Shortly after the conclusion of week 4 of the 2022 LCS Spring Split, Cloud9 jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang commented on the changes to the competitive jungle meta in a post-game interview with Inven Global, stating that while the change was generally overlooked, the nerfs to mythic item Goredrinker, the Mythic Item built by early 2022 meta staples Lee Sin, Xin Zhao, and Olaf, had affected the jungle meta greater than initially perceived.
"The nerfs to Goredrinker and Sterak's Gage definitely played a part, but they're something people don't talk about," explained Blaber, who played Hecarim in all three of C9's wins in week 4 of the Spring Split. "They both got nerfed pretty hard for bruisers, primarily Sterak's, which was previously a really OP second item for a lot of champions. This makes champions like Udyr and Hecarim a lot stronger because they get a lot more value from their items comparatively."
Since Blaber's words, the priority of junglers like Hecarim have took over completely, and while the nerfs to Goredrinker were a primary factor in the changes to the competitive jungle meta, there are other factors that led to it, and by extension, other ways the game has been affected by the aforementioned jungle changes. Professional players competing in the 2022 LCS Spring Split shared their thoughts with Inven Global on how recent changes to the jungle have affected the meta.
While man junglers prominent in the current competitive meta build Turbo Chemtank as their mythic item — Hecarim, Udyr, and Volibear to name a few — that doesn't mean that Turbo Chemtank is on the same level as Goredrinker was a few patches prior. Blaber has evaluated that Chemtank itself is not an OP item, but the meta's favor towards the subsequent legendary items one builds on Chemtank champions only further pushes these champions to the front of the meta.
"You get a lot more value from that than whatever a Lee Sin is building, which certainly won't be Frozen Heart, and Xin Zhao won't get the same value out of Frozen Heart as Hecarim," explained Blaber.
"I don't think Turbo Chemtank is OP — it is really strong on Hecarim — but overall, the full itemization is going to be more valuable than that of the champions who build Goredrinker."
Team Liquid jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen echoed Blaber's sentiment regarding the relative strength of Hecarim: "I think he's a very strong character, which is why you see teams, no matter which region they play in, banning him or picking him in their first round.
You want to pick this champion because it is very strong and flexible, but there are still a lot of game plans against this character," Santorin continued. "For example, in this game, we invaded Hecarim early on and suddenly he wasn't as strong without his full-clear. When Hecarim can hit level 6 very early in the game, it's really hard to play against."
The price of diversity
Santorin also agreed with Blaber in regards to the strength of Goredrinker early on in the season being a large part of the lack of dimensionality in the jungle meta, but also stated that while champions like Hecarim had risen to the top of the role's tier list, the matchup answers to these picks were far more vast than previous patches.
"Earlier in the season, junglers who built Goredrinker were too superior to the others, but now, you're seeing champions like Diana, Nocturne and Volibear coming back into the meta," Santorin said. "There are so many different flexible picks that you can pretty much pick whatever you want and you are able to have a good game.
In recent past, you had to pick certain champions that were available because if you let the opponent pick it you would just feel miserable. Now, it feels like you can go out of your way to pick different champions you feel confident in, and I really enjoy that."
Santorin also said while Goredrinker's nerfs made a big difference in the meta, other factors have contributed to the diversity, and that even the recently nerfed champions were still situationally viable: "Xin Zhao has gotten hit a couple of times recently, and these kind of things slowly wittle a champion down. However, that doesn't mean those champions aren't good, that just means that you don't pick them in the first round of the draft every single game.
I like when champions are on an equal level because counterpicks matter more. You can lock in an answer that is a really good matchup into your opponent, whereas before, some champions were so strong that a counterpick doesn't even really feel like a counterpick, so instead, you just pick another strong character regardless of matchup.
While the meta has become more diverse in terms of quantitative jungle picks, that doesn't mean certain styles of play haven't been rendered obsolete. For example, Golden Guardians jungler Milo "Pridestalker" Wehnes' penchant for assassin junglers has been weakened in the current meta.
“I think that playing junglers like Zed and Qiyana is extra hard right now," Pridestalker admitted. "Before, we weren't too sure on how both of those champions fit into the meta, and we knew I was good on both Zed and Qiyana, so I just played them whenever I felt like it. As the season is going on, we have a better read on the meta now based on scrims and I think bot lane is just too strong.
Hopefully, once bot lane is toned down a bit, I can start playing these champions again, but for now, it's probably pretty rare that you see me play them, even though there is a possibility that there will be situations where I can pull them out.”
It's undeniable that the jungle meta has changed the way teams competing in the 2022 LCS Spring Split compete in the big picture. That being said, 100 Thieves jungler Can "Closer" Çelik believes that the mark of a good team is resiliency to the everchanging League of Legends esports meta, especially when the relative strength of the jungle has remained similar through said changes.
"I think a good team should be able to adapt to any meta, so I'm not really thinking about if it's good for my team for not. I'm just trying to adapt to the meta," Closer said. "I think the champions right now are fine. I think jungle is still strong in the current meta. I was going to say it was stronger in the last playoffs, but I think it's still strong. I'm happy with the patch overall."
Perhaps the reason for the jungle position's strength remaning the same throughout the last few patches, which have made undeniable changes to the jungle meta, is because of the enormous strength of the bot lane meta. The newer meta jungle picks may have a different approach to how they enable the bot lane than early season patches, but the objective of supporting the enormous carry potential of the bot lane remains the same as it always has throughout 2022.
Evil Geniuses AD carry Kyle "Danny" Sakamaki has gone on record with Inven Global stating that while the prolific strength of the AD carry role has not changed through recent patches, the change in prominent jungle champions has affected what AD carry players are able to play in a given match. Danny also touched on that changes to the top lane and the nerfs to Jinx, one of the most popular AD carries in the young 2022 season, have played a part as well.
"I definitely think that the AD carry meta changes a lot depending on team compositions because the role is very dependent on team composition," Danny said. "For example, if champions like Hecarim are introduced, some of the more self-sufficient AD carries like Kai'Sa and Xayah are much more preferable than Jinx and Aphelios who take a lot of resources to be protected. The AD carry meta has had changes due to top and jungle meta shifts, but the nerfs to Jinx play a part as well."
Due to the nature of LoL esports competitive play, the jungler role will always be a pivotal part of a team's success due to the early game agency and mapwide impact the role lends itself to in the game flow. That being said, if one thing has become clear in the young 2022 season, it is that even the slightest change to the role-specific meta in the jungle can have a massive impact on the competitive meta at large whether it be in terms of strategic planning or a change in execution.