The jungle in the LEC has been very difficult to navigate recently. With so many players either in new team situations or having roleswapped, it’s created an odd situation. There are bloodthirsty junglers in the top echelon, but those on weaker teams haven’t been getting their hands dirty. Among the major regions, junglers in Europe rank last in kill share with 20.47% at the time of writing. Why is this? Inven Global discussed it with as many LEC junglers as we could. There was no consensus.
Not all of the bottom-tier junglers play passively. SK Gaming's Erik "Treatz" Wessén is someone that never shows fear (not always to his benefit). In his case (and Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau’s), their aggressive style in their original role seems to have influenced their jungle transition. Treatz told Inven that he didn't look at roleswapping as having to copy another player but instead " bring my strengths from сupport and apply them to jungle", but that's just one player. What about the rest?
Reason #1: Nerves and mentality
When we say European junglers have been passive, the biggest exception is MAD Lions' Javier "Elyoya" Prades, who is easily one of the most bloodthirsty and successful junglers in the world. When asked about why his colleagues don't abide by this style, the Spaniard attributed it to mentality issues.
"I feel like European junglers most of the time are scared, it seems. They don't want to f**k up because they are scared of making mistakes. And I think that's a really big mistake in terms of mindset. If you watch LPL, even the top 16 teams will start fighting and they're at least having fights. Instead, here in Europe, I feel like most of the junglers are just like trying to move around, not having that much risk. I think that as a jungler you need to kind of make a difference or a lasting impact on the game." (full interview)
This seems accurate, as echoed by both Treatz and Selfmade.
"I think a lot of junglers in general — or a lot of League players in general — play pretty scared when they play stage games. So I don't think it's a jungle-specific thing. I think a lot of players just play safer in general. So maybe that applies to junglers as well, and they just kind of full clear, full clear."
"It’s normal: you play on stage, you feel pressured, one thing goes bad, you are scared of looking bad in front of the community, even though people should really not care about what other think. It’s all about just winning the game." (full interview)
It’s easy to see why LEC players would be scared. With the best-of-1 format, junglers only have two times a week to show the results of all their hard work. “We play, let’s say, 20 scrim games a week in four days," Selfmade added. "20 scrims plus at least five solo queue games a day so it’s like 40 games. You practice 40 games to play only two and if something bad happens, you might automatically lose the game.”
If a gank looks to only have a 50% chance of working, it makes sense why some European junglers are hesitant to take them.
Reason #2: Meta incentivizes farming
Another common explanation was the meta and how trying to get a kill is much, much riskier than just going for a clear. Selfmade even pointed out that this is not necessarily an LEC-only phenomenon, but present in all major non-LPL regions.
"I think everybody plays like this, even the Koreans. But the thing is, the Korean junglers understand the game more and even though they don’t go for crazy plays, they would do the correct plays at the correct time right. But it’s not like they are ganking 24/7 and it’s also the meta: it’s always safer to clear your camps and then look for a play than risk losing your camps for a play that might not work."
"You get much more reward from farming than from getting kills. So if you're not 100% sure that you're going to get the kill, you’re probably just better to get full clear.”
While Selfmade is correct that jungle passivity is not exclusive to the LEC, the other regions (even LCS in some cases) are still more willing to fight. They also play on a stage. They also share the same meta. They also play with new rosters every season. So why are they not as afraid to "f**k up"?
Nikolay "Zanzarah" Akatov actually disagreed with the premise completely, throwing out the notion of a passive LEC jungle.
"If you look at any other region, I think Europe has one of the fastest games overall and there is always a lot of action happening in the early game jungle. Definitely not compared to LPL in terms of aggression, but we are more aggressive than Korea for sure because in Korea every other game is 35-40 minutes. And jungler just full clear into full clear into objectives, 3-4 kills. In Europe, a lot of times you see [junglers] playing for second buff spawn, playing for enemy raptors. I think Europe’s definitely with the LPL and with some of the aggressive junglers around the world.”
This is a spot-on take about the top junglers in LEC, but looking at the entirety of the region, though, current statistics don’t reflect this. LEC junglers have noticeably lower kill share and first blood percentages compared with junglers in the LCK. Over the course of the season, Korean junglers have been a bit more involved than those in LEC. How?
“I think everybody plays like this, even the Koreans. But the thing is, the Korean junglers understand the game more and even though they don’t go for crazy plays, they would do the correct plays at the correct time right. But it’s not like they are ganking 24/7.”
Though not currently playing in the LEC, veteran jungler Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider had his own take. Regarding the very best Korean junglers, he agreed with Selfmade, saying they are “different in the way that they do seem to be controlled but also seem mechanically able to actually execute those in your face plays”.
For the rest of the region, though, he saw it as a matter of culture.
"I don't think they have better knowledge, I think Koreans are more driven towards a gameplan. And the gameplan is usually obviously implemented by the coach, which kind of gives this frame that they work within. If they don't abide by that frame... I'm not saying they'll face repercussions but that's kind of how it works in terms of the Korean culture from what I've seen: they really abide by the elders or the coaching staff, so most gameplans are really strict. And you don't really want to make or break that gameplan, because you believe in it to be good. That's what a lot of Korean junglers are doing." (full interview)
Reason #3: The rest of the team is a contributing factor too
The jungle is not an isolated island and the rest of the lanes — particularly the level of competence in them — contribute to how passive/aggressive a jungler can be, Inspired said.
"[Junglers] could be passive, but I also think that it's harder to play for the bottom tier teams' junglers because their laners are worse than like MAD Lions' laners, or our laners, or G2's laners. So it's a bit harder for them to play the game. So you can't really know if they're passive, or they just don't get opportunities to make plays. [...] I think they know how to play the game but maybe they are just worse as a team so it's harder for them to find angles to make a play."
Inspired might be onto something, looking at aggressive junglers like Treatz, who's near the bottom in nearly all relevant statistical categories.
But even with a strong roster supporting them, junglers have to adjust to the jungler playstyle of their team. Amazing explained the difference in team focus for European teams and Chinese ones.
"Our bot lane focus and playmaking are slightly different. We don't quite think about bot lane the way they do in LPL where are a lot of plays are happening: three-man, four-man — because both parties are just like handshaking and telling one another to fight. Whether that's a good or bad thing I don't know, but I think that's probably the reason why. More solo lane focus usually means less fighting and more control. And more bot lane focus, at least in the current meta, means more fight and less control."
The idea is even noticeable in the LCS. With MAD Lions having a duo as aggressive as Norman "Kaiser" Kaiser and Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság, it should be seen as a factor for why Elyoya makes plays so often.
Europe’s jungle is strange, and there isn’t a simple explanation. Everything from playstyles to regional culture has been looked at for answers and even more changes are certainly forthcoming.
Certain factors like culture or overall meta probably won’t be altered much but as players become more confident in their role and onstage — or are replaced outright by bolder players like in Excel's case — fans might (hopefully) see the passivity come to a close. Without that happening, however, it’s difficult seeing Europe competing with top Asian teams. Although Inspired, Jankos, and Elyoya can match the best LPL and LCK talents, their conditioning against such acquiescent competition isn’t helpful.
You can’t expect to win against sprinters when you've been jogging all split long.
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