Leader. Shot caller. Playmaker. The jungler is the heart of a League of Legends team. On both Summoner’s Rift and Twisted Treeline, the jungler is the leader of the pack. More than any other role, the jungler is called upon and expected to swing the game in his favor. He’s expected to be everywhere at once. If a laning player dies to an enemy jungle gank, it is her jungler’s fault for not being there. If a laning player fails to make a kill happen, it’s also her jungler’s fault. It is any jungler’s personal experience that if lost game is not lost in the laning phase or blame cannot be pinned on a specific person, the jungler is always to blame.
With this responsibility comes great power, however. The jungler has the ability to influence a match in numerous covert and overt ways. He can steal enemy creeps to disrupt the opposing jungler or even influence lanes by stealing the enemy blue buff. He can make his presence known via ganks and directly impact the outcome of lane confrontations. Perhaps most notably, the jungler can place wards to warn his teammates of enemy incursions and/or allow them to make better strategic decisions.
While the support can be a team leader as well, the role defaults to the man in the jungle. When he comes from the cover of the trees to strike at his foes, they quake in terror.
A quick recap on ganking
There have been quite a few words written in the Guidebook already about ganking. We’ve talked about how to set up a positive scenario for your jungler as a laning character and how to properly execute a gank once you’ve picked an opportunity out. We’ve even gone over some common ways to spoil a gank. Most of those are aimed at people in the lane rather than at the jungler himself.
The biggest topic I haven’t discussed is picking a gank. Picking a gank is all about opportunity. You have a jungle plan starting out, picking monster camps in whatever order you decide is the best for you. While you are clearing creeps, you look around. Watch your lanes. I can take a quick glance at the minimap and see if any enemy icons are overextended, then check to see if it’s a situation I can work with. Sometimes the enemy is just pushing too hard and my lanemates have not taken much damage. If the opportunity is close to me, I can frequently work with that situation.
Other times, the lane is getting zoned out and has lost a lot of life. While it would be nice for them if I showed up to relieve some of the pressure, the fact is that my presence there will do little good. I will not draw blood unless a miracle happens, and my presence might encourage my wounded teammates to be aggressive. That is not something I want.
Picking a gank has a lot to do with psychology. You need to get good at watching the enemy (especially top lane) and determining from the few seconds you’re watching how hungry he is for blood. The hungrier the enemy, the more likely you can make something happen. Picking a gank is a fine art, though. You just have to learn for behavioral tells that suggest someone will be aggressive while you are on your way.
That’s the other thing that is incredibly important. You have to have a good feel for how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. If you feel that the situation in lane will dramatically change during that time, you also have to predict what it will be like when you get there. Again, most of this requires you to analyze the behavioral patterns of players in that lane (including your allies) and try to glean what people want to do. It helps if you try to do it when you aren’t jungling (predicting what your opponent wants to do) to help predict things when you are jungling.
I like taking things that aren’t mine
If there’s one thing that qualifies as thievery in League of Legends, it is counter-jungling. Each team has its own jungle, and the teams share opposite sides of the river. However, there are no towers or static defenses to protect the enemy’s jungle, so always look to seize opportunities to take some of it.
Early in the game, you can attempt a planned counter-jungle. In order to be safe, I frequently do not go for a powerful buff camp and instead steal something easier that will simply slow down my opponent, like the larger of his double golems. A planned counter-jungle is very matchup-specific. If I know how long it takes for my opponent to clear to a set point in his route, I can make it to that point before he can if I am faster. If I can get there soon enough, I can steal his buffs or at least something moderately lucrative like the large wraith or the big golem. You can view this as “wasted time,” but if you manage to take part of his jungle successfully, you traded a bit of your time for a chunk of his potential gold and XP.
However, where counter-jungling gets interesting is after the first loop, when junglers start to look for ganks. If you have good respawn timings on the smaller camps, you can leave your enemy starving for XP and gold. If you have respawn timers on the buff camps, you can really benefit your team. Stealing the enemy blue buff — a huge boost to CDR and mana regen — can greatly impact the outcome of your mid lane. If you can feed the enemy red buff to your top or bottom lane (depending on which side you’re on), you can also create kill opportunities, especially if you are there to help out with your own red buff.
A lot of this comes down to looking for mistakes, and this is why wards are important. If I’m looking to steal a particular buff, I will often ward the area opposite that buff as well as important invasion points like rivers and tri-bushes and so on. If my opponent appears anywhere around the time his blue respawns, I munch it for myself. More than for any other buff timer, I try to keep a mental note of when the enemy’s blue is up, and I am extremely aggressive about taking it. If I think the enemy jungler is going for it, I will often coordinate my intentions to invade in advance and try to get a gank at his blue. There’s nothing like getting both your support and your mid to come up and rip into the enemy mid lane as she tries to get fed her blue buff, then circle around and kill the jungler as he tries to escape.
Wards are important, though; if you’re blind, you can’t plan effectively. It’s worth it to spend hundreds of gold on wards or a Sightstone to create a better battlefield picture. You’re the team leader, usually, and part of that is gathering intelligence to make better decisions. You can’t rely on laners to ward. Do it yourself.
Planning your route
There are several jungle routes starting from different parts of the map. The main routes are wolves to blue to wraiths to double golems to red and wraiths to red to double golems to wolves to blue. Those are rough directions, though; a lot of the decisions are made based on the cooldown of Smite. If you clear your first buff camp without Smite (due to assistance from laning players), you can do a slightly more optimal route and clear the second buff camp more quickly or counter-jungle straight away.
In fact, while the above routes are good starting guidelines, you are better off reading guides (several) on your jungler. I caution you to not live by those guides too heavily, however; most jungle guides advise ganking at set times in your route. I will tell you with 100% certainty that this is a terrible idea. It is good for beginning junglers because ganking at all gives you practice at identifying good and bad scenarios for it. However, I never plan for ganks. I always observe the situation when I clear a camp and ask myself if anything can be ganked. If the answer is yes, I go for it, but I don’t fix ganking into my route. Ganks don’t happen the same every game, and assuming they do is setting yourself up for failure.
Helping out your lanes
Probably the least tasteful of all jungler jobs is helping out struggling lanes. I hate doing it. I admit I have a sort of Darwinian approach to LoL. If someone in lane can’t hack it, showing up can’t really change much. I can show up in the lane and help him out for 20 seconds, but I can’t teach him how to lane and help him for a lifetime (unless he reads the Guidebook!).
That being said, there are some times when showing up can do some good. I only do it if I can arrive in a lane that is very nearby and possibly prevent deaths or give my ally time to return to base. I don’t like doing it, but it does give the impression that I’m a team player. Little does she know that I’m doing it only to get gold from the lane creeps, but image is everything.
If I can predict the enemy jungler’s movements, it is often in my best interest to attempt to deflect a gank if I can. If I can show up and stop a gank, I traded some of my time for some of his, and hopefully dealt enough damage to force him to return to base. Depending on which character I am, I might be able to turn the gank into a double kill for my teammate. I’ve had some pretty exciting turnarounds as jungle Evelynn by arriving just at the right moment.
It’s not necessarily bad to help struggling lanes, especially if they have a bad matchup and will not win without your help. However, if they don’t set me up to turn the tables, I have a hard time wanting to come and help them.
Jungling is a fine art. It is not a science, and it takes practice and experience. The only way to improve at it is to do it a lot. Practice your routes in solo custom games and bot matches and apply everything you can to learning from your mistakes in real games. Until next time, good luck and have fun!