Riot and the Jungle: analysis and possible fixes
Or at the very least, my two cents on this issue.
Been a while since I’ve wrote something serious, which feels really weird. I'm not the most knowledgeable or skilled jungler (partially because I hate jungling now), but there needs to be something done to make the jungle more appealing to people of all skill levels.
The Jungle's current state
Right now it's unnecessarily difficult to clear the jungle with most champions. The top tier junglers: Lee Sin, Jarvan, Vi, and Rek'Sai with Nidalee, Rengar, and Nunu being close have all been relatively untouched by nerfs while dominating almost all levels of competition. This leaves little room for weaker early game junglers and jungle tanks like Amumu and Nautilus to be played since they can be abused by the early aggression of such junglers. In addition, the gold flow is so low that the support oftentimes has more gold than you unless you get pretty fed early. This often leads to a jungler being completely useless later on if he can’t get going, although this has usually been the case in previous seasons.
That doesn't mean tank junglers can't clear the jungle. Tanks like Amumu, Sejuani, and Nautilus can clear the jungle decently well and offer enough CC to sink the Titanic. However, there isn't much point in playing these kind of champions when the top junglers are bruisers with about as much CC with a ridiculous amount of damage. Keep in mind that if you're good enough, most junglers can work in solo queue, but that doesn't mean the top junglers and tank junglers don't have their own problems.
Whoo Fix Suggestions
Due to the low gold flow I would suggest buffing the amount of gold the jungle items/camps give. However, this may be a bit tricky since if it gives too much gold, the jungle might return to Season 4 where aggressive junglers would dominate the game early. Granted, that was due to the power of the meta junglers at the time and how well they could abuse Spirit of the Elder Lizard (except Elise). However, if the increased gold flow is too high, it would just make the top junglers even more suffocating to play against without them receiving a slight nerf. If this were to be done, the amount of gold added would have to be low, about +5 gold for machete, +10 for upgrade or enchantment, so the top junglers don’t become even more of a problem.
Along with increased gold flow, the cost of switching smites should be lowered or just made free for the first switch. The price for switching smites is necessary, but not right now as it was the only thing keeping some junglers viable. To give some additional incentive to buying the enchantment early, maybe have the enchantment give an additional 5 or 10 gold.
The difficulty of the new jungle has made some junglers, most notably my favorite bug Kha'Zix, painful to play early on. This is why I think the jungle camps should be taken down a little, at least early on but increase the stat scaling per level a bit to compensate. It would help out junglers with painful early clears like Kha but with this, the top junglers should receive a slight damage/armor nerf so they remain the same while everyone else gets bumped up a bit. That way, there would be a nerf that would actually affect the top tier junglers, instead of the recent blanket nerfs that barely affect them.
Additionally, I think some nerfs to junglers/jungle items in the preseason should be reverted, at least for now, since they did more harm than good. The nerf at the beginning of the preseason that increased Kha's W cooldown caused him to drop in terms of viability since the new jungle kicks his ass until the mid-game point. If Riot's too apprehensive to do this, then they can bring his damage down a little bit to compensate. In relation to this, buffing the base armor/damage of the junglers that are struggling this season would help tremendously. Junglers like Nautilus (he could use more, but I think Stonewall008 knows what he needs more than me), Kha'zix, Rammus, and Zac could use a little love to help them establish viability outside of the occasional solo queue game.
Continuing from this, I'll talk about the nerfs to the jungle item upgrade cost and the smite switch cost. First off, the switch cost is outrageous right now, as many of you know, but with the current state of the jungle, the first smite switch should be free, as I mentioned above. After the first switch, the cost to switch could go 125g then up to 250g and stay there. Switching for free anytime is ridiculous, but up until now it helped struggling junglers get off their feet sooner. Now for the jungle item cost increase, this was massive since clearing a camp + buff then backing helped struggling junglers immensely. This change really did nothing to the top tier junglers and only succeeded in hurting the already struggling junglers. However, since I feel Riot would be unwilling to roll back this change, I'll offer a compromise. How about decreasing the upgrade cost by 50 so when junglers clear that third camp and back for the upgrade, they can buy a couple potions to help them get going? Or, at the very least, lower Machete's cost by 30-35g so junglers can start with an extra potion. Like the other changes, it would barely affect the top tier junglers, since they already clear well, but it would just help struggling junglers get off their feet.
One that seems obvious since most players would suggest it, but how about actually nerfing the top tier junglers instead of these various large-scale changes that barely affect them? Actually fix their problems, namely their damage, instead of continuing to screw over everyone. For example, bring down Jarvan's Q damage at all points of the game, since it is ridiculously high right now. However, nerfing the top tier junglers would just cause other junglers that are close to just take their place, for better or for worse. That’s why I think this is more of a tricky suggestion, which means the nerfs should be a kick to the shins and not an Olaf style beating. Hopefully something like this would be enough until some of their bigger issues can be fixed with some reworks, which I doubt we’ll see for another season or two.
Last but not least, onto something more experimental to help out those poor jungle tanks. First, how about adding some sort of defensive scaling on machete and/or its upgrades that would help jungle tanks clear without having to use all their cooldowns? Something that would either have monsters take damage as they attack you based on your bonus armor/magic resist/health, or have you deal bonus damage based on the same stats. Additionally, some sort of AP scaling in the same vein would help out most jungle tanks since they tend not to run AD runes, as well as help out AP junglers a tad. Overall, jungle tanks need some clearing help built into their kits or the jungle item so they can fight off invaders easier, which is their main problem. There is nothing stopping the top 10 or so junglers from walking into the tank’s jungle and forcing him back or killing him since he used most of his cooldowns to clear.
For example, Nautilus early on doesn't clear well since most of his damage is tied to his shield, which doesn't last long until later levels. When someone invades him, he’s pretty much screwed unless he can get to a turret fast enough and has his E and Q up or risk either dying or burning flash. To help him out, besides some possible base stat buffs, he should have a passive tied to his shield that is the DoT component. Then when he activates the shield, the DoT is increased by about 50% and his attacks spread the damage in an AoE like it does now. The damage shouldn't be doubled when the shield is active, at least not early on, since that would be ridiculous. Hopefully with something like this he can clear well while holding onto his E so he can use it to fight off invaders.
Anyways, that's my two cents as a jungle enthusiast. I hope Riot sees some of this so they can make jungling fun again. I know some of what I said has been said by others, namely Stonewall008 and Foxdrop, but I wanted to get something out there, before this happens:
All of the above was written before the new patch notes came up, so I should mention them. Namely, I’ll talk about the Nautilus changes, the new item which is basically Quil Coat 2.0, and the jungle camp tweaks. The Nautilus changes, since they have been partially reverted, are an overall buff now despite the slight shield damage reduction thanks to the Riptide buff and shield strength buff. The new item, while it does help in the mid and late game, it’s unable to be purchased in the early game, which is when tanks need it. It feels like in order for it to actually do it’s job, something similar to it needs to be purchased instead of machete to help the tanks in the early game. As for the jungle camp tweaks, all buffs hooray. No complaints, the chickens and battletoad deserved a damage nerf, and the increased gold for the wolves is nice. Although it is weird to actually see some buffs to the jungle after the past few patches.