better for the FC. Of course you may be missing some cloakers like stealth bombers and recons, but nothing is perfect so just do your best. Once the FC has this list it is much easier for him to decide what he wants to do about it, either set up on the contested gate in Mexican Stand-off fashion and get ready to call primaries, or back-track and find better fish to fry if your fleet is outnumbered 6-to-1.

Once the fighting starts the scout has to revert to his ship's original role, tackle for interceptors, damage for bombers, etc. I suggest Cov Ops just stay cloaked on the edge of the grid, or scout neighboring systems for possible entrapment.

And that's pretty much it. Basically when you scout you have to become your FC's eyes, and the information you need to give him is as clear as possible. With good comm discipline the FC should be able to hear you right away, but if comms are rather loose you have to be certain the FC will hear you so making sure your voice is loud and clear on comms is mandatory, and beginning your intel broadcasts with "SCOUT SCOUT!" should shut people up in a hurry. If not, the FC can then apply disciplinary measures as he sees fit; I have seen people get kicked out of fleets before, and I have also heard of fratricidal gankings.

I hope this little guide was helpful in any way, and if you feel something is missing or if there's something you would do differently please let me know by leaving a comment.

Don't run from enemies; run AT enemies!



Wensley said...

Awesome post, Cozmik. Lots of nice tips there for beginner scouts. I almost never remember to take a 360 reading before jumping out/running away. From now on I'll try and do it every time. Keep up the great work.

Mandrill said...

Great post Cozmik, one thing I would add would be to have a standardised set of abbreviations for shiptypes and learn them.
Some will be fairly self explanatory (Cane, Apoc, Geddon) Others may be a little obscure (Kit, BB, Rap, Ranis). Adding an N in front will give you the navy variant unless there's already an established abbreviation (CNR for example). Less typing mean faster intel, mean more time for FC to assess the situation and react accordingly.

Thorvik said...

Outstanding post Cozmik. I'll have to try your Stilly fit as I do a bit of scouting myself. Here is my current fit:
[Stiletto, Tackler]
Micro Auxiliary Power Core I
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
Overdrive Injector System II

True Sansha Warp Disruptor
1MN MicroWarpdrive I
Medium Shield Extender II
Sensor Booster II, Scan Resolution

125mm Gatling AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet EMP S
125mm Gatling AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet EMP S
'Malkuth' Rocket Launcher I, Caldari Navy Gremlin Rocket

Small Auxiliary Thrusters I
Small Ionic Field Projector I

With the TS Disruptor I can tackle 33.6 km out or 40km w/ OH. Very useful. The SeBo I like for the insta lock qualities.

In the highs you could swap out RL for Salvager. I mostly use it to KM whore or trying to shoot off the drones coming after me.