The Top 10 Jungle Champions in Competitive History
I wrote a similar article about mid laners, if you are interested, check it out here!
I wanted to take a look back to find out which jungler champions had the biggest impact on competitive history. The focus will be on champions, such as Lee Sin, rather than players, such as KaKAO. Here were my criteria to determine which champions were the most impactful:
1) Longevity - Surviving for multiple metas is the most important attribute for this list. If a champion can survive for multiple metagames, then clearly they must have had a large impact.
2) Peak dominance - If a champion is pick/ban for a metagame, this will make them rise on this list. This is where the interchange of peak dominance and longevity is mixed up. In my opinion, it's better to be a solid pick for many seasons than it is for a champion to be pick/ban for a short while before falling out of the meta due to counterpicks or nerfed. A different valuation would lead to a different list.
3) "Innovation" - Obviously it's not possible for a champion to be innovative all by themselves. What this category means is a champion will be moved up in the list if they changed the way people think about the game. In Season 2, the most popular junglers were supportive types like Maokai or Amumu. Gambit Gaming was able to break the mold by playing aggressive invading junglers like Shyvana, a decision which in the long run led to today's bruiser-centric jungler meta.
4) Uniqueness - The final important trait is uniqueness. If a champion could do something that no other champion could do at a high level, that will impact its placement. For junglers, one example of a unique jungler is Evelynn. Her invisibility means that players will always struggle to play against her, so she's never truly fallen out of the meta in spite of repeated nerfs.
Warwick was one of the first champions designed for the jungle, and was an important pick in Season 1 and early Season 2. Since then, he's largely fallen off the map save for a brief time period at the beginning of Season 5, when the interaction between Skirmisher's Saber, Devourer, and his ultimate put him back on top for a short time. He mostly deserves an honorable mention for his role as one of the jungler's founders.
Rek'Sai has been a major pick since her release, and her sonar and tunnels have helped her dominate the jungle in Season 5. Her ability to sense out ganks and instantly traverse the map with her ultimate means that she's unlikely to ever fall out of popularity with these core strengths, and I'm sure she'll be on this list soon. I kept her off because I wanted to use this list to emphasize the jungle's ever changing role, and while Rek'Sai's versatility meant that she fit into many metagames, she hasn't really changed player perception of the jungle.
Rengar was interchangeable with his rival Kha'Zix on the list. (I ended up picking Kha.) Both champions represent glass cannon carry junglers who could gank well while becoming relevant carry threats in the late game. Rengar has enjoyed something of a longer lifespan, as he still remains a strong pocket pick for some experts. I ended up putting Kha on the list because Kha had a longer life as a top-tier meta pick and an arguably higher peak as a dominant meta champion.
As mentioned earlier, Kha and Rengar are two of the only champions ever used in competitive play as glass cannon carry junglers. Both champions were able to exert enough pressure to go toe-to-toe with gank specialists like Lee Sin or Elise, but boasted better late game carry potential. This Season, Kha has fallen out of competitive play aside from a few experiments near the beginning of S5. However, he was once renown for his ability to constantly adapt, and pros kept finding ways to bring him back into the meta. After his move away from the mid lane, Kha became an assassin-centric jungler with Q or E evolutions, before becoming a tank after inSec and KaKAO evolved R first. After his ult was nerfed, Kha saw a brief dip before Diamondprox brought him back into popularity by maxing his W. Kha has been dormant for Season 5, but carry junglers everywhere are hoping he'll come back soon.
Shyvana has recently seen some competitive play in the hands of Cloud9's Hai, but her true glory days in the jungle came soon after her release in Season 2. Diamondprox and Gambit Gaming used her in a unique invade strategy. Her quick clearing meant that Shyvana could easily clear camps without losing much HP, and to make matters worse for opposing junglers, Shyvana is also an excellent duelist. Shyvana is on this list because of how she changed the perception of jungling from a purely supportive role into a carry oriented one. In the hands of skilled carry junglers like Saintvicious, IWD, and especially Diamondprox, Shyvana was a force to be reckoned with. With the play-offs just around the corner, C9 fans should hope that Hai's damage-heavy Shyvana build might bring a return to glory for the Half-Dragon.
In some ways, Amumu is the defining teamfighting jungler. Although he has seen very little to no play in Seasons 4 and 5, he was one of the strongest junglers in Seasons 1 and 2 (and saw brief popularity in Season 3.) Players like Snoopeh and CloudTemplar built their fame and fortune alongside the Sad Mummy. What made Amumu so special was his AoE teamfight ultimate, which still remains one of the most impactful spells in the game. Due to his great scaling, an Amumu jungle was a ticking timebomb, and the only way to take him out was to stunt his early game with invades. After the tank item rework, Riot balance stated that they thought Amumu would be a problem, but he actually has seen very little play. Will the Sad Mummy be forgotten for another season? Or will he finally find some friends with the Season 5 World Championship just around the corner?
Vi initially came onto the competitive scene at the beginning of Season 3, shortly after her release. Although she was initially designed as a top laner, her Q gap closer (which could dodge around commonly placed wards) and lockdown ultimate meant that she found more success as a jungler. Throughout Vi's time in the jungle, her main traits has been her ability to punish immobile targets and deal high amounts of damage with only a single damage item (initially Spirit of the Lizard Elder, later the Warrior enchantment.) In spite of these many positive traits, the main reason Vi appears on this list is her role in re-defining the meta in late Season 3. Players quickly realized that snowballing the mid lane (on assassin champions) was the best way to play, and Vi was arguably the best at it because her ult shut down champions long enough for the assassin to burst them down.
In a happier alternate universe, Elise would find herself much higher on this list. One of the most versatile champions ever, release Elise found herself used in every role but AD Carry. Even after repeated nerfs, Elise's versatility remained - the Spider Queen remained a flex pick between top and jungle until near the end of Season 3. What set Elise apart from other jungle champions was her high natural base damages. Combined with her cocoon, it meant the Spider Queen could easily kill opponents in the early game and snowball into a high damage threat. Elise's dominance in the jungle would continue for the rest of Season 3 and well into Season 4 Worlds, but repeated direct and indirect nerfs (dragon instantly killing all spiderlings) to the Spider Queen have finally driven her out of the meta. With Elise buffs on the most recent patch, we'll have to see if she makes a comeback at this year's World Championship.
After being ignored for two seasons and then reworked into a top laner, it seems strange that the Twisted Treant would rank so high on this list. To understand why Maokai ranks so highly, let's take a look at what the jungle has been ever since Season 2. Junglers are expected to be low econ supports who focus on vision and engages. In spite of some exceptions, this has always been true, and even junglers that broke the mold have only done so while retaining all or most of these core characteristics. Simply put, Maokai is the father of the modern day jungle. His strong ganking and relatively simple mechanics made him a favorite of legendary Season 2 junglers like TheOddOne, and although he may never be played in the jungle again his influence remains unbroken to this very day.
At it's core, the jungle is about threatening your opponents. No jungler does this better than Evelynn. Because she is invisible and can't be seen by wards, teams are never safe when playing against the Widowmaker. Her mixed damage kit has kept her in the game after multiple item changes, and Evelynn devotees Diamondprox and ClearLove are always looking for ways to bring her back into the meta. No champion changes the game dynamic as much as Evelynn, and it's unlikely that any other champion ever will. Ever since Evelynn's stealth rework, the jungle meta has changed time and time again, and the one thing we've learned is that the Widowmaker will always have a home there.
Evelynn will always be picked by junglers who want to pressure their opponents, and Nunu will always be picked by junglers who want to stop their opponents from having fun. While most junglers are designed to kill their lane opponents, Nunu was seemingly created for the sole purpose of hunting down enemy junglers. In addition to Nunu's jungle creep stealing consume, his Ice Blast means that he will almost never lose a one on one duel. If teammates are coming to kill Nunu, his Blood Boil ensures a hasty escape. Nunu is both incredibly annoying and incredibly sturdy. No matter how the jungle is balanced, Nunu will always kill all his camps, all of his opponent's camps, and possibly even the opposing jungler a few times...and still come out with full HP. In spite of Nunu's high place in the jungle's history, he does not have a favorable rating from pro players - Elements jungler dexter once stated that the best way to tell how bad the jungle meta was to look at how much play Nunu was receiving.
2. Jarvan IV
A staple in the jungle ever since Season 1, Jarvan IV's longevity and resilience is unrivaled. His kit has seen repeated nerfs over time - in particular, Riot repeatedly nerfed his flag's armor aura until it was completely removed from the game. Although Jarvan saw a dip in play during Season 2, he returned to the forefront of competitive play with the first jungle item rework. Along with Xin Zhao, Lee Sin, and Vi, Jarvan brought back the age of the bruiser jungler, and he has stayed as one of the jungle's poster boys ever since. The defining characteristic of Jarvan has always been his reliability - it is hard for opponents to play around his knock-up and Cataclysm ultimate, and skilled players can use those moves to dominate their enemies by controlling their movements.
1. Lee Sin
The last few champions on the list stayed in the meta due to their unique traits. Evelynn is the only invisible champion. Nobody counter jungles better than Nunu. Creating terrain has been Jarvan's specialty since Season 1. Perhaps its fitting that Lee Sin has conquered the jungle not through a single specialty but through his amazing versatility. Lee isn't just the most dominant jungler in LoL history, many have also stated that he's the most fun to play. Diamondprox once stated that a player couldn't truly call himself a jungler until he mastered Lee sin. inSec rose to fame and fortune by innovating a new technique on a champion already famed for his versatility. When Saintvicious decided to return to competitive LoL, the first champion he decided to learn was Lee Sin, a pick he had abandoned in his waning years. Even in today's tank-oriented meta, the true Lee Sin experts continue to draw respect bans. Versatile, demanding, and oftentimes unbeatable, Lee Sin is the greatest jungle champion in LoL history.