Recognising the differences in play style
All players have heard EVE's golden rule -- "Never fly anything you can't afford to lose." It's a common-sense rule that all new players will have drilled into them at some point, but if you've never been in PvP, the amount of ISK you consider affordable may need some adjustment. When you're mission-running in high security space, you fully expect to keep your ship for months before upgrading to something else or losing it in a mission-related mishap. The added cost of expensive ships and faction gear can be easily justified in the fact that your ship is never really in any major danger. Many mission-runners plough all of their income back into expensive modules for their mission ship to accelerate their ISK-making endeavors, ending up with ships worth billions of ISK.
PvP is a completely different story. Players go out on PvP roams and fleet operations expecting to die, but hopefully not before getting a few good kills and having some fun. Bringing your ship home in one piece at the end of the night is something of a bonus. Because they die so frequently, it's much harder to justify using expensive gear on a PvP ship. The best balance between cost and effectiveness can usually be found using tech 2 modules on a standard tech 1 or 2 ship. If you put all of your ISK into the best modules you can buy, the way someone would do with a mission ship, you'd soon discover it was a very expensive mistake. Another key difference between PvP and other areas of gameplay is that PvP is more of a group-oriented activity than a solo one. Players flying solo have to pick their fights very carefully, avoiding all fights they can't win. Even then, you can expect to run into a lot of PvP gangs that you can't realistically engage.
Build a stockpile of ships
The above-mentioned golden rule is solid advice and gives a telling insight into the way PvP works in EVE. Especially when you're still learning the ropes, you can expect to die a lot. Even veteran pilots will need to regularly replace their ships, making it a good idea to keep a small stockpile of replacements. The main reason to keep a stockpile is to force yourself to spend only what you can afford to lose. If you can't afford at least three or four replacements of your PvP ship, that's a strong indicator that you should be using much cheaper ships. Using ships and gear that you can afford to replace will lead to shorter breaks to make ISK. By flying cheap enough ships which are still effective in combat, it can even possible to collect enough loot on PvP outings to stay self-sufficient entirely through PvP.
Depending on whether you know the area you'll be fighting in or not, a stockpile of ships can also provide a tactical advantage. During defense of star systems in nullsec, pilots with replacement ships in the system can hop right into one and be back in their fleet in a matter of minutes, lag permitting. The ability to keep fleet numbers high during a battle can be a huge advantage to the defending side in a fight. In faction warfare, or corporate wars in high security space, you'll also have the luxury of knowing where you'll be fighting and can stage your stockpile of ships to reduce downtime between fights. Rather than spending an hour or so picking up a new ship and fittings every time you're killed, you can just return to your home base and be ready for the next fleet that's heading out.
Practice, practice, practice!
If you're new to PvP, the ship setups and strategies you'll find effective might be wildly different than what you're used to. Out go the reliable active tanks and cap rechargers, replaced with buffer tanks, gank setups and specialised electronic warfare. One of the best ways to figure out how to set up your ship is to look at how veteran PvP fanatics fit and use it. You can get some good well-known setups from killboards and the official EVE "Ships and Modules" forum, and it's always worth asking older players for fitting advice. There's no single correct setup for a given ship, so don't be afraid to experiment. Change elements of your setup and see how its performance in PvP varies. Ultimately, it's up to you to find what works well in PvP and that's half the fun of it all.
As important as it is to have a good ship fitting, there really is no substitute for raw experience. No amount of theory-crafting in EVE Fitting Tool and debating setups on the forum can make you good at PvP; only hours of pure practice can do that. The best way to get in practice is to schedule regular PvP fleets for the same time each week. You'll lose a lot of ships in the beginning but as long as your team learns from their mistakes, you'll rapidly improve. A great way to help highlight what went wrong on a failed operation or what went well on a successful one is for someone in the gang to write up an after-action report stating exactly what happened. People who were in the gang can discuss the event and what they would have done differently in hindsight.
If you feel like you need a helping hand up into the world of PvP, there are tons of resources out there to help! There are places to look up sample ship fittings, some great guides on every aspect of PvP and even practical PvP courses you can pay for with ISK. You'll also find that most older PvP pilots are more than willing to help you out with advice and tips. After killing you and looting your ship wreck, some players are even happy to answer questions on what you did wrong and how you could have avoided death. If you've always wanted to get into EVE's PvP and think now might be a good time to take the plunge, hopefully this article will help you prepare for war.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column post or guide or just want to message him, send an e-mail to brendan AT massively DOT com
Special thanks to "BlingGnome" for this column idea!