Season 3 changed a lot of things around, especially in itemization. The jungle was definitely changed and impacted from this, but again the most notable changes were in itemization. The addition of Hunter’s Machete and its evolutions allows for more diversity in mid game items, and the new items for AD casters and bruisers certainly had an impact. However, despite the changes and tweaks, jungling as a role has shifted even further towards support in most cases. Let’s take a look at what the changes for the jungle really are:
The new machete helps some of the weaker junglers obtain more sustainability at the cost of making the early game one dimensional. Starting something other than machete such as boots or fairy charm/rejuvenation bead has become much harder to do. What the junglers lack in early diversity they make up for in great sustain and ability to farm. The biggest pitfall to Machete is early dueling and ganking. While every jungler in the game starting boots in season 2 was a bit ridiculous, the definite drop in early movement speed is noticed when ganking. When not building boots, a cloth armor was usually the way to go. The cloth armor really helped with early invasion and dueling against AD characters, allowing for more aggressive ganking or invasion, especially over those who started boots.
Hunter’s Machete, however, offers no such assistance. Its stats are solely for jungle clearing and provide nothing to a fight. Even razors and spirit stone, which are good upgrades, provide no noticeable advantage in a fight. They simply are tools to jungle more efficiently. This is an issue for a lot of junglers that were revolving around strong invasion and ganking as they’re now essentially trying to operate on having 0 items in their inventory. The spirit upgrades help some characters a lot, but still cost a chunk of gold. The stats on the items themselves typically work out well, but are still built mostly because of the necessity to do more damage to monsters. If this weren’t the case, you would see these items being built in lane as well, similar to how some laners built Wriggle’s Lantern in Season 2.
Other Starting Items
Aside from starting machete, there are other changes around starting items. Vamp Scepter now costing more than your starting gold is essentially a nerf to characters such as Trundle, Shyvana, Jarvan or Nocturne who could safely and cost efficiently build this item to clear the jungle. While they still function just fine on a machete/potion build, the cost of building early lifesteal forces junglers to purchase more potions or risk being low throughout their route. The removal of boots as a starting item for many junglers also changed how lanes start as well. This is another nerf to the jungle because one of the best set of starting items for laners is now a ward or two, a flask and 5-10 potions. This means that not only are lanes warded earlier but are higher health overall. Both of these in conjunction with less overall sustain and ganking power from junglers lead to lackluster early presence.
These changes to starting items in the jungle and lane push your jungler to run more of a support type role. Those who function on less farm or those who can farm incredibly well are still the most common type of junglers. The supposed buff to single target style junglers such as Warwick, Fiddlesticks or Xin Zhao hasn’t really been there. While the sustain and strength of these characters has slightly become more relevant, they still can’t farm as fast as strong AoE such as Udyr or Amumu. This leaves them without many options to farm hard or gank, putting them in a weird spot on any team.
There is another massive change in the game that affects all of the junglers, and that’s the addition and acceptance of the assassin. With the penetration changes and new itemization, assassins are having a field day. “Junglers” such as Evelynn, Kha’Zix and Pantheon are becoming stronger because it only takes a kill or two for them to get over the top. And now they have a late game to back it up, so the high damage gamble junglers now work a lot more effectively. This is being translated as a buff to those junglers, but really is just a buff to the characters that use them. Pantheon and Kha’Zix still jungle awfully, but the difference is now they can build items that give their mid and late game a boost.
What does this mean for our support style junglers? Well since almost every game has an assassin in it, being tanky out of the jungle is significantly harder. Armor and MR are harder to get, cost more and you’re stuck “wasting” your gold on a spirit stone or razors most of the time. This leaves a lot of tank junglers weak in the early game, especially to a fed assassin. While this is really fun for the assassin type characters, it can be very frustrating for the junglers. Someone like Nautilus, Amumu or Cho’Gath can walk out of the jungle and be exploded by a slightly ahead laner. This is a big difference from Season 2 where a jungle tank could be just that on a normal amount of farm.
We’ve seen the impact on laners and starting items, making early ganking more difficult to pull off. In the past when this happens, the plan B is usually to invade if you’re not a farming type jungler. Well thanks to the machete addition, not only do you have less to work with but the enemy jungler is often higher life. The increased camp difficulty forces machete variants on most, which means that almost everyone is going to be high life in their jungle. What might be seen as a good thing in more diversity and sustainability is a negative impact to the counter junglers. Counter jungling now is only achievable by the strongest duelists such as Mundo or Lee Sin or with the assistance of laners. While this was somewhat the case before, the effect has been amplified.
The other form of counter jungling, buff and camp stealing, is now harder to do and weaker overall. Because the gold itself isn’t as good and lanes are much safer and harder to gank, most junglers are farming really hard. This leaves you with little to no safe opportunities to invade and take a camp. Even when you are able to get in and do it, the impact to their jungler is minimal because it is a low impact role right now. The times you can safely steal their jungle are when they’re already in lane killing your team. Even when contesting buffs, the early items such as spirit stone offer nothing to a fight, essentially making it a laner v laner with however much utility you happen to provide.
What does it all mean?
The newest changes to items and the jungle show that jungling is in the same spot as support. It’s bad champion design to make a “jungler” or “support” devoted character, but instead characters in these roles tend to have certain attributes. They’re both low farm roles with the categories of “support your team’s fed champions” (Lulu, Nami, etc. / Cho’Gath, Nautilus, etc.) or “make a gamble and go big” (Leona, Lux, Blitzcrank, etc. / Kha’Zix, Evelynn, Pantheon, etc.). They’re both being subjected to balancing of assassins and solo laners, as you can see with itemization. Why is armor and MR more expensive now? Well because solo laners could build it to negate assassins or their opponents. Now the higher gold income laners can purchase these items at a cost, but have the money to spend and go that route. This eliminates super tanky with high DPS situations that were present in some Season 2 matchups, but also hinders the development of the two support roles.
Both of these roles also have items specific to their position in order to alleviate these symptoms. Supports definitely got the better deal with Sightstone and itemization, and mostly due to the role being a lot more clear cut than jungling. Junglers didn’t really need a stronger regen item, a philo stone usually did the trick. Having a spirit stone and philo stone provides amazing regen, but 0 tankiness. This is a big deal on the characters that build them, so my Amumu is now sitting a 50/50 armor/MR with 20 HP/5 and gets melted by anyone owning a Brutalizer or Haunting Guise. They also needed a cheaper madred’s razor, and got it, but at the cost of early power level.
Junglers vary wildly and have very different needs, which makes creating items for the role extremely difficult. Overall the changes to the game have been harsh on any jungler that isn’t an assassin snowballer, tailor-made to use one of the new spirit items or packed with so much utility they’re good no matter what. Lanes are harder to gank, the jungle is harder to farm and forces safer, more sustained builds and laners can do enough damage to negate the early tankiness you don’t have. Much like the support role, you can still carry a game from the jungle, but it’s gone from being the one who carries to being the one who enables others to carry.
What to do?
The issue of what to do is very tricky. I’m not really able to live balance or test changes, but something needs to be done to raise the power level of junglers again. Support is fun and all, but I’m tired of losing games I’m ahead in because my carry is out of position or I just don’t have the solo lane farm even with a bunch of kills. I’m aware it’s a team game, but the ones with less farm will never really dictate the game unless they have enough utility to do such or catch the other team with their pants down.
I would say a decent start is to give the jungling items earlier stats. The final upgrades of jungling items give relevant stats to certain characters, but the pieces are mediocre or expensive. Putting something like a small armor or MR boost on spirit stone will be a help to jungling tanks like Nautilus or Sejuani, even if it’s conditional (scaling stats based on how many times you’ve been hit or something). The spirit items as a whole kind of forgot about resistances, leaving tanks building a spirit stone simply for monster damage and not upgrading it. Putting a scaling damage component on the Machete or Razors will help your early duelists while not being attractive to laners. Say like it does 4 – 16 extra damage with 4 damage per stack or something (I’m apparently all about stacks). The damage and itemization is low enough that laners wouldn’t find it attractive but actually does something for a jungler outside of jungling.
The gold from camps could also be increased slightly across the board. Most lanes aren’t taking the jungle early anymore, due to the difficulty, so this might work. You could also increase the scaling gold and/or stats on the camps, giving X bonus gold per respawn number, allowing those who farm very well to come out actually farmed. In order to prevent abuse like a Shyvana continually doing wraiths and then passing a highly stacked camp to a mid laner you could add a decay factor. There are junglers out there that can clear camps the moment they’re up repeatedly, so being able to have a perk for farming really hard would be awesome, while not hurting the folks that farm somewhat and gank somewhat.
Even something like a killing spree for camps with a decay timer of, say, 45 seconds that provides increased income while it’s up. Throwing this on Machete would allow farmers to just plow through camps or lose these stacks/buff when ganking a lane or taking too long. This can possibly add another counter jungling element with the sigils giving you a stack, so a successful counter jungle removes your ability to accrue bonus gold.
As for the warding, maybe something like a minesweeper or radar item would be neat. This is kind of out there, but some dinky stats paired with an active that reveals wards in the area so you can know if you’re wasting time sitting for a gank or securing an objective that’s warded. It won’t clear the ward, but can let you know to go a different way while still maintaining the safety of the laner who placed it. I’m spitballing here.
I think the changes to the jungle are a step in the right direction. Everyone knows we’re not there yet, but I don’t want to see my role turned into support 2.0 even more. Please Riot, keep these things in mind going forward and make jungling a role with some balls again. What do you all think about jungling in season 3 right now?
One other thing I didn't notice but want to add is how badly you fall off as a jungler if anything goes wrong early. I guess because you're already teetering on the edge of usefullness early game compared to laners, any setback just drops you off the face of the earth in terms of map presence. Die during a gank? You're probably 2-4 levels down on mid/top lane by the time you're ready to gank again. Now you're basically unable to do anything against those lanes so you need to farm up. However, farming is more difficult because you're underlevelled and jungle creeps scale off player levels so your clears slow down a bit, making it even harder to catch up to the laners with all their gold and xp.
You're pretty spot on on the ganking analysis. I've been playing olaf and maokai recently in ranked games and what I've found even with both of them being strong gankers it is still really damn hard to do.
My best example of this would be how in one game I was ganking top lane renekton as olaf and he was pushed to our tower and had just used slice and dice to harrass. I catch him with undertow my top lee sin uses cripple so it should've gone off without a hitch right? Literally all renekton had to do was flash backwards and run back. Normally I could get him but due to me lacking boots the chase was impossible.
Other games I've played I just couldn't possibly gank because all lanes were warded and neither could the other jungler apparently because he did nothing either and it literally came down to lane v lane the whole game (luckily ours won without a hitch) but I felt absolutely useless the whole time getting one assist by undertowing garen and cho'gath chomping on him.
Maokai has become a complete support just there to root the enemy and let the lane kill because he himself does no damage and early game isn't even good for taking any damage because like you said you can't build armor worth a damn if you want to be able to clear your jungle.
+1 for you, very thought out. Good read.
Didn't Riot state that their goal with the pre3 jungle changes was to ease the effect junglers have on lanes? In season 2 constant ganks and early presence could pretty easily shut down a lane. By making the jungler tougher early, junglers have to decide on ganking a lot and getting XP/money that way, or farming.
Although what it sounds like is happening in your analysis, is that junglers and ganking champs are in trouble because they're forced to farm, and farming is hard for them. The early game for junglers is in trouble, without a decent enough payoff for them in the mid or late game.
What happens mid to late game? The carries usually swoop into the jungle and take the creeps that ae in there. That can't help a jungler that's already fallen behind early, from failed ganks or possibly invasions.
I liked your comment on the high-risk junglers being more viable now. Maybe that's just the direction the meta is taking now?
In a way, though, the junglers role is kinda like supporting. You're there to create opportunities for your team in the laning phase. You're practically a roaming support who leaps in and causes chaos. It's the unpredictable factor in what might otherwise be a pretty boring or one-sided laning phase.
Some good feedback, I'm glad you all decided to read my wall.
@Barbeerian: I agree fully with that as well. It's always been the case of junglers falling off, and it was a lot harder to deal with going from Season 1 to Season 2. Season 3 has continued that trend by making the camps hard enough that a ganking jungler may not be able to jungle at all without tons of potions or recalling very frequently.
@TheGrizzlyJew: The ganking has certainly changed on all front, even if you do get in nothing is guaranteed.
@Aureline: The did want to ease the effect, however it seems that they have little to no impact now. I honestly don't think junglers were as huge an issue for lane advantage as the itemization. They addressed very early snowballing in lane with itemization changes and then got rid of a lot of a jungler's early game. The high-risk will always be a solid meta for solo queue, the question will really be whether a pro team can find a way to abuse the risk enough to make it nearly guaranteed. Also, there is a difference between supporting your team and being a support. Supports are used for their CC or lane sustain, not damage or other aspects. Olaf and Nocturne aren't supposed to be support junglers but I see myself as CC for my carry or throw away initiate and not a top lane or mid lane menace.
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