We hear a lot about the fact that ECM is apparently broken; from crying on the forums about the Falcon being OP, to complaints about ECM drones, a majority of PVPers hate ECM. However whenever these people are asked why ECM is broken, they always give a very feckless answer, usually along the lines of “Because it is”.
This prime example of circular reasoning is the main impediment to the discussion about ECM. So I’m here to cut through the chaff and get to the heart of the issue.
This is going to be a perfectly mechanical argument using an example fleet and situation many solo and small gang fleets can encounter, and I hope this can shed some light upon the issue of ECM.
THE MECHANICS OF A FIGHT
So first, I am going to compare ECM to all other forms of projected electronic warfare. I’m classing this as all modules under the electronic warfare tab on the market whose sole purpose is to detriment the ability of another ship. This does not include modules designed to boost the attributes of your own ship or another ship (like ECCM or Projected ECCM). I will also be looking at each module in isolation. This becomes important later.
This leaves me with this list:
Electronic Counter Measures (ECM),
Remote Sensor Dampening (Range Dampening),
A Special note about Warp Disruptors; this group will include Scramblers and Disruptors as a whole because we’re looking at warp stopping effect, not the MWD stopping effect. This will be explained later. You also may be asking why energy neutralizers or nosferatus are not being included. This is because even though I personally consider it Ewar, they do not come under the Ewar tab in eve. Also I will only be focusing on the range dampening ability of the damp, because it’s the only one which can, on its own, prevent you from damaging an enemy.
‘MITIGATION’ AND ‘COUNTERABILITY’
These are two concepts I will use to evaluate the effectiveness of each type of ewar. Mitigation refers to the effectiveness with which the ewar can prevent you from damaging the user or his fleetmates. Counterability is a measure of what it takes to overcome the ewar without fitting specific modules. The idea is that you can use your piloting ability to negate of the effect of the projected ewar (moving closer to a damping target, adjusting your flight to minimize transversal in response to tracking disruption, etc.)
I will also be defining the combat area as a 50km wide space. This is due to the fact that most combat in eve will be happening in this range.
Imagine two small gangs engaging with roughly equal numbers and capabilities, except one has a recon ship and the other does not. Each Recon affects the fight in a different way, depending on how its electronic warfare provides mitigation and can be countered. Before diving in, note in every case that a propulsion mod can aide in countering electronic warfare, but is not required, though in any case is virtually mandatory for PvP.
ARAZU – Remote Sensor Dampeners/ Warp Disruptor
Damps: The target's lock range is reduced. If reduced below current range to target, they lose the ability to deal damage.
Disruptor/Scrambler: The target becomes unable to warp off. A scrambler may provide some form of mitigation by delaying the target's ability to close range, but it cannot prevent this on its own.
Damps: The target burns in closer, bringing it under the damping umbrella and allowing it to re-lock and continue to deal damage.
Disruptor/Scrambler: The attempts to move away (if seeking escape) or ignores the point (if seeking to deal damage).
Was a specific module needed to counter the ewar: No.
RAPIER – Stasis Webifiers/Target Painter
Stasis Webifier: The target's speed is slowed, hindering or preventing their attempt to close to effective weapons range on their target.
Target Painter: The target's signature radius is increased, making it easier to hit with larger weapons. A certain form of mitigation is achieved through being able to more rapidly destroy the target.
Stasis Webifier: The target can attempt to move out of web range, or further in as appropriate.
Target Painter: The ship can move away to get out of range of the TP.
Was a specific module needed to counter the Ewar: No.
PILGRIM – Tracking Disruptor
Tracking Speed Disruption: The target's ability to track moving targets is hampered, provided it's using guns.
Optimal Range Disruption: The optimal range of the guns is reduced.
Tracking speed Disruption: The target can manually adjust their ship's flight path so as to minimize transversal, or move out to a greater range for the same effect if able.
Optimal Range Disruption: Similar to damps, the target must move closer to their prey to regain the ability to deal damage.
Was a specific module needed to counter the Ewar: No.
FALCON – ECM
ECM: The ship can no longer lock any target.
ECM: You must move outside the area to counter the effect of an ECM, or get a lucky RNG roll. Moving away from the ECM ship may also mean losing the ability to effectively deal damage, even if you can lock.
Was a specific module needed to counter the Ewar: Yes (ECCM, Projected ECCM, Sensor backup Arrays.)
ALL HAIL THE RNG GODS
This is the main issue with ECM as a mechanic. Due to the fact that I am not a CCP dev, I can only speculate, but I believe that back in 2002, when CCP were sitting in their tiny office (which was just a bedroom), drunk off Icelandic beer and having eaten too many pop tarts, they decided to make the Caldari. This race would be different to all the other races. It would be the only race to focus 100% upon shields. It would be the only race to focus mostly on missiles. And it would have this whole new type of E-war which is different to all other forms of Ewar. Instead of being an “if in range, active” type of Ewar, it would trust upon the grand RNG (Random Number Generator) god to activate. And the RNG god takes no prisoners.
The whole point of Eve is that a player’s action can affect the outcome of any situation. However the RNG takes none of that into account, it only takes cold, hard figures.
So in my most humble of opinions, this is the main reason ECM is broken. Respective pilot skill has little to do with whether it can be countered or not - only by getting lucky do you retain your ability to deal damage, and all you can do is fit one of several modules (and now, train a skill) to increase your odds.
Fixing It All
Unfortunately, I have no easy fix! The very nature of ECM is complete denial of targeting ability, regardless of range. Consequently, proposals such as removing the randomness by making it always land and having the victim jammed for a percentage of the cycle proportional to the ratio of jammer strength to sensor strength do little. A target is still jammed, and he still can do nothing about it, no matter how he pilots his ship. It's a tricky issue, one that I can only hope CCP deigns to look at.