If you’re a person who has dedicated a large portion of their League career to playing in the jungle then the chances are you’ve faced your fair share of criticism. It’s no secret that the jungler is the universal scapegoat for a team’s downfall, usually due to a perceived lack of ganking or inability to execute omnipresence. The level of critique on a jungler’s gameplay makes Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance look like the review page of Bioshock Infinite. So why is it that the most frequently critiqued role is also the most misunderstood?
Jungling is like the internet. Everyone knows what the internet is – hell, it’s the only reason you can play League or read this article – but do people really know what it is? The internet, as far as we use it, is an almost ethereal being that endlessly tends to our every need and desire. What about its infrastructure? Did you know that there are thousands upon thousands of cables laid under the seabed that connect the internet to all continents? Did you know that it’s someone’s job to go and fix these cables when they’re broken, and that they’re occasionally broken by shark bites? Whether or not you were aware of these things, there is a multitude of complex elements that ultimately amount to the delivery of the world wide web to your fingertips. All so some teenager with his curtains closed can play League while he watches porn. And before you ask, no, that’s not me. I’m not a teenager.
Whereas jungling doesn’t quite involve the placement of large cables under the seabed, it does have a certain mystique and often deep misinterpretation beyond the face-value understanding of a jungler’s basic objectives. Simply put, people kind of know what a jungler does, but they don’t really understand it fully. Contrary to popular belief, jungling is not about ganking and getting kills, it’s not about carrying your losing lanes, it’s not about warding everywhere, and it’s not about securing Smites (I gotcha back Saint don’t worry). All of those things are FEATURES of jungling, but not a DEFINITION of jungling.
In defense of the ignorant, jungling is the most unique and unquantifiable role in the game. It’s very difficult to make blanket statements that say exactly what a jungler is or what they should be doing. I’m of the opinion that the majority of jungling (at least early on) is a predominantly mental game – you have to be constantly ‘reading’ the game and making on-the-fly decisions based off of your observations. This may sound very overwhelming for those of you relatively new to the jungle role, but I don’t mean to intimidate you. Learning how to better read the game and improve your decision making are very rewarding and in my opinion enjoyable.
I can’t tell you how to play each game. I can’t say “do this, this, and this, and you’ll be guaranteed victory!”. Each game is different and as such so should be your MO. However, what I can tell you is what you want to be achieving and point you in the right direction to best accomplish that. That being said, this is just my opinion. I am not a professional player, although I am in Diamond 1, so take from this what you will.
What it all boils down to can be summed up in one word: pressure. I’m aware that the word ‘pressure’ is thrown around more than a midget wrestler due to the ambiguous meaning of the word, especially when applied to in-game situations, so I’ll do my best to draw you a solid picture of what I’m talking about. It isn’t limited to just junglers, but I’ll do this through the jungler’s perspective for the article’s sake. Pressure is an elusive concept; it means nothing and everything at the same time. For me, pressure is when the enemy top lane is too scared to jump in on your friendly top lane because they think you might be waiting for them. Pressure is when you force the enemy away from their lane and you take down their tower. Pressure is when the enemy forces your ally away from their lane and you stop them from pushing down your tower. Pressure is when the enemy laners buy an extra ward because they’re afraid of you making an appearance. Pressure is when the enemies type in all chat “omfg noob lee go buy tent and stop carry your f*cktard ashe”. You essentially always want to make sure that you are doing something rather than just floating around the map with no real purpose and wasting time.
Still think pressure is a wisy-washy term? Fair enough. Like the word ‘erinaceous’ at a spelling bee, it’s not an easy thing to define. Let me tell you how you can be applying pressure. I like to break it down in to three main categories: Ganks, Invades, and Objectives.
Enemy top laner over extending for CS? Punish him. Is he going aggressive on your ally? Punish him. Even if you don’t grab kills here, you’ll make him think twice about overextending and going aggressive. This makes laning a whole lot easier for your ally.
If your teammate is someone who is particularly weak early on but pretty potent after a certain point (a good example being Vlad), then it may be worthwhile to visit his lane and give him a helping hand early. Any assistance for getting through that tough early stage will set him up greatly for the future. However, don’t spend a lot of time there. If that character is truly weak early then there may not be too much actual kill potential, meaning any time you do spend helping him will be time you’re not farming (note how I didn’t say it would be time wasted, though) and too much of that will make you far too weak and open your other lanes up to vulnerability.
An honourable mention goes to counter ganks here. Counter ganking is an extremely effective tool of applying pressure as not only do you negate an enemy advantage, you swing it in to your favour. I like to think that kills acquired in a counter gank are worth double than those from a standard gank. Think of it this way – 1 kill for the enemy turns in to 0 kills for the enemy and 1 for your team, that’s a 600g difference.
Tower dives are also an important aspect of ganking and applying pressure. If you can pull these off then the enemies won’t feel safe anywhere. It also puts huge burden on the enemy jungler to come and help out a lane that is being pushed, due to a fear of laners getting dived. But beware, much like decompression sickness a counter gank is a diver’s worst nightmare. If it looks like your lanes are going to get dived, roam and help them. If you see a good dive opportunity but don’t know where the enemy jungler is, don’t risk it.
There are three objectives for the lane phase: Towers, Dragon, and Buffs. I personally find that to be the order of importance, too.
Dragon control is very crucial for junglers. 99% of all dragons are taken with some form of a jungler’s orchestration, whether that be snagging a kill in a gank and then taking it, de-warding and sneaking it solo, or being opportunistic and taking it when the enemy jungler has gone top. Dragon is a 1,000 gold advantage for your team and very important if you can get it. Similar to counter ganks, by taking dragon you also deny it from your enemy for 6 minutes.
Towers are an underappreciated jungle objective. If you get a kill on an enemy laner and they’re somewhat near to their tower (especially mid game when death timers are longer) you should try to get some decent damage off on to it. You don’t even need to be involved in the kill – if you’re at wraiths and the enemy mid laner recalls, push the lane with your ally and get some damage off. Chances are you’ll only need to do this once or twice to get yourself a free tower. Of course, enemy laners don’t even need to be missing for you to pull this off. Depending on team comp and your numbers (e.g you’ve done drag and then roamed mid as a group), you can brute force towers down. The biggest reason why towers are great for applying pressure is due to their snowbally nature. Once one tower has fallen it becomes a lot easier to take others – lanes can shove harder and be given more time to roam before the enemy starts pushing their own towers down.
Finally, buffs. These aren’t as important as the others but are good for boosting your personal strength while whilting the enemy’s. This can be especially effective if the enemy laners are those that rely on blue buff for a mid game power spike, such as Anivia. Taking these buffs will give you more exp, and levels = power as far as the jungler is concerned. It also puts a lot of strain on the enemy laners to come and defend their jungle, but I’ll get in to that in the next point.
Counterjungling is the most direct way that you can be applying huge amounts of pressure on to the enemy jungler in the early game. If done correctly, this can also pressure the enemy laners too as they will often attempt to protect their jungle. As long as you don’t die doing this, you can experience extreme contrasts of levels between you and the enemy jungler. In addition, any direct pressure you apply to the enemy jungler is an indirect amount of pressure applied to the enemy laners, as they are playing with a disadvantaged jungler. This can be especially effective when combined with powerful early laners on your team, as they will be able to best prevent enemy laners from catching you and will, more often than not, snowball the lack of enemy jungle presence to their own advantage.
You don’t even need kills when invading the enemy jungler. You can just skirmish with them and keep them on their toes. Just make sure you avoid what I like to call”The ‘Murcian”: you constantly invade weaker targets and places you really shouldn’t be with little potential for gain, financial or otherwise, when your time and resources could be better spent elsewhere.
Taking buffs, as detailed in the previous section, is also a form of invading. If you know the enemy started blue, you can accurate predict that it will respawn at around 7:10 – it first spawned at 1:55, died at approximately 2:10, and takes 5 minutes to respawn. This is probably the best and easiest time to try steal a buff.
After Lane Phase
The jungler’s role becomes much less unique after the lane phase has ended. Like a boy soprano, they reach a point where they eventually become just like everybody else, left with only a pocketful of happy memories of days gone by. The reason for this is because the map becomes much more accessible to others, as every role is released from the shackles of their lane due to an evolution in team goals – farming and individual matchups become less fruitful while the importance of group objectives and team fights grows.
At this point in the game, the role of a jungler equals that of a typical Top laner or support (or somewhere in between). Making plays is still a very important aspect of the game, but such things are no longer exclusively your job. Currently, the most effective way of playing this stage in the game is to be a tanky initiator, disruptor, soaker, peeler, etc. This is reflected in the present meta as the most popular champions and item builds are all focused around your ability to best employ the previously mentioned playstyle.
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 is no stat for enemy buffs stolen, enemy ganks denied, dragons taken, towers defended, etc. You could be 0/1/1 and still be having a better game than the enemy jungler who is 5/0. Having said that, if you’ve got 10 deaths in as many minutes then you’re doing something wrong, and likewise 10 assists would indicate a well played game.
Laners that blame junglers are often simply underperforming and venting, but that said, if you find that your lanes are constantly losing or your team always misses the first dragon, it could indicate a lack of pressure from your side. As my ex used to say, work on your pressure and the other things will come.