Due to the freedom that comes from not being bound to a lane, the jungler has the potential to significantly impact all three lanes early, the impact of which sends ripples throughout the entire game.
Previously, I discussed how to make ganks work (see this), but a jungler has more on their shoulders than just ganking. As Foxdrop, the foremost jungling content creator (or any other authority for that matter), will tell you, “You shouldn’t really judge a jungler by their score. There’s not really such a thing as a ‘bad score’ for a jungler. A lot of a jungler’s merits are not presented in quantifiable stats – there are no stats for enemy buffs stolen, enemy ganks denied, dragons taken, towers defended, etc.” (see this).
In other words, jungling is a position where scores and statistics are often misleading for a variety of reasons, largely because their job is to create and pressure- to reduce the amount of “correct” enemy decisions, while increasing the number of “incorrect” decisions- a task you can’t measure the success of (see this for more on pressure).
The ultimate goal of a jungler for the laning phase is not to get himself ahead, but rather to get his lanes ahead, as we examined last week. A jungler that gets himself ahead can only threaten one place at a time, but a jungler who gets his lanes ahead can threaten a specific area just as much, and will have threats in the areas that he isn’t at. This is why ganks are such an enormous focus for junglers, but their power to influence lanes is dictated by their ability to actually be a threat to the enemy laners.
Being a Threat
Despite the fact that clearing the jungle gives less than laning without the experience and gold from doing so, a jungler will quickly find himself too weak to adequately threaten lanes, forcing him to find a balance between clearing and ganking. This balance will be different every game, and there’s no simple way of outlining it, but using buffs optimally is one factor to keep in mind.
While a jungler that goes straight from Red Buff to Blue Buff is going to hit level 3 before laners, this lead is short-lived, and he usually finds himself settling behind the solo laner in terms of levels, either the same or slightly ahead of the duo laners. That being said, this window is the perfect time to gank, which is why there is (at present) almost always a gank shortly after the 3 minute mark. These ganks are often impactful enough to snowball a solo lane just by themselves (to predict where this gank will be, observe your opponents coming to lane to see who leashed for the jungler, and know that he’ll be headed to the other side of the map immediately, and will probably choose between the lane on that side and mid, since both are about the same distance from his buff). What makes this window even better for the jungler is the fact that they have double buffs.
Blue Buff is helpful for clearing the jungle, since the CDR and mana regeneration facilitate spell spamming, but it’s not helpful for most junglers in early ganking scenarios since it doesn’t allow for any more spells to be used much of the time. As such, it’s important to be especially careful with your time while you have it on, because an unproductive gank will mean you could have spent that time clearing more camps than you could without it. With the coming changes to the jungle, it’s likely that using blue to clear more efficiently early will be a focus for many junglers to highlight this strength even more. While doing this now takes away a the distinct advantage of ganking someone lower level than you, it will also allow you to hit level 6 faster, have a guaranteed income that you know will let you buy specific items, and allow your ganks to be slightly less predictable. Particularly if you are a jungler capable of soloing Dragon, such as Nasus, prioritizing farm over ganks can allow you to get Dragon sooner. If your champion is a good counter-jungler, getting a level advantage by maximizing your Blue Buff is a good way to set yourself up for success, as well as lull your opponent into a false sense of security before you go invading, and if you go for a full clear your first time through, you will have a window with Red Buff active when you invade, while they won’t.
Red Buff is one of the strongest tools a jungler gets to do his job, particularly early on. It’s not exceptionally helpful with jungle clear, but the damage and slow it gives make it great against champions, whether ganking a laner or the enemy jungler. Having Red Buff allows you to inflict significantly more damage, both directly from the true damage it gives and indirectly from the slow it gives, allowing you (and your laner if they’re there) more time to put a hurt on the enemy. You want to maximize the time you have Red Buff by finding as many fights as you can, particularly when you have a long stretch of land you can chase someone over (such as when someone is pushed up to your turret). One pitfall that I see often is a jungler will take a buff, and recall soon after. If there is a serious counterjungling threat, or if you are past the laning phase, than this probably won’t matter. However, early on the time it takes to recall and return to the jungle can very easily mean one less gank that you get with Red, or a full clear that you get with Blue.
Don’t Lose Your Edge
One way that a lot of junglers lose their ability to be a threat is through their early itemization (this is the last one, I swear). Oftentimes, the order you decide to build your items is more important than what those items do on completion. When jungling, the first decision you have to make is between clearing stats, fighting stats, and mobility. Let’s say you had to recall with enough for Spirit Stone, Boots of Speed, or cloth armor/magic mantle/amp tome/longsword. Every game its important to decide which you need most. Spirit stone may be cost-efficient, but it’s not going to help you in a fight at all. Combat stats may help you win fights, but if you aren’t mobile enough you won’t be able to use those stats effectively. Boots may help you get to fights, but they aren’t going to increase your actual power in them, or do much for your clear times. Every game will be different, so choose wisely when deciding what you need most in each scenario.
Since most junglers right now are tanky, I feel it’s worth mentioning that in some games you can maximize your tankiness with a combination of targeted ganks and specializing your resists. For example, if the enemy team’s only magic damage is in midlane and is shut down early on, then you can focus on building armor. You can help yourself with this, by spending more time mid than you would otherwise to make sure they don’t pose a threat to you. Even if they have an AP top as well, if your toplaner is snowballing the matchup, the scenario is similar enough to do the same thing much of the time. This is a situational consideration and compared to things that you should be thinking about, this is usually pretty far down the list, but some experienced junglers looking for that small advantage they can exploit to better their game may find it useful.
Similarly, depending on how quickly you can beat down targets, you can use specialize your resistances to let you last longer than you would otherwise. For example, if you build a Frozen Heart first, you want to be soaking a lot of physical damage, and preventing magic damage from happening. If you can burst/zone damage dealers, focus magic dealers while the ADs focus you, and you will do more than you would otherwise. If you can’t prevent the damage from happening with burst/zoning, and have to soak it, then focus the AD so they have to deal with you, and you make use of the armor in that way.
In summary, while the main objective of the jungling position is to win the laning phase across the entire map, a jungler must repeatedly choose between ganking and farming, deciding which will yield more return on investment by using information collected from both the lanes and the jungle, as well as creating his own advantages through itemization. “But wait, you haven’t even touched on objectives, and its an objective-oriented game! Not to mention the fact that you haven’t talked about what rates as a successful gank, like you promised last week!” In my next article in this series, Jungling 201, I will revisit ganks, and cover what rates as a successful gank, among other things. In Jungling 202, objectives and other things along those lines will be addressed.
Since I didn’t find a convenient place to put this in the body, I want to leave you with this thought: it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it that counts. Think about how this philosophy interacts with my points in the article. I love feedback, and I love talking League even more. Please drop your thoughts into a comment below