April 15, 2016

The Mercenary Renaissance

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm going to assume you're aware of a few things that are happening in EVE right now, namely that there's a World War (Bee) happening and that many of the major players (Mercenary Coalition, The Omega Security Syndicate, Hax., Suddenly Spaceships, Out of Sight., and Chaos Theory. to name a few) are being paid to take part. It's the latter half of that previous sentence I want to focus on. I've written a lot about people being paid to fight other people in EVE; we call them mercenaries. I also have a personal paradigm of what it takes to qualify as a mercenary and I believe we're in the early phases of a mercenary renaissance the likes of which we haven't seen since Dominion.

What Is a Mercenary?

As I always do when talking about mercenaries at a high level, we have to establish the definition. Just as someone must successfully complete a series of tasks in real life to earn a qualification or title, I believe that an organization must fulfill one, basic principle to be called a mercenary.

  1. The bulk of an organization's effort is focused on providing content through contracts offered by other players for a fee.

Pretty simple, right? But it's a bit more complicated than it may first appear and it even has a bit of a grey area.

There are a ton of corporations and alliances in EVE that have received ISK or in-game goods for services rendered a handful of times. I don't include these in the definition of a mercenary. For most of these organizations, these contracts were found on the wayside and then forgotten as they moved on. They didn't consume much time or effort from the organization in the long run.

Likewise, there are some organizations that take a lot of contracts yet only do them so far as it lines up with their day-to-day activities. One example (although not the only one) is when an organization camps trade hubs as their main activity, and will continue to do so whether someone pays them to or not, but will accept a contract if offered. These groups aren't included either. Their primary gameplay is completely unaltered by a contract.

By my definition, a mercenary organization focuses its entire playerbase day in and day out on completing a contract. And when that contract is over, beside rest periods, the focus of the organization as a whole is finding and completing another contract. They don't pick up contracts as an afterthought, but seek them and eagerly complete them. There are exceptions, mainly in the form of Pandemic Legion. They're so large, so expensive, and the services they render can be so complex that they simply can't spend all their time on contract - people simply can't afford to keep them on retainer and there aren't enough contracts worth their time.

The Mercenary Wars

With this in mind, The Mercenary Wars doesn't make any sense as a name for World War Bee. Almost all of the Money Badger Coalition (MBC) member alliances aren't paid for contracts on a regular or even semi-regular basis. It's likely that, after this war, most of the alliances will never be offered a paid contract again.

So how can I claim there is a renaissance if most of MBC have never been offered a contract before and likely won't again? Because World War Bee has proven the effectiveness that ships for hire can have on the landscape of New Eden. Even if the war ended right now and the battle lines remained frozen in place at the current demarcation, the result would be an astoundingly positive endorsement for hiring mercenaries to do your work - provided you can afford it.

Let's not sugar coat it though, it obviously took a vast sum of money and a lot of players to get this far. Additionally, the enormous victories to date are in large part thanks to the Imperium’s complete lack of will to fight. However, it's also quite clear that a well paid, well organized mercenary coalition (no affiliation) can absolutely dominate the objective. It's important to remember that an appropriately sized solution needs to be applied to the problem. When attacking an Imperium-level problem, a Imperium-sized solution must be applied.  

Determining Solution Sizes

Luckily, most problems aren't Imperium-sized. There are a lot of things that are happening (and will be happening in the very near future) in EVE already that could use some good, old-fashioned mercenary knowhow. For too long, people have thought that mercenaries weren't useful and they were right. But in this renaissance period, there is a proven track record for effectiveness and plenty of opportunities to display it. The question is how do you find out if your mercenary is up to the task?

Killboard

There's a lot to be said for and against killboards in EVE as a whole, much less just looking at mercenaries. Nevertheless, the killboard is one of the most effective ways in determining, well, effectiveness! If a mercenary organization is consistently putting up large amounts of kills with very few losses, they're likely a good choice. You can even get an idea if they may be able to punch above their weight by digging a little deeper into the killmails. Are they fighting outmanned, or are they able to take down larger ships regularly? Are they able to deploy deep into enemy territory and stay there, or do they set up shop on regional gates and shut down traffic?

There's a ton of information to find from a killboard if you know what you're looking for. But don't put too much emphasis on it because…

The Rest of the Story

A killboard doesn't tell the whole story. There are times in my mercenary career where we've been tasked with shutting down a region so that no one undocks. In those contracts, we typically see a steady stream of kills at the beginning which then trickles off to practically zero. And that's exactly what we were hoping for. We had a very happy client.

A good mercenary organization is going to have a record of its contracts that tells you what the overall objective was, any pertinent constraints, and can tie that to a killboard for data verification. Keep in mind that this information may be somewhat vague due to privacy of the client, but you should have enough information (and enough examples) to come away with a good idea if someone has been able to actually perform and if they are flexible enough to take on difficult, changing contracts.

The Future of Mercenaries

The viability of the mercenary career has always been tied to war. Without war, very few of the mercenary organizations can actually survive. There are hundreds of examples of organizations falling to the wayside and focusing on other gameplay styles because the content simply wasn't there. The ones that do survive may have to lower their fees or simply exist on reputation alone. Without war, there aren't mercenaries.

It doesn't take Nostradamus to see that, while not a certainty, war is likely to remain on the horizon for a long time to come. And if that turns out to be true, mercenaries will continue to be in high demand. Some will rise, making a long-term name for themselves in the community, and others will fall, defeated by the enemy or internal stresses. Perhaps some of the alliances that entered World War Bee as first-time mercenaries will continue down the path, or maybe some of the players involved will want to strike out on their own. Regardless, EVE has never seen so many mercenaries at once and like the famous artists of the Italian renaissance, not all of them will be remembered, but their work has already changed the landscape of New Eden forever.
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February 21, 2016

Keep Your Comms Clear and Your Guns Loaded

Communication is key to practically everything: relationships, work, coordinating dinner plans, and especially EVE. Fleets that have poor communication are almost certainly doomed, unless they're fighting a fleet that doesn't speak at all perhaps.

EVE corporations and alliances have spent a lot of time over a lot of years coming up with ways to communicate. I'm sure all of us are familiar with strange words like dics, bubbles, scram, align, broadcast, burn, overheat, Poitot, etc. In Noir. Academy, we train our scouts to report in a specific way to ensure information is passed along as quickly and concisely as possible. Many other organizations do something similar and have their own methods of communicating that, while it may not be exact, would almost certainly be recognizable to almost any other player in the game if they were to hear it. Comm discipline is important to any combat fleet, no matter who you are.

This has actually been a large topic in Mercenary Coalition lately, and I've been very happy to see it taking root within the FC core. Obviously we all pride ourselves in being professional and efficient in MC, but that certainly doesn't mean we don't have room to improve. Tightening up our comm discipline is an easy way to see large improvements, and I encourage you to spread the word in your own alliance if you notice any of the symptoms below.

What is Comm Discipline?

Comm discipline, in short, means when and why people can speak in Teamspeak/Mumble (if you use Ventrilo now, WTF?). Depending on the overall culture of your corporation or alliance, you may have very strict or very relaxed comm discipline. In MC, we're trying to find the middle ground.

Bad Comm Discipline

It's difficult to summarize what bad comm discipline looks like because it can come in so many forms. I'll try and list a few common formats below:

The Rambler
The Rambler is someone who wants to get across a piece of information but takes a very long time to get there. They have good intentions, but they're not being concise. This can make the FC's job very difficult because they're keeping a lot of things in their head at once, and The Rambler makes them then juggle a lot of information at once in their short-term memory and then forces them to parse that information, too.

Instead, The Rambler should learn to take a step back and look at the information from a top-down method in terms of importance. Only announce the most important information that directly relates to the fleet. If you've got 25 ships in local, don't announce them one at a time. Instead, group them by ship types. "3 Rifters" instead of "Rifter, Rifter, Rifter". Sometimes, it can be as simple as that.

The Unimportant
I see this one all the time, especially in new players (but often in people who should know better). People often don't know when or what is worth announcing. Instead of running the information through their personal filter, they just blurt it out. And guess what? No one in the fleet cares that you just sold a faction item in Jita, or about the two ventures in lowsec when we're on the way to a stratop in Battleships.

If unimportant information floats across your comms, let people know that it's not important and then remind them what is. Remind your fleet what type of doctrine counters yours or what type of targets you're looking for. Try and frame the information you want so that your fleet knows what type of information to float upwards. Over time, hopefully, they'll become better at parsing information before passing it along.

The Vague & Urgent
The Vague & Urgent is an all-too-common example. This is where someone is relaying very important, very time-sensitive information, but in a totally non-actionable way. For instance, "Help! They're on me! I'm right on the gate and they're aggressing me from 5km away! Their drones are out and they're red boxed! Get in here now!"

As you can see, there are two things you can gleam from this comment: 1) something is happening right now, and you need to get involved and 2) you have absolutely no information to act on.

Again, information needs to be conveyed very quickly and clearly. The key is few words, much information. "In Obe on Hakonen gate there are 2 Rattlesnakes. They're 15km off gate and have drones out, aggressed."

This tells you all the information you need to make a decision and give orders.

Good Comm Discipline

There are so many examples of bad comm discipline, I could go on. The important thing is to develop good comm discipline. How do you do this? Well, again it will depend on your own organization's culture. For us in MC, we try to float back and forth between "loose" comms and "tight" comms. For instance, when I'm FCing I'll open up comms when I don't think anything is going to happen for a bit, usually when we're not moving. During these down times, people can chat all they want. But, when we're on the move or about to engage, I simply say "clear comms" and everyone knows that only scouts and I can talk.

When you have good comms discipline, information is clear, direct and actionable. Even when I'm not FCing, I want to be able to follow along with the FC and know as much as he does so I can understand how I can best fit into that. When multiple people are speaking over one another, there is far too much room for error. People will mishear information, people will misunderstand orders, people will die. 

Loose lips sink ships, so keep it tight and things will be alright.
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February 16, 2016

Get Comfortable, We're Not Going Anywhere

At this point, Mercenary Coalition has been on contract for almost two months, marking it as the longest contract that I've been a part of since we've joined MC. I should find out what the longest contract MC has taken to date.

We're pretty dug in now; we have a lot of assets in place, we're clicking well with the locals, and activity is high. It's pretty much the perfect situation for a mercenary alliance, no matter who you are.

Most of my play time has been spent doing Black Ops, mainly because it fits my availability right now and because in the late US timezone, we don't have huge numbers. Nevertheless, we've been (usually) pretty effective in the PST TZ. I've always said that the mark of an effective harrassment contract is when the targets stop logging in. Of course, that makes for sometimes boring game time, but when you zoom out and look at the abstract, it's a good thing.

As an aside, making someone not log in is actually terrible game design. That's for another post, I sure won't be digging into it here.

As you can see from our killboard, we've been fighting a lot of CO2 fleets out in Vale of the Silent and Tribute. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what they're doing here and why we were brought in. So far, our efforts have been very effective at blocking CO2's, which is good since that's what we're paid for.

Unfortunately, MC has lost a corp due to real life circumstances in the corp leadership. We're all sad to see them go, but some things can't be helped. All the corps have opened their doors to anyone who wants to join, and we'll wish them a warm farewell as they go. Their departure won't slow us down in the slightest, but I do hope we bring in another corp to replace their numbers. It's always very difficult to find another corporation who is truly dedicated to the mercenary life though, so it may be a while. But hey, if you think you're cut out for it, I'd love to chat!

I've been trying to take the reigns more often when I'm logged in. I've managed to find time to login for the last 5 days, FCing a couple of minor fleets. I've never been super happy being a regular grunt, so it's a good way to break free of those shackles. I don't know how much I'll focus on the FCing career - I enjoy it, but it's not my first choice as far as playstyles go - but I'm enjoying it for what it's worth.

I feel like I've forgotten a lot of my EVE geography, and right now, that's such an important mental tool to have. Time to study my physical EVE maps again! I love these things, and they never get enough use. I should get them laminated...
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February 14, 2016

January 12, 2016

Contract: You May Not Realize It, but It Matters

I want to summarize and quote a post one of our FC's, Athen, made on the Mercenary Coalition forums earlier. It's a great example of how, as a mercenary, sometimes your actions have far reaching consequences that aren't immediately obvious. Sometimes, even if the killboard isn't lit up like a Christmas tree, the employer is still incredibly happy with results. Below I'm going to outline a situation that fits into that category.

During the EU timezone (I was at work, unfortunately), Mercenary Coalition formed up a large Machariel fleet. We formed to support allied forces who were hitting some timers in the likely event that CFC responded. A couple of things here, Athen mentioned it specifically in the summary he posted, and it's worth repeating; I'll quote him: "We really do have one of the best logistic wings out of all eve alliances." I won't spend too much on this, but it's absolutely true. I've mentioned time and again how much moving is involved with being a mercenary, and with an alliance this size Mercenary Coalition would absolutely fall apart if we didn't have our logistics group.

So, after the fleet was formed and bridged into place, Athen held the fleet a few jumps out in lowsec while our Blues began hitting the timers. Ideally, CFC would commit on the fleet that they knew about, hitting the towers, since we were still a secret. Sure enough, CFC bridged in ~200 T3s and came within two jumps of the target system, unfortunately we were scouted at this point and they decided to bail.

And that's pretty much it. That's all that happened if you look at it from the grunt's perspective who doesn't have the full picture. This is the perspective most of us in EVE have. Rarely do we get a peak at "5 skype convos and 4 in game convos + intel channels", as Athen puts it, which gives context. But since Athen has shed light on the rest of the situation, let's dig deeper.

First, it wasn't just us and the Blues hitting the timer that were involved. CFC had another 200 T3s in support ready to come in, but they were caught by NC. and rage camped in a tower in Venal before they could move. And even though CFC still had a total numbers advantage, having their support fleet crippled, coupled with our large fleet in support (our alliance alone comprised 33% of the combined Blue fleet), probably convinced them not to engage with their main fleet.

And that is exactly what we're paid to do right now: make targets not show up, make targets stay docked. Make them want to live somewhere else. Our employer couldn't be happier. He couldn't have imagined a better situation, even. Was it boring from a pilot's perspective? Sure, but to me, the best part about being a mercenary is seeing your contribution effect the overall game. Sometimes, you may not realize it but what you do matters a whole hell of a lot.
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January 10, 2016

Mercenary Coalition: Contract Start

Today officially marks the beginning of Mercenary Coalition's next contract. This is our first one of the new year after a nice holiday. This marks the ninth contract Mercenary Coalition has had since Noir. joined the alliance in August. For those of you counting, that's averages out to almost two contracts a month. In short, that's pretty good.

Of course, I can't talk about the current contract because of security (but I'll do a recap once it's all said and done, obviously!), but I also can't talk about it because I don't know too much! There was an alliance meeting on Teamspeak last week that explained the contract in some detail to attendees, but the meeting was not recorded and I was not able to attend. In addition, while there are usually very motivational contract announcements, there wasn't one this time . Intentionally, apparently.

I have to admit, I'm a little bummed by the lack of contract announcement. Maybe it's silly, and perhaps I'm just being cantankerous but I truly enjoy reading a well-written hype post that lets you know what you're going to be doing. It's also an incredibly useful tool for those of us who, like me, missed the one-time explanation meetnig and provides a great reference tool when you're a couple weeks in.

Nevertheless, I hvae the basic gist of this contract, which is essentially a Harrassment contract. Our employer is paying us to keep the residents constantly on their toes, kill what we can, and deny them any kills if at all possible. What this means in practice is that we'll be doing a lot of skirmishing, rarely - if ever - hard engaging, and spending a lot of time cloaked. Personally, I love this kind of contract.

Yesterday, technically the day before the contract started, I logged in and saw 23 people in Teamspeak and nothing happening, so I started getting a blomber fleet together to either BLOPs or hit some towers. There were a couple of towers that had already been scouted that looked juicy, so we began preparing for hitting a Gallente Small.

As we were getting ready to depart, I realized I had a business call in about 30 minutes, so I handed the fleet to Zeeba, one of our regular FCs. We bridged into the system and began hitting the tower. Zeeba had us align to the sun (remember guys, always align in bombers!). We hit the tower for a while, bringing it to ~75 shield, before a small Circle of Two response fleet began forming. They came to us on the tower and we cloaked and warped off.

Unfortunately, when you ask people to align towards the sun they often warp there, too. To make it worse, some pilots warped before cloaking, letting the Co2 fleet follow. Somehow they apparently managed to decloak a couple of guys and nab four kills and a pod.

Around this time my business call had not shown up, so Zeeba handed the fleet back over to me. We hung around in system cloaked up for a while until the Co2 fleet left system. We began hitting the tower again, this time everyone aligning out to their own celestials.

What followed was a series of dances with one another: MC hitting a tower, Co2 responding with a Crow, Ares, Vengeance, and Confessor, MC cloaking up and warping off, only to repeat.

The Confessor was a surprise, locking and hitting from 100km. With no point, we were able to avoid it easily enough. At one point, we had been warping around a bit and I had just moved the fleet back to a POS to begin the dance. Just a bit after we had landed, a Vengeance came as well. We were all still cloaked about 40km away from him, so he wasn't aware of our presence. Surprisingly, he was about 10km outside of the shields and was at a full stop. So, I ordered the fleet to approach cloaked and get point. I kind of screwed the pooch, decloaking myself before our points were in range, but it ended up not mattering. I ordered the fleet to decloak and light him up, and due to having no tank, the Vengeance went down before he could even align out. We nabbed his pod, too.

It had already become pretty clear that we weren't going to be able to take the tower down, so with that kill I decided to go ahead and get out while we were ahead. Well, at least before we got more behind.

Overall, nothing special. It's always fun to fly, and even more fun to FC - even a small, easy fleet like this. Next time, we'll bring a Rapier and Falcon and I'll be comfortable taking on their response fleet and hopefully finish the tower.


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January 9, 2016

Mercenary Coalition is in the Perfect Place

I have to admit, I've had a little to drink tonight. Nevertheless, something came up in Teamspeak that I thought would be worth talking about a little. As the title says, I truly believe Mercenary Coalition is in the perfect place in EVE right now.

Let me explain. A few years ago, I wrote about the Current State of Mercenaries in EVE. One of my all time most popular posts, I reference it a lot. This is partly because it was a very relevant post, and partly because it speaks to me a lot. Being a mercenary is obviously my favorite part of EVE and one that I associate with greatly. So why is MC so perfectly placed? I'll be happy to explain.

Content

For one, Mercenary Coalition is lacking nothing in content. We're always on deployment, which is good for a mercenary (up to a point - everyone needs a little down time). This means that employers are approaching us with ISK - and lots of it. This tells me that mercenaries are in demand in EVE, and the supply is definitely low. We're well positioned to accept these contacts due to the last year of work in building the alliance in terms of members. Now we have the pilots to take on large contracts that people are paying for.

I haven't done an in-depth dive into the amount of content that's been created due to recent Sovereign changes, but anectodely, there seems to be more activity in nullsec. As I mentioned before, a mercenary's true work is in null sec. If people are envious of owning their neighbors null sec system, there will always be a demand for mercenaries. 

Thus, it can be surmised - although not proven - that there is more content in EVE being generated than, say, in the last year and a half that makes mercenaries desirable.

Timing

Similarly, it's great timing for Mercnary Coalition to be making a comeback. With sovereignty changes and many other improvement in EVE, it's a great time to be a mercenary. Whenever large, major shake ups happen, corporations and alliances will call in backup. As I mentioned before, the last time this happened was when Dominion was released. Unfortunately, that died down drastically as people realized that you basically had to be part of a major nullsec alliance to make a difference. Hopefully that won't happen this time.

New Blood

This is an interesting one. One of the corporations in MC recruits heavily from EVE Uni. I've personally given lectures to EVE Uni, and we've put some focus on EUni in the past, before I was CEO of Noir. Academy. Yet, we've never seen any positive response. Yet, License to Kill [007] has seen great success from recruiting EUni pilots. There are quite a few reasons for this, but the point is that by drawing in new characters to the mercenary career, it actually gains us a net positive.

People often join a mercenary corporation alliance or corporation with idealistic dreams in their head for what being a mercenary is life. Often times, they're disappointed by reality. This isn't anything to be ashamed of and in Noir. we certainly don't hold any grudges against people who realise this lifestyle isn't for them. But, in practice, this isn't uncommon. However, by utilizing deep connections in an established new player organization, MC is adding members to the ranks at a fairly stable rate.

Without all of these things combined, it would be very difficult for MC to excel in EVE. But, luckily, it's actually a pretty good time to be a mercenary. Things have changed since I started, of course, and things will continue to change. But, as the old saying goes, adapt or die.

MC is adapting. MC is thriving.
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