Monday 12 September 2011

Guest Article: FCing - The Soft Side

The following article was written by Christina Bamar, CEO of Agony Unleashed. It was originally written as an internal Agony article, but in the spirit of sharing knowledge we've decided to make it available to the public.

I think a lot of times we talk a lot about tactics and procedures around FCing without really talking about the "soft" skills around it. How do you deal with people while FCing, how to phrase things, etc. This post is an attempt to lay out some of the things that I do and work for me. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and my way of doing things isn't necessarily the only way. This should be a reference point, not a bible. 

Confidence - You might not always do the right thing, but you always know the right thing to do. Being an FC is all about making calculated risks based off of incomplete information. Whenever you make a mistake it's probably because of one of the below. The one uniting theme though is that they're all mistakes. They're all things that you can recognize and fix. Don't get down on yourself over mistakes, just fix them and make yourself better.
  • You made the right move, it just didn't work out - In any reasonably close fight there's some chance that you'll lose. If you go into a fight knowing that there's a chance you'll lose, and you lose in the way you expected then that's just part of the game. These explanations tend to be the most comforting but the least satisfying. Even if you FC perfectly there's still a chance you'll lose, and if there isn't then you're not taking close enough fights. Sometimes you gamble, sometimes you lose.
  • You didn't know as much as you should have - For new FCs you're going to have incomplete knowledge for a while, sometimes that missing knowledge will bite you in the ass. Didn't know that the Eris is an interdictor? Whoops, so much for that fleet. Mistakes coming from ignorance tend to be the most aggravating, but are also the easiest to fix. Read up on the area that you're weak on and make sure you don't make the same mistake again.
  • You didn't think far enough ahead - Another common one for newer FCs. As an FC you always need to be thinking ahead. Sometimes it's one step ahead, sometimes it's six, but either way you need to be able to predict your opponents and respond accordingly. Sometimes your opponent does something you don't expect and you pay for it. Maybe you fall for bait, maybe they come in at range when you expected them to come short. Either way you need to look at why you thought what you did, why you were wrong, and think about how you'll identify it in the future. This is where the big nebulous "experience" comes in. A lot of these decisions just become ingrained habit/instinct after you deal with the same situation dozens of times. You won't entirely know why you think someone will do what they do, you just know that they will.
  • You made a mistake - You're just human, sometimes you goof up and do something stupid. Sometimes you'll realize how stupid your instruction was before it even leaves your lips, but you still say it anyway. As long as you know how dumb you were there's not much to do but kick yourself and vow never to do it again.
  • You didn't do anything - The absolute worst mistake an FC can make is doing nothing. Any action is better than no action. If the only thing you can think to do is monumentally stupid then be monumentally stupid, it's better than being silent. Mistakes tend to kill ships, silence kills entire fleets. These are the most demoralizing losses too. These are fights were you kill nothing and lose 20. NEVER STOP TALKING. If you go down or warp off grid then call on your backup FC, otherwise you should always be giving orders. If what you're doing isn't working then try something else, but never stop. This seems to be another common one with newer FCs, you freeze up because you're afraid of making the wrong decision and end up making the worst of all. This is also the only error that will actually keep you from being an FC. You can be an inexperienced FC, you can be a reckless FC, you can even be an unknowledgeable FC, but you can NOT be an FC who freezes or goes silent.
Take responsibility - If you mess up then admit you messed up. You don't need to go on and on about it, but sometimes a simple "whoops, that didn't go quite how I expected it to" will lead to far less bitching down the line. When you mess up as an FC you'll know it, and everyone else in the fleet will know it. Trying to pretend like it wasn't your fault will only lower others' opinions of you. They'll either think that you're incompetent and don't realize that you skrewed up, or you'll think that you're too proud to admit it. In the end if you make a mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it, then move on. At first this might seem directly opposed to the prior point, but in reality it's a balancing act. If you have full confidence in your abilities then admiting a mistake isn't a big deal. You were doing the right thing, but you didn't have the right information, or something totally random happened, or whatever. Ultimately your decision-making process is always valid, it just might have had the wrong inputs (either lack of scouting, lack of experience, whatever). While you might make mistakes you are always in control, and it's important to not undermine yourself with self-effacing humor, which can be tempting especially as a newer FC. Saying something like "I'll probably get bored and suicide us" is way better than saying something like "We'll probably get wiped out." As an FC you should always be in control of things, and it's important to portray that in the way you talk about yourself. You might do stupid or wrong things from time to time, but it's always a conscious decision, not something that happened to you.

Optimism - Always look on the brighter side. It's easy to get down on yourself as an FC, it happens to all of us. Sometimes a brutal fight just gets you down, and that's fine, but when talking to your fleet you need to be the eternal optimist. Sure you just got wiped out, but you learned something from it. Sure you lost a bunch of ships, but hey, look at that crazy-expensive Dramiel we killed. Sure you might have flown a frig blob into smartbomb destruction, but damn if it wasn't freaking hilarious. There is ALWAYS a bright side, and it's your job to focus on it. It's fine if you're pissed off that they just dropped 5:1 odds on you, but your job as FC is to brush it off and laugh at it. Sure you shouldn't just make stuff up to cover up for a horrible fight, but you can fix what went wrong and then focus on the future. Constructive criticism and optimism are always valuable, moping and whining never are. Remind your fleet members what's awsome about EVE and they'll keep coming back. Dwell in what you hate about EVE and you'll make them all bittervets.

Yelling - Quite simply don't. I can count the number of times I've yelled at someone in a fleet over the past 5 years on one hand, and none of them were Agony members. Rather than freaking out at someone for making a mistake think about why they made that mistake. 99% of the time it's for one of the following reasons.
  • They just don't know - Luckily the easiest to fix, just explain to them what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and what to do differently. Even experienced players can have surprising gaps in their knowledge, and even if you're telling them what they already know it can be helpful to newer people in the fleet to understand what went wrong and why. It's almost always best to try to educate on the first mistake.
  • They weren't paying close enough attention - Another very common one. People sometimes have things going on in the background, they got distracted during a quiet moment, or whatever. Even the best PvPers sometimes get distracted and do stupid things. If someone in a key position seems to be distracted either shift other people to compensate or simply ask them if they'd like to stop doing such a central role (or remind them to wake up).
  • They simply screwed up - Sometimes people just make silly mistakes. Whether it's bombing themselves or losing a ratting Nightmare/Thanatos (ahem...), sometimes people just do things that they know are stupid and have no excuse for. With experienced players they'll almost always feel dumb enough on their own and really don't need you harping on them about it. If they're less experienced then this will likely fall under #1 or #2 and be an opportunity for learning.
  • They just don't care - This should never be the case for an Agony member (and if it is then you should bring it up with their mentor/director), but it can come up when dealing with allies or students. As long as they're not being disruptive it's usually best to just ignore them. Ultimately if they don't care there's not much you can do to make them care. Just put them in a role where they won't cause any damage and let them go on not caring.
  • They're an asshole - Sometimes people are just assholes. In my experience this is actually a surprisingly small group. Most people will respond well as long as you find the right way to approach them. Sometimes though things just don't work out and it's time to deal with them the hard way. Generally I find that an icy threat works much better than animated ranting. The important thing is the never lose control. Keep it so that you're the voice of reason trying to watch out for the fleet, and they're the douche who's keeping that from happening. An annoyed "X, please try to keep comms clear, we're trying to PvP here" will likely work better than "Goddamnit X, shut the hell up, god you're such an idiot." When you get to this point the person in question is a lost-cause, your main objective is to keep everyone else in the fleet on your side, so keep your cool. In the end you always have the "my way or the highway" card. If all else fails just boot them from the fleet and keep things moving.
In the end the old adage "Speak softly but carry a big stick" applies. First try to educate, then remind, and finally punish if you need to, but yelling doesn't fit in anywhere in the process. The only times I've yelled as FC has been to clear comms because I couldn't find someone to mute them quickly. It might feel good to yell at some people, but in the end it doesn't help anything.

The not-really-a-question question - When you actually sit down and look at it the vast majority of your time spent as an FC isn't giving orders, it's asking questions. Really the only direct orders you should be giving are fleet movement and target calling, everything else is questions of some sort or another. The trick is that there are a lot of things kind of in the middle that could be phrased as orders or questions. "Bamar, check EC-P8R" for example could also be phrased as "Bamar, could you check out EC-P8R for us?" The second phrasing accomplishes everything that the first does, but has two side benefits.
  • It requires a response. Granted, most experienced PvPers will acknowledge the first one and the second one equally, but by asking the question you remove any uncertainty. If they hear you they'll respond, and if they don't then they won't.
  • It strikes a better tone. Giving people the (illusion of) choice tends to make them happier to follow. Especially as a new FC flying with experienced members a lot of times tone can be tricky. How do you give orders to people you know know far more about PvP than you? By asking them to do things rather than telling them you come across as more collaberative and less of a know it all. It's not a huge deal in the end, but it can help a lot with some people.
The hurry-the-hell-up question - Similar to the not-really-a-question question, this one is about setting the right tone. Inevitably while running a fleet you'll hit a spot where one of your scouts or skirmishers is hunting someone down. They're probably all caught up in directional scanner and probes and god knows what else, and probably aren't paying a lot of attention to the clock. It's your job as FC to keep them to a reasonable time frame. It's probably not worthwhile to keep a 50 man gang waiting for a cov-ops to probe down a Kestrel, and it's up to you to make this judgement call. When you're starting to hit the point where you think it's time to move on it's time to ask probably one of my most common questions, "So... how's it coming?" This question is important for a few different reasons.
  • It's non-accusatory - Asking something like "have you found him yet?" can come off as assigning blame to the scout for not finding him yet. In reality they're almost always doing the best they can (see section on yelling), and giving them the impression that you're blaming them is only going to piss them off or distract them.
  • It gives you an update - While working scouts tend to be tight-lipped. They're busy and the last thing on their mind is continually giving updates to the FC. Asking how it's going every once in a while gives you a better idea of how long it will likely take, and lets you adjust accordingly. Maybe you go roam a couple jumps while they're probing, maybe you tell them to just forget about it, but either way you have more information to make your decision.
  • It gives them a little kick in the ass - By no means the chief reason to ask (and if you overuse it it will bite you in the ass), but sometimes scouts just need a little reminder of "hey, you've got a couple dozen guys waiting for you." This tends to work best when you're waiting on a warp-in because it will turn a "I'll spend another 60 seconds getting the perfect spot" into "I'm close enough, just warp to me now." A lot of cov-ops pilots are perfectionists, and left to their own devices will spend more time to get a more perfect spot. In reality you don't need a perfect spot, you just need a good enough spot, and giving them a little reminder of the time constraints will help you get what you want in a more timely fashion. Again though, if you overuse it in this way you will piss people off, so think of it as a useful side-effect, not a purpose in itself.
Aggression - How much aggression is good for an FC? How aggressive should a new FC be? There isn't any single right answer to this question, so I'll give three.
  • Aggression is good - You don't really learn anything from a fight you don't take. If you're not sure it's probably better to take the fight, let it go sideways, then learn from it. Obviously this doesn't mean you should just suicide in, but if you could go either way on the fight then take it. For one thing people tend to underestimate their capabilities more than overestimate, so chances are if you think it's a dead-even fight you probably have a slight advantage. Additionally even if it is iffy then that's the sort of fight that will actually test you and provide you with a challenge which will make you better. Finally if it is a charlie-foxtrot then at least you'll know it was, be able to look at why you thought it was an even fight and learn from it. In the end the worst-case is that you learned something and will be a better FC in the future. By never taking iffy fights you're freezing yourself at a certain level of competency, and keeping yourself from advancing beyond that.
  • Aggression is personal - Different FCs FC differently. Some people like to plan out every detail of a fight before they ever engage in it. By definition they'll be less aggressive because they don't like engaging in fights that they don't fully understand. Personally I tend to prefer to just jump right into a fight then rely on my ability to adapt better than my opponent in the heat of the battle. Neither approach is inherently better than the other, it's about what fits your personality best. The more cautious approach tends to work best for heavier gangs, and especially for capital warfare, while the second is more suited to hit and run tactics where you can engage and disengage at will.
  • Aggression is bad - Sometimes aggression can be used as a crutch to keep from actually thinking things through. It's usually not a good idea to suicide a T1 fleet just to suicide it. You don't really learn anything in the process and it's just an empty fight. Sure, sometimes you're just freaking bored and don't care, but as an FC you should always be purely rational. Once you have a lot of experience you can go off of instinct a lot more but at no point should you not really be thinking/caring about what will happen. Your aggression should always be calculated, never reckless. It should be the last step in your decision-making process, not a replacement for it.
Notice that none of these issues relate to fear. Fear should never enter into the equation. A fight is either a good fight or a bad fight, and you should act accordingly. You shouldn't be nervous about getting people killed, because they're certainly going to be killed. Your job isn't to keep everyone from getting blown up, your job is to get into good fights and win. Good fights never occur without any losses on your side (ok, sometimes they do, but it's rare), and it's very hard to win if you're afraid of losing ships. Again, FCing should be purely rational, fear of losing ships shouldn't enter into the equation. Sometimes the best play is to lose a few ships, while it sucks it's just reality, and trying to avoid this reality is only going to cause more pain in the long-run.

Shameless plugs: You can find out more about Agony Unleashed here. You can also find recruitment information here.


  1. Very good indeed.

    We recently had the pleasure of your goodself and Glep in RvB for a FC tutorial....... reminded me of my old days in Agony!

    Please keep up the great work in this blog!



  2. Love reading your posts. Im just starting to take small fleet gangs out myself and have found these all enlightening and refreshing. Unbiased reviews on every aspect of pvp.

  3. Somewhat belatedly reading though all your posts. Good stuff Azual. Takes me back to the classes I took from Teadaze and Caldak. Too bad I still suck.

  4. Awesome article! People skills are alot more important than people realise in my opinion. Nice to see that others think the same way :)


The Altruist is the Eve Online blog of Azual Skoll, PVP instructor and small gang PVPer.

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