The future of off-grid boosting has been rumored, debated, confirmed, refuted, and battled over across the EVE community. At this point, I won’t bother to weigh in on whether it’s “Actually Going to Happen™”, but I am interested in thinking a little bit about what the impact would be if tomorrow we logged in an off-grid boosters were no more. Off-grid boosting is a widely used and very significant game mechanic.
I think suffice it to say that PVP pilots are a competitive bunch and competitors want to gain as many advantages over their opponents as they can. This is, after all, EVE and this game did not get its reputation because players treat each other to candy canes and gumdrops. If you take away one advantage, it will increase the importance of others. And with that, I’ll start my list off with a couple of my strongest predictions:
I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me…
I believe Combat Boosters (drugs) will become more expensive and to a smaller extent we’ve already seen a shift upwards in price. If you can’t get the extra resists from that boosting alt, or the extra shield repping power – drugs will somewhat be able to fill that gap for you. Drugs don’t have nearly the skillpoint requirement as a decent booster alt (and, in fact, drugs have no requirements whatsoever to even HAVE an alt). However, they still have several significant barriers to entry for newer pilots:
- Drugs are expensive even if they don’t go up in price after boosts are nerfed. If you want a couple hours of enhanced tracking and better repping power you’re in for at least 10 million ISK regardless of how much combat you get out of that period.
- The Neurotoxin Recovery and Neurotoxin Control skillbooks are very important for drug consumption but also very expensive for newbros. At the moment, their combined cost will run you back over 200 million ISK.
- They’re dangerous to transport if you operate across systems of mixed security levels (i.e. high and low security space). I don’t know how many folks have lost haulers packed with stuff because of that tiny little Blue Pill sitting on the dashboard. “Officer… that’s not mine! I’m holding it for a corpmate.” Yeah… CONCORD doesn’t care. And now you’re getting insta-blapped by NPCs in hi-sec.
- Finally, I think a lot of newer pilots don’t even know they’re a potential option for PVP. The bitter vets among us may not think twice about keeping that handle little bit of Quafe ready for a sticky situation, but when you’re just starting out there’s enough to learn already. Worrying about drugs and all of the rules, mechanics, and caveats probably are (and should be) low on a new player’s list.
Over the long term, drugs are more expensive and present a higher risk that they will not “payout”. The mechanics are certainly less convenient than having a Loki sit on top of a station and provide a buff to your ship essentially for free indefinitely – but if you’re a competitive PVP pilot, especially in solo and small gang situations, drugs will become more valuable in an on-grid boosting world.
I would feel better about myself if I got implants…
Along the same lines, I’m sure it’s no surprise that implants will also be MUCH more important. Anyone who’s ever kited before and after High-Grade Snakes or facetanked a fleet of ships pre and post High-Grade Slaves knows that the top tier of implants might be expensive, but MY GOD are they a huge advantage. In the absence of the better resists and more repping power that comes with off-grid boosting, the extra speed or hit points you can obtain just by cramming your head with hardwiring will be difficult to pass up.
As with anything in a free market, if the value goes up so does the demand. At the moment, CCP hasn’t announced anything that would lead me to believe that the supply of implants will be increased via drop rates or otherwise – so you know what direction prices will head. Remember, though, that your friendly neighborhood LP store has a large selection of implants available at huge discounts. I would be watching the LP/ISK ratio for implants as soon as off-grid boosters get the axe. There may be some money to be had for Faction Warfare warriors.
Plexing not so Vexing
It can be argued that Faction Warfare presents an ideal method of entry for players looking to venture forth from the warm waters of hisec and try PVP. If I was a newish player with 15 million SP I know what an insta-undock bookmark is but I don’t know how to slingshot a kiter or bait tank a fleet of frigates. At this point I think it’s reasonable to expect that, with the right guidance, someone with the basics of EVE down can have a lot of fun in FW but also learn a lot. I do not, however, expect a person like this (who arguably is the lifeblood of FW) to have a heavy duty boosting alt complete with a Mindlink implant and Command Ships V.
Sitting in a Novice plex by my lonesome, it can be a very frustrating time if a more experienced pilot fancies a fight with me with that sort of boosting advantage behind them. Of course, the more experienced pilot will have a long list of additional advantages and there’s nothing wrong with that. But now that veteran pilot has to put a lot more of that advantage on the line and, in the absence of that boosting command ship, the playing field is a bit more even at least in terms of pure stats. Sure, I can take drugs and put high-grade implants in my clone. But after a short time those drugs will have worn off and that ISK is gone. If I’m unlucky and that newb pilot gets a quick lock on my pod, I could be out billions thanks to my fancy high-grade set. Compare that to a tanky command ship sitting on station only one click away from invulnerability. The risk profile is quite a bit different now to accumulate a massive advantage.
Even if off-grid boosting is eliminated I’m confident that well-organized fleets will still absolutely go through the effort of bringing boosts into battle. Based on the changes CCP has implemented over the past few months I think they very much want people to bring boosts to fleet battles but they don’t want it to be an “AFK advantage”. The way I see it, fleets have two options when they field something like a command ship for boosting:
- Stick the boosting ship in the middle of your logi and keep him on your watchlist. This way, the booster is like any other high-profile ship in your fleet. If your fleet’s reps can hold, then boosting is not particularly high-risk, nor does it require a lot of user input to keep the booster safe. The risk is still of course far higher than if your booster was off-grid and capable of slipping away in the event that the fight started going badly. Still, I think the new strategies required of an on-grid booster for fleets will be more fun both the attacker and defender.
- Use a cloaky alt or bookmark to warp the booster in after battle has begun and/or most of the threats to the booster are dead or tackled. Since CCP has vastly increased the size of the grid, it is now possible to keep a boosting ship 1000km off of the main battle quietly aligned out while it grants life-saving boosts to the fleet. There are many dangers to this as well, and a clever prober or searingly fast inty could potentially spell disaster. But then again, with the Command Destroyer’s ability to generate micro jump fields, plopping your Damnation amidst a pack of Guardians isn’t foolproof either.
What does all this mean? For starters, boosts are still very much viable in fleet operations but they now present an interesting tactical challenge to FCs and booster pilots. I’m not sure you’d need a dedicated pilot to fly a boosting ship and nothing else. Hell, people multi-box entire wings of Augorors in fleets and it isn’t a big deal to them. But without a doubt, the level of multi-tasking required to boost and fly another toon in main fleet, whether DPS or otherwise, will increase substantially with on-grid boosting. I think this will also lead to a rise in super cheap or super tanky boosters. Either you can afford to lose the boosting ship or you’re going to do everything you can to ensure that it can survive the rigors of combat.
More Stuff’s Gonna Die
This is a rather broad prediction but I still think it’s valid: the rate of PVP-related ship destruction will increase. I don’t think this is just limited to a temporary adjustment period where pilots who never used to undock without their boosting buddy adjust to the cold post-off-grid world. Boosting alts largely make your combat ship tankier either through speed, signature, resists, or repairs. If this survivability buff is taken out of the game or significantly mitigated while the lethality of combat does not decrease, it would follow that attrition will go up noticeably. Or, simply stated, I can still kill you just as easily but your defensive abilities ain’t what they used to be…
As the proud owner of a boosting alt, and man is it nice to have that sort of advantage. I have to say I have mixed feelings about the prospect of losing my opportunity to vastly increase my ship’s capabilities anywhere, at any time, for a very manageable amount of risk (and ISK). I suspect plenty of other pilots are in the same boat. For now, figuring out what the future holds in the event that off-grid boosters go the way of the 24 hour skill queue is the most we can do. Adapt or die.