In just over two weeks we will see the AT Feeder Rounds and it promises to be a brutal affair of heartbreak and broken dreams.
56 teams will play on the Saturday with the winners gaining a place in the Alliance Tournament and the losers playing for a tiny handful of spots. I estimate that if you lose on the Saturday you have just 14% chance of getting through the losers' bracket of the Feeder Rounds.
There will be no seeding in the Feeder Rounds so the crucial first match could be against a strong well-experienced tournament team like Test or Shadow Cartel. And we will see some quite weak teams get through no doubt because they got drawn against someone weak or got lucky against an average team.
Hopefully Eve-NT will be streaming the games and commentating. I think it will be a tremendously exciting and dramatic day.
Many of the teams will be poorly prepared. The AT XV rules only came out a few days ago and 3 weeks isn't very long to adapt to a new meta. Most teams won't have done any practice until the AT was officially announced on 9th May. Some enthusiasts, notably Test, have been practicing since January.
The day one meta will be dominated, I think, by 1) comps that were good last year (like Floon Core), 2) comps abusing the re-introduction of T2 drones, probably featuring ishtars and gilas and 3) comps abusing the Serpentis discount, ie Vindicator comps. Veterans will be really advantaged because the new comps that will come in because of the rule changes are old familiar comps they've played against before. The drone comps dominated AT XI and AT XII and Vindicator comps are always around and generally don't do all that well.
I think the Vindicator comp in particular is a trap. When you scrim with other teams to practice it often does spectacularly well. On the day however captains are more cautious, players are more on their game and control is ubiquitous making it really hard to catch and blast incautiously positioned opposing ships.
Let's look at how Vindicators did last year in the AT's early stages:
Triumvirate v Galaxy Spiritus. TRI brought a garbage shield Hyperion set up and got out-performed by Galaxy's more conventional Vindi brawling comp. Vindi win.
Villore Accords v Solar Fleet. A weird match. Solar brought Vindis, Villore warped in unwisely close with our Mach Moa meta, Solar caught the opposing battleships and then threw the match by spectacularly bad piloting, orbiting the thing they were shooting with mwds on so they couldn't apply damage. Vindi loss.
The Solar Fleet piloting of the Vindicators ... is absolutely horrendous - Chessur.
Triumvirate v Spaceship Samurai. Samurai unwisely warped to zero and discovered their opponents were in a heavy damage close range brawl comp. They got obliterated. Vindi win.
Brotherhood of Spacers v Lowsecnaya Sholupen. Spacers' Vindicator brawl comp just got out-brawled by Sleipnirs. Vindi loss.
Castabouts v Brothers in Arms. CAS brought double Vindicators but at the warp in their opponents Barghest comp was nicely placed at long range. However the Vindis trundled over and wrecked their opponents who inexplicably didn't really move away despite being in what appeared to be a kiting comp. Spectacularly poor positioning from BIA. Vindi win.
The R0nin v Agony Empire. R0nin brought Bhaal/Vindi pairing the overpowered webbing of their flagship Bhaal with the high close range damage of the Vindi. Agony initially went for the flaghorn and pushed it into dangerously low armour.. It was skillfully kept up by Deacons who piloted superbly, saving the critical ship long enough for the Vindi to lead an assault on an Agony fleet phoon, turning the match when it died. Vindi win
Except for the R0nin match where a Vindi was used in a highly synergistic set-up the Vindis relied on opponents being bad to win. Vindis even lost close range brawls in a couple of cases. When you scrim, Vindi comps seem amazing but they tend to disappoint when the stakes get real.