Riot put out a new patch for League of Legends this week—an occasion that the game's legions of fans always await with bated breath. Anticipation curdled into disappointment once players realized the developer had made some unwelcome changes that could have a profound impact on one of the competitive multiplayer game's key team positions: the jungler.
Playing jungle is a unique position in a unique game, so let me contextualize the role to help show why this week's news has lead to a "complaining stampede," as one player described the community's reaction on Reddit. Most (if not all) League of Legends games are played on "Summoner's Rift," a 5-vs.-5 map which is divided into three main lanes that connect each team's base—located at the top-right and bottom-left corners of the space. Here's an image of Summoner's Rift from League's tutorial:
The "jungle" refers to the woodsy areas filling in the space in-between the three lanes. Serious teams (especially ones playing in the game's ranked mode) assign four people to specific lanes, with a fifth player filling in the role of jungler. This player spends the majority of the game inside the jungle killing a series of increasingly tough monsters that reside within, only stepping out to perform specific tactical maneuvers like assassinating an unsuspecting opponent by helping his in-lane teammates "gank" them (League-speak for "ganging up") or helping out a teammate in need in other ways if they're feeling particularly nice.
The jungler's priority is twofold: to take advantage of ganking opportunities whenever they appear while simultaneously killing all the computer-controlled monsters as quickly and efficiently as possible. The monster-killing part of that equation is important because it gives junglers lots of gold, experience, and bonus power-ups that benefit the entire team. It's a relatively isolating position compared to League's other team roles, then. And since junglers don't rack up as many kills or highly visible plays against enemy champions, they can easily be left out of the spotlight despite helping the entirety of the team in many crucial ways. This dynamic is all the more frustrating for dedicated junglers because, ironically, it's one of the toughest positions to play well. Fighting against powerful monsters on your own basically means that you can never fuck up, because nobody's going to be able to come and lend you a helping hand. The League community has had problems with jungling for a while now because of all these idiosyncrasies.
Ok. So what did Riot just do to the jungle? The 5.4 patch for League that went live this week implemented a few highly specific but equally important changes that, when added together, made the already-hard jungling position even harder.
For detailed breakdowns of the 5.4 jungle changes, I'd recommend checking out some of the great YouTube videos that experienced League players have been making to critique Riot's decision over the past few days. In an interview YouTubers LolClass did with a few pro League players about the 5.4 changes, Team Liquid player I Will Dominate explained that Riot added in a new base-level cost (250 gold) to switch between the specialized items junglers purchase to beef up their character for the game. This makes it prohibitively expensive for junglers to swap between different items depending on which one will make them best-suited to take out a specific monster.
(The discussion of jungle changes starts shortly after the 8-minute mark, though you should watch the whole video if you're interested in learning more about how 5.4 changed some of the game's champions as well.)
"This is, essentially, just a massive nerf to jungle power," IWDominate explained. On top of that, the 5.4 patch also nerfed "smite," a powerful special ability junglers use when attacking monsters—its specific damage stats and related traits also being tied to the jungle items previously mentioned.
It's worth mentioning that smite was already a controversial item before Riot nerfed it with the 5.4 patch. Beforehand, many players felt that it was an over-powered ability—i.e., one that could use a nerf or two. Some League players therefore see the current upset as a massive overreaction to a change that may cause temporary discomfort as players adapt to the new jungle, but an ultimately necessary adjustment all the same.
That's just the nitty-gritty aspect of 5.4's jungle changes, though. What these specifics ultimately point to, in many players' minds, is a fundamental problem with the jungle's difficulty. YouTuber foxdropLoL argued in an insightful video published yesterday that the current problem with League's jungle is that Riot has set such a high bar with its difficulty that "off-meta junglers have never been in a worse spot" than they are right now. "Currently, it's not fun or productive to play them."
By "off-meta junglers," he means any League champion that isn't specifically built in a way that's perfectly suited for jungling. In his and many other players' view, the jungle is now so difficult that only a small handful (like, 5 or 6) champions can even hope to make it through in one piece.
Why is that such a problem? Because champion diversity is critical to League. It's what makes the game so interesting and endlessly fun to play. The game has more than 120 characters to choose from, each with wildly different characteristics and abilities. Only being able to play jungle with 5 or 6 of them makes the position seem stagnant in comparison to everything else in the game.
The bitter irony of 5.4's apparent jungle nerfs is that Riot itself said last November that they were planning to change League, and the jungle specifically, to introduce more "strategic diversity" to the game. Now many fear, as YouTuber stonewall008 put it in a rant yesterday, that "diversity is dead."
Many other League players chiming in on the ongoing discussion on Reddit and Twitter seem to agree:
Reddit user gahlo, a self-identified long-time jungle main went as far as writing an open letter to Riot that made a huge splash on the League of Legends subreddit over the past two days. It calls out the developer for repeatedly disregarding the interests of junglers when changing up the game. Just reading the first few lines gives a good sense of how strongly some people feel about the issue:
I, as a player, am quitting jungling. I started jungling in Season 2 because all my friends either hated doing it or were much better at their other roles and know what? I loved it. I loved not being tied to a lane like I was when I dabbled in ADC and top, doing the CS two step and "will he, won't he?" of trades. I loved being a force that gave the early game some dynamism.
You, however, have killed my fun over and over again and I'm not taking this anymore.
To Riot's credit, the developer has never shied away from altering its much-loved game—often in substantial ways. Publicly announcing their plans to change the jungle last year was an open admission on the developer's part that they shared many player's dissatisfaction with it. So while 5.4 might end up having the opposite effect to the one Riot was hoping for, the current state of Summoner's Rift is, as always, subject to change.