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To Catch an AT Ship – The Work Behind Hunting the Most Elusive Targets

On January 20th 2021, an Utu was ambushed and killed. It is one of the oldest alliance tournament ships. Around a decade old, it was the prize of the 8th tournament from 2010. Using a purposely fit Sunesis, it surprised Voodoch1ld with it’s afterburner, scrambler and two long range webs. No matter how hard he tried, he struggled to kill the Sunesis until it was too late. When a familiar person and his friends entered local. Voodoch1ld had owned it for over 7 years.

Alliance Tournament ships, AT ships for short, are some of the rarest and most prized items in EVE Online. These ships are handed out only for special events, and usually only to the winners and runner ups. For the sake of simplicity, any ship that is limited in number and released only because of special rewards and circumstances will be referred to as AT ships. This includes the controversial Stratios Emergency Responder (given through a controversial lottery/gambling site), and the Megathron Federate Issue (only one issued during an in-game event).

Whilst faction capitals and supercapital ships may cost in the hundreds of billions and are incredibly expensive, they are infinite. There will always be another Molok. Another Revenant. Another Komodo. Another Vendetta. But there will never be another AT Ship once it goes down. They are limited in number – 50 of each for the recent tournament ships, and some fewer than 10 in the cases of older rare ships.

Many are considered extinct because either their owners have long since quit the game, or will never interact with the game in any way, except to sit in a ship hangar docked up forever. Some even died before killfeeds even existed. They are the prized Ferraris and Bugatti supercars of EVE Online. And like many expensive supercars – some AT ships will sit in a hangar to collect dust, forever.

But some people aren’t content to let them gather dust. Some people take them on a spin almost daily. And while AT ships have fallen in combat due to an surprised or overconfident pilot, one player has claimed major responsibility for felling the most – Fredrick Vonhole, or “Vonhole” by many. Vonhole is a “big game hunter-hunter”. He hunts other hunters – hunting people who hunt using expensive Black Ops battleships and Strategic Cruisers that prey on regular prey. Vonhole is also decorated with dozens of expensive DED capable ships. His friends include some well known DED Hunters, alliance tournament players, and hot-droppers. And his string of successes have made him the terror of every AT ship owner and DED runners across his scope. He has felled more AT ships than any other individual.

Hunting AT ships requires tremendous amounts of setup. People piloting tournament ships are often skittish and paranoid. Anything unexpected may cause it’s owner to suddenly warp off. Due to the price and association of these ships, frequent pilots are often very confident of their ability and can be assumed to be extremely skilled and capable pilots. Often, these pilots and elusive ships are not alone. In the case of notorious RMT-botter Pavel XL, the pilot always had a cyno fit Recon ship, Force Auxiliary, and Supercarrier at the ready to rescue his Hydra.

In other cases, the pilots are often accompanied with several fleet members. Due to the rarity and price of the AT ship, it can be expected that his companions are more than willing to go above and beyond including sacrificing themselves to protect the tournament ship pilot. Smaller AT ships – especially Frigate based – can be taken into a Faction warfare novice plex. This is especially safe because it limits the kinds of ships that are able to pass through the gate into the deadspace instanced area. This area cannot be warped onto. Friends cannot warp to each other, and combat scanning will not enable you to get the jump on someone.

With this in mind, nearly all AT ships Vonhole has brought down has required an elaborate trap and ambush. Vonhole and his group have extensively brainstormed various ways to bait out and ambush this rare prey. No bait ship is the same.

But behind these baits were lots of heavy brainstorming and selective choice. Notice that Griffin Navy Issue was tanked specifically against Explosive and Thermal – the damage types of the Triglavian. Or the Sunesis who was protected against Kinetic and Thermal – the trademark damage types of Hybrid weaponry. An Astero arrived to Neutralise the Imp; without energy, it cannot fight back and do anything.

A lot of thought goes into every scenario. If a ship can burn away quickly or counter the ambush, they have a solution for it. The accounts used were clean of any zkill data, but – in the case of Shvo Uriu – were made to look real. In fact, Avenger18 had previously killed Shvo Uriu repeatedly until the fateful day that a trap was sprung. A bait fit Nemesis. Heavily armored, it was fit perfectly to hold down a target with a scrambler and a web (two modules normally never seen on a Stealth bomber), and a cyno at the ready.

Previous kills helped scout out Avenger18’s common location. They had confirmed that Avenger18 used Thermal Light missiles. The bomber was fit with a thermal armor hardener to further enhance survivability. And to top it off, a sensor booster and ECCM script was added – anticipating that a drone capable ship would probably drop ECM drones (which it indeed carried).

The Chameleon may have had a better chance if it had used Kinetic light missiles, which the Chameleon did offer bonus damage, but this was most likely factored in. The Nemesis was chosen. It was the perfect ship for the job. Possessing four mid slots, it could easily field a microwarpdrive or an afterburner with three additional active slots for scramblers, webs, and more. A shield-based ship such as a Manticore would have to sacrifice it’s health to do the job. The Nemesis natural Kinetic resistances meant had they predicted the wrong missiles, they still held a chance.

The moment the Chameleon was scrambled and webbed, it was too late. The cyno was lit, and out poured Vonhole and his friends whom immediately secured tackle, neutralized the Chameleon’s energy and killed it on the spot.

Hunters like Vonhole use extensive numbers of accounts. In a September 2019 broadcast, Vonhole revealed he possessed around 10 EVE accounts (mostly scouts) in order to surveil potential targets. In late 2019, a Virtuoso was bumped off tether and killed in J21100. An elaborate ambush had been planned with cloaky eyes staged within the wormhole. However the opportunity presented itself, and Vonhole took it. Waiting for over hours at a time, Vonhole has struck and killed AT ships in all time zones.

Especially noted is his use of Asteros and disposable accounts. Reportedly having Alpha accounts always training into tackle Astero and immediately stripping them of SP and biomassing them once the mission is complete. With eyes in staging systems, wormholes, and more he always has an eye on the people he hunts and any potential response they may face. In the case of Pavel XL’s Hydra, Vonhole was fully prepared to sacrifice his fleet and more to break a Minokawa’s repairs to kill the Hydra. Vonhole has admitted he frequently checks the zkill activity of all AT Ships and plans a potential ambush.

Baltrom’s Imp took several attempts to bait out, as he frequently went system to system and faction warfare gates. Their bait account, “Wizardhat Giggleman” died several times to the lead up. Sniperbros owned the Hydra less than 3 weeks, frequently baiting with his alt account “Blonde Rules” before it was set upon. Once an AT Ship is spotted, planning begins. And if it is feasible, an attempt can be set up and made.

In a semi-private conversation with an anonymous AT ship pilot, it was discussed and disclosed that only a small handful of groups in EVE Online have the coordination and ability to ambush a competent AT Ship pilot. Probably no more than half a dozen or so smallgang groups possess the dedication and the coordination to do so.

I myself have theorized ways to ambush and to prevent an ambush onto a tournament ship. Ironically, the killing is the easy part. Killing an AT ship is just a fart. A gust of wind, compared to capturing and ambushing one successfully. If you have ever killed a rare and expensive ship such as a Marshal you’ll find they go down surprisingly easy. And AT ships are no exception. Ambushing and catching the ships is the hardest. Everything else is just lead up and prologue.

Whatever the case, Fredrick Vonhole has proven himself a deadly hunter with his group of friends consistently ambushing and killing some of the most elusive targets in New Eden.

Nobody knows who, or when he’ll strike next.

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Written by Rich Richman

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