Active tanking is a fun, challenging and exhilarating PvP option available to pilots engaging in solo or small gang fights. There are two types of active tanking, shield or armor, which have different strategy associated to them. Both work on the same principle: to absorb incoming damage such that an engagement can be prolonged longer than what the other ships can handle. While this form of tanking has its limits, they are pushed back through investment by the pilot, either through skills, implants, consumable items or more expensive fittings. Some pilots who specialize in this form of tanking are known to regularly invest upwards of 10 billion isk or greater, not including alt accounts for gang bonuses, cap booster drops, or other benefits.
Most ship classes have a hull or two that excel at active tanking, however the greatest accumulation lie with battlecruisers and battleships. Battlecruisers have a class wide affinity for tanking, though some are more able to apply this than others, such as the Myrmidon or Cyclone. Despite this frequently seen bonus, these ships remain vulnerable due to bloated signature radius, requiring some kiting or range accumulation from targets to get the most out of the active tank.
Battleships don’t have the luxury of speed, and thus rely on brute regeneration for staying power. Battleship shield tanks frequently forgo a MWD due to slot constraints, lending to static combat on stations, gates, and occasionally elsewhere. Stations and gates are ideal, as even without a speed boost module ships can creep back to safety, jumping or docking. Active armor tanks typically don’t have this problem, as the low slots are the focus of the tank. Thus, they are able to fit an MWD, tackle and even EWAR in mid slots.
Shield tanks tend to have greater damage capacity, as their low slots are available for damage boosting modules. For the same reason armor tanks often deal less DPS, however the extra maneuverability afforded by the MWD lends them much greater flexibility.
There are several ways to drastically improve the effectiveness of active tanks. First, and perhaps the most available are combat boosters. There are a variety of drugs that affect many aspects of ship attributes, but two in particular are important to active tanking: blue pill and exile. Blue pill are shield tanking boosters, and exile the armor tanking variant. All combat boosters have a chance of drawbacks, but these penalties are minute compared to the added repair amount. Standard boosters, my drug of choice, add 20% to rep amount, and go for 3mil each with a good supplier. If you’re serious at all about using boosters, I highly recommend you ask around for a drug supplier, as their prices are much cheaper than those on market, and they often will deliver to you.
Implants play a large role in active tanking, as their bonuses are not stacking penalized and thus magnify tanking ability greatly. Additionally, it is a simple matter of escaping with your capsule intact in most fights within empire space, which unlike faction modules allow you to keep your enhancements after defeat. Of special notice is the Crystal line of pirate implants: these implants work together to yield in a large bonus towards shield repair amount. They take up slots 1-6 in the head: this means that when piloting with a pirate implant set, you have to forgo better training time with expensive learning implants for the benefit of the pirate set.
With patience, buy orders can be used in Jita to acquire a low grade Crystal set for 400-450mil isk. This investment shifts the shield tank to a beastly level, and is what really allows the shield tank to compete next to the utility afforded to active armor tanks by the MWD.
With implants, boosters and a fully rigged T2 fitting, battleships can tank a gank fit battleship until cap failure, an additional gank cruiser’s worth of DPS when overloaded. Battlecruisers vary more, as the scale of the tank is much more variable. Some are only capable of tanking a gank cruiser’s worth of DPS, while others, such as X-L booster fit Cyclones or triple rep Myrms are able to tank battleship level DPS for short durations. However, their lack of buffer and capacitor stability tends to make them pale against BS for heavy tanking situations.
What makes this type of tanking truly remarkable is its ability to adapt and recover in situations that passive tanks would eventually fail. This is seen best in small gang combat, where the limited number of combatants allows for an active tank to bleed buffer, and as combatants are destroyed or forced to retreat, the active tank is able to regenerate hit points. Thus an active tanker is able to hold the field, absorbing damage while maintaining tackle, drawing fire from more vulnerable gang mates, or holding aggression until the gang has arrived after which retreating through a gate or into a station.
Many pilots discount this ability, even going so far to completely ignore the possibility of an active tank on many ships. For instance, an active tanked Megathron is just as able as the Hyperion with dual rep setups, however as most pilots opt for gank setups, the massive tank often throws off opponents who have never experienced such fits before.
There are several strategies which allow the active tanker to excel. Given the nature of lowsec warfare, active tankers are often able to bait outlaws into engaging them on gates or stations, where sentries act as a mindless gang mate, shooting down drones and moving through criminal targets to apply steady damage. This can be expanded on by baiting part of the outlaw gang to engage on one side of the gate, jumping through the gate, and thus splitting the force. The active tanker can choose to attempt to pull the targets away from the gate by MWDing away, or reapproach the gate to repeat this. All the while, those pilots who have chosen to incur GCC will be softened by sentries.
The active tanker can also neglect to repair his ship to bait targets to engage. By forgoing repairs, the buffer often rapidly depletes due to the lack of buffer boosting modules. This can often entice targets to engage ships they would normally avoid, as once the targets are in range or if combined with the above tactic split apart, the active tanker can pick the enemy gang apart at their leisure.
There are two major banes to the active tank: capacitor warfare and overwhelming DPS. The active tank is only able to accommodate so much incoming fire before its ability to absorb overflow into the limited buffer is quickly overcome. Capacitor warfare modules remove the lifeblood of the setup, forcing intense management with repair modules paired with capacitor boosters. Mismanagement leads to waste, which is dire in situations where incoming damage is only barely bested.
Since January, I’ve flown iterations of most active tanked BCs and BSes: dual rep Megathrons, Dominixes, and Abaddons, X-L booster Maelstroms, Rokhs and Ravens, X-L booster Cyclones and triple rep Myrms. I’ve flown these regularly both in small gangs and solo, getting a feel for the setups while enjoying a fresh approach to EVE PvP. Over the next few weeks I’ll try to impress what each of these hulls is like to fly: their strengths, weaknesses and any additional quirks I was able to discover.
If any of my readership have questions pertaining to these ships, active tanking, costs or a preference in which ship I write about first, please comment. I'll try to answer all questions via comment or in a follow up post on the topic.