A lot has changed for junglers recently. On paper, the changes in Patch 9.2 looked almost cataclysmic. Past the first clear, it was hard to tell how relevant jungle mains would become to their team.
As always however, meta changes continue to surprise us all. To make sense of the situation, we spoke to five LEC junglers about the changing nature of the position in 9.2, 9.3 and beyond: Fnatic’s Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, G2 Esports’ Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, Origen’s Jonas “Kold” Andersen, FC Schalke 04’s Jonas “Memento” Elmarghichi and Splyce’s Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir.
The first clear gives the same [amount of] experience [points,] but after that, it gets lower than [in 9.1] every single time you clear a camp. It's very important to make your first clear, at least in competitive, to not fall behind. If you get counterjungled, you fall a little further behind than you should. But early-game, you're still the same, kind of. You're not falling that far behind. You're still hitting level 6 after two to three full clears.
The jungle underwent an upheaval of sorts in Patch 9.2. As a result, experience gains from clearing camps diminished past the first clear, and neutral monster experience scaling increased every two level (instead of every level). The effect is not gigantic in the early-game, but it adds up over time. As a result, it’s not surprising to find junglers behind their solo laners in levels.
Even then, the pros were unanimous on this front: although noticeable, the difference is not significant in competitive play – as long as players are even or ahead of their opponent. “If you are behind, you tend to fall [further] behind the solo laners,” says Jankos. Memento doubles down on that observation: “It's very important to make your first clear, at least in competitive, to not fall behind. If you get counterjungled, you fall a little further behind than you should.”
Leave it to Xerxe to drive the point home: “It requires a balance of knowing when to gank and when to [farm] camps. If you do too much ganking and the ganks don't work, and the enemy jungler keeps on farming, you're definitely going to fall behind.”
If players suffer from counterjungling, hope is not lost as long as the opposing team’s jungler fails to convert his advantage in ganks. Much to Xerxe’s surprise, junglers that had half his creep score sometimes had the same in-game level as he did. On that front, the catch-up mechanic somewhat evens the field, but it does not compensate for the gold loss.
If you find that hard to believe, leave it to Broxah to reinforce the point: “Sometimes, when you're playing a tank and you're falling really far behind, if you are actually able to sneak in a few camps here and there, you are eventually going to catch up to the enemy anyway, unless he zones you out of your entire jungle – which is not very realistic.”
In addition, Challenging Smite received a damage decrease and no longer granted vision of its target. However, the pros understood that few champions truly needed to alter their gameplay; Xin Zhao and Lee Sin players still select the Red Smite as their go-to option.
The bottom line is pretty clear on this front. Memento notes: “People have been taking Blue Smites a little bit more. But I still think Red Smite is better on assassins and bruisers who like to fight a lot.”
Champion pool changes
I still think that you can play the same champions as you would play in 9.1. Some champions got buffed, so you could even play different champs. There's a lot of variation on which you can play.
Patch 9.2’s biggest impact lies in the viable champion pool as it essentially widened it. The patch promoted already prominent tanks into the limelight, with Sejuani and Zac making a bigger splash than usual during Week 3 of the LEC. So did Gragas, with Kikis using him to great effect despite Rogue’s loss against Team Vitality. However, junglers with fast clear speeds are the most prized.
The usual suspects
Xerxe warns onlookers of two picks that have become oppressive; “Olaf [and] Karthus [...] clear camps really fast, and they have enough time to do a gank [before camps respawn.]”
Regarding Karthus, Jankos notes that the pick is still viable (as demonstrated by his ascent to must-ban status during Week 3). “If you play Karthus, his clear is still really good,” he says. “It's just that he gets a little less experience, but if you do one more camp you will still get Level 6.” Then, he presses R, and all hell breaks loose. But even without it, Jankos notes that the champion is a force by himself.
“His Q is really good,” he adds. “Even if you want to punish him, you can't always punish him 1v1 if he hits his Qs. He has his W to slow you down, so if you go into him and he presses his abilities (Q, W and E), he actually deals quite a lot of damage. It's very difficult to punish him when he's free farming.”
On the topic, Memento highlighted the coinflip nature of the Karthus gambit: “He also has a lot of risk while playing. You either do really well on Karthus and have good farm, or you run it down, sort of. He doesn't really have any balance.”
On the other hand, things are a little funkier when looking at Olaf. Jankos recently built a slew of interesting items on the champion, much to Memento’s chagrin.
“Some people have been rushing Redemption because Tarzan did it, but I personally don't like it,” Memento says. “I think it's pretty horrible on Olaf, because you want to fight a lot in the early-game and the mid game. With Redemption, it feels as if you're playing Ivern, but on a Bruiser champ in the jungle. [...] Tarzan could have built Ardent Censer or no item, and they would still win the game.”
Hotline Tank returns
Still, the emergence of tanky junglers during Week 3 was noteworthy, as bans barred the way for one of the aforementioned picks. The move might have been a cautious play, as tanks usually don’t need much to wreak havoc upon Summoners’ Rift, rather than anything.
“Everyone will start playing only tanks, because they don't require as much experience,” Jankos says. “Let's say you play [another] jungler. You feel like you can do something, but you can't do anything, so you aren't as useful. People will go for the safe play and play something that will always be useful.”
Broxah used Zac in Fnatic’s victory against Rogue, showing the effectiveness of the pick. Ivern has also seen a surge in popularity, and he has seen playing time in competitive play. However, Sejuani is even more effective.
“Sejuani has always been one of the good tank junglers, because not only does she provide a lot of CC, she also is one of the better tanks in 1v1 [situations,]” Kold says. “Even if you play Sejuani against some aggressive jungle picks, you can actually duel them if you play it well. She synergizes really well with melee champions on lanes, so you have the potential to play as a tank jungler for 2v2s, 3v3s, and that's where she shines.”
But then, Kold noticed that Invictus Gaming’s Ning picked one of his favourite champions, Kayn, against Sejuani. He couldn’t resist the appeal of using him against SK Gaming. The quality of life changes did not influence his perception of the pick. “I think, situationally, as a counterpick, I kind of look at him as a 1v9 champion,” he says. “I saw that situation [against SK Gaming on Week 3], so that's why I played him. I've always been a fan of Kayn when the situation is there, but [Ning] kind of pushed me to try it more.”
Overall, as Kold illustrated with his Kayn pick, champions that would be non-viable on the surface may emerge during specific situations, and the players had no shortage of ideas. Here is a quick list per player of the champions they mentioned, and situations of viability when applicable:
- Jankos: Zac, if sacrificing the early game; Xin Zhao; Camille (maybe not as of Patch 9.3); Elise; and maybe Evelynn into Karthus
- Memento: Ivern
- Kold: Kha’Zix (as a niche pick); and Lee Sin (as seen on Team Vitality’s Mowgli)
- Broxah: Gragas; Kha’Zix (with an intriguing Level 3 timing)
In fact, in the meta’s current shape, Broxah divides jungle champions into three types: “There's the strong Level 2 junglers, there's the full clear junglers, and then the junglers that are somewhere in the middle. It's a pretty good mix.”
LEC: Everything is viable
I think the role of a jungler in the LEC depends a lot on the team you're on. Some teams need their jungler to step up early-game and try to make a difference, really put on the pressure and get some ganks off. Some teams like to play slower. But I think all styles are viable, and you just need to decide as a jungler what your team needs and what you're actually good at yourself, so that you end up with the right style and don't start messing things up.
The LEC’s junglers have proven that anything goes in the jungle. For instance, take Xerxe’s Aatrox: the pick wreaked havoc in the early parts of the G2 vs. Splyce matchup. Splyce needed a front line bruiser, and they selected that champion for the job. The same reasoning applied to Rogue when they drafted the Magic Damage oriented Gragas as a jungle pick, and Kikis wreaked havoc upon Team Vitality despite the loss.
In addition, teams can flex picks and leave the jungle pick as a cornerstone. Kold is quick to point out the importance of such a move: “Because you can take the jungle in many directions, most teams try to pick it later in the draft to either facilitate your composition or disable your enemy's. I'm a big fan of late-picking the jungle in this patch: the more you see of what the enemy team wants to do, the more impact you can decide [to have with] your jungle pick.”
How about solo queue?
Xerxe notes that the change is not as dramatic as previous changes. He particularly remembers the addition of the Scuttle Crab, as it reshaped the players’ perception of the role. In comparison, this is far more manageable. “It's not as big of a change as how the Scuttle Crab was. You get less experienced, so you play a little like you played before, but you will be a bit behind. That's the only difference.”
But in the best-case scenario, the five junglers agree: a jungler’s job hasn’t changed much, despite the decrease in experience. However, their adaptability has increased, as many picks have become viable. In addition, Memento has the following to add: “In solo queue, it really doesn't matter: you farm kills as always, and you play for kills, you'll get fed, and you'll mess up the enemy jungler.”
Jankos agrees with that mindset, as a jungler’s role in solo queue is to primarily wreak havoc and secure leads for their teammates. He also highlights the side effects of such a mindset: “Sometimes, you tend to steal experience from the laners, because let's say that you're camping the brush and leeching it. That's something you and your laner should accept, because you're looking for it. That's how you can reduce the difference between the experience [gain] from 9.1 and 9.2. But you should have probably done that before if you didn't.”
In general, one should always look to learn and progress. In conclusion, Kold sets the tone for junglers looking to get a grip over the position’s current and future challenges:
“When there are changes, don't overcomplicate it. Look at it from a perspective on what you feel is good, and then go with that. If it doesn't work, you've learned something. You reevaluate what the right thing is, and maybe you change or stick with what you've done. Do what feels right, and see where it takes you.”