August 28, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Despite having sporadic internet, I was able to really get reinvigorated this week and accomplished quite a lot in the last few days. I could feel the desire to get stuff done starting a few weeks ago when a well known contact and friend talked to me about Noir. Academy and his organization working together. At the time I wasn't affiliated with Noir. Academy in any way other than historically, but to him I was the person to go to. This type of thing has happened - usually on lower scale though - for months now. I started to realize that I really did miss being the CEO; it's something I'm good at and enjoyed the interactions with students. Admittedly there were times during my tenure that I was pretty much MIA due to work related issues, but I was able to get a lot done from an administrative point of view, and I wanted that again. You can see the birth of those feelings in some of my earlier posts. Well, a few days ago another VIP contacted me with the thinking that I was still very much in a leadership position at Noir. Academy, so I figured I may as well throw my hat back in as an instructor.

It wasn't too long - like, seriously not long at all - of doing that before I sent a message to Isabela Valentine, a Noir. Director who took NA. over after Horok (the guy I tapped to take my place) had to leave the game due to work reasons, and asked for his thought on sending CEO back to me. He was completely open to the idea (NA. is not an easy or glorious job, folks!) and so here I am, once again the CEO of Noir. Academy. It's good to be home.

Isabela did a lot of great work as the CEO, but if I had to pick one thing that was better than the rest, it was his last big achievement of kicking Noir. Academy out of the alliance. No, I'm serious! One of my top priorities as CEO during my entire first term was working on getting them to a point where they could operate outside of Noir. Mercenary Group for quite a few reasons, all of them beneficial to the recruits, but it was a very tricky situation. Isabela managed to work out a deal with our long time friends Of Sound Mind so that Noir. Academy will be joining their alliance. This is great for our recruits as it gives them more day to day content without feeling like they can't mess up while learning (a common fear for Noir. Academy students). It gives them more content they can be a part of; many students can't fly high SP ships yet. It also helps SOUND by giving them more warm bodies.

As instructors, we'll continue running classes to teach our students and we'll continue to facilitate Noir. Academy just as we normally do. Nothing really changes from our perspective. Except now we have more students! SOUND will be invited and welcome in all our classes and/or training operations, and we're super happy to have them learn from us while we learn from them. This is seriously an awesome situation for us.


I also was able to teach a class to BRAVE about BLOPs yesterday in the BRAVE Dojo Advanced Class, and it seemed to go over really well. I think there were about 40 people that joined for the lecture part of the class, and nearly the same for the practical portion. Within about 10 minutes of the fleet getting set up, one of our Hunter/Killers had found us a target and his pod. The excitement in the fleet right after that was great. Some of the guys had never done this type of fleet before, and you could hear it in their voice as they talked about how cool that was. I left soon after to go handle Marmite not showing up to reinforce our POCOs again, but the fleet did continue and managed to nab this and this. Awesome job, BRAVE. Thanks for having me out, and I hope to teach such an eager group again soon!
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August 25, 2014

The Current State of Combat Battlecruisers: Part Two

For part two of The Current State of Combat Battlecruisers, I wanted to get a good representation for what kind of usage combat battlecruisers are seeing these days compared to how they often they were being used. I decided to take the monthly number of kills for each class of combat battlecruiser and plot it into a line chart from April 2013, which is when Retribution 1.1 was released containing the combat battlecruiser changes, to July 2014.

 It's truly interesting to see the drop in usage almost every month after Retribution 1.1. All of the combat battlecruisers end up with pretty normalized usage at the end of our data recording. I was also curious to see what sort of effect warp speed changes were going to have on the combat battlecruisers usage. Announced in October and released in November of 2013, we do see a decline in usage here that combat battlecruisers never really recovered from. If the warp speed changes were the sole cause of that, I couldn't say; I doubt it, but I would think it was a good part of it.

Now let's take a look at the same period of time before the Retribution changes. I thought about not including the time in between the original dev post about the upcoming changes, but figured that information would be neat to look at. You can hover your mouse over specific points on the graphs to get more detailed information.

In January 2013, Fozzie posted a thread to the Features & Idea forum about proposed changes to combat battlecruisers. The thread itself had 128 pages of feedback and it seemed to be quite a popular subject. However, we can see that in January 2013 we barely see any change in the prevailing patterns. There is a slight uptick in all but the Drake, but overall, the graph tends to continue in the direction it was moving just before the announcement.

It's pretty clear that combat battlecruisers are getting no where near the amount of use they once were. In regards to the Drake and Hurricane, that's a good thing. The others definitely needed some help. But as a whole, the combat battlecruiser class is not in a healthy position. Other ships have certainly moved in to fill its role - notably HACs - but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a place for combat battlecruisers.

Now that I feel comfortable saying that there is indeed a need for something to change with combat battlecruisers, There is clear indication that their usage has been on a steady decline since Retribution was released despite heavy changes. And while it has benefited some ships (notably the Prophecy which had embarrassing numbers before Retribution), overall it has not been good for the class. I'll begin working on part three of this series dealing with the specific mechanical changes in regards to the overheating bonuses that I mentioned earlier. 
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August 24, 2014

Contract Recap: Alliance Tournament XII

This weekend marked Noir. Mercenary Group's fifth Alliance Tournament appearance. We had previously participated in AT VII, VIII, AT X and AT XI (The past tournament links for AT VII and VIII only show the finals). Noir. has never had a very strong showing in this setting - something that doesn't really bother me personally. Iit's not how we operate on a day to day basis, and we're not large enough to dedicate massive amounts of time to practice like many organizations are able to do. In AT X we went 1:1 and in AT XI we went 0:2. This year was a little different, in some ways.

For Alliance Tournament XII, we were hired by a fan of the Declarations of War podcast that is run by Noir. (and an ex-Noir.!) members to participate in the tournament. We were given a lump sum of money to help fund our fleets - something we've never had the opportunity to do before. We also put most of our other contracts on hold for this period and focused almost exclusively on training for the tournament, another first for us. Generally we practice when we have time and that's not an ideal environment to get ready for the unique aspects of the tournament.

Each year that we participate in the Alliance Tournament we re-open a section of our forums to theory crafting. This year was no different except for the amount of work put into it; a lot more this year than in any of the previous years. We also trained heavily, scrimmaging against someone every weekend except for one from June all the way up to the tournament. We even brought in a few notable tournament veterans to give a couple of lectures. Without a doubt, this was our most prepared year yet.

Day One

Our first match was against SCUM., a really solid low sec corporation. We had done a lot of homework on SCUM. and decided to bring a set up that was a likely counter for their set up. Unfortunately for us, they brought something different. Despite setups that looked opposite on the surface, we each brought very similar set ups as far as our tactics went. We realized that we had the better DPS, but they had the advantage in control. We moved towards a mobile jump unit in an attempt to close the gap quickly so they couldn't apply damage if we tried moving in the slow way - something they would be better at than us. If we could get close, we would have a distinct advantage with the Vindicator webs. SCUM., realizing this, quickly moved away to their own mobile jump unit on the opposite side of the field. A standoff ensued in which neither team was willing to make the first jump in case it put us in a bad position - mobile jump units have been notoriously difficult to use properly in this Alliance Tournament. Also, we decided that, should we go into reverse TiDi, we'd have the advantage again with our high DPS. SCUM. eventually made the jump after the timer reached 0:00 and we followed suite. This was likely a poor choice in retrospect, to let them jump first, but in these moments it's very difficult to understand how things are going to play out - especially when time is sped up. There's simply no way to practice for that. In this setting, SCUM. was able to neutralize our support wing very quickly, making it difficult for our Vindicator to apply the damage it needed. What ships it did get a hold of with its webs, melted. You can see, using the chart function in the link below, where our damage spiked up where the Vindicator was getting in range of targets.

SCUM. played very well and ended up with a win.

Day Two

In our second match, we squared off against The Fearless Empire. I have to admit I don't know much about The Fearless Empire other than they operate in Caldari low security space. As an alliance we didn't have much intel on their set ups either, so we didn't know what to expect. They ended up bringing a 7 man tinker set up versus our 12 man shield fleet. This is what we were trying to avoid, in fact, as evidenced by the Tengu ban. Our shield fleet is one of the set ups that we performed very well with in the scrimmages and felt comfortable in, so we decided on it due to our lack of intel. It turned out to be a composition that left us at a disadvantage, but we wanted to try a few things to give us an edge. One option would have been to try and kite them, putting our drones out, but since the Kronos has a smartbomb, that would have killed too much of our DPS early while still taking a lot of fire from the Kronos. Our thought process here was to break that Proteus quickly by bumping it out of range, chewing through it, and then picking off the rest of the team.

Sure enough, the Proteus dies very quickly, but the Kronos was able to apply too much damage, hitting us at any range while we worked on the rest. We were able to chunk down a lot of their high EHP ships quickly, but without logistics, time wasn't on our side and unfortunately the ships just had so much EHP, even if we could have taken out one or two more ships earlier it's doubtful that we would have been able to chew through the Damnation and Prophecy, not to mention a Kronos in bastion mode. I really feel like our strategy was good. If I could change only one thing, I'd love to have had a logistics ship in that set up. It may have made all the difference. This fight was really all about EHP, and their team probably had twice ours. We were able to take out their flagship at least.

The Fearless Empire had a costly, but deserved victory. The ending stats show that we dealt 170,411 damage and took 173,794. For some reason, none of the normal sources for the battle reports show accurate ISK ratios that match CCP's, and our battle report show Thalesia's Kronos on our side due to smartbombs - so ignore the fact that it shows the Kronos on the wrong side (it doesn't skew any of the information anyway) for a clearer picture of the results.

In the end, we didn't perform as well as we would have liked or as well as our effort in preparation showed. I can tell you, from an insider's perspective, that although we're not happy with the results, we're pleased with our performances. If we continue to improve as much as we did in the build up to this year's tournament, I think we'll surprise quite a few people in the next tournament.
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August 23, 2014

The Current State of Combat Battlecruisers

I was browsing through Features & Ideas on the EVE-O forums. Usually this is an exercise in frustration; most idea are completely idiotic and self serving, born from some in-game slight, usually in the form of someone killing the submitter's ship. But I saw one of the rare decent ideas, one that I feel deserved more thought. You can read it here, and feel free to put your thoughts on it if you'd like. As you can see, I asked if he minded if I took his idea and ran with it. This is a series that's going to focus on that topic.

I'm not quite ready to delve into the meat of the subject yet. I still want to do some research and get some data on usage. But in this initial post, as I always try to do, I want to set the topic up a little bit. Combat battlecruisers, formerly known as tier one and tier two battlecruisers, were the only battlecruiser-class available for many years, until the release of the attack battlecruiser back in 2011 with Crucible. What was once known as just battlecuisers adopted their new combat battlecruiser title. These were meant to be slower and tougher, wielding medium-sized weapons, compared to the attack battlecruisers which fielded battleship-sized weapons.

Tiericide officially took over the battlecruiser lines, changing them fairly drastically in purpose, with Retribution 1.1. This definitely helped bring the battlecruisers that were already not being used into more popularity and trim down the ones that were being used for too many things, but the question is: did it make combat battlecruisers as a whole more useful and more used.

I have a feeling that they're not being used as often as they should be. My feeling is that combat battlecruisers don't offer enough advantages over cruisers (especially when the Ishtar exists), HACs or Battleships to choose a combat battlecruiser over any one of these other classes. The combat battlecruiser has the ability to use links, but as CCP stated in the initial thread about the combat battlecruiser changes, this was added in preparation for link changes at some unknown point in the future. I don't think many people are using them for the purpose of cheap links though.

So before I'm going to tackle the 'is it useful' question I'm going to find out first before I delve into the specifics of the recommendation in the first paragraph. If we find that combat battlecruisers are not seeing a lot of use then I think we can have a good platform to work from. If you didn't read the proposed change, the idea on the table is to give combat battlecruisers an overheating bonus similar to deep space transports. My first reaction is that giving combat battlecruisers a somewhat higher bonus for defensive modules and lower bonuses for overheating high slots giving quick bursts of tank, and even shorter bursts of high damage. It's an interesting gameplay approach to attack battlecruisers that I feel fits their proposed purpose, but we'll have to wait for more definitive data before we can make a final statement!

Before we get there though, what kind of gut reaction do you have on this kind of bonus to combat battlecruisers?
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August 19, 2014

Marmite. Marmite Never Changes

I was really pumped to play EVE today. It was looking like it was going to be a memorable one, an operation that you'd look back on fondly and laugh with your corp mates about later. "Hey, remember that time when we...?" But it wasn't to be. I really shouldn't be surprised, but I guess it's been a while since I've been reminded how Marmite actually operates.

You see, two days ago (August 16) Marmite declared war on us. This in and of itself is not unusual. They sometimes do this mostly, I believe, to be able to tell other people, "Do you see how tough we are? We even have Noir. wardecced!" Nothing ever comes of their wardecs, of course. But then yesterday Marmite hit a bunch of our POCOs in Augnais. Four in total I believe. Now we're talking!

So we prepped to defend them. We expected about the same number of people that attacked them to show up to try and finish them off. We form up a little ahead of time, decide on our doctrine that we're going to use and make sure our fleet is squared away with the proper amount of each role. We had one new Noir. Academy student who needed a quick run down on how to fly a dual propulsion Wolf (or was it Jaguar? All those rust buckets look the same to me), but otherwise it was a fairly smooth set up.

We send one of our scouts ahead of our fleet to try and get eyes on the Marmite fleet. It's only about 15 minutes before the first timer and we're maybe 6 or 7 jumps out. Suddenly our scout reports 11 Marmites in his system. Bingo! I think. "Get eyes on," Alek commands. We continue moving as our scout starts to search them out. I'm getting excited now. Marmite actually formed up to fight! We're going to toast them. "It looks like a gate camp of a bunch of destroyers and crap," our scout reports. Well crap. Our scout is told to keep eyes on them and we'll keep moving.

So we get one system out and we're sending out more and more scouts trying to find any other Marmites. We find Tora Bushido's alt (he's the leader of Marmite) docked in a station. He soon logs off. Well double crap! We're unable to find any other Marmites and the gate camp had dispersed after we had been in our destination system for a few minutes, scattered to their various hiding places.

So instead of fighting Marmite, we ended up hanging out on Teamspeak while we repaired our four POCOs. No Marmites were seen within 100 light years of our undefended Ospreys which I was hoping would draw them out for a desperate attempt at something. As the saying goes: war never changes. But as a mercenary, each day is different. Each contract requires different skills, different tactics, different doctrines. Marmite, however, is not a mercenary unit. Marmite is the same. Marmite never changes.
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August 9, 2014

Alliance Tournament XII Practice

I had the opportunity to practice for the Alliance Tournament again this weekend. As always, flying with Noir. is tons of fun, no matter what. I honestly can't imagine a cooler group of guys (for the most part) to fly with.

 I did ok, despite not having been able to play much lately. While I was there, we ran two different compositions, one of which I enjoyed a lot more than the other. I won't go into details because opsec. You know how it is. It was refreshing to hear everyone else agree with my thoughts regarding one of the compositions, everyone pretty much agreed it fit our mentality better. Alek sighed.

Our practice lasted for a few hours and we were able to make some nice tweaks to our set ups based on the experience. It was, in that regard, a perfect practice. This type of thing is definitely not our strong suite though. We're not an alliance tournament focused group, and - as far as I'm concerned - that's quite alright. It's a great experience for the alliance, and I'm always happy to see our name on the boards, regardless of how we end up doing. I do have to say that this year is our strongest year yet. I don't know how far that's going to carry us, but I'd put this year's team up against any of our previous teams, hands down.

Also, I was shocked to see how close the opening day is when I looked at my calendar! It's almost here!
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