Wardecs in Nullsec: A Mercenary's Playground

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Ali Aras took some time to sit down with Noir. and Of Sound Mind recently as preparation for the null-sec pre-summit meeting. In this conversation, quite a few ideas were hashed out, the Focus Train was derailed more than once, and some inspiration was sparked. Two ideas in particular were the control bar from faction warfare and the war declaration mechanic. I'm going to focus on these two aspects of sovereignty changes and talk about how they would help create a healthy environment for mercenaries.

The War Dec

War decs are useful solely in high sec. No one who lives anywhere else cares at all about the mechanic, and that's a shame. Activity-based sovereignty has been a hot topic lately, but war decs are a necessary component to making that type of sovereignty control a reality. Let's use CVA to illustrate this example, simply because they're the easiest to showcase. In Providence, currently, anyone is welcome as long as you're not on the Kill on Sight list. New players, old players, players who have never been in nullsec; it doesn't matter who you are, you're welcome to use Providence. As I wrote in my earlier post, Providence offers a great opportunity for people to try nullsec - even in today's EVE. In a purely activity-based sovereignty system, CVA wouldn't exist, they'd be overwhelmed by all the unaffiliated people messing up their sovereignty. But not if war decs are involved.

Adding war decs to an activity system would mean that you're actively announcing your intent to take this space from someone else. Then you'd have to go take it, one way or the other. I was speaking with Ali just before writing this, and she made me realize that it's important to have some form of militant action involved in the taking of a system. Other activities, such as mining or ratting or industry or whatever could bolster your claim, but you'd have to kill something. This is EVE after all, and violence has its place in nearly everything. It's just not a fun system where you can out mine a ratting group, for instance.

Going back to CVA, this implementation of war declarations means that people could use Providence freely, like always, without CVA having to worry about their goodwill having adverse effects on their sovereignty claims. Likewise, renters can still exist, but the actions of those renters will have no effect on the control bar if someone else comes in.

The Control Bar

You've seen this before in other MMOs and games, not just faction warfare in EVE Online. It represents a tug-of-war between, typically, two opposing forces. The side that fills the bar up wins. There's been a lot of talk about taking mechanics from faction warfare and putting them to use in nullsec. Frighteningly, most of that talk has been about buttons. Yuck! That would be absolutely terrible. However, implementing a system where a control bar is filled by doing various activities would be a very nice mechanic. Even without getting into details about how the bar is filled, it has advantages. For starters, if the specific mechanics or methods of altering that bar are changed, the overall concept remains the same. CCP can make changes that reflect the current state of the game without altering the entire system. Also, the bar gives a nice visual incentive to players. There have been studies done about the psychology of games, how certain game mechanics interact with the brain, and one of the things that keep people playing and invested is the experience bar. That same concept applies here, and it would be a small, subtle side-effect to encourage people to actually play.

The control bar is a good way to visualize and measure activity-based sovereignty control. Mining in a system will add or subtract from the bar as appropriate. Taking another small page from faction warfare's book, the bar can even be used to show advantages for having the bar at a certain level.
Like I said, the details of what moves the control bar can change as needed. Right now, we want a game where smaller alliances can compete, where every battle doesn't turn into a 2,000 man dog pile, and where big battles aren't guaranteed to end in who has the most super capitals. If things change, and we want one or more of those things - or completely different things - added back into the system, the control bar is still a useful indicator of control.

The Mercenary

In this environment, a mercenary organization would be very useful for someone trying to maintain or remove control from another. In the past, Noir. had been hired quite often to disrupt the day-to-day lives of those living in one area or another. We regularly provided asset denial contracts where we shut down certain areas from all activities: no ratting, no mining, no missions, and no undocking. We were hired to do regional assaults where we just killed other combat fleets. These activities would be useful to a group in the sort of sovereignty system discussed here. War decs could be allied on to, a feature that's underutilized I'm sure.

New mercenary corporations are vital to a healthy merc community, and having smaller objectives that have a smaller entry of barrier would only be a good thing for up-and-coming mercenary groups. An organization wouldn't need to hire a huge mercenary group to fend off a group that's raising the control bar via ratting, for instance. It would be just as important of a job as fighting off enemy fleets to the owner of the system, but with an objective that's achievable by a smaller organization both the employer and the mercenary benefit: the employer doesn't have to pay as much, and the mercenary outfit has another job, and one that doesn't require a huge up-front cost.

The Incumbent

This assumes that there wouldn't still just be three major coalitions in nullsec, of course, but I can't imagine that it would be possible for those organizations to control as much space as they do, or remain free from their border systems being constantly in flux if they maintained a large domain. Instead, it seems more likely that we'd see a lot of asymmetrical warfare to try and prepare a system for final conversion. And that's the kind of system we need to work for: one where the large organizations still have a place, a purpose, and a reason for being there, but one where they don't destroy the ability for small organizations to exist independently.

Independence is a strong underlying theme in EVE: be your own man, forge your own empire, be infamous, be lawless. That attitude needs to be supported by the game in a way that is coexistent with large, unified groups. Everything should have its price. The bigger you are, the more wildfires you're having to put out, for instance; the more vulnerable your borders are. This is the price you pay for a larger area for your members to work within so no one crowds others while trying to live and make ISK.

Being independent means you're more secure, more centralized, aren't beholden to rules, orders, and regulations that don't concern you. You don't have to listen to anyone but yourself if you're independent, but you can lose it all if you're not careful.

Luckily, I know an organization you can call if someone comes huffing and puffing to blow your straw house down.

New Jobs

Finally! I've found a new job! For those of you who haven't read it before from my blog, my last job sent me all over the country for almost all of the year. I was rarely home, and while it was nice in a lot of ways, I was glad to be back home when I left that job in June. Unfortunately, the job I had lined up fell through literally the last minute, so I was left scrambling for three months trying to find something else. Well I officially have a job now, and my first day is tomorrow!

I'll be the Social Media Manager for a local women's boutique called Entourage. I'm super excited because, while I've never worked in the fashion industry, I'll finally be able to put my social media/community management experience to good use in a well-paying job that includes benefits and doesn't make me travel all the time. It goes without saying that my girlfriend is super excited about all the discounts I'll be able to use to purchase her lots of stuff!

But of course, all things must relate to EVE, right? For me, this means that I'll once again not be space poor! I don't maintain multiple accounts, so all my ISK is generated by one of two characters on the same account - although I very, very rarely use the second character (the third just sits in Jita if I need to sell a PLEX quickly). For me, it was always more timely to just buy a PLEX than spend multiple hours in the game trying to earn the same amount of ISK. I'm certainly looking forward to buying all the faction fittings that we fly in Suddenly.

Coincidentally, the alliance is on a new contract too. New jobs everywhere! As per usual, I won't go into any details until after the contract is over with, but that may not be very long.

Noir. Academy is chugging along nicely too. We're finally settling into the transition into SOUND, and classes are starting to pick up. I foresee classes and instructor-led roams increasing as soon as the current contract is over, unless we embark on another one straight-away. We have a couple of very promising students who I'm super happy to have, and a few who may not last long.

We had a unique case of idiocy a few days ago which was interesting. A student with a very unusual application was accepted with some caveats. He was put on the instructor's watch list to make sure everything was kosher. Turns out, we didn't need to do anything. He spilled his guts to one of our instructors, completely unprovoked, about how he was breaking multiple rules on his second day in the corporation. Kicked!

We have a few students who are on the very cusp of graduating, too. I feel kind of bad for them since, just as they were about to be invited to come fly with Noir. for their final testing period, we left on a contract which means that they had to stay in Catch while we worked on this. We invite students who are in the final stages of the Academy to basically relocate to be with Noir. to ensure personality and basic ability before graduation. These guys just got a little unlucky. I'll be very glad to get them out here though. They deserve it and I think they'll fit in just fine.

By the way, one of our guys is going to be speaking at EVE Down Under, so if any of you are there, say hi to Arkentantix CarpeNoctem! I should get him to guest write something about it now that I think of it.

The Current State of Combat Battlecruisers: Part Three

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I apologize for taking so long to get this one published. I haven't had the will power to pound it out in between the other EVE related stuff I've been doing, but that's no excuse! Plus, I'm not really very quick at math, and it takes me a lot longer than your average person to do what some may consider very easy. So when I approach a blog post that contains almost all math, I hope you'll forgive my trepidation!

Luckily I was able to call in some help from IcyMidnight. Hopefully the math I'm presenting here is correct, but please point out any errors in my calculations! So without further ado, let's talk about my proposed fix to combat battlecruisers!

It's a simple change, really, and it has a precedent in the form of deep space transports: an overheat bonus. We'll use a cut down version though:
+100% bonus to the benefits of overheating Afterburners and Resistance Modules
You'll notice I removed microwarpdrives and local rep from the original list. I like the idea of more classes using afterburners with a bonus, a 100% overheat bonus to microwarpdrives would be a little too powerful, and can you imagine a Myrmidon with 100% overheating bonus to its three armor repair modules? Crazy.

But why go this route? Well, it was mentioned in the original thread that spawned this series, and I like it, that's why! Plus it fits the role really well. Combat battlecruisers are meant to get in there and slog it out, withstanding a ton of punishment and giving back just as much pain. Currently they don't really have much of an advantage though, as we've spoken about before. They're out damaged and out tanked and out maneuvered by all the classes that you might consider their cousins. Giving combat battlecruisers a 100% bonus to certain modules when overheated gives them a nice niche: a short-term monster tanking ship.

So let's take a look at a bit of math that I promised. What kind of effect would this have in a practical sense? We'll take a Harbinger for example. Here's a sample fit that I threw together.

Amarr Victor!
We'll focus on the EM resist since it's the highest. A Harbinger has a 50% base EM resist. Our EM Hardener gives us 55% more. We'll multiply that by 1.4 to get our 100% overheat bonus. Finally, our Damage Control gives us another 15%. We can use this formula to calculate our resists
1 - ((1 - 0.5) * (1 - (0.55)) * (1 - 0.15))
This gives us the same result as EFT: 80.9%. To calculate what it'd be like if we overheated we'd use this formula instead
1 - ((1 - 0.5) * (1 - (0.55 * 1.2)) * (1 - 0.15))
This would give us an EM resist of 85.555% (EFT shows an EM resist profile of 85.6%).

Now, to find what our resist would be like if we had a 100% overheat bonus we can use this formula
1 - ((1 - 0.5) * (1 - (0.55 * 1.4)) * (1 - 0.13))
This gives us an EM resist of 90.2%. We can simulate this in EFT by using a Red Giant Class 6 wormhole effect and overheating our module. It's good to have the math, because now we can also simulate these effects in a Red Giant Class 6 wormhole!
1 - ((1 - 0.5) * (1 - (0.55 * 1.8)) * (1 - 0.15))
This gives us an EM resist of 99.6%.

That definitely makes our Harbinger a pretty tough nut to crack. Our EHP goes from 72,000 to 122,000 but you'd burn out all of your hardeners in 60 seconds. I think that's a pretty fair trade.

Taking a quick peek at the effect on afterburners, we see an increase in speed from 486 m/s to 593 m/s. That's not a huge increase, but considering the fitting and signature benefits, it's still not a bad boost, certainly more than they're getting now. The afterburner lasts for about two minutes. These changes are definitely not going to make for prolonged fights of intense overheating.

Of course, the Harbinger isn't the toughest combat battlecruiser. The Prophecy, for instance, receives a 4% bonus to resist per level. What would it look like in this situation? Its base EM resist is 60%, so we can just plug that into our formula to see! We see a return of 92.2%.The Prophecy can easily reach 190,000 EHP, for about 60 seconds as well.

And yes, it's true that there are a few combat battlecruisers out there that see some use in some situations. There's the afforementioned triple rep Myrmidon or the bait tanked Prophecy. But overall, the class needs help. It needs a place in EVE, a niche that only it can fulfill. This idea really takes the combat battlecruiser into a new area, one where it can tank battleship-level damage, but only for very short times. I really like the idea; it's got some obvious advantages with some great disadvantages - our Harbinger goes from 122,000 EHP to 43,500 EHP once those resists burn out - which is a core tenant of EVE Online.

If this type of change came to pass, how would you use a combat battlecruiser?

Change is Life

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Pretentious title aside, one of the best parts of being a mercenary is the constant change. Each contract offers something new, even when compared to contracts of the same type. You're fighting a different enemy who approaches things in a new way, you're using a different doctrine, or the geography of your area is different. Regardless, mercenaries go through a lot of change even if it is just in regards to contracts.

Sometimes the change is more dramatic, if not totally unique. Noir. and Noir. Academy once left the alliance Noir. Mercenary Group back in 2013 to join Black Legion. Now, these guys are known for being great, and there were some pretty fun fleets back then, but most of us hated it. Their culture and our culture did not mix. They felt that having a corporation with Academy in its name was not good for their image (never mind that NA members were on the top ten alliance members board every month), and that they were too good for Noir. Academy. After several failed attempts at a few vocal members to have Noir. Academy kicked, they resulted in awoxing Alek, which was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. It was one annoying incident after another. After that, none of us were eager to even think about other alliances for a long, long time.

A merger with Suddenly Spaceships was proposed earlier this year but no one was excited about it, the memory of Black Legion. still fresh. We decided that we wanted to hunker down and work on Noir. Mercenary Group, bringing other corporations into the alliance. Unfortunately, there are very few corporations out there that are both interested in being actual mercenaries, have the members, and the capability to interest us. We tried a few, none of them really working out for one reason or another.

So when the topic was brought up again to merge with Suddenly Spaceships, it was actually surprising to me to notice that most people were positive about it, myself included. I have always been a very staunch supporter of bring others into NMG., but it simply wasn't working. I personally tried to find corporations that were worth approaching for many months to no avail, so I could rest safely in the knowledge that we had done our due diligence to find prospective members. Maybe that's why it wasn't such a negative response. In any case, I think many of us were a bit disappointed to leave behind the Noir. Mercenary Group name, but reality insists that we join Suddenly Spaceships since they have about double our numbers.

But like I said, we came away with a very positive outlook on this change. We're going to suddenly have the pilots we've been looking for over the past two years, we're going to have some experienced mercenaries to fly with right off the bat, and we're going to have the ability to fly more expensive, higher-quality fit fleets. Suddenly is going to benefit from our infrastructure (they had practically none it seems), showing them how much more effective you can be with some of the out-of-game tools we've come to rely on.

We're also going to be able to take a wider variety of contracts than we have been able to in a long time. We just recently had to turn down a contract which really bummed me out. It was for a very high profile client (not that we would have made it known even if we had accepted, of course), and it was a pretty cool contract. Unfortunately, we just didn't have the manpower. Now, however - we could accept that contract, and might still if the situation returns to how it was for this client a few weeks ago. We're also going to be able to branch out into things that we had never really done before at all due to our own increase in capital pilots over the years plus Suddenly Spaceships'.

Be wary New Eden. There's a new mercenary alliance in existence now, a breed of mercenary that hasn't existed in almost half a decade. You may have forgotten what it was like back then, but we're going to remind you. And it's going to be awesome.

Back in the Saddle

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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!

The Current State of Combat Battlecruisers: Part Two

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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. 

Contract Recap: Alliance Tournament XII

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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.