Within any military structure, there are superstars and unsung heroes. For every grunt in the army there are nearly a dozen support personnel, logistics, and troops in the background greasing the gears of war so that those in front can do their job. People write and read books and make video games about Army Rangers that deploy deep into enemy territory to complete strategic objectives, but few discuss the cooks that serve that soldier meals, the maintenance crew who keep their equipment working, or the finance personnel that make sure they get paid.
EVE Online has unsung heroes too. In EVE, after every fight, pilots swap kill reports, slap each other on the back, and distribute loot to those who were lost in battle. Meanwhile the scouts remain vigilant, ever watchful to ensure that the team can regroup and celebrate their victory safely, and actively hunt for the next objective.
I served as a 19D Cavalry Scout in the US Army for six years. I was trained in reconnaissance, and proper communication in a wartime environment. As part of my service, I have been deployed for fifteen months in Iraq, and during that time was able to hone my skills and provide intelligence to my command. All this time, the fundamentals of scouting were beaten into me, either by my chain of command, or by the experiences I underwent. A scout must remain ever vigilant. A scout must be clear, and concise. A scout must be able to improvise in an ever-shifting situation. A scout must be patient. These pumped through my heart as I conducted my duties.
However, the importance of scouting in EVE did not occur to me until I spent some time living in Null-sec. I was new to the game, and newer to Null, when an enemy group was spotted at the choke point to our pocket. We mobilized and I hopped in what I had (which as I recall was not what was called for, but that's what you get for bringing a player with less than a million SP). We warped and landed outside the bubbles that surrounded the gate they were on. We were facing a group of twenty to our force of around thirty. The call to fire was given and I began moving into the bubble so that I could take a good shot.
“They are launching drones! They aren’t running!”, was called out over comms. The assumption was that our superior numbers would scare them off, and cause them to leave us alone. By launching their drones they demonstrated the will to fight. At that time we realized our mistake, and as the enemy gang began firing, the order to retreat was given. I was caught in our own bubble as another fifty ships came through from the other side and ripped apart all of us who were caught.
The other side of the gate was our system, we owned it. We had a jump bridge that led from the system we were in to the other system (so as to avoid the bubbles set at the gate). Yet we had NO ONE in the other system to let us know that this enemy fleet was waiting. People died that day because of a failure to gather intelligence on the enemy. Scouting, in EVE, was a matter of life and death. I started training Covert Ops the next day.
Scouting in a World of Stars
Fleets in EVE need scouts, but, as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t tremendously glamorous. You don’t show up on kill mails, you only get to hear about the fights, and most of the time players don’t think about you much, assuming most scouts are just alts. When you DO interact with your fleet, it is usually providing them a warp-in.. which often ends with some asshat warping to zero and getting you killed.
However, scouting and reconnaissance are invaluable to fleet operations of all sizes and compositions. The difference between a fleet operating with competent scouts and incompetent ones can be as great as an competent or incompetent FC. If your job is to be a scout, take it seriously, learn what it takes to be a good one, and FCs will fawn over you.
The US Army has a book, called the FM 17-98: Field Manual for Cavalry Troops, or more lovingly called the “Scout’s Bible." Within this manual is a set of six Fundamentals of Reconnaissance that every self-respecting scout memorizes during his training. These fundamentals are obviously designed around a world with real terrain features, full chains of command, and a lot of other things that EVE sometimes lacks. However, the fundamentals can change a person from being just eyes in another system, to the most valuable asset in an FC’s arsenal.
Employ Maximum Reconnaissance Force Forward
“In reconnaissance, every pair of eyes makes a difference. Do not keep scouts in reserve. This does not mean that every scout should be forward in a strictly linear sense, but actively employed in the conduct of the reconnaissance.”
Scouts are a valuable commodity. One of the biggest mistakes many people make is assume that a good scout is better off bringing more DPS to the table. This fundamental states that scouts should be out there, doing their thing. Don’t keep them with the fleet, don’t leave them somewhere that isn’t needed, don’t ignore them. Maximize the effectiveness of your scouts.
Orient on the Location or Movement of the Reconnaissance Objectives
Within any battlefield, or area of operations, there will be holes in your knowledge. A scout’s sole purpose in life is to fill those holes with information. Scouts need to be ever-vigilant, and always watchful over what they are directed to be observing. A scout that lets something through without seeing is worse than no scout at all. When you are placed somewhere or given something to recon, your command is trusting you to give the best information possible.
Fail at this and people will die.
Report all Information Rapidly and Accurately
A scout is a source of information for the commanders. You are the eyes and ears of the command on the battlefield. The quality of the intelligence you give defines your worth to the fleet. All reports should be concise, as complete as possible, and delivered as soon as possible. As a scout your priorities should be in order as follows: providing good and useful intelligence > staying alive > assisting the combat effort.
For example if you jump into a gate camp. REPORT THE GATE CAMP! Hit d-scan, THEN try to get away. If you try to get away first, and are popped and podded, you lose all that valuable information to the void. The intelligence you give is far more important than the ship you are in. If this is not true, you need a new scouting ship!
When making a report to the FC, remember: time is of the essence. You want to report the most meaningful information first. If there are ten bad guys on gate, don't start by talking about what's in local. You want to front load the most important information first at all times.
In the military we have what's called a SALUTE report, but many shorten it to a SALTT report. SALTT stands for:
So, for example: “Twenty Enemies appear to be in a gate camp in Old Man Star, from Shadow Cartel.”
You may not be able to provide all that information on the drop, but with a little practice, and a well set-up overview, you should be able to work up this report, get a d-scan, and warp off before your cloak is lost.
Another key part is understanding the ships you find in space. You do not need to memorize every single ship in the game, but there are a few that you should be able to id on sight. Logistic ships, backbone combat ships such as the Drake or Abaddon, and other key ships. This is a matter of experience, however, having a "cheat sheet" handy could help you greatly.
It's okay if you don’t have all the information at first, but be clear that you are shaky on the intel, developing the situation comes later.
Retain Freedom to Maneuver
The second priority of a scout is staying alive, and staying alive means staying mobile. You want to be quick, and slippery, and stay one step ahead of the enemy. You also want to almost never be sitting still (unless you’re watching from a perch). If an ally warps into you, you want to keep moving so as to not be decloaked. To a scout, mobility is life. In EVE this is relatively easy, so at this point I will just throw out there that you should know you combat zone, have plenty of bookmarks by which to operate, but there are plenty of guides written on this subject by the EVE community already. Just know it's 50 times as important for a scout.
Gain and Maintain Contact with the Enemy
This one should be pretty straightforward. Your job is to find the enemy, and once you find them, don’t lose them. One concept used in the Army was the handoff, if you see the enemy moving to an area that another scout is screening give them a heads up. “Heyd scout, you have target fleet jumping into your system now, despiking.” then the other scout responds “spike in heyd from abune, eyes on”. If you DO lose your eyes on the enemy, do everything within your power to regain contact - WITHOUT ABANDONING YOUR OBJECTIVE. If your job is to observe a set area, do not forgo that to chase squirrels.
The usefulness of d-scan cannot be overstated. D-scan can be used as a record to be referenced later. If you do not know where enemies are in system you can d-scan while in warp, once you catch the majority of them on it, you can make your report at your leisure, once you have gotten to a safe place.
Develop the Situation Rapidly
Once initial intel has been given, you should work up a real report in a timely manner. Never just start rattling off ship types in comms, it clogs it up and ends up being useless information long before you’re done talking. Rough estimates of numbers and types are acceptable, but longer reports should be typed into chat to be referred to later.
Better yet, http://raynor.cl/eve/index.php should be your new best friend. Grab a d-scan, drop it into there, run it and hand the result to the FCs they will LOVE you for it. (Sidenote, they made a local tool too: https://adashboard.info/local.)
Remain up-to-date at all times, and report things worth reporting. Again, you do not want to clog up comms, so be concise and only report the most important things over voice. The rest can be dumped into intel channels, convos with the FC, or fleet chat.
Scouting in EVE is a "soft skill" - the in-game skills are not as relevant as for some other professions. Only patience, time, and practice will make you a good scout, and thus, one of the most useful resources on the battlefield.
When I joined EVE Online several years back, I remember a discussion with my friend about how I was longing for the feeling I got when I was behind enemy lines, the adrenaline of danger combined with the rush of being the linchpin between success and failure of an operation. I told him that if EVE could give me that feeling again, then I would play it for years. And here I am.