So, Pandemic Legion paid us a visit again last night, and it worked out just fine for us. Other than the first paragraph, the facts in the EVE News article are pretty much wrong in every respect. I'm not going to go into details for obvious reasons. ;-) However, I will say it was a split-fleet engagement: the bulk of the NC/PB caps and supercaps concentrated on wiping out the PL tower while the PB subcaps held up the PL fleet. Attrition warfare proceeds apace.
No, what I want to talk about is a new tactic PL is obviously trying.
About two weeks ago, someone on Scrapheap Challenge asked what Sentry Drones are good for. Based on my experience with them and some PvP experience I had fighting Darkside. in Scalding Pass, I wrote a response that included this:
I've seen throw-away sentries used from Domis when faced with close-range opponents. The Domis drop the sentries and then MWD away from them. The close-range opponents burn toward the Domis, and in the process show their backs to the distant sentries. The Domis halt when they reach the sentries optimal range. Darkside. used to use this tactic to good effect, but I haven't seen it from them in a while.Maybe it's totally a coincidence, but I feel like someone in PL read that post and thought "Hmmm...". I probably should have kept my mouth shut. ;-)
For the last couple of months, we've been using a 1400mm artillery Maelstrom fit, using either T1 or T2 guns, depending on the skill of the pilot and how much ISK he wants to commit to the ship. The concept is variously called "Alpha fleet". The beauty of the Maelstroms is that 20 or 30 of them, firing together, can put out so much volley damage (referred to as alpha) in their opening strike that it can often overwhelm the logistics capability of our enemies.
The key phrase there is "firing together". If the volley is ragged, the Maelstroms fire so slowly that the enemy logi can catch back up before the next volley. The FC has to be careful when using these Maelstroms to order "Everyone fire in three... two... one... fire."
Part of the Alpha fleet strategy is Drakes carrying Target Painters. The TPs allow the large guns on the Maelstroms to hit more effectively. PL has been countering Alpha fleet by going after these Drakes in a big way. Not only does this remove the Drakes themselves, whose medium weapons are most damaging to HACs, but no TPs means that the Maelstroms are much less effective. That's how EVE 0.0 sov fights are: you develop a strategy, your enemy develops a counter, you develop a counter-counter, and round and round we go.
PL has enhanced their counter to Alpha fleet, and it revolves around sentry drones. A typical PL AHAC fleet, as I mentioned before, is heavy on Zealots and armor-tanked T3s. They've added a new component: Ishtars. See those Target Painters and the Sentry Damage Augmentor rigs on the Ishtar? As the fight got rolling, those Ishtars (there were about 25 of them) dropped Curator II sentries. Curators do EM damage, which hits shield-tanked ships particularly hard. They're also a decent mid-range sentry.
Here's a trick you can do if you have a couple of Target Painters and some sentry drone-equipped allies:
1. Order your allies to "assist" the sentries to you. This means that their sentries will automatically fire on anything that you fire on.
2. Once that's done, Target Paint target #1.
3. Every sentry assisted to you will instantly fire at target #1. No need for the rest of the fleet to even lock him.
4. The target will take massive damage. Call this target as primary for your non-Ishtars.
5. Your first Target Painter will cycle, but it probably won't finish cycling before the target explodes, but that's fine.
6. When the target explodes, Target Paint target #2 with your second TP.
7. Every sentry assisted to you will instantly fire at target #2.
8. Rinse and repeat from step #4.
The beauty of this tactic is that it requires no skill on the part of your sentry-equipped allies. No hunting for the primary in the overview, no misheard primaries, no people going off the reservation and firing at whatever they want to fire at. No, every Ishtar fires at once, with inhuman precision, directly at the primary. The primary takes enormous volley damage and his logis can't catch up before he pops.
This is Pandemic Legion's version of Alpha fleet!
It was frighteningly effective. I was dual-boxing, and had an alt in a Drake among the Alpha fleet. I got yellow boxed by one ship. Just one! Then my shields dropped instantly from 100% to 15%. I had just about enough time to call for reps before I was in a pod. I've never seen a Drake collapse so fast. The normal tactic of "if you see yourself getting yellow-boxed, GTFO" did not work, because I was only yellow-boxed by one ship. Unfortunately for PL, I noticed who the one ship was, figured out very quickly what was going on (like I said, I've seen this tactic before), and reported him to the main FC. ;-)
He was popped very shortly thereafter.
Things came apart for the Ishtars's coordination pretty rapidly after that, thankfully, which was probably a factor in our winning the battle. But PL is going to refine this tactic and use it a lot, because as I said, it was frighteningly effective.
Why the NC doesn't adapt this tactic, I have no idea. Can you imagine a couple hundred NC carebears in Domis, all firing instantly and simultaneously at a Drake-TP'ed target? I sure can...
EDIT (4/Feb/2011): Attribution for Alpha fleet removed; there's some dispute over who invented it. ;-) Clarified and corrected reasons for AHACs to go after Drakes rather than Maelstroms in such a fleet.