We recently published Andski's article on off-grid boosting. Here, Pandemic Legion fleet commander Grath puts the opposite viewpoint in response.
It's hard to believe that I'm the one against boosting links. I've taken advantage of almost every questionable mechanic in the game since I started playing: nano ships, titans, incursions, wormholes that didn't neut... You name it, I've probably taken advantage of it until it was fixed.
To understand why, I guess we need to go back to the start before we can get to the meat of the matter...
T3's weren't supposed to be great at anything. They were supposed to be better at doing more, but the t2 ships were supposed to be better in each of their specific roles. When you compare a recon to a t3, this holds true. But in every other case, CCP diverged from its originally stated path. The most egregious example? HACs. They live in a dumpster covered in a thick layer of filth, detritus and last week's pizza boxes, overshadowed in almost every imaginable way by their 3rd tier counterparts. The worst case of CCPs negligence in this matter is the t3 command link. Not only does it provide stronger bonuses than a Field or Fleet command ship, but it can do so on an agile platform that can dodge bubbles and be rendered virtually unprobable.
So much for not taking a crap on T2's niche specialty.
Un-probeability is something long used by groups like Burn Eden and Brick Squad, with things like Nightmares and Cerberus used to hit quick and hard from range while avoiding probers. Crafty covert ops pilots and the occasional hero frigate could sometimes inflict casualties, but after this spread to the provision of unprobeable AFK boosting alts, CCP took notice and stepped in, saying that being un-probeable was a glitch in the math and shouldn't be possible.
Case closed right? No not really.
Boosters Boosters Everywhere...
We've reached a point now where a t3 boosting alt is becoming the required norm for small gang PVP. In a fleet situation where you'll be in one system for a long time, the idea of probing down the booster and killing him is something that can be achieved. Only that's not where the t3 boosters are a problem, if anything, the blob versus blob fights are one of the only places you'll find the boosters balanced, because they are at risk. When you get to the smaller fleet and gang engagements that happen like a flash in the pan, then they get to be what we'd call broken.
A solo pilot with links against a solo pilot without is a non starter: the guy without links gets crushed. It doesn't matter if he does everything exactly as he should: the hit points, speed, and ewar power that comes from the booster is so incredibly intense that its suddenly like you're fighting a ship class above your weight. And in a situation where 2 roaming gangs meet up? If one side has no links its a slaughter, but when will that happen? These days both sides have the links because nobody sane undocks a gang without them. Are the links in that situation ever actually in any danger? No, no they aren't, nobody is going to stop in the middle of a 20 man fight and devote the firepower to going to find those links. And if one side doesn't have the links they can't even target that particular advantage to try and even the field.
Every other combat asset you have needs to be put at risk to give any benefit at all except for those T3 boosters. In lowsec they're virtually untouchable outside of instalocking gate camps and in 0.0 they're always nullified so the risk is negligible.
So what would I do to fix the situation?
Burn the Witch
Shuffle things around a bit for starters, moving the bonus level of the T3 to the fleet command ship, and the bonuses of the fleet command to the field command. Finally, I'd implement some kind of rework on the T3 booster: they're supposed to be able to do more, but not as strong, remember, so perhaps weaker bonuses of a broader scope would provide a unique role without compromising that of command ships. This will put the onus back on the fleet and field command ships running in their intended roles while still giving the Loki and Tengu boosters of the world a function.
Does this bone miners? A little, but I would shift miners' strongest bonuses to the mobile Orca, and make the rorqual something more of a Field Command ship. Miners are generally hard to catch anyway due to proper scouting and many high end groups have Orcas out already. Adding some risk to the reward is going to piss off the miners who simply love their safety but some things just can't be helped. In an ideal situation the miners would mine, the orca would tractor it in and the haulers would make runs from the Orca to the Rorqual at a safe or tower where he was busy compressing the ore. There's an overall design goal.
In the end, I don't expect my point of view to be popular, but I believe it is best for the game, and today's T3 booster alts are pretty much the only combat asset that doesn't require significant risk to field. Yes, there are issues with grids and the like, but thats probably not something that can be easily fixed since I expect it's mired in the oldest code parts of EVE. I suspect that, as far as the gang system is concerned, CCP simply don't know (and cannot easily discover) what is on-grid with something else, anyway.
The issue here is that of the same old story as ever regarding Eve and the law of unintended consequences: when there were just a few T3 boosters, it was acceptable, but once it becomes required for competition in the larger world of the game then the game becomes seriously imbalanced.