Killmail Archivist

EVE Online theorycrafting and history


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Interceptor Balance: Risk Versus Reward

Over 17,000 pilots flew an interceptor in combat in the month of May.  (Either because they showed up on a killmail, or because they became one.)  Looking at those pilots, 38% of them didn’t lose a single interceptor in May — if those pilots flew nothing but interceptors, they would have an infinite kill-to-death ratio!

If we dig further into this data, we can select the set of capsuleers with a K:D ratio higher than 10:1 in interceptors; if you check their choices of interceptors to fly, three hulls are used almost exclusively: the Malediction, Crow, and Stiletto.  The Stiletto’s appearance on this list is fairly unremarkable; it’s an extremely popular fleet interceptor, and we discovered earlier (in Wednesday’s post) that it does comparatively little damage in most fights.  However, we also found on Wednesday that the Malediction and Crow do relatively good damage — between 80-95%, on average, of the damage of a “gank” interceptor like the Taranis or Crusader.  That’s odd, and deserves some looking at.

Committing To The Fight

The Taranis, Crusader, and Claw are all extremely high-DPS ships — and they can even be reasonably sturdy.  (Taranises favor reinforced bulkheads after the Kronos changes; Claws typically carry a local armor repairer, and Crusaders typically fit a 200mm plate.)  However, all of them have weapons that encourage engaging at very close range: 1-3km for blaster/AC fits, and 6-8km for railgun/artillery/pulse laser fits.  Fighting at this range exposes them to a lot of danger:

  • It puts them in range of warp scramblers, stasis webs, and medium neuts.  (In the case of blaster/AC fits, it also puts you in range of small neuts and smartbombs.)
  • When orbiting, you can maintain full speed in a large orbit, but tend to lose speed when in tight orbits (subject to your ship’s agility stat) .  This means that you’re more likely to be hit by light drones.

As a result, these close-range ships are forced to commit 100% to a fight; they rarely have an opportunity to escape if things don’t go their way.  Taranises and Crusaders wade into a fight, guns blazing, and don’t leave until at least one party has died.

Rote Kapelle once had a guide to interceptors on their forums, and it had five points that looked roughly like this:

  1. Pick how far away you’re going to engage (i.e. long range vs close range ammo)
  2. Pick how you’re going to avoid damage (i.e. keep-at-range versus orbit).  Set that range.
  3. Burn in.  Press whatever movement key you’ve decided on.
  4. Overheat everything.
  5. Cross fingers.

 

In summary, these hulls present a lot of risk to the pilot, but that risk is balanced by the reward: extremely high DPS for an interceptor.  The Taranis and Crusader are capable of burst DPS that can overwhelm local tanks easily, and take down hulls much larger than themselves.

We can contrast this with the classic tackle interceptors — the Stiletto and Ares — which present a low risk, low reward choice.  These hulls lack the damage bonuses of their counterparts, but get a bonus to the range of warp disruptors and warp scramblers instead, allowing them to tackle at long range.  Both of them typically fit some weapons; however, the hulls have extremely low power grid and a limited numbers of low slots, discouraging long-range weapons or high damage builds.  Their guns/missiles are largely intended for shooting down drones that are chasing them, and potentially defending themselves from other frigates that have successfully warp-scrambled them.  In exchange for that limited utility, they can operate largely risk-free: they’re nimble, and can maintain a point from 30-36km away, well out of the range of most weapons and even heavy neuts.  When orbiting at long distance, they can maintain high speed, meaning that drones have to shift in and out of MWD mode and will struggle to apply damage to them.

The Brave Sir Robin of Interceptors

The Malediction and Crow, however, live in an intermediary area: they are low risk, but moderate DPS.  They’re billed as tackle interceptors, and have the matching bonus to point/scram range; however, they also have bonuses to all missiles, and the grid/cpu to fit light missile launchers.  As a result, they can both tackle at long range, and apply damage at long range.  They aren’t required to close to a hostile ship’s web/scram/neut range, and can fight for a sustained period of time.

This explains why Wednesday’s findings showed Maledictions and Crows with a median damage-dealt value so competitive with the high-damage interceptors: the high-damage interceptors are forced to wade into dangerously close ranges, and have a lifetime measured in seconds.  They output a very high DPS for a short period of time!  The Malediction and Crow, on the other hand, output a moderate amount of DPS for a sustained period of time (due to not being threatened by tackle, neuts, or light drones) and end up putting out a similar amount of damage on each completed kill.  And the player base has certainly figured this out, given that over 90% of Crows and Maledictions are fitted with light missiles.

This is particularly notable given how difficult it is to fit LMLs, since they have high grid/CPU needs.  The general theme for most of Eve’s weapons is that close-range weapons have high damage potential and low fitting requirements, while long-range weapons have a slightly lower damage potential and high fitting requirements.  Fitting LMLs to a Crow or Malediction requires significant compromises in tank and mobility, compared to a rocket-based fit; however, the vast majority of Eve players prefer LMLs.

While the Crow may be more popular, I’d argue that the Malediction has the lower risk-to-reward ratio here.  While it may have much lower damage potential than the Crow, the Malediction compensates for this in two ways:

  • It has four low-slots, giving it room for mobility mods, at least one damage mod, and at least one tank-related module (either a suitcase or a small armor repairer).
  • It’s significantly more mobile than the Crow, and does so with a smaller signature radius (being armor-tanked instead of shield-tanked).

A Malediction with two speed modules is capable of jumping through a gate, aligning to its outbound destination, and entering warp in under two seconds.  Meanwhile, it is tiny enough that even the fastest-locking ships will take one second or longer to lock it.  This means that it’s exceptionally difficult to catch — even if you have a remote-sensor-boosted interceptor or Keres that can lock a frigate in less than a second, you will struggle to activate tackle modules on the ship, because the tackle modules won’t activate until the subsequent server tick after you lock the target.  (I’ve got a blog post on server ticks queued up for next week.)

As a result, Maledictions that are fitted in this way are near-invincible.  They’re only killable by catching them while they’re in the process of killing something (i.e. while the pilot is distracted) or killing them in mid-warp with a smartbombing battleship.

I actually don’t think that this mobility is a bad thing.  I find it quite interesting to have a ship that’s nimble enough to evade instalocking gatecamps, especially when combined with the bubble immunity that’s common to all interceptors.  (In particular, I think the Taranis is excellently balanced against the Enyo.)  However, when you have this functionality AND the ability to put down decent damage from a safe range, things start breaking quickly.

Steps Forward

There’s a fair amount of argument among Eve bloggers that giving bubble immunity, or high mobility, to interceptors was a mistake.  I disagree with this — I think they’re fantastic for running down targets, and for providing an interesting alternative to assault frigates.  However, the long range of Maledictions and Crows is a problem.  Thus:

What if Maledictions and Crows had a bonus to rocket damage only, instead of all missiles?

In this case, LMLs would still be an option to those pilots that desired to fit them; however, their damage on those systems would drop to be comparable with the Stiletto and Ares.  However, they could still fit rockets to get moderate-to-high damage for self-defense versus drones, or for high-risk ganking at scrambler/web range.

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Interceptors Kills/Losses, May 2014

I’ve got a post coming up regarding two of the interceptors; rather than just making a bunch of assumptions, I figured that I’d actually gather some data about how inties are actually being used in Eve.  (I love data!)

Squizz and Karbo are generously allowing people to query the zKillboard database through a JSON API, and I wrote a quick set of Python scripts to pull down all killmails involving interceptors for the month of May, and do some number crunching.  In the end, I got the following spreadsheet:

Interceptor Kills/Losses, May 2014

There are three pages to this spreadsheet.  The first page tracks all killmails where an interceptor died.  The second page tracks all killmails that had at least one interceptor on the attacker list, and marks what system it took place in and what weapons were used.  The third page is the interesting one — it breaks down killmails by the ship class of the victim (i.e. all T1 frigates, all cruisers, all interdictors, etc.) and computes median damage for each interceptor against that class.

There’s a few interesting conclusions to draw, most of which will be no surprise if you do any amount of PvP with, or against, frigates:

  • The Crow is the most popular interceptor, leading the pack in both kills and deaths.  For kills involving interceptors attacking, the Stiletto sits in #2, and the Malediction #3; for interceptors exploding, the Stiletto and Taranis are tied for #2, followed by the Malediction.  Hardly anybody uses the Raptor — or, as it’s better known, the “Craptor”.  While a strict K:D ratio isn’t particularly meaningful here, the Malediction would certainly win at it.
  • Roughly 80% of kills with at least one interceptor on the mail occur in null-sec.  (The Malediction and Crow, however, have a little more popularity in low-sec space.)
  • The Crow and Malediction are primarily being used for damage dealing, as opposed to tackling.  How do we know this? For each engagement in the game, the Eve servers track the last module you activated on the target, and your total damage.  However, if you’re activating a slowly-cycling non-damaging module, such as a warp disruptor, the server may forget your last weapon. In that case, when the target actually and the server assembles a killmail, it will put the name of your interceptor hull as the weapon, which zKB and EveKill treat as “Unknown”.  For most of the interceptors, these unknown weapons account for 30-50% of killmails; however, for the Crow and Malediction, they account for less than 1% of killmails, because their weapons are constantly cycling and applying damage.
  • Crow and Malediction pilots overwhelmingly favor light missiles.  In 92% of killmails where a Crow had a visible weapon, it was a light missile; 88% for the Malediction.  In comparison, the other eight interceptors mainly favor close-to-medium range weapons.  (I consider the artillery Claw to be close-range, since it’s typically aiming for a 10km optimal.)
  • Almost all other interceptor pilots use short-range weapons. The Taranis, Stiletto, and Crusader favor close-range weapons almost exclusively; Claw pilots mostly favor autocannons, although there are a few artillery fits designed to kite in scrambler range with high-damage ammo. Ares and Raptor pilots are split between railguns and blasters, but when they do take railguns, they’re typically 75mm Gatling Rails due to grid or tracking constraints.
  • Breaking it down by target ship, in most cases, the Taranis leads the pack on average damage output (as expected), followed by the Claw and Crusader.  However, the Malediction and Crow are usually right behind them! Why is this remarkable? The Malediction and Crow are billed as the “tackle inties” due to their point range bonus; the other two tackle inties (the Ares and Stiletto) typically do very little damage to their targets, while the “combat inties” (Taranis/Claw/Crusader/Raptor) do not get bonuses to point range.  In fact, for nearly all target classes, the median damage of the Malediction and/or Crow are within 20% or better of the Taranis’ median damage.  Pretty good, especially for a a weapon system that’s good out to 30km, instead of the Taranis’ 1km-optimal blasters or the Claw’s autocannons.
  • In many cases, if at least one interceptor was on a killmail, there was more than one interceptor, and those interceptors did a healthy chunk of damage.  In fact, if you lost a frigate and had an interceptor on your killmail, there’s a 25% chance that you died solely to inties.

Is this data indicating a balance problem? Probably.  The full explanation will come on Friday, once I finish writing it.  :)

In the meantime, the source code for my scripts and the raw output is here, if you’d like to look.  To run the scripts yourself, you’ll need Python 3.4, a copy of the CCP SDE in SQLite3 format from Steve Ronuken, and about 600MB of free disk space for all the killmails.