In my last article, I explained how I choose which systems I focus on while roaming. That led to several pilots asking me, “How do I know if a system is worth checking out?” In this article, I will explain the telltale signs I use to determine whether PvE pilots are likely to be found in a system.
Before I begin, it is important to know that there is no guaranteed way to determine whether there is a ratter or miner in system other than checking the belts or anomalies one-by-one. The problem, of course, is that checking every belt and anomaly is time consuming - we’d love to avoid checking systems with no pilots in them if we can. With that in mind, below are some “clues” that I use to quickly assess whether a system is worth investigating or one which I should skip.
CLUE 1: PILOTS IN LOCAL
This single best tool to determine if a system is worth investigating is local. While roaming, I make sure that I have the local window pulled up at all times. It is the first and best tool to determine whether a system is a potential gold-mine or a waste of time. After all, if you are the only pilot in local, you obviously won’t find anyone to hunt.
However, reading local well requires more than just looking at the number of pilots. In some systems, a single pilot in local is worth investigating. In others, there could be 10 pilots and I wouldn’t dream of stopping. So, when I look at local, what am I looking for?
First, I look for the number of valid targets. If there are 10 people in local, but 7 are blue to me, that means that there are only 3 valid targets in that system. That significantly decreases the chance that any PvE pilots I find are targets I can hunt.
Secondly, I check the number of stations and gates in system. Pilots who are in transit (warping between gates) or holed up in station are targets I can’t find in belts or anomalies. As a general rule, I assume that for every station and pair of gates in system, 1 pilot in local is unavailable. Thus, a system with 5 gates, 4 stations and 5 pilots in local is probably not worth my time, but a system with 1 gate, no stations and 1 pilot in system is absolutely worth investigating.
Finally, make sure you are checking your overview while you fly. If you enter a dead end system with no stations and 3 other pilots in local... and see 3 ships sitting AFK at the gate, then do the math.
CLUE 2: NUMBER OF BELTS AND ANOMALIES
While local is our best tool, it is only a rough indicator. At best, local tells us how likely it is there are targets in system, but not where they are and what they are up to. To really get a sense of what is happening in a system, we need to look for the tell-tale signs that miners and ratters have been active in system. For that, our best tool is the belt and anomaly count
When miners mine and ratters rat, they change they numbers of belts and anomalies in system in ways that a good pirate can “read” and thus determine a history of recent activity in the system. To explain, let’s first look at anomalies.
Left completely alone, a system will eventually spawn 11 anomalies - a base anomaly and 10 others. Once cleared by a ratter, these anomalies vanish, and it takes time for them to respawn. Knowing this, we can use the number of anomalies in system as an indicator of recent ratting activity. A system with 11 anomalies almost certainly doesn’t have any ratters in it. In contrast, a system with only 7 anomalies has definitely been the site of recent ratting activity - and the ratters might well still be plying their trade.
Belts spawns are a bit more complicated (and I haven’t done much mining, and am less familiar with their nuances). In general, though, the default number of belts in a system with no mining activity tends to be 6. As miners deplete these belts, the begin to despawn - a system with only 2 or 3 belts is likely the site of recent mining activity. However, various mechanics can also cause system to overspawn belts in response to various things miners do, and thus a system with 8 or 9 belts is also a sign of dedicated miners.
The best part of using the belt and anomaly counts is that they don’t just tell you that a system is worth checking out - they tell you exactly where to look. A system with 5 anomalies and 6 belts (with 4 pilots in local, no stations and a single gate)? Run through the anoms, ignore the belts. A system with 11 anomalies but 3 belts (with a single station, 2 gates and 5 in local)? Check the belts.
CLUE 3: SPECIAL ANOMALIES AND BELTS
Finally, always be on the lookout for special anomalies (scout, inquisitor and deadspace anomalies) and condensed or compressed belts. These sites are VERY likely to contain potential targets and are a big draw to PvE pilots in the region. Unless local is completely empty, these sites are almost ALWAYS worth investigating.
In fact, the special anomalies are so lucrative (even low level ones) that I will even stop my hunt to complete one if I find it empty (if my ship is tough enough). It is common for at least one pilot to come check out the anomaly while I’m running it - a perfect chance to do some PvP to break up the tedium of ratting. In nullsec, however, be warned that these sites are difficult enough that they often require a fleet of ships to complete. Don’t be surprised if you find a Phantasm, Prophecy and a Thorax all sitting on the warp in point...
Now, look through the following examples and decide - is this system worth checking out? Put your answers in the comments!