This guest article was submitted by Tradik of Gentlemen's Agreement.
Get ready to learn
Before I begin, I should probably introduce myself. I’ve been an FC in one capacity or another since 2007. During that time I’ve lead, lost and engaged fleets varying in size from 5 man frigate gangs to full supercapital fleets. I learnt how to lose in BRUCE, how to cloak and gank in Shade, how to love AHACs and hate bureaucracy in Majesta, and I was a founding member of GENTS. I was involved in the development of all of their fleet doctrines. I have used and abused every fleet the CFC has put out there. I prefer to keep a lower profile, but I’ve wanted to write this for some time.
So, I guess we had better start at the beginning. A doctrine is not a fleet comp. Well, it is not only a fleet comp. It is the philosophy behind the fleet comp, the understanding of how to use the fleet comp, and the ability to take that understanding onto grid effectively. Trying to separate the fleet comp from how it is used is foolhardy and ultimately self destructive.
For those without set doctrines, I cannot state definitively enough what you’re missing out on. Doctrine-based combat is the secret behind all "elite pvper" success. Individual skill plays a part, yes - but not as much as properly executed doctrinal discipline. All else being equal, if a fleet of solo ships fights a well-handled doctrine fleet, the doctrine fleet will always come out on top. Every time.
Well, yes, that’s all very well and shiny, but what does it have to do with you? Unless you’re building a new fleet doctrine, this won’t help you at all, right? Wrong. All PVP combat can improved by properly understanding your enemies’ - and your own - doctrines. Understand where they’re coming from, and you can beat them to where they’re going.
That’s what I hope to achieve with this article - not only to help people make better fleets, but to improve understanding of what exactly makes up a doctrine. I’ll try to avoid specifics, and focus more on non-specific generalities that can apply to all doctrines. If I ever write another article, I might look at some doctrines in particular.
Philosophy? What does philosophy have to do with EVE? Quite a bit, really. Now, you might have your own life philosophies or whatever, I don’t really care (I’m a classical cynic, deal with it), what I’m talking about is a set of thoughts and understandings that lead to a working model of how to make and use fleets in EVE. It’s a very specific sort of philosophy, but for our purposes, an important one.
The primary lesson I’ve learnt in my time running fleets and doctrines in EVE is that you need to start from the right spot. Starting right won’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with something good at the end, but it puts you in a damn sight better place than starting wrong. What is the right spot? Your objective. Knowing what you want to achieve with a fleet is the key. If you try to make an Abaddon fleet fit into your skirmishing op, you’re going to have a problem. Decide what you want your fleet to do before you decide what fleet type you want to use for it. Everything else follows from this. Once you have your objective, start thinking about what sort of advantages would be beneficial for that objective. Do you want to do hit-and-run skirmishing? You probably want something fast and maneuverable. Do you want to play station games? You probably want something with a brick tank.
Every decision you make, every thing you consider, every little step you take, must go back to whether or not it helps the fleet. Remember, the fleet is the goal - not any one individual ship fit. If it doesn’t help the fleet, cast it aside.
Simply put, if the above philosophy is how you need to think about doctrines, then these four principles are what you should be thinking about.
There are two main aspects to uniformity - neither of which are maid's outfits, sorry. The first is shipfit uniformity: every ship that shows up to a fleet should be identical to the listed fit. This isn’t really part of doctrinal design, but more alliance design. Someone more versed in interpersonal skills can talk to you about that. Its important, but outside the scope of this article.
The second aspect, and the one we’re concerned with, is uniformity of engagement profile. Now, we might geek out here a bit, so stick with me. The engagement profile of a fleet is the combination of weapon ranges and tracking, speed, maneuverability, and defenses. It is the totality of how the fleet actually engages in combat. An MWDing blaster gank Deimos has a vastly different engagement profile to an afterburning AHAC pulse Zealot. They’re both turret HACs, but they act in completely different ways, with different tanks, different weapon ranges (the Zealot is nearly double the Deimos), and vastly different speed capabilities.
An example of good uniformity of engagement profile is running Nagas with Tornadoes. They move similarly, they have similar tanks, they have similar ranges. They are alike enough that you can FC them essentially the same way. That's the point of uniformity of engagement profile - to bring ships that can be FCed together effectively. There’s nothing worse then trying to fight an enemy when half your fleet being in range means the other half can’t track anything.
This might be the most na-duh thing I type today, but you’d be surprised how often it's ignored. Bringing a pulse Harbinger to a sniper fleet is NOT SUITABLE. It sounds silly, but it has happened. That case was actually just someone being an idiot, but the point stands. If the ship isn’t suitable for what you want to do - don’t use it. Maelstroms don’t make very effective fast tackle. Believe me, I’ve tried.
This is where people get lost sometimes. You want ships that make each other more effective. Simply being effective in and of themselves is not enough. You want them to improve the rest of the fleet. This is probably the easiest to describe (yet hardest to implement) part of making a new doctrine. Our goal should be to have a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Now, you won’t always be able to do this - but it should be the aim.
A good example of a complementary doctrine would be the usage of varied electronic warfare modules on the spare slot of a Drake fleet. Each Drake does their own damage, but they also make the rest of the fleet more effective by judicious selection and usage of their one (weak) EWAR.
The Best Tool For The Job
Don’t accept second best. If fit A does job X better than fit B, use fit A. Don’t include fit B in the doctrine at all. Again, it sounds simple and obvious, but it is often forgotten or put aside. Often, people just get excited playing with EFT and thinking up new and crazier fits (been there - done that), and they lose sight of what they’re actually aiming for. We’re not looking for all possible ways to skin the cat. We’re looking for the quickest and most efficient method.
Some would say that there are exceptions for this rule. They would be wrong. The most common ‘exception’ I’ve heard is having fits for each race's dictors and inties. This is not an exception to the rule - merely a misunderstanding of it. Apart from certain edge cases, each dictor and intie can be made to do the same job at roughly the same level of competence. The best tool for bubbling is a light dictor, so you use light dictors. You don’t try and deploy large bubbles out of your Dominix every time you want a bubble. In this case the best tool is the entire ship class, not one specific ship.
Building the Damn Ships
So, you’ve decided roughly what basic doctrine you want to adopt. Now it's time to actually decide on your fleet fits. As with everything, we need to start from the beginning and build on top of that. In the case of fleet ships, that means defining and building your fleet backbone. Every fleet has a backbone - some have two. The backbone of the fleet is, generally speaking, your primary dps ship. The largest proportion of your fleet will be your backbone ships. Alpha Maelstroms, AB Zealots, Rail Rokhs, Pulse Abaddons. These are the backbones of their fleets. Everything else about those fleets is designed to protect, enhance and exploit their backbones.
Once you’ve decided on what ship you want for your backbone, you need to design the specific fit for it. Build your fit critically - the same way you chose the ship. Prioritise what you can put in based upon what you want your backbone to do. If it's a gank ship, prioritise guns and damage mods. If its meant to be a slugger, emphasize its tank. Remember - no ship can do everything. And, in a fleet, none should try to. That’s why you have the rest of your fleet.
Once you’ve got a backbone ship that you’re happy with, you should know it inside and out. Understand your backbone's strengths, but, more importantly, its weaknesses. These should be your primary guide when deciding what other shiptypes to complement your backbone with. And this brings us to another extremely important, yet often overlooked, point.
Force Multipliers and Divisors
Simply put, a force multiplier is anything that increases the combat effectiveness of a fleet. A divisor is the opposite. In terms of EVE, this tends to mean logistics, command ships, tacklers and EWAR craft.
One of the most misunderstood force divisors is the old Alphafleet Scorpion. It only ever carried two or three ECM modules. At least as important were its smartbombs and neuts. Smartbombs to clear drones, or act as an anti-missile shield wall. Neuts to neut out any capacitor based fleet in close range (Zealots, anyone?). Yes, the ECM was there as well, but not to keep one target permanently jammed. No, they would keep their ECM modules on auto repeat, and spread them across multiple targets. This could not reliably shut down one ship, but would cause the entire enemy fleet to be reduced in effectiveness. 25 Scorpions, each with 3 modules at a 20% jam rate. Average this out, and you’ve got about 15 enemy DPS ships that cannot do damage to you at any given time. Your logistics thank you.
Choose force multipliers/divisors that complement the strengths and weaknesses of your backbone. You’re running a nano gang? Get a Loki or Claymore. Running shield tank? Get a Vulture or Tengu. Running slow, hard hitting ships? Consider Recons or Tech 3 tacklers. But remember, as always, the goal of these additional ships is to enhance the effectiveness of the backbone, not to supplant it. Every time you put a mod onto the ship, ask yourself if it benefits the backbone. Once you’ve filled the force multiplier/divisor role, feel free to add whatever you like to any slots you might have left over. Still, don't forget - they’re icing, not the cake. The perfect example of this is 220mm Autocannons on tackler Lokis. They’re useful for killing interceptors that get too close, but other than that, they’re really only there to whore with.
When you’re putting a new doctrine together, there are a few things that are just shooting yourself in the foot - but plenty of people do them.
Building for Race
This one happens a lot. Because a given corp or alliance already has training for a given race, they only choose options that they already have the training for. While this might be acceptable for ancillary doctrines, it shouldn’t prevent you from choosing the best available option. If you’ve always run shield, but an armour doctrine is clearly superior, guess what? It’s time to cross train.
Options For The Sake of Options
Related to Building for Race, but not quite the same. Adding additional shiptypes and fits to a given doctrine simply to add more options, whether to accomodate training or ‘just because it's cool’.. well. The former encourages bad practices (and you’ll notice a decrease in your fleet's efficacy), while the latter is just stupid. Seriously. Stupid.
Building to Cross Purposes
The Jack-of-all-Trades is the Master of None. Right at the beginning of this article, we talked about building your fleet with a single goal in mind. Now, that goal might be fairly broad (Being the standard blob/fleet combat doctrine for an alliance), but it should never act against itself. If you want a mid-range combat fleet, use ships that operate in the mid-range. The same with short- and long-range. The small situational benefit you might get is almost always outweighed by the penalties you have to pay to achieve it. If you really want to achieve something different, use a second doctrine! One of the great strengths of properly implemented fleet doctrines is the ability to swap the entire playstyle of a fleet with just a few minutes docked up.
Finishing It Off
Once you’ve finally got a doctrine that you’re happy with, its time to implement it.. but don’t think that means your job is done. As with any good design, the key to success lies with the three I’s. Iteration, Iteration, Iteration. The only way to see if a doctrine will really perform - and to see what needs to change for it to do so at its peak - is to take it out onto a hostile grid and see what happens. This is the only way to really test it. Be prepared for teething problems. You’re probably going to lose the first fight you take a new doctrine into. The losses will teach you more than any victories.
Remember that doctrines are not static things. Don’t get attached to any one idea. Semper Gumbi. Always flexible. If something has merit, keep it. Otherwise, discard it, and move on. If your enemy produces a counter-doctrine, don’t be afraid to mothball the entire thing and start again. Always keep your eye on the goal: producing a superior fleet, not a collection of superior ships.