Then a much-improved, much faster scanning system came along in early 2009 and it came to pass that a whole fleet of short-range, low-signature HACs could be warped right on top of such a battleship fleet and destroy them to a man. And that was pretty much the end of sniping fleets in EVE.
Except for what's been happening since that moment, which is that PvP ranges have been slowly, steadily increasing again.
I need to sit down one Sunday and really explain "skirmish tactics" along with a couple of visual aids to make it clear what's going on when fleets use them. But until that fine Sunday, let me summarize by saying that when you're in a skirmish PvP fleet, your goal is to out-range our opponents such that at least some of them have to come into your kill envelope without you necessarily entering theirs. The advantage to a skirmish fleet is that even if you're massively out-numbered or out-gunned (as often happens), you can still score a few kills... and then run away if the fight starts to go against you.
In theory and in practice, it's a fine tactic. It's also one of the few remaining ways in EVE that a small fleet can successfully up-engage against a much larger fleet.(1)
What's been happening all through 2011 and 2012 though, is that larger and larger fleet doctrines are being designed around longer and longer ranges. Traditional skirmish fleets originally used 650mm or 720mm Artillery Hurricanes supported by Drakes. That had an effective combat range of 50km or so. Then Drakes alone became favored, increasing the doctrine by another 10-15km to about 65km. Making them Tengus instead added another 20km. These were paired with Maelstroms that were also effective at 80-95km. Then Tornadoes, Nagas, and Oracles came along that were effective at about the same ranges or longer more cheaply. These are slowly being replaced with even longer-range Tornadoes that can alpha just fine out to about 110km, fighting increasing numbers of twin Tracking Computer Pulse Apocs and Navy Apocs that can punch out to 100km for 400-500 DPS.
And all of them are about to be out-ranged by the triumphant return of large numbers of 425mm Railgun Rokhs... only this new version does 300 DPS at almost 200km or 400 DPS at 100km. Welcome back to 2008... intensified.
Given the potentially enormous sizes of the fleets involved on the modern EVE battlefield, this is threatening to put skirmish tactics and up-engaging out of business entirely. I guess that would solve the problem of having to write a blog post defining the term. ;-)
And into this environment CCP is almost literally tossing the Micro Jump Drive.
If you haven't heard about it yet, you will. It's a battleship prop mod that has a 12-second spool up, followed by a 100km jump in the direction that the ship is facing. Target locks are retained, as is the ship's current velocity and direction at the moment of the jump. Therefore, in theory, were you to fit out some super-close range battleships -- Megathrons, say -- you could fit this mod and use it to get a quite literal jump on sniping battleships that are tearing you up.
The problem of course is that in practice, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Sniper ships invariably align away from their targets and the MJD has a quite beautiful, quite visible visual effect as it spools up. Therefore unless I'm terribly mistaken, that means that the sniper battleships that also have this mod fit can simply activate theirs the moment they see their targets activating the mod. Both fleets, with only a few seconds lag between, will jump 100km. Only the very unlucky or the very stupid will get tackled, and we're going to be left in the same situation we are today, with snipers and cloaky warp-ins. At worst, the snipers will use the MJD as an additional GTFO option preliminary to warping off.
But of course anything smaller than a battleship is also going to be left behind... including any long-range tackle in both fleets.
So, the MJD is theoretically a great idea, but it's going to be quite amusing to see how it's actually used in practice and how successful it will (or won't) be. Definitely looking forward to it!
(1) The others are either over-doing it on logistics or over-doing it on e-war, two things that will get you called all sorts of names for... you know... wanting to win a fight. And yes, I've been known to call people names who do such things myself. I am inconsistent. I've covered that before.