The Ninth Alliance Tournament starts today. For those new to Eve Online, this tournament is much like the World Cup or the Superbowl of Eve, a yearly event pitting the best minds, best tactics, and best alliances into close, small gang combat. Last year, Pandemic Legion took the prize as it had for two years previous. The desire and the will to take Pandemic Legion down and take that top place. This year, the rules ( set up two qualifying rounds, with a 32 team group round, followed by a 16 team final round. And just like the successful teams in real life, the results of these conflicts often result in tactics being copied, modified, and improved upon by PVP’ers all over Eve. This year, reviewing what happened during the qualifiers, we can see that the shield tanked ships are all the rage again, with the top eight most used ships being shield tankers.

Not surprisingly, with all the recent successes that Pandemic Legion has had with the Tengu, as well as the nature of Arena style combat, the Tengu has come to be a very popular ship to use. In typical 0.0 and low-sec PVP, missile throwing ships like the Tengu tend to be less of an asset because missiles don’t instantly hit, and keeping a group on enemy targets locked down tends to be a very difficult task. However, in Tournament combat, running is not an option, so missiles with their ability to not to miss, makes Tengus a very deadly opponent. Expect to see Tengus show up more often, both in and out of the arena.

The next most popular ship is somewhat surprising. The Cyclone is a Tier 1 Minmatar battlecruiser with a weapons configuration that really isn’t all that popular in typical PVP conflicts. The Cyclone does have one advantage that would make it useful in smaller gang conflicts. One of the bonuses to the Cyclone is its 7.5% per level bonus to Shield boosting. The Cyclone also has enough Powergrid and CPU to mount an X-Large Shield booster (with an RCU), which if properly fitted, can give it a tank very similar to that of a Maelstrom. The five midslots, too few for a properly fit 0.0 or low-sec passive tank, would give it plenty of room for additional defense and/or boosting in the tournament.

Scimitars round out the top three. Scimitars are fast, well tanked shield logistics, and have been popular in roaming gangs for a quite a while. Their small signature and the inherit speed of a Minmatar ship makes it a natural for small gang work and it should be no surprise that they are featured so heavily in the tournament again. Typically, a Scimitar will sport three Meta 4 Large Shield Transporters (The Large s95a versions) as well as a MWD. Because of the close range of the fight, some may drop the MWD for an Afterburner. This might open up a fourth large shield transporter.

In fourth place, the ever popular Sabre. The Sabre is often used in 0.0 and has enough powergrid and CPU to mount a good defense and tends to be quite versatile in its configuration. For the Alliance Tournament, the damage, the speed and the gun arrangement surely make this a very dangerous ship to come up against. And for any who have flown the Thrasher (the T1 Minmatar destroyer),or have fought against one, it’s all the good points of the Thrasher, without any of the flaws.

Finally, the Dramiel rounds out the top five. The Dramiel is a natural choice if you have the available points for it. Not only it is naturally fast, but small gang is what it lives for and its strong ACs and the ability to launch a flight of medium drones make it the best frigate in the game by far. I imagine that most of the Dramiel configurations have traded their microwarp drives for afterburner configurations. This would free up an extra midslot for additional shield tanking.

There were a few other ships of note, namely the Sleipnir, and the Tech 1 Destroyers, the Minmatar Thrasher and the Caldari Cormorant which make sense considering how the qualifiers were arranged. Some other ships of note, a few Golems and a couple Vargurs were seen as well as a Nightmare and a Bhaalgorn. Using a Marauder, while a very powerful shiptype, is very weak to ECM and ECM is often used heavily in the Tournaments. The Nightmare and the Bhaalgorn were a bit of a surprise to see in the early qualifiers. The Bhaalgorn is a very impressive ship with not only a strong weapon configuration, but web range bonuses and Nosferatu and Neutralizer strength. This ship can ruin your day, especially if you configured in an active tanking configuration. The Nightmare, on the other hand, is pure raw destructive power and can stand toe to toe with any other sub-capital ship in the game.

This year, I was happily surprised to see a few new setups this time around. Seeing more T1 battlecruisers, like the Cyclone, effectively used in the alliance certainly give newer players a chance to be a part of the tournament, and also makes it seem more, “reachable” the average player. I was also very surprised NOT to see Cynabals, Vagabonds, or Drakes in large numbers.. especially Drakes, which generally are a pretty solid choice in what appears to be a shield strong tournament.

On the negative side, I’ve been a little disappointed with some of the choices. For example, according to the rules a T1 cruiser is worth eight points and an assault frigate is worth four and an interdictor is worth three. Considering how powerful assault frigates like the Wolf or Jaguar and interdictors like the much used Sabre, it seems it would have been better to switch out one T1 cruiser for two T2 assault frigates or two Interdictors and double your damage on target (the rules didn’t have a minimum/maximum number of players). Another thing is the reliance on drones as your primary damage dealer in close combat appears to be a bad idea. Many of the drone boats didn’t do very well and while they usually survived the match, they didn’t win very many either. A final thing is dealing with logistics. Neither the Guardian nor the Basilisk are meant to operate solo and setting them up to solo really gimps them. If you can only have one logistics ship, stick with either a Scimitar for shields or an Oneiros for armor.

Still, who’s to say what will work? Ship configurations are only part of the battle. You got to have good intel, you got to have good leadership, you got to have pilots who can listen, and you do got to have good skills for what you want to do. It takes a perfect balance of those things to win alliance tournaments.

And one last thing.. don’t forget about the meta game. You all have fun, and enjoy the tournament: