For the longest time, the jungle was the Island of Misfit Toys — not the players who main the role (despite how often our teammates yell at us), but the champion pool itself. Back in season 2, there were only a handful of champions that could survive the jungle. While that list grew significantly in season 3, most of the champions were discarded top laners who found home in the shadier parts of Summoner’s Rift.
But everything began shifting a few years ago. We’ve been getting champions that feel designed to jungle for seasons now, but more often than not that just meant they had solid engage like Zac or Vi. But starting in 2015, Riot started experimenting a little more with jungle capable champions and what it meant to spend most of your time in the forest.
Over the past three years, we’ve gotten Kindred, Ivern and Kayn, three of the most interesting League champs on the roster. There has been a renewed focus on jungle-specific design, creating a champion that hunts random camps, befriends instead of kills them or just walks through walls.
In our preseason interview, Rioter Andrei “Meddler” van Roon, he gave some insight on this.
“In a lot of circumstances, you’re interacting with the map more than you are with another player or two other players or three other players if you’re bot lane,” said van Roon in an interview with the Rift Herald. “The types of interactions we offer don’t need to go through the same interaction and fairness tests. Jungle camps don’t complain and get upset and don’t have expectations of good counter-play. Of course they shouldn’t. That sort of gives us a different canvas to work with.
I think the other thing though is, historically, I think we’ve been pretty conservative on what we’ve done in the jungle. A lot of opportunities that we haven’t taken advantage of, where we’d sort of mind more of the space and some of the laning play and so some of the recent variety of more unusual jungle champs are reflecting us recognizing that there’s an untapped opportunity there that we’ve been deficient in historically.”
These champions take risks and offer players powers that have rarely been seen before. This doesn’t always work out in their favor of course. Ivern has been extremely hit or miss since his original release, Kindred is very high skill in the rare instances where she isn’t bad and Kayn is a monster in the current preseason. But these are risks worth taking and still offer interesting gameplay.
What makes these three champions in particular so interesting is the way they play with basic mechanics. We saw Kindred open up the idea of a ranged jungler, which has to some extent paved the way for Graves, Ezreal and now Tristana. Ivern completely twisted what it meant to jungle, interacting with camps in a way that we’ve never seen before.
Kayn is a little different than either of these. On his surface, he isn’t that unique. However, when you consider how his transformation works, the way that you need to gank lanes and correctly choose your next target to select the form you want, his jungle nuance comes into play. Kayn offers the most meaningful and permanent choice on a per-game per-character basis we’ve ever seen, even more so than Kha’Zix’s evolutions.
The jungle is one of the most unique aspects of League and is something that even it’s competitors, like Dota 2, don’t really replicate. Watching Riot lean further and further into what makes that role so special has been a treat. As the year winds down and we move into yet another season, it’s hard not to wonder who the next weird jungler will be.