October 10, 2012

Magic Nullification: Countering Kiting

So, since kiting is definitely not magic, that means you can fight it, right? Right. But how?

You can't point this!

First, you have to realize the one major weakness of almost every kiting ship: it usually cannot take, or deal, as much damage as a brawling ship. It naturally follows that you should try to hit it harder than it's hitting you. How to do that depends on your ship/fit, what type of kiter you're facing, and other factors, but here's some general advice:

  • Close distance if you can. The closer you are, the more you will be able to punch the kiter in the face.
  • Load long range ammo if you can. If you can afford it, always use T2 guns for this very reason (Scorch, Null, and Barrage ammo are your friends against kiters).
  • Overheat, overheat, overheat. This especially applies to your warp scrambler and stasis webifier, both of which gain range when overheated -- possibly giving you that small edge to get on top of the kiter.
  • Use your electronic warfare. Many kiters are easily crippled by electronic warfare (tracking disruptors, sensor dampeners, energy neutralizers, etc).
  • Run away, or get a friend. Kiting ships don't usually do spectacular damage, so you may be able to hold up until you can jump out or dock up, or until a friend can come help. You can even holler in local if there are people who may be interested in killing the kiter. They might kill you as well, but at least that way your kiter dies too.
Blob mode... engage!

So, now that that general advice is over with, let's look at some particular tactics for messing up kiters.

1. Break the kiter's approach

Remember this little piece of advice I gave aspiring kiters on how their approach should work?

How a kiter sees you
Well, you're going to get a similar thing, except in reverse! You want the kiter's path to directly intersect yours, landing you on top of him. 

But wait, it's not that simple! If you were thinking "I'll just hit the 'approach' button", you will still die to most kiters, as they see you approaching and will simply burn at an angle (as in the above illustration). When you see a kiter approaching you, watch for the direction his engine trails show up in, and double click in space directly opposite to them. This looks like (from two perspectives):

Yes, I used the same "ship burning semi-sideways" image as before. So?

When you do this, it will either end up with you catching your kiter, or him having to make a snap decision to switch direction to dodge you -- which you need to be prepared by switching your own direction, until one of you catches the other. If you're trying to catch him, overheat all the things to have a better chance at doing so. With some luck, the sudden burst of speed and tackle range will catch him off guard and win you the fight.

Storytime: This is how I got my first kill of a T2 ship in a T1-fit Rifter! I had just quit a fleet in a huff (they had sent me to scout several systems away while they got in a sweet fight) when I ran into this guy. I broke his orbit, held him down, and won the fight with about 1/3 structure remaining. I'm still proud of it to this day. As anyone who flies with me can testify, I have only gotten worse at flying since then.


2. Break the kiter's orbit ("slingshot")

All kiters are potentially vulnerable to this once they set up their orbit, especially if their agility is poor or their speed advantage isn't significant. Many kiters are surprised by the almost magical sequence of everything suddenly going wrong: their point/damage dropping, soon followed by being caught and killed.

How it works: 
  1. Double click in a random direction in space, preferably right behind where the kiter is.
  2. Turn on your propulsion mod (MWD preferably, but AB can work too)
  3. Run a cycle or so in that direction.
  4. Double click in the complete opposite direction (possibly slightly to the side), overheat things, and get ready to catch yourself a kiter.
Why it works:

Second panel: That is the scariest blue dot I have ever drawn.

When you burn out in one direction, the kiter's inertia keeps carrying him along the original orbit -- which is now too far from you. If he is using the "orbit" button, he will start almost approaching you. This leads to a very easy catch. If he is being smart and manually piloting, it may be harder, but at least it cuts out the damage for a bit, and makes him work harder for killing you.

3. Terrain advantage, or friendly help

If you ever tried to kite someone near asteroids or a station, you'll have noticed it is incredibly difficult to kite while constantly colliding (bumping) with your surroundings. As someone being kited, you can use this to your advantage.

Simply stick around stations, asteroids, gates, or other collidable objects and use them as nets to catch you a kiter.

Kiter's worst enemy.

Bonus points: substitute a friend for these for an asteroid that can tackle! (and don't tell your friend he's only an asteroid to you)

4. See it coming, and act accordingly (run away!)

Kiters are the bane of some ships' existence (e.g. afterburner blaster ships). There is little they can do to win against a kiter. So... learn to use your directional scanner, local channel, and intel channels. You can also warp in at safe distances, or try other classic "safe practices". These will all help you not be surprised by kiters. 

This also includes knowing what some common kiting ships are. It's up to you to form a mental list of these, but so far as frigates go, here's a sample list of ships for which kiting combat fits are very common (other ships can kite too, but are somewhat uncommon): Executioner, Condor, Coercer, Cormorant, Thrasher, Slicer, Hookbill, Retribution, Hawk, Harpy, Ishkur, Wolf, Crusader, Crow, Sentinel, Dramiel, Daredevil, Worm. If you have more, please let me know in the comments.

Over time, you can also become familiar with identifying the speed of a ship, and inferring its fit from that. For example, a Retribution moving at 400 m/s base speed is kiting fit; one moving at 300 m/s has a plated fit, and won't kite.

... the less unexpected your enemy will be!

5. Scram range (-ish) kiters

This sort of kiter presents extra problems since he is typically expecting a warp scrambler and a stasis webifier -- and can kill you despite you "catching" him. If one of these has engaged you, it means that he is already confident he can kill you (he has done his job selecting targets) and you most likely are vulnerable to something he is doing.

This means you are either dealing with someone who knows what he's doing (and you will have to do all of the above, possibly repeatedly, to win this) or he doesn't, in which case he will fold up easily. In both cases, you have to fire all the weapons ever. That's as much as I can tell you.

Pew Pe-pew Pew!

The... end?

Sort of. Both kiting and countering it require lots of practice, and every time you do it (whether you are successful or not) you are bound to learn something new. Try them both, too: knowing how to kite helps you counter others' kiting, and vice versa. Read both the last post and this one, grab a friend (or an enemy, I'm not picky), and go practice. Pew pew!

October 8, 2012

Magical Kiting 101

Bittervet note: Only frigate kiting is covered here. Vagabonds, Cynabals, Zealots, Tengus, Machariels, etc can go... do something else.

I love flying kiting ships from time to time. Now and then, a newer corp member calls me a space wizard because kiting seems impossibly difficult to do (probably as a result of a bad experience trying it straight up). My saying "it's not that hard" doesn't really help, since it somehow just reinforces the space wizardry. Well... I'm here to tell you:

I am not a space wizard! Kiting is not space magic!

Marvel at the lack of magic in this picture.

"Okay, so then how do you do it?"

Well... Kiting (and doing it properly) can be complicated, and can vary in difficulty depending on what ship you pick, your fit, and your target. So, let's outline some basic steps:
  1. Pick a ship and weapon system, keeping their stats (speed, damage, tracking, fittings) in mind
  2. Pick a non-point-blank range you want to operate at
  3. Decide how you will control range to your target (alternatively, settle on a selection of targets you will be able to keep range from; alternatively, decide how to handle something catching you)
  4. Create a fit encompassing #1-3; try to build in a "surprise" or "ace up the sleeve" if you can
  5. Fly it. Correctly.
Seems simple, right? Eh... almost. "Kiting" is merely the concept of fighting a target by using speed and superior damage projection. Beyond that, there are kiting ships and there are kiting ships, and each type of kiting requires different techniques. Some examples are orbiting with a MWD at 20 km or so, versus simply holding range at 20 km or more, versus kiting just on the edge of warp scrambler range (with a MWD or AB), versus kiting within scram range with an AB. With that in mind, let's start looking at a step by step breakdown of kiting:

1. The Ship

No magic, just a Slicer.

Lots of ships can kite. The only prerequisites are being able to be relatively fast, and being able to fit a relatively long range weapon. An optimal or falloff range bonus helps, as does fitting long range ammo, or other tactics (side point: T1 kiting fits are hard to come by; train T2). Let's look at some examples of different types:
  • Imperial Navy Slicer (Amarr) - Featured in the snapshot above. The Slicer is a quintessential MWD-kiting frigate. It is capable of very high speeds, excellent agility, and the combination of its damage bonus, optimal range, and pulse lasers with Scorch crystals means it can hit for very good damage as far as 22 km away, with very little tracking problems. All this comes at the cost of it being a bit paper-thin though.
  • Harpy (Caldari) - This assault frigate is not remarkably fast/agile, but it mounts a giant tank and has two optimal range bonuses. This means that railguns are right at home on it, and can easily get 20+ km ranges with damage beating the Slicer's, while having many times the tank -- meaning it handles itself better if it gets caught, or against bigger ships.
Its base hull might be the "Merlin", but that is a reference to the bird of prey, not the wizard.
  • Caldari Navy Hookbill (Caldari) - Fairly fast and agile, it can be flown with light missiles for very long range, or with rockets for borderline-scrambler range. Its 5 mid slots allowit to have great flexibility, and few frigates can fight it toe to toe due to the nasty surprises the Hookbill often brings to the table (a combination of webs, tracking disruptors, sensor dampeners, or tank). Handles itself well within or without warp scrambler range.
  • Ishkur (Gallente) - Compatable to the Harpy, but faster and has the nifty unique ability of throwing a full flight of drones at its target, resulting in reliable, range-independent and tracking-independent damage. Gets most of its hit points by just fitting a Damage Control, which is really convenient.
  • Wolf (Minmatar) - Is faster than most other assault frigates, and can take its pick of autocannon or artillery for kiting, giving it the freedom to choose between great tracking and dangerous up close, or great alpha strike.
Of course, lots of other ships can kite, but these are just some examples. Now, on to the next part:

2. Range, and Controlling It

Dramiel, king of range control, whether it kites or not. 
While kiting can be simply distilled to "keeping out of the other guy's range", specializing your own ship to work at a particular range -- and to be able to keep itself at that range -- is the right thing to do. Some broad categories of ranges and their characteristics are:

  • Scram range (5-10 km). This is within the operational range of warp scramblers and stasis webifiers, so an afterburner, scrambler, and (possibly) web of your own are mandatory to control optimal position. You may want to have a way to manage people who do get in close.
  • Borderline scram range (10-14 km). This range is one of the most difficult to keep, since it requires careful management of overheated modules (scramblers, webs, afterburners, and microwarpdrive pulsing). Few ships can pull it off, but it can catch enemies quite off guard.
  • Skirmish range (15-28 km). This is typically outside the range of hard tackle modules, which means a lot of fast zipping around with microwarpdrives. In some ways, it is the easiest to fly, as getting out of sticky situations is easier. However, you either have to be very fast, very good, or able to handle being caught -- if you're not, you will die.
  • Sniping range (30+ km). Not for solo combat unless you can kill your enemy before they have a chance to warp. Typically means death if you get caught, so stay aligned
45 km beam laser sniping Coercer = almost magical

Pick one, and pick a weapon system for your kiting ship to match it. Make sure your range/speed do not break your weapon system (for example, using railguns in scram range is usually a poor idea, or using artillery on a super-fast ship like a Dramiel or Claw is also a poor idea).

3. Your Fit

There really isn't an easy way to describe how you should fit, other than putting an emphasis on range control and damage. Tank is auxiliary (but needs some consideration), and extra doodads (tracking disruptors?) can also come into it, but really it's about staying away and doing damage.
  • High slots: Appropriate weapons, possibly a nosferatu (cap is vital for range control) or an offline salvager, too.
  • Med slots: Your choice of propulsion mod based on your chosen range and appropriate tackle. Tank (if you're shield tanked), webs, or other cantrips are secondary.
  • Low slots: Damage/range mods, nanofiber internal structures, overdrive injectors, damage control (not strictly necessary, but nice). Think twice before armor tanking, it is usually counterproductive.
Ishkur belonging to this Warrior not pictured because it's so good at kiting (not because it's magical).

Most fits end up pretty straightforward. Have some examples of my own:
  • Shield Rifter (scram range). Uses Rifter's superior speed to keep range. Usually works better with T2 guns and Barrage, but the base autocannon falloff can be sufficient.
  • Edit: Condor and Slasher (scram range). At Azual's request, these deserve mention as faster but more fragile alternatives to the shield Rifter. With its 4 mid slots, the Slasher can even pack some surprise electronic warfare of some kind. I haven't used them myself in this way, though, so I can't link you my fits.
  • "Spanish Inquisition" Malediction (scram range). Can either out-range or out-track most frigates, plus is rather unexpected. More details in a dedicated blog post.
  • "Long Arm of the Law" Comet (borderline scram range). Decent tank, great damage, and can out-run most frigates. Those it can't outrun, it either webs so it can, or tracks perfectly (because they have a MWD running).
  • Dick-Cormorant (borderline scram range). Keeps the target at arm's length (12-13 km away) using overheated webs, while shredding it with railguns. More details in a dedicated blog post.
  • Super Slicer (skirmish range). Incredibly fast and hard to hit, but it can hit things very well at up to 22 km, with no tracking problems (pulse lasers are short range weapons, yo!)
  • Bittervet Harpy (skirmish range). Not quite as fast as the Slicer, but much better range, and can take far more damage.
  • Hotpocket Coercer (sniping range). Named after the guy I stole the fit from, this lovely just sits far away and applies constant damage. Frigates unaware of it can do can easily get caught by surprise and blown up before realizing what's going on.

4. Your Piloting

Even if you got all the above right (or copied one of my fits), you are still liable to die horribly. No, it's not because kiting is magical, but rather because...

Using automatic piloting (orbiting, keep range) is ineffective, predictable, and can/will get you killed!

To really master kiting, you have to know when to manually pilot, and when to just let things happen. Especially at the start of a fight, you never ever want to use automatic functions. Yes, manual piloting means double clicking in space. Yes, it involves split-second reaction times. Yes, it's easy to screw up. Yes, having a faster ship helps. Let me break it up for you:

The Approach. You want to manually try to approach your target at an angle, so you ease into range. Burning into the target is not good (as he may catch/kill you), and burning behind him will just make you not catch him. Have a helpful diagram:

Of course, if he realizes you're doing this and shifts path to try to make you head into one of the red areas, you will need to shift your own trajectory. It takes some practice to master this step, so get a friend and try practicing catching him (with him trying his best to not be caught). This will give you both valuable experience for real combat situations in which you're either trying to kite, or to counter a kiter.

The Range-Keeping. Once you get in range, how do you stay there? For some ships, like the Slicer, the answer may be "hit orbit". However, that is only the case if you have the speed and tracking for it. The Harpy, for example, breaks its own tracking if it tries that, while others are not agile enough to maintain an orbit if the target suddenly springs for tackle. Some useful techniques to learn are microwarpdrive pulsing (activating your MWD only now and then), overheating at the right time, and burning in straight lines.

You can also practice this with your friend.

The Not-Getting-Ganked. Sometimes you will be dealing with multiple targets, and keeping distance becomes much more of a chore. If you were orbiting, you might not be able to. You have to watch for flanking, or simply burning into one of the targets. Like this:

Rendered in loving detail by yours truly.
Simply heading away sometimes helps by peeling off the fastest of the targets, so you can kill it. Alternatively, you may just have to...

The GTFO. An advantage of kiting is that you do not have to commit 100% to fights. Always try to have an escape route open if you're not winning.

The End.

That's it. No more magic. That's all. Yes, it's that "simple". Of course, there are individual ship nuances, special gang setups, and special considerations for kiting using bigger ships, but do you really want a bigger wall of text than this post already is?

Now, get out there and practice! There is no recipe for success other than knowing what you're doing, and you won't get that from a silly blog post. Go! Shoo!

Soon you'll be a bittervet in one of these kiters. Then you'll see magic.