As I sometimes do, I'm going to have a little fun with this and give you a lot of relevant quotes from one of my favorite bad movies, Iron Eagle. Starting with...
Doug Masters: I'm just saying I'm ready for this. You're ready, aren't you Chap?
Chappy Sinclair: You think it's gonna be so easy, don't you?
Doug Masters: No, I don't think it's gonna be all that easy. I'm just saying I'm ready for it, that's all.
Chappy Sinclair: You ain't ready for shit, boy!
IT'S HARD WORK. First things first: training for the AT is like training for any other competition. It is hard work, requiring dedication and long hours. I put literally hundreds of hours into AT10, on tasks as diverse as:
- arguing on theory-crafting and fleet comps;
- building hundreds and hundreds of ships on Singularity;
- walking other team members through Sisi installation problems;
- scanning down wormholes (where we did some of our early training);
- planting POSes and moving ships around;
- creating corp offices all over New Eden so we'd have lots of places to practice in outside of WHs;
- going over the results of past Alliance Tournament matches;
- devising pieces and parts of our team's strategy;
- spying on competing teams; and, oh yeah,
- actually practicing flying comps and arguing over how good or bad they were.
Related, IT'S AN ENORMOUS TIME SINK. Done properly, don't expect to get much else done with your free time during AT season. I haven't played another video game for at least two or three months. This means I have no idea of any updates to DUST 514 since then; I'll be checking back into that this weekend.
Related to that, IT'S A STRAIN ON YOUR REAL LIFE. Before I signed up to be a member of Rote's AT team, I sat down with those close to me and explained what the impact would be. I wasn't going to proceed on this without strong RL support behind me. Fortunately and obviously, I got it. In particular, in the last month, either AT-related work/practices or trying to relax by flying on TQ fleets took up literally every weekend night and most Sunday nights as well. Saturdays were still my own; my commitment only went so far, heh.
IT WILL MAKE YOU A BETTER PILOT. That said, there are some definite up-sides, and this is one of them. You're going to spend dozens of hours flying every type of ship you know how to fly. You're going to learn the ships, you're going to know them. You're going to learn what they can do, what they can't, and what they can take. You're going to learn how your ship fits in with a small number of other ships, and how they work together. Matter of fact, I'd say you learn more about EVE from ten hours of AT practice than you learn from a couple hundred hours of any other type of EVE play, PvP roams and solo roams included.
Doug Masters: What is it with you, Knotcher? Can't you make it through a day without proving what an asshole you are?
THE TOURNAMENT WILL BRING A LOT OF BURIED ANNOYANCES TO THE SURFACE. This is a big one. If there are any sub-surface cracks in your alliance, the AT will expose them. With so many of your alliance's biggest competitors involved in one aspect of play and all of them under tremendous pressure, the buried slights, annoyances, and hurt feelings will emerge every time. A tourney captain of my acquaintance from another alliance would end practices by yelling at individual pilots about their flying... and then segue from there straight to berating them about things they'd done a year previously completely unrelated to the game. Those shouting matches invariably led to nasty things said outside of practice on Teamspeak followed by nasty posts on the forums. This is typical, unfortunately. Even if you're not involved in your alliance's tourney team, you'll see all sorts of crap will be dredged up and then flung around like excrement coming off the rotary air-circulating device...
YOU WILL BE SPIED UPON. Dear Heaven, will you be spied upon. The moment "bubbles" of destroyed ships start appearing on Sisi come tournament time, ships will flock into the system to see what's up, what comps you're flying, and how you're flying them. You wormhole alliances have an enormous advantage here. It was no surprise to me whatsoever that so many WH alliances did so well in the tournament and that a WH alliance won it. Of course, you might not have PL hot-dropping Titans onto your tournament practice, but you can bet you'll be messed with.
YOU WILL SUFFER ALL SORTS OF META-GAME ATROCITIES. There's always a major bit of thievery that happens every year at AT time, and this year was apparently no exception, with Suddenly Spaceships having their entire AT liquid ISK fund stolen. In addition to this and spying from outside your alliance, you'll have people trying to join your AT team that have no business there, people trying to listen in on practices, people trying to get you to talk about comps... it's just part of the process. Don't let yourself get annoyed by it because...
YOU'LL GET TO INFLICT META-GAME ATROCITIES ON OTHERS. And it's kind of amusing. If you like tears, this is actually a pretty good way to gather them, even if you're not interested in the actual AT. Just get in Sisi during AT training time, head for a bubble, and hang out in system. I'm surprised that nobody seemed to try to sell intel on the open market this year. I'm sure it happens.
Doug Masters: Chappy, what if I screw up? What if everything goes wrong?
Chappy Sinclair: Then I'm gonna get real mad! You ever see me get real mad?
Doug Masters: No. And I wouldn't want to.
YOUR TEAM CAPTAIN WILL BE A HARD-ASS. Hate to break it to you, but if your team captain isn't being a bit of a jerk, he isn't doing his job. Alliances that even enter the AT are competitive by their very nature, and that doesn't happen by accident. It happens because these alliances gather a lot of competitive types. There are egos involved -- big ones -- and it takes a tough sort to stand on top of all of that and try to inflict some order on the chaos. The good alliances will back their team captains up 100%, if the team captain isn't already an alliance executor. And if you try to take that job and then be nice about it, you're just gonna get rolled.
Related, YOU AND YOUR TEAM-MATES WILL BE STUBBORN. The more someone shows up for your AT practices, the more competitive he or she is. The more competitive, the stronger the ego and the more stubborn that person is. The two go hand-in-hand. So, there are going to be lots of personality clashes. Try not to take what happens in AT practices personally. Remember that everyone is tense and under the same pressures you are.
IF YOU'RE LUCKY, YOUR CAPTAIN WILL ALSO LISTEN. A good team captain has strong opinions, strong leadership skills, and a definite idea about the comps he wants and the pilots he wants to put into them. But at the end of the day, a team is made up of a lot of different people and it's important to listen to all of them. I've been on AT teams with both captains that listen and captains that don't. The latter lose matches. But that means that if you're working for the latter, you're going to have to do everything you can to make him start listening.
YOU WILL LEARN AN ABSOLUTE TON ABOUT SHIP FITTING AND SHIP ROLES. I started out AT10 practices with what I thought was a pretty solid understanding of individual ship fitting and ship roles. But I admitted that I was not a good choice to build fleet comps: I simply wasn't good at it. By the end of several months of practice, I'd learned a lot more about cooperative ship fitting, the strengths of different ships vis a vis other ships in similar roles, and fleet compositions. I even submitted a couple of comps that were well-received. Though we didn't use them, another AT team did (coincidentally) use one of my comps, and won a finals match with it.
[watching Doug buzzing the motorcycle rider]
Reggie: Why don't you just land on the fool and get it over with?
Doug Masters: What's the matter, don't you feel like flying today?
Reggie: Oh flying yes... dying, no.
YOU'LL MAKE MISTAKES. Oh, my will you. You'll do dumb things so often that you'll wonder if you should be on your alliance's team at all. But the trick is to learn from them, and not to repeat them. Make dumb mistakes, learn from them, make all new dumb mistakes. It all adds to your experience playing the game.
YOU'LL NEVER HAVE ENOUGH PRACTICE PARTNERS. If your team is smart, they'll start practicing well in advance. Hell, Rote started practicing in earnest a couple of months before the AT10 rules were even published, messing around with comps from AT9. Once your major practices start, though, you'll never have enough people. It must be nice to be a member of one of those big alliances that has dozens of people logged in at any given time that you can bully onto Sisi. Rote never did, and I've never been in an alliance that did. That's what I get for being a fan of smaller alliances, I guess. Major props to ExodusDOT, who were our sparring partners this year! Very cool guys.
YOUR COMPS WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS YOU THINK THEY ARE. This one's just aggravating. "You're only as good as your opponents" is a tried-and-true statement about gaming in general. And nowhere in EVE is this more true than the Alliance Tournament. It's no coincidence that every year, lots of teams gravitate to the same metas. Everyone brings four or five or six or eight metas of their own to the AT, of course, but sooner or later one pops up that nobody else thought to practice against. This year, I think it was Vindicators. Given all the Bhaalgorn flagships, I don't think anyone gave Vindi comps a lot of thought... until other teams started winning with them. Suddenly, everyone was flying them.
YOU'LL GAIN NEW RESPECT FOR YOUR TEAM-MATES AND THEIR FLYING. All of this said, in a typical gang, you rarely have the opportunity to see how good or bad individual people are at this game. Once your AT practices start, though, and you're put into a situation to watch and evaluate a small number of other pilots, you'll gain a great deal of respect for your alliance-mates and how good they are. You'll learn fast who the good frigate pilots are, who the good Logistics pilots are, and who knows e-war like nobody's business. It's terrific.
Doug Masters: Chappy, I got 'em, I got all three of the guns!
Chappy Sinclair: Yeah, but one of them got me.
YOU'RE GOING TO GET BLOWN UP. A LOT. If you have any residual fears about getting blown up, you're going to get over them. There were practices with Rote where I got blown up ten or twelve times in a two-hour practice session. I may never sit in a Sabre again. ;-)
YOU'LL HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WIN WITH PARTIAL COMPS. During your practice sessions, you'll suffer bad luck. Someone will make a mistake and get blown up right away. Someone won't follow orders. Someone won't have their ship fit correctly. Oddly enough, these things happen in tournament matches too. Sometimes it's obvious that a comp isn't working and you need to start over. But a lot of times, you need to let a failed match run its course so you can see if the situation can be salvaged, or if there are other aspects to the comp that can be improved or built from. And sooner or later, you'll have to bring partial versions of comps to fights and figure out how to win with them.
PEOPLE WILL BE ULTRA-CRITICAL OF YOUR FLYING. As I've said a couple of times, if you're flying in AT practice matches, you're both good at this game and competitive. If someone offers suggestions or criticism, constructive or otherwise, it's going to be tempting to dismiss it out of hand. After all, you're already a great pilot or you wouldn't be there, right? Trouble is that other people are smart too, and you have to try to divest yourself of your emotions about your own flying. Try not to be defensive, listen to what they have to say, and judge their opinions on their merits, not emotions. It's tough -- almost impossible -- to do.
ANY "TUNNEL VISION" YOU HAVE IN YOUR PILOTING STYLE WILL BE BURNED AWAY. An alliance tournament match is ten minutes long, but often the critical part of the match starts and ends in just 90 seconds. You have to have the maximum amount of information when it does. If you have a tendency to get too focused on this or that part of the screen, you'll find yourself having to unlearn that tendency and put all the information you're being given to use. Ranges, ammo types, ships near you and ships far away, what you're doing and what they're doing... all of it is important and even a single mistake in any of those factors can cost your team the match.
Chappy Sinclair: I want you to know now that you've got more courage than anyone I've ever met. And you're gonna need every ounce of it to get through this thing. Now listen: I'm proud to have been by your side, and whatever happens just remember we tried, and no one can take that away from us!
YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO HAVE ENOUGH ISK. More and more every year, ISK is going to be a major factor in tournament matches. Pandemic Legion spent more on the comp they used against us -- far more! -- than our entire AT budget. But that's going to continue to escalate. It cost Rote Kapelle's team more than 20 billion ISK just to ENTER the tournament. Every match, we had to decide between 3% and 5% implants, and we never had particularly expensive ships, or super-expensive ammo or drones. It was only through super-generous donations of our alliance members that we got as far as we did, and we always felt like we were going to run out of ISK at any second. A lot of teams had no such restrictions...
YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO HAVE ENOUGH TIME. "The perfect is the enemy of the good," as the saying goes. You're always under time pressure during the tournament. You'll constantly want to practice this or that comp just one more time. And there won't be time enough to test against everything you want to test. Sooner or later, you'll have to take it on faith that your comp can beat a Minnie Rush set-up that has three assault frigs instead of four Sabres...
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE NIGHTMARES. Once the tournament starts, you never get enough sleep. At least one of your matches will be at a fabulously inconvenient time. And you'll have spent so much time playing EVE by this point that it'll be hard to get it out of your brain. You'll have recurring nightmares where something goes badly wrong with your fleet or your flying, and every time your computer locks up or your Internet connection acts up, you'll wonder if it's going to do this to you right when a tournament match starts.
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE AN AWESOME TIME. Practicing for the tournament is hard work, it's nerve-wracking, and it will be the source of all sorts of drama. And I wouldn't trade it for anything: it's a damned good time. Planting your alliance flag on someone else's face and saying "We're better than you" is probably the epitome of the EVE experience, don't you think? And being able to do it where everyone who is interested can watch only enhances the experience. I can't talk about how it feels to win one of these things yet... but I can hope. ;-)
And unless "something happens", that's my last post about Alliance Tournament 10. Hope they've been enjoyable, and hope they haven't been too boring for those of you who have no interest in this topic. Things will get back to normal around here tomorrow. For today, bring on next year!
EDIT (26/Jul/2012): This post originally stated that Shadow Cartel had its tournament fund stolen. It was Suddenly Spaceships, actually. I regret the error.