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The impossibility of balancing ‘jungle’ items


spirit jungle items bg

As most of you will know, the meta game for jungling has vastly changed from Season 2 to Season 3. The role of the Jungler in Season 2 was nothing beyond an alternative spelling of the word ‘support’; the items were almost identical with double Gp10 (Philo Stone in to Heart of Gold, RIP) followed by whatever support tank items you could build with your very limited pocket money, usually an Aegis or Shurelyas. The champion pool and where you were positioned on the map (unless you were Moscow 5) were the only things differentiating the Jungler and Support. In my eyes, the Season 2 jungle meta was really brought to its knees after M5 obliterated all opponents in IEM Kiev by adopting a heavy counter-jungle style of play that was completely unseen and innovative. Once teams had a chance to adjust, though, it became clear that the Jungler’s potential to carry was extremely limited and rolling as a second support was the optimal path.

When Riot released Season 3 they brought in a plethora of changes. These changes were felt across all roles and champions, but the jungle was significantly altered. Hunter’s Machete was introduced, an item that was a great starting choice for all Junglers and one that built in to the new jungle items- Spirit Stone, Spirit of the Elder Lizard (SotEL), Spirit of the Ancient Golem (SotAG), Spirit of the Spectral Wraith (SotSW), alongside a revamped Madred’s and Wriggle’s.

Fast forward to present day. and the new jungle items are some of the most popular early buys in the game. Unfortunately (and perhaps ironically), it is not in the inventories of Junglers where we see these items most commonly- they are an extremely popular choice for laners too. They aren’t only popular, but actually core items on certain champions and certain specialised builds (Blue Ezreal, for example).  Spirit of the Spectral Wraith is rarely bought on junglers mostly due to the lack of viable AP junglers in the current meta and  the awkward allocation of stats (Spell Vamp? meh), however the item received a much warmer embrace from certain Spell Vamp benefiting casters, most notably Vladimir and Rumble with whom it was consistent a worthwhile rush item. Bearing in mind when you buy SotSW you are paying for a decent amount of mana regen, this item was STILL considered amazing to characters who had never even seen a mana bar in their life. Spirit of the Elder Lizard is similarly adored by laners and junglers alike due to its great stats among other reason that I’ll delve in to later on.

So what makes these ‘jungle’ items so universally favoured? There are three main reasons:

 

Firstly, the items build from small components. This is ideal for junglers who are part of the 99% as they can recall with their pitiful monster slaying bounties and still be able to buy an item that has decent build paths (if you’re wondering what junglers are part of the 99%, it’s all of them). Of course, having items build from small parts is useful for everyone, so laners benefit from this as well, though it’s not as much of a Godsend as it is for junglers.

Secondly, the items flaunt some decent stats. CDR is universally useful, as is the Health on SotAG (the only reason it’s not built more often on laners is because Aegis is a better choice with similar gold-efficiency and small-parts benefits, and Giant’s Belt alone is also a strong and relatively cheap alternative). Both SotSW and SotEL boast offensive stats in AP and AD respectively; SotEL is the most popular jungle item for laners because there are practically zero wasted stats, SotSW isn’t as popular because it’s less of a pure carry item as it has a lot of price invested in to utility stats such as Spell Vamp and Mana Regen, and only yields 40 AP.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, the items are extremely easy on your wallet. Not only are they fairly cheap at 2000 gold, but they are ridiculously cost efficient. Spirit of the Elder Lizard has a total gold value of 2646g, Spirit of the Ancient Golem has a total gold value of 2565g, and Spirit of the Spectral Wraith has a total gold value of 2342g. Anything that is cheap and remarkably cost effective often spends less time in the shop and more time in inventories, however most items that are both inexpensive and cost effective are support-tanky items like Aegis and Locket. What roles would want to get these support-tanky items? The jungler and support. What roles have limited access to gold? The jungler and support. To this end, Aegis and Locket serve their purpose very well and are great pickups for those that can benefit from them while not being too tempting for the other roles. The difference with the “Spirit of the…” items is that (with the exception of Ancient Golem) they are not support-tank items. They are carry items. This makes them extremely appealing to the other roles who, as previously mentioned, have been picking them up left right and center.

 

But what’s wrong with both the jungler and carries getting the same item? Can’t we all just get along?

Unfortunately, no. The items were invented with the gold-starved junglers in mind; an attempt to increase their strength relative to laners. Riot basically said: “You may have less access to gold, but the items you buy will give more stats for your $$$, so you won’t be insignificant insects compared to the carries and you won’t be forced in to building tank every single game”. The problem is, when laners start buying these gold efficient items, they have the possibility of getting them extremely early on in the game- much earlier than Riot had intended for the junglers- giving the laners huge power right off the bat.

And this is where the problems start to pop up. These items are quite frankly overpowered on laners, but if they are nerfed then the junglers are also nerfed. The junglers aren’t the problem, and something that is perfectly viable starts to look more and more unappealing to them. It’s pretty much a lose-lose situation for those who call the jungle their home. The goal of jungler-equality gets crushed like a North American pro team on the world stage.

Are there any alternatives? Is there a way to salvage the concept of ‘jungle’ items? There have been some suggested changes to try and achieve just this.

Have the jungle items require Summoner spell Smite to purchase

I personally don’t feel as though this would work. Doing this implies that jungling without smite is ‘wrong’, and whereas in the past, present, and foreseeable future this is somewhat true, Riot has clearly stated that they don’t want to force or direct any kind of meta game and implementing this change would be a very grey area. I wouldn’t put it past a Korean team to take a jungler with no smite- a lot of their play is actually two 2v2 lanes as the jungler practically lanes with the solo laner, often to help them when against a 2v1. One of the jungler’s biggest weaknesses is the fact that they only have one summoner spell, so if a Korean team decided they didn’t want to roll with smite and instead wanted the second summoner, I would not be completely flabbergasted. If the jungler could competently clear buffs without smite and the team comp had a high nuke mage (Gragas, Lux) to secure Dragon/Baron, it could happen. Unlikely, but it could. Riot wants to leave the meta game open to any and all possible changes.

Make the jungle items Unique to the team; i.e only one champion can own it (preferably the jungler)

This idea is pretty doomed from the start. In team games I could imagine the carries being the ones who would be afforded the luxury of owning the item, and in solo queue it would simply be who could buy it first (Hint: It won’t be the jungler). It would also probably lead to some less than positive interactions between yourself and the guy who knicked your item.

Replace some of the useful laner stats (AD/AP etc) with a more powerful ‘Butcher’ passive (i.e faster clear speeds)

An item that heavily increased clear speed would be a situational item at best. Besides, you’re changing the essence of the current jungle items, you’re warping what made them good and appealing to junglers in the first place. An item like this would only see daylight on heavy farmers and counter junglers. I can see some possible potential in an item like this, but I don’t think it should be sculpted from any existing items, rather introduced as a new item altogether.

Reduce the stats and price on the Items so they’re cheaper dead-end items, not worth the laner’s money but still good jungle buys

This is probably the idea that makes the most sense, but I’m still far from convinced that it would work. You’d basically be introducing a Jungle Dorans. Whereas in theory that sounds pretty cool, there are two major gripes I have with this concept. Firstly, I’m not entirely sure this change would deter laners from building the item. It’s not uncommon to see a laner take 2 Dorans in a game, which costs almost 1000g. If the jungle items currently cost 2000g, there would have to be a very definite and precise ‘sweet spot’ price that would be appealing enough to junglers while simultaneously not attract the laners. The second issue I have about this suggested change is pretty fundamental- I’m not convinced laners would opt to not buy it.

These are the best ideas that I’ve seen put forward regarding potential changes to the jungle items. I’m sure there are others and I apologise if I’ve missed any out, but I wouldn’t be able to cover them all individually regardless.

At the end of the day…

The jungle items are just an awkward situation. There really is not easy way to go about it. I applaud Riot’s initiative to try and improve the quality of life of junglers, and I think the implementation of these items was a step in the right direction. The sad truth is, however, that both the carries and junglers (depending on the champions, of course) have the same needs. Stats that are good on junglers are often also good on laners and vice versa. Whereas junglers are not true carries and often fill out a tank role of some sort, they can still include one or two damage items in to their build. Although, when you have access to less gold, every penny counts and you need to be extremely mindful of the items that you do buy. This makes spending large amounts of money on traditional ‘carry’ damage unfeasible.

I wish I had the solution to this paradox. This situation is just a difficult one to resolve and I’m eager to see what Riot has up their sleeves, if anything.


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foxdrop

is a Diamond Jungler best known for his work over on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/foxdropLoL). These articles will be sharing his opinions on certain LoL related topics and be a mix of his own thoughts and some more purely educational stuff. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook (@foxdroplol)

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