Most eve PVPers are naturally quite risk averse, myself included. Nobody likes to lose, and when we're offered the choice between taking a risk and making a relatively small change which would eliminate that risk, it's only natural that most people choose the latter. How many times have you seen someone wait until they had overwhelming numbers before taking on a fight that they could have won anyway, or reship from something comparable to their opponent to something larger or more powerful? We rationalise it as common sense - why would we risk losing when we could win? Fighting fair is, after all, not what eve is about.
However in my experience, some of the best fights come when we put ourselves in a high risk situation and come out ahead. By avoiding fights where there is a risk of losing, are we in fact cheating ourselves out of our own enjoyment?
|Winning a fight against the odds is an incredible feeling, but would never|
happen if you didn't engage against the odds in the first place!
I'll be the first to confess to this - I don't do it intentionally, but I have a natural tendency to overestimate my opponent and always plan for the worst. In a way, this is simply a survival instinct that eve instils in us - we learn from an early age that everyone is out to get us, and that if we see something that looks too good to be true, it probably is. You find an older pilot sitting in a belt with a really odd choice of ratting ship? It's a trap. You get engaged on a gate by a ship that you could easily kill? It's a trap. Ackbar would be proud.
The thing is though, a lot of the time it's not a trap. I can think of so many times that I've declined a fight because it simply seemed to convenient to be real, or because I was convinced that I couldn't kill X with Y, only to discover shortly afterwards that I was wrong - that the backup I was certain I'd find on the other side of the gate wasn't there, or or that the assault frig pilot I'd just turned down had no tank and died to a rifter two jumps later. I'm sure I've evaded my fair share of horrible deaths in this manner too, but it seems to be far fewer than I'd expect - for every time I've saved my hide through caution, there's another where I've passed up a legitimate and a potentially excellent fight.
I came to this realisation quite recently after I spent some time flying duo with ChildOfDestruction, one of Agony's more reckless solo pilots (this is the guy who took on a zealot and a naga single-handed using an exequror of all things, and killed both of them!). In a fairly short space of time, we had two epic fights neither of which would have happened if I'd been following my usual rules on what I should and shouldn't engage. I made the decision early on that if he decided to go for something then I'd just do it, and that couldn't have worked out better!
We initially set out in a pair of blaster feroxes - no scout, mainly meta fittings, strictly a suicide mission. A few jumps away we found a cynabal, naga and navy caracal sitting at sniping range from our in gate. When you look at it on paper, this isn't really a good gang for us to take on - they're all significantly faster than we are, and could simply pick us apart from range without ever coming close. My wingman had other ideas however, and immediately started burning for the cynabal. Sticking to my word, I jumped in after him and started doing the same for the caracal. Despite being webbed briefly, the cynabal managed to pull range as expected. The navy caracal wasn't so lucky - he didn't start burning away in time (or perhaps he was watching range against child and not myself) and we swiftly pumped him full of antimatter. Child's ferox went down at around the same time as the caracal, and for whatever reason the cynabal came back within my web range as it attempted to finish him off - I switched my webs over, and as the caracal went down I switched my dps onto the cynabal. The ferox I was flying was a lightly tanked dual web fit, and the incoming damage was high - it was going to be very close. As the cynabal hit armour I was already in structure, and then his ECM drones finally got a jam and he warped off. I was so surprised that I hardly noticed that the naga was still shooting me, finally warping out myself with only a sliver of structure remaining.
The thing that surprised me wasn't the result - trading a cheap battlecruiser for a faction cruiser is good but nothing special, and if the cynabal had stuck in the fight after he got his jam off there probably would have been two battlecruiser wrecks on the field rather than one. The thing that made this fight so great was that I honestly expected us to lose horribly, only for us to do the exact opposite!
A few days later I was out roaming in a thrasher when the child called out that he was about to take a fight in MHC, one system away, and asked me to back him up. He was flying a thorax this time, and was currently in warp to tackle a rapier which he'd seen camping a drag bubble. I'd passed this rapier a few minutes earlier and knew that he had backup of his own in the form of a fleet stabber and a malediction, although neither were on grid at this point. The rapier pilot would almost definitely call them back if he was in trouble, however if I could get there before they did we would stand a reasonable chance of killing the rapier before they killed us - a good trade. Unfortunately I'd just left MHC when the call came in, and it was a long warp to the gate where the fight was taking place - the race was on.
I came back into MHC as quickly as I could, and immediately warped to child at zero - a move that I knew would land me right in the bubble. From that moment, I had no real choice but to commit to the fight. Not long after I hit warp, child reported that he was down - not a good start. I didn't rate my chances highly at this point, but I was already committed - I wouldn't be able to escape the bubble before the rapier could lock me, so I had no choice but to fight. The two pieces of good news were that the rapier's backup hadn't turned up yet, and that I would be landing at zero. I locked up the rapier as I landed, finding it with a little over half shields remaining. I hit orbit at 500m with my MWD off, and overloaded everything.
When people discuss ships in 1v1 scenarios, you'll almost always hear things like 'X will win because it can dictate range' or 'X can't kill Y, because Y can just warp off'. The thing about this kind of statement is that it's purely mechanical, and assumes that both parties do everything right; the real thing rarely works out in such an absolute fashion. With webs, an autocannon rapier should have been able to pull range and hit my thrasher just fine - but it didn't. Its flight of ECM drones should have jammed me and let it get out of scram range - but they didn't. What happened, is that the rapier died. I didn't expect it to, but it did.
The rapier's backup arrived before I was finished, but crucially they warped to a tactical rather than warping straight to the bubble - that gave me just enough time to put the last few rounds into the rapier's hull, but not enough time to warp off before the fleet stabber had me tackled (the malediction was obviously wary and stayed at range, playing no meaningful role in the fight). Unfortunately luck can only go so far - rapiers are hardly dps machines (especially with ECM drones), but fleet stabbers put out a lot of hurt and their tracking bonus makes them excellent for fighting small ships. With nowhere to go, I had no choice but to go down fighting. Of course, this didn't go as expected either - my shield buffer was slowly failing, but I was eating into the stabber's armour tank too. The stabber pilot had a good fit with dual propulsion and a web, and I couldn't quite dictate range without pulsing my MWD which allowed him to hit me (if I'd had an AB, I think there's a real chance that I could have soloed him too). As my target hit two thirds armour, a neutral wolf landed with us and started lending its firepower to my own - I died shortly afterwards with the stabber in low armour, but my mysterious benefactor was able to finish the job. I warped my pod back on grid just in time to see the blue flash as the stabber was reduced to space dust.
I think it's fair to say that this was an unexpected outcome for all parties involved. Both fleet stabbers and rapiers excel at killing small ships, and either one of them should have been a match for me. Many things could have turned this fight around - if the rapier had been using damage drones instead of ECM, or if his fit had been a little better (he was heavily tanked with only a single web) I probably wouldn't have killed it. If the stabber had warped directly to the bubble instead of bouncing via a tactical, he would have saved his gangmate and killed me easily. One thing that I did have in my favour was that both ships engaged at point blank, one after another. Maybe they were feeling overconfident after killing child's thorax so quickly, or maybe they just weren't thinking. Either way it's a failure on their part, but it's hardly an unusual one.
These two fights, and the second one in particular, were some of the most fun I've had in eve. The fact that they should have turned out differently makes the victory all the sweeter. However, I'm acutely aware that neither fight would have happened if I hadn't taken a risk, and engaged a target that went against my instincts. Since then, I've made an effort to change the way that I PVP, taking fights that I don't expect to win and generally just being a little more reckless. More on that later.
What's Stopping You?
I'm sure we've all seen our fair share of epic killmails - the kind where some daring pilot (usually one of the same few) achieves a result so against the odds that you can't help but be in awe of their internet spaceship prowess. If you think that fights like these are just something that happens as a result of being awesome though, I'm afraid you're likely to be disappointed. The obvious fact is, you can't win a fight against the odds unless you engage in a situation where the odds are against you in the first place. If you only take fights that you think you can win, you'll never achieve this kind of unexpected outcome.
With that in mind, why is it that so many people tend to avoid taking risky fights? I think there are a number of reasons, but I'd like to talk about a few of them in particular.
The first of these is our attitude to loss. Losses in eve are real - when your ship is destroyed you lose the real time and effort associated with replacing that ship. However, there's more to it than that; give someone a ship that's fully insured and paid for, and they probably still won't want it to die. The truth is there's a stigma attached to loss in eve - we associate losses with bad players and wins with good players, rather than taking the more realistic view that victory or loss is often the result of the circumstances we put ourselves in and our willingness to take risks; someone who roams solo and takes difficult fights will lose far more often than someone who only flies on fleets, or who spends most of their time camping a gate and only engages safe targets. What makes the stigma worse is that we know any losses we take will be immortalised on killboards for all to see - everyone will know just how bad we are!
The truth is though, making any assumption of skill (or lack thereof) based on killboard stats is always going to be tenuous at best. As a demonstration, go to battleclinic (or your public killboard of choice) and look up a few people who you consider to be really good PVPers - usually you'll see a lot of kills, but also plenty of losses. Next, look at someone who you recognise from attending fleets fairly regularly, but who never really does anything to surprise or impress you - you'll probably find fewer kills, but very few losses in comparison. The thing to realise here is that losing fights is a natural consequence of challenging yourself as a PVPer, and that it's generally those people who learn to embrace this fact that achieve greater success.
The second significant factor is a psychological one. There's an axiom known as Hanlon's Razor which goes roughly as follows: 'Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.' In eve however, we learn to follow exactly the opposite - when we see something that looks like a mistake or an act of stupidity, we're immediately suspicious. As I mentioned earlier, this is something of which I'm especially guilty. For my part, I find I'll often put myself in my opponent's shoes and ask what I'd be thinking in their position - would I want the fight if our positions were reversed? In doing that though, I'm attributing my own level of experience and competence to my opponent and that naturally leads me to overestimate them.
I can't deny that this kind of paranoia isn't good for your long term survival - for one thing it makes you an incredible scout since staying alive simply becomes second nature. However, it's not conducive to getting fights and it tends to result in long roams without ever finding something that you consider to be a viable target. Sometimes opportunities are brief (particularly if your opponent actually doesn't want to fight you), and if you play things safe you'll quickly find you've missed your chance.
As a reader of this blog, it's fair to assume that you're more informed about PVP than your average eve player. You might not feel above average, but trust me - there are a lot of people out there (including active PVPers) who simply don't understand how to fit and fly their ships, and who have never really made an effort to change that. Even if your opponent is experienced, mistakes happen - watch a few of the well known PVP videos (which it's worth noting generally feature fights which went particularly well) and you'll still see instances where people forget to turn on hardeners, don't notice a tackler getting too close, or make some other piloting error. These aren't unusual - they happen all the time, and that makes the outcome of any fight far less predictable. There are many reasons why a given fight might not turn out the way that you expect, and if you don't take it you'll never know.
In the end, the attitude you take to risk in PVP is your own choice, and it's always tempting to take the easy option. Even if it's not something you feel comfortable with all the time, I do recommend that at least every now and then, you just go for a fight that you're not sure you can win - you may well surprise yourself, and the victory will be that much more rewarding because of it. Worst case scenario, all you have to lose is pixels!