Drones, Dampeners, and Detonations
Alliance Tournament: The tactics and setups of the fourth alliance tournament
The fourth alliance tournament saw varying levels of innovation in the selection and execution of plans for victory. Different ships and tactics came to the foreground as rule changes and redesigns set the stage for a new type of tournament. As in previous contests, there was again a heavy focus on the use of Caldari vessels, yet also a sizeable preference for Gallente designs and tactics as well. Across the teams there was often a lot of similarity in modus operandi, but a few approaches stood out for either their innovation or sheer ruthless effectiveness.
The considerable versatility of drones as a weapon meant the tournament saw a notable amount of ships specialised in their use. Ishtars, Arbitrators, Vexors, Myrmidons and Curses and perhaps most famously Thoraxes as well, all saw the battlefields alive with hungry and ferocious swarms. They proved particularly useful in the tournament for many reasons. Firstly, dependent upon one’s drone bay size, a combatant could freely choose and change important things such as damage type, range and tracking. Ships with larger drone bays were able to field logistics drones which helped add to the repair of allies under concentrated fire.
Additionally, the reliance on drones for damage output freed up high-slots for other modules, typically logistics support. This was common with the Ishtar setup where ships would have either a remote armor repairer or energy transfer. Finally, drones were an excellent counter to electronic warfare, giving a jammed or dampened opponent the ability to still fight back. This became important this tournament due to the frequent use of e-warfare.
In previous years, the use of electronic warfare had been greatly limited. Cleared this time for full use however, it saw frequent and frequently effective application, bringing an entirely new dynamic to tournament combat. It added an extra layer to pre-fight tactics and as time progressed the usage of sensor dampeners and ECM especially, often swung the tide of a contest the way of their patrons. The use of dampeners and long-range missiles was a common tactic, and one the likes of Burn Eden has long championed in real battles. Being renowned for using it with ruthless efficiency, it was something which undoubtedly added to their ability to make it far in the tournament.
Unlike the hit-and-miss nature of their sister module ECM, dampeners work every time, making them the most popular choice for e-war focused teams. The lowering of both locking speed and range, along with long-range missile attacks made for a particularly successful combination that saw regular use. Manticores and Caracals featured prominently in many teams line-ups due to their versatility in excelling at both types of warfare.
The use of this tactic became also increasingly important as a counter to the also-common “turtle” approach, wherein logistics ships and modules would form a ring of remote repair and energy transfer, creating an exceptionally tough circle to break. With keystone logistics ships becoming the focus of e-war however, they were often isolated as the damage poured on to those they were unable to assist.
Stealth Bombers were a surprisingly successful addition to the tournament this time around, seeing repeated use in many teams. It was common to see Manticores featuring heavily, even up to the very final match where the winners HUN employed them in their signature display of ruthlessness. The advantage to fielding Bombers lay in their cheaply-bought, yet powerful versatility. For only a fraction of the points that fielding Battleship-class vessels would cost, a squad of Bombers could almost equal their damage output, whilst taking full advantage of their reduced signature size, e-war capabilities, fast locking time and brutal anti-support weaponry.
Combined with logistics support and shield extensions/armor plating they often became resilient enough to withstand the onslaught of focused fire. Despite this, the significant damage of some alpha-strikes meant that a logistics pilot needed to watch their allies very closely, and quite a few Bombers and their crew were taken down in single volleys, vanishing instantly. Alone, any Bomber would be carved up immediately by the onslaught of weapons fire, but with the support of skilled logistics pilots they became a truly fearsome ship to fly against – ultimately becoming the flagship of the winning team.
The use of logistics ships and modules was again a key importance in this tournament, mirroring the previous games. After having gone through various redesigns at the hands of starship engineers, logistics ships themselves have come to play an increasingly important role in small engagements all around New Eden. With the format of the tournament playing to these new strengths, they frequently formed the cornerstone of many successful setups, including the eventual winners and many finalists. The common tactic of dual-logistics ships proved successful, creating a defensive circle that left opponents second-guessing which way to attack; the logistics or the ships they would inevitably assist.
Racial strengths and weaknesses:
Once again there was a notable lack of Amarrian and Minmatar ship designs. There were many reasons behind their absence, all to do with the particular strengths and weakness of each racial type within the framework of the tournament. The inflexibility of Amarrian lasers to vary damage type and their glaring susceptibility to electronic warfare made using many of their ships suicidally risky. There were some exceptions, with ships such as the Curse and Huginn seeing effective use. Worth noting however, is that ships such as the Curse break from the mould of more traditional Amarrian engagement philosophies. Whilst having less susceptibility as the Amarrian gunships, the Minmatar designs largely also posed a risky choice, with the weakest electronics systems of all races, mixed weapon layouts and weak offensive electronic warfare options.
Compounding the issue was the way in which both Caldari and Gallente designs not only were effective offensively with e-war, but each also offered defensive capabilities against this common weapon. Blasters nullified the advantage of dampeners once ships closed range, drones auto-aggressed and worked around ECM, F.O.F. missiles offered a somewhat effective countermeasure to jamming, and superior sensor strengths reduced the likelihood of it in the first place. Not only that, but missiles and drones by their design allowed a full option of damage types, large engagement envelopes suited to dampener tactics and effective damage output against ships big and small.
With this tournaments format, it was little surprise then that the more technologically superior ship designs of all the races featured more prominently, requiring contestants to bring their brain to the field just as much as their muscle, if not more of the former. The matches throughout the tournament, particularly towards the end, certainly saw as much of a cerebral clash as a physical one.
Excerpt of statistics compiled by Hoshi of Blackguard Brigade
Full Statistics List
Total ships used: 1459 out of which 819 (56%) were destroyed.
Total ships by race: Caldari: 665 (45.5%), Gallente: 479(33%), Amarr: 173 (12%), Minmatar: 142 (9.5%)
Total ships by race, only counting ships used by the winning team: Caldari: 328 (45%), Gallente: 239 (33%), Amarr: 108 (15%) Minmatar: 51 (7%)