This is the third part of a four-part guide, derived from a syllabus of a class that I teach at EVE University. I wrote the original version of this syllabus in March 2010, and it has since been improved and updated by my fellow teachers and professors at E-UNI – my sincere thanks to all of them. You can find the beginning of this guide here.
This guide was last updated on December 6, 2014.
How to Use Drones Effectively
This part of the guide will provide some general advice on how to use damage-dealing drones in various combat situations.
More drones will almost always be more effective than fewer drones. If your ship has low bandwidth, try to maximize the number of drones you can launch - this is generally more useful than the size of drones deployed. For example, on a Hurricane battlecruiser, with 30 Mbit/sec bandwidth, launching 5 light drones is generally better than just 3 medium drones - you'll deliver more damage overall. Mixing drone sizes in the same flight can also help - for the Hurricane, for example, you could launch four lights and one medium scout drone, to make full use of all your available bandwidth.
If you know what targets to expect, then you can optimize they type and size of your selected drones. If you are hunting large and slow-moving carriers, for example, then heavy and sentry drones give you the best results (and are coincidentally the most resistant to smartbombs). If you are facing cruisers and battlecruisers, load medium scout drones. If you are out to kill frigates, or you aren't sure what you will be facing and want to be prepared for all eventualities, then light scouts are your best friends.
Using Drones for PvE
Drones are a very effective and flexible option for damage dealing in player-versus-EVE (PvE) activities like missions and ratting. They provide cap-free and ammo-free damage, and can deliver optimum types of damage, as long as you can fit them into your drone bay.
Starting with the Retribution update, non-player character (NPC) enemy ships began attacking drones more aggressively. However, NPCs only target drones by their size category, as follows:
1. Elite frigate and cruiser NPCs will go for small drones and above.
2. Regular frigates and cruiser-sized NPCs will go for medium drones and above.
3. Battleship NPCs will go for large drones.
"Elite" frigates and cruisers include assault frigates, heavy assault cruisers, and special "named" ships found in some missions. Note that "elite" NPC frigates or cruisers are found very rarely in level 1 or 2 missions - they are more frequently seen in level 3 missions and above. To be sure, check EVE-Survival.org to verify the types and sizes of expected NPC targets before you fly a mission.
If your mission includes enemies that warp scramble or disrupt, they should be your initial targets - you want to be able to warp out if incoming damage threatens to overwhelm you. Likewise, any enemies that use energy neutralizers are a primary target, especially if you are fitting an active tank, which is common for missioning ships.
As a general rule for PvE missions, you should use the "passive" and "focus fire" settings, and direct small combat drones to attack elite frigates and cruisers first, being ready to withdraw them back into your drone bay if they begin to take on damage. This will break any target locks on your drones, and you can then relaunch them and re-engage. After dispensing with any "elite" frigates or cruisers, your small drones will then be immune to further damage, and can be used to help take out mid-sized targets like cruisers and battlecruisers - or you can deploy medium combat drones and monitor their damage, just as you did for small combat drones. For larger targets, you can either use medium drones, which will be immune to attack, or heavy combat drones, again monitoring their damage as before.
Be very careful with "Aggressive" drone settings during missions, particularly if you are trying to kill one group of targets at a time. It's possible a drone will attack a separate group of targets simply by being in range of them. Drones also don't know whether or not one particular target is the "trigger" for a subsequent wave of enemies.
Also, in some higher-level missions, simply deploying your drones can cause NPCs to "aggro" - that is, to become aggressive and attack you. If you get overwhelmed in a mission room, recall your drones and warp out.
Before entering into missions, gathering intelligence beforehand is important. The ships of different factions that you encounter in missions both deliver and are vulnerable to predictable kinds of damage. See this NPC Damage Types article for a list of common NPC damage types.
Before entering into a mission, check the EVE Survival database to discover the numbers, types and sizes of expected enemies. This will help you to determine the optimum sizes and types of drones to use.
For example, let's say you are assigned the mission called "An Ancient Roster", a level 1 mission. EVE-Survival says that we can expect to encounter Angel Cartel frigates and destroyers which will deal both explosive and kinetic damage. We also can see that Angel Cartel ships are most vulnerable to explosive and kinetic damage. Therefore, we fit explosive and kinetic damage hardeners to our ship, and we load Caldari Hornet or Minmatar Warrior light scout drones, thereby minimizing our own damage while maximizing damage to our targets.
PvE Drone Combat Strategies
There are several useful ways to deploy drones in PvE scenarios:
Ship Tanking, Directed Drones
When using drones in missions, the usual strategy is to use an active tank, and load combat drones suited for the expected enemy factions and ships in the drone bay. The drone setting is Passive with Focus Fire. The basic idea is for the pilot to gain and hold the aggro (attention) of the NPC targets, then release drones and direct them to attack individual targets at the pilot's discretion, while firing guns or missiles at distance.
For this strategy to work, you must have a strong armor or shield tank. See these articles for advice on both:
Ship Tanking, Aggressive Drones
This method is often adopted by players who have progressed onto better ships with more slots at their disposal - in other words, they have an unbreakable tank for the level of missions they are running. In this strategy, the pilot sets the drone settings to Aggressive, with no Focus Fire. After entering the mission, the pilot draws aggro with guns or missiles, and then releases drones which fly to multiple targets, without any further direction from the pilot.
This leaves the pilot free to fire on targets of opportunity, and to salvage wrecks, while changing drones if a new wave enters the room (to avoid the drones taking aggro) or if different drone sizes are required to tackle larger or smaller targets.
This strategy, however, is now much more difficult because of the more sophisticated AI used in all missions, which means that NPC enemies will now target your drones more aggressively. Pilots using this strategy should be prepared to lose drones.
The Micro Jump Drive Maneuver
This strategy takes advantage of the Large Micro Jump Drive (LMJD). The LMJD can be fit into battleships - and there is a medium size version for Battlecruisers. For Level 4 mission-runners, they are a boon to completing even the toughest missions.
To use the MJD Maneuver, fit a LMJD into your mission-running battleship. Fit long-range guns and ammo, as well as a sensor booster with a targeting script - you will want to be able to target and fire on enemies from 135 km or more, and longer is better. Load Warden or Bouncer sentry drones and add Drone Link Augmentors and Omnidirectional Tracking Links to give your sentries the maximum range you can achieve. Drone Damage Amplifiers in low slots will also increase damage output. You will not need a robust tank - fitting passive resistance modules should be sufficient.
When you fly into a mission room, turn your ship away from the enemy targets and activate your LMJD. Quickly lock the nearest targets while your LMJD spins up, if you can. Your ship will jump 100km away, giving you distance, and any target locks will remain intact (if you have your sensor booster activated). Then you can snipe at targets to draw aggro - kill frigates first, then cruisers and battlecruisers, then battleships. Deploy sentry drones to pick off incoming targets as they get into range.
The LMJD can be activated once every three minutes. As targets get close to you, recall your drones, re-activate the LMJD to a new location in the room to give you distance again, and repeat as necessary until the room is cleared. If you have to use an acceleration gate to go to the next room, you can use the LMJD to get within range, but don't forget to wait three minutes to allow your LMJD to reset first.
Rogue drones are generally fast and small. This means that large ship weaponry will be almost useless when fighting them, and even medium guns have trouble. Use smaller guns with a higher tracking speed (Blasters, Autocannons, Pulse Lasers), or a webifying module to slow them down so that bigger guns can hit them, or launch light drones of your own. Smartbombs are not terribly effective as rogue drones tend to orbit further than 5,000 meters from your ship.
Rogue drones also tend to operate in large numbers, making it easy to get swamped if you aggro the entire room. Some of the more advanced variants of rogues can give a Battleship trouble - do not underestimate them!
By the way, if you ever find yourself in a mission room with rogue drones, and they have not yet aggro'ed on you, take a moment to use the "Look At" option on them, if you can. Their behavior is very interesting to observe. See this video (using an out-of-game browser) for an example.
Drones in Incursions (and Sleepers)
Incursion and wormhole fleets will often specify one damage-dealing ship (usually the one with the highest scan resolution) as a "drone bunny". When this practice is used, everyone launches their drones and sets them to assist the drone bunny. In this way, the fleet can be sure that of all the drones are working at all times, and that their damage-per-second (DPS) is going exactly where it needs to be best applied. If you are controlling your own drones in Incursions, and you have them set to "Aggressive", you can accidentally kill a trigger, causing a new wave to spawn and the fleet to die in a horrible influx of enemy fire - thus earning you the everlasting enmity of your fleetmates.
Being a drone bunny is not as easy as it looks. Any drones that are assisting you will always attack the last target on which you activated an hostile module. If they are merrily killing their way through one target, and you start webbing the next target, the drones will follow your web command and go after that target. Even if you're not in an Incursion, if you are trying to kill one target and you try to ECM or sensor damp something else, assisting drones will follow that last command.
The NPC mobs in Incursions, and in wormhole Sleeper sites, will switch targets regularly and frequently kill small targets like drones. If you wield drones in either situation, keep an eye on the damage taken in the drone control window and be prepared to withdraw them if they start taking fire.
Incursion targets and wormhole Sleepers, by the way, are all omni-tanked, so the type of damage you deal to them does not matter.
Using Drones for PvP
Unlike PvE, in which you generally can know what kind of enemy you will encounter, player-versus-player combat (PvP) is much less predictable. Therefore, pilots taking drone-capable ships into battle should be prepared for multiple types of threats, and load scout drones for frigates and drone attacks, medium drones for cruisers and battlecruisers, and heavy drones for battleships, if possible.
As for damage type, if you have the drone bay space, carry different faction types of drones, to give you more flexibility. Most people tend to carry Gallente drones for their generally higher DPS, but remember they only deliver thermal damage. Alternatively, you can pack drones that are consistent with your fitted guns or missiles, to maximize DPS delivered of that type.
Even if all you can carry is a single drone, you can still use it for advantage in combat. A single combat drone can add as much as 20% to your total DPS, if you select the right type. Never forget to deploy your drones!
Maximize your drone damage potential by fitting one or more Drone Damage Amplifiers. This module improves drone DPS by 16% for the Tech I version, and a whopping 23% for the Tech II version. Don't leave home without it!
Sentry drones operating at a distance can be very effective PvP weapons, especially as a complement in small gangs and fleets. If you are piloting a sentry drone sniping boat, optimize your range with Omnidirectional Tracking Links, and consider enhancing your damage further with a Sentry Damage Augmentor rig. A sensor booster also helps to ensure that you can lock on at range.
If you have the space, and the skills to use them, put a flight of ECM jamming drones in your drone bay. These are helpful for evading a tackler if things start to go wrong, and you need to escape. You'll lose the drones, but that is a small price to pay for surviving to fight another day.
The biggest threat to your scout and heavy combat drones is smartbomb-using battleships. If you see a ship using smartbombs, withdraw your surviving drones and pick a different target, or warp out. You can usually get a clue about whether a battleship is fitted for smartbombing by using the "Look At" option on your target - if you see that it does not have turrets fitted, they are a potential smartbombing threat.
1-on-1 PvP with Drones
In a 1-on-1 PvP battle, drone users have one major advantage over non-drone users: with multiple drones at your command, your enemy has to decide either to go after your drones, or just ignore the drones and try to kill you. Either option for your opponent is not very good. If he starts killing your drones, he is probably better off, especially if he can kill them quickly. However, it takes time to kill multiple targets - time that you can use to your advantage. You can nos and neut your opponent, maneuver in close, web him, disrupt his tracking, and do whatever you can to make his job harder.
If you see that your opponent is succeeding in killing your drones, call your drones back into your drone bay, briefly. Then launch your drones again. This will annoy and frustrate your opponent, because now he or she must re-target the drones.
If your enemy decides to ignore your drones, and go after you, you must evaluate the health of your tank. If it is holding up, remain in the battle. If not, consider withdrawing. Anything you can do to reduce his tank will help your drones - nosses and neuts, if you can fit them, mix well with drone attacks. Your drones, if going unchallenged, can overwhelm your opponent if your energy weapons are draining him and making shield boosting or armor repairing more difficult.
A warp scrambler on your drone boat is a must for small PvP engagements, unless you are flying with gang members who will be tackling for you. Be sure to clearly coordinate those roles with your fleetmates.
One other tip: organize your different drone types into different folders in your drone bay, so that you can quickly deploy the optimum drone type against your selected target.
Fleet PvP with Drones
Employing drones in fleet engagements can be extremely powerful, if well coordinated. Certainly, you can deploy damage dealing drones to increase fleet firepower, but if your fleet is bristling with high DPS battleships already, consider mixing in other types of drones (e.g., EWAR, webbing) to enhance your fleet's effectiveness.
In fleet engagements, you generally want to set your drones to Aggressive mode. You'll be busy enough with your own ship to worry about directing drones against specific targets.
In general, you can't go wrong with light scout combat drones, as they provide the most flexibility. They engage fast, and can catch almost every type of opposing ship, except for perhaps some super-high-speed interceptors. They are also useful for killing opposing tacklers and enemy drones.
In a fleet, don't deploy your drones until you really need to do so. If you are in an offensive gate camp, orbiting near the gate, and may need to jump into the next system in a hurry, so you can't wait to retrieve your drones - keep them in your bay. A defensive gate camp, where you are stationed at your optimal distance from the gate, is a different story. If you are waiting for a target to jump into your camp, have your drones deployed, ready to attack. Sentry drones deployed at their optimal range around a gate can be devastating if a war target jumps into your system. If your optimal is far away from the gate, and you want your mobile drones to be deployed closer, don't forget the "assist" command - select a fleetmate that is closer to the gate (ideally, a tackling interceptor) and station your drones around that pilot. When they engage the enemy, so will your drones.
If you are warping in on a target at your optimal range, and that range is 35 kilometers or more, consider fielding sentry drones on your arrival, if you have enough space in your drone bay. They take no time to deploy, and start dealing damage immediately. Be prepared to abandon them, however, if you have to warp out - since they are immobile, you have to get within 2,500 meters and scoop them into your drone bay.
As mentioned before, smartbombs and drones don't mix. Steer your drones away from smartbombing targets. Likewise, if you are flying a battleship, fitting a smartbomb on your own ship can foil your enemy's drones.
The EVE University wiki page on Using Drones contains a lot of useful information and tips on how to deploy drones to their maximum potential. Consult that resource if you want further ideas for using drones effectively.
This is the end of Part III of this Drones Guide. Part IV will be published Soon™.
Fly safe! o7