I don't think I can really overstate how useful the directional scanner is in PVP. Other than the mysteriously omniscient local chat, it is by far the most powerful intelligence tool in your arsenal. At a very basic level, it tells you everything in space around you up to its maximum range of 14.3au. Used well, it can also tell you where they are, and even give you an idea what they might be doing!
First of all, let's cover a few basics. If you're already familiar with the directional scanner , feel free to skip this section.
You control your scanner with your camera - whichever direction you're looking, that's also the direction you're scanning. If you imagine a line going directly away from you through the centre of your screen, the area you're scanning forms a cone around that line.
The size of this cone is adjusted using two basic controls. You have a text box using which you can adjust the range of your scan (in km, up to a maximum of 2,147,483,647 or about 14.3au), and a slider which allows you to adjust the angle of your scan by increments between 5 and 360 degrees.
The final thing to note is the checkbox 'use active overview settings' - checking this means that the scanner will show only objects which would also appear on your overview assuming you were on grid with them. For example if you're overview is set to show only ships and stargates, you will only see ships and stargates on your scanner. (Note: This only applies to object types, not states - turning fleet members off on your overview will not remove them from scan).
Since the overview drives what shows up on scan, we need to set up our overview correctly in order to get the most out of our scanner. I like to have a few different tabs and overview settings that I use for scanning, that way I can simply switch to another overview tab in order to change the settings of my scanner, without having to manually switch between filters.
For my general PVP overview (i.e. the one I use by default when flying around), I like to include the following:
- Control Towers - 90% of the time when you see some random ships on scan, they are at a POS. Being able to confirm that quickly without having to switch between overview settings is nice.
- Stargates and Stations - For most people this is common sense, but I know some don't have these on their pvp overview and use the right click menu. After POSes these are the most common places to find another ship, not to mention you'll be warping to them a lot.
- Mobile Warp Disruptors (AKA anchored bubbles) - Obviously it's important to know whether one of these is sitting on that gate you're about to warp to. Bear in mind though some people will anchor these off grid from gates for storage, meaning the bubble will appear on scan with the gate, but isn't actually there.
- Warp Disruption Probes (AKA interdictor bubbles) - Same as above
- Scanner Probes - Useful for letting you know when someone is trying to scan you down, or to get an idea what someone else might be doing (e.g. core probes suggest they are scanning for a plex).
In addition to this, I have a second tab specific to scanning. Once I've confirmed that something isn't at a POS, stargate, or station, I switch to this tab in order to narrow down the location.
- Planet - is my target at a planet?
- Asteroid Belts - is my target at a belt?
- Wrecks - if these show up on scan, it's a good indication that someone is or has been ratting. The name of the wrecks (note: the name not the type) also indicates whether these are mission/anomaly rats (e.g. gisti) or belt/gate rats (e.g. angel).
- Drones - having drones out means that someone is probably still running a mission or plex of some kind.
The following is the basic process I run through when trying to locate a target. It's not necessarily the best process - in fact I highly doubt it is - it's just the one that I use.
As soon as I enter system, I run a max range 360 degree scan. If unknown ships appear on scan, I'll quickly run a narrow scan of any stargates or stations in range, and of the central cluster of planets.
If I suspect my target is ratting (an assumption based on the system and the ship type), I'll quickly flick to my scanning overview and run another wide scan to check for drones and wrecks - after this I'll usually switch back to my default overview to keep my results less cluttered for the initial scans.
If my targets don't show up towards the central cluster, that narrows things down considerably. I'll quickly run a medium angle (i.e. about 90 degree) scan off to each side, focusing on areas with a lot of celestials. Once I have a vague idea of which direction my target is in, if there are POSes on scan and I suspect my target to be POSed I'll narrow scan towards any obvious celestials (assuming there aren't too many) in order to confirm or rule out my target being at a POS. If there aren't, or I suspect my target not to be at a POS, I'll switch to my scanning overview if I haven't already and start narrowing them down further.
This is really a fairly simple process - gradually reduce the angle or depth of your scan while trying to keep your target on scan, using the directions/ranges of possible celestials as a guide. Try to narrow down your target until you have them on scan with as few celestials as possible, or none (i.e. confirming that your target is at a plex, mission or safespot). Personally I don't worry about range too much other than kocking a digit or two off the end to in order to check whether a target is close to my current planet (i.e. one of its moons/belts) - if you suspect this, doing a 360 degree scan at this kind of range early on will narrow down your options considerably. Other than that, I mainly focus on adjusting the angle since I find this is to be much quicker.
When you actually warp in depends on your situation. Remember that you can continue to narrow down your scan while in warp, so quite often if I have a target on scan with (for example) three belts which are close together (and thus difficult to scan separately), I'll warp to one of them while I scan the other two. Whenever I warp to something I'll also usually run a narrow angle scan directly ahead mid-way through my warp, so I have a decent idea whether I'm going to land on something or not. If the answer is no, I try to have narrowed down my next destination by the time I come out of warp.
If my targets do appear on scan towards the central cluster (or if nothing appears on scan from where I am), I'll warp to something more central to get a more accurate scan. I'll usually pick somewhere my target could potentially be (e.g. a belt) and warp to that, running the usual mid-angle scans to either side while I'm in warp. Once I exit warp, it's really just a case of repeating the process above. Until you get your result.
Once you've found your target, the rest is up to you. If you intend to tackle it yourself, you may find my previous post on Skirmish Interceptors helpful.
This is a skill that only gets better with practice. Go out wherever it is you live, pick something on scan, and find out where they are. Get a friend to hide at a random celestial and time yourself from entering system to landing on grid with them.
An experienced scanner can tell you roughly where a target might be in a handful of seconds, or pinpoint their location in 30. It's also worth bearing this in mind when you're on the receiving end.
It's worth bearing in mind the directional scanner can't find everything. In sov space targets are usually in anomalies rather than belts, and you'll need a core probe launcher to locate them (EDIT: Since this article was published, CCP have significantly increased the range and decreased the scan time of the onboard scanner - this allows you to find anomalies without using a core probe launcher). Still, directional scanning is a valuable skill to have - even when not flying in a skirmishing role, it gives you a measure of situational awareness that you can't get relying only what's on grid with you, and that's something that really will make you a better PVPer.