Tonight I will be holding a BNI Master Class on Solo and Small Gang PvP in New Eden. I have no idea why they chose me for this, but I will endeavor to bring a sense of humor and some straight up solid advice to the table. If nothing else, I can sure bring a wealth of experience to the discussion.
For someone who started playing Eve as a dedicated Null Soldier, FLEET! FLEET! FLEET! the path towards smaller engagements has been a long, painful and challenging one. I profess to no l33t status and bow in awe to those that are clearly better at the trade than I am. I will forever be a journeyman Solo artist, constantly learning, improving, and taking fights I shouldn't take. Just yesterday I solo tackled a Vexor in my Kestrel! And died doing so. But so did he.
If you type "Solo" into the search function of this blog you'll find 147 references. It has been the subject of much discussion during the last five years. And much struggle. And much success as well. I am no expert. I freely admit to sucking ass much of the time, and of derping myself more often than I should. I also admit that I have a problem with taking myself seriously. When I often proclaim that "Eve is not serious business" it is mostly myself that I am talking about. So let's get that straight from the beginning. No one is more aware of how terrible I am, than I am. (This isn't new, I say this all the time.)
On the other hand. (There is always two sides to every coin.) I am also extremely good at my craft, and my craft happens to be solo and small gang warfare in Eve. (Just read this post from just three years ago to see how far I've come.) The great thing about Eve is that it is constantly changing, evolving, growing and adapting around us. The same is true for any pilot worth his or her salt. We must also grow and adapt to the world around us. Eve is not, after all, a destination. It is a journey.
With all of that said, let's get down to serious advice. If I had to give just three pieces of advice to the wanna-be solo artist, it would be these three things.
1. Know your ship
Inside and out. Your ship of choice is the tool of your trade. You should know it like the back of your hand. How fast does it go? What is it good at doing? What does it suck at? How long does its cap last? What is likely to kill it? And who exactly are we hunting with it?
These might seem like obvious questions, but you'd be surprised. Every ship comes along with its own set of circumstances, its own profile. This is why most experienced pilots will tell a young pilot to pick a ship they are skilled with and fly it a lot. Often we'll tell them to just buy and fly that single ship. How many times have you heard someone say, "Buy 50 Rifters and lose them all." Why? Because after you fly and lose 50 Rifters you should know that ship inside and out.
This mentality gets me in trouble all the time when I suddenly pick a ship from my hangar that I haven't flown in a long time. While I might mentally know the ship, flying it is another matter. It feels weird, like a shirt you haven't worn in a long time. Doubtless, mistakes will be made. And you might feel uncomfortable at the dance. This is why the fingers typically go straight for old-reliables. Why we get comfortable flying the same core group of ships.
2. Know your enemy
The great thing about learning your own ships is the way it helps you know the ships of your enemies. See how that works? After flying 50 Rifters, you'll have a pretty good idea of how to defeat one should you happen upon another pilot flying a Rifter. This works for every ship in Eve. So cool.
But certainly there is more to the bad guys than just the ship they are flying? Indeed. And this tactical knowledge is important as well. The lay of the land. Not only in the local system, but in surrounding systems. What are people doing? Where are the nasty T3 linked gangs, the gate camps, the traps, and the chances? This is why I recommend that all Stay Frosty pilots be in the standing fleet, even when they are out and about solo. For Intel. To share information. To relay vital facts, so that everyone can get a sense of the larger environment.
If there are 20 Cruisers on the other side of the gate, you may skip attacking that Merlin in the Medium plex. Passing on opportunities, or taking advantage of them, is a huge part in being a successful solo pilot.
3. Target Selection
And then it all comes down to the biggest thing of all, picking your fights. You know your ship, you know your enemies ship, and you have a good sense of the local environment. Now you can decide, usually in about 2 seconds, if you should attack the Algos with your Tristan. Or not.
The biggest question from young PvPers is always that one. Can X ship defeat Y ship? And my answer is usually the same, maybe. Give me any two ships in Eve, and depending on fits, skill levels, situation, and opening ranges, pretty much any ship in Eve is "capable" of defeating any other ship in Eve. True story.
It may however, not be very bloody likely! And that is where knowledge, experience, and time-tested play come into play. Weighing the odds. Deciding if the odds are worth taking, even if they are not in your favor. Because a Rifter can solo a Megathron. A Slicer can take down a Vexor. And those glorious killmails with you as the victor won't happen unless you take that those odds.
More than likely you'll explode. But, then again, maybe you won't. And how awesome would that be?
They say that given thousands of hours of practice that anyone can become an expert at something. I have my doubts about that, but essentially Eve gives back what you put into it. There are no real shortcuts. Many people search for them, and employ tactics that weigh the odds more firmly in their own favor. Many solo artists will have a boosting alt in local, or take drugs, or fit faction mods, or have a cloaked Falcon or Rapier in the plex in case things go south. These are all legitimate play style decisions within the game mechanics. And while I personally find them reprehensible, others do not.
For all of us, it is a personal choice. As is everything about Eve. For the wanna-be solo artist you've already chosen one of the hardest, most challenging and difficult paths available. What you do with that decision is totally up to you.