In League of Legends, there are many roles on the team. One of the least appreciated and hardest to do well is that of the jungler. I can't do much to make junglers appreciated, but I can help with the second part. This is intended to be a comprehensive guide to succeeding as a jungler on a team in League of Legends.
What is a jungler?
I figure the best way to start the guide is with the definition of a jungler. A jungler is a player who, rather than start in a lane, begins in the off-lane area of the map. This area is what is known as "the jungle." Instead of fighting enemy minions and players to earn gold and experience, he defeats the neutral monsters that spawn periodically throughout the jungle.
Why is a jungler important to a team?
Simply put, teams with a jungler will have the opportunity to earn more gold and experience than teams without. Imagine for a moment that each lane is a bag of gold and experience for the team. If five champions stay in the lanes to level up and earn gold, those three bags are being split between the five champions. Now, when one of those five champions is a jungler, the same three bags are only split between four champions and the jungler gets his own bag to use.
There are more benefits to having a jungler than gold and experience, though. A jungler acts as a mobile ward, increasing total map awareness. Further, the jungler is a "wildcard." Enemies will be less aggressive knowing that, at any time, there could be an extra opponent for them to face.
These are the benefits to a team just for having a jungler. There are many more things a jungler can do for a team, but since they all require the jungler to do well I will discuss them further down in the guide.
When should I choose to be a jungler?
Despite the benefits to having a jungler on the team, there are some cases where a team may be better off without one. When a jungler is on the team, this means two lanes must be faced solo. When you are playing blind pick normal games and if your team does not have one player who can solo a lane against two opponents, you may want to rethink being the jungler. It is possible that the other team will not have a jungler, and the two players will overpower your one, resulting in a well fed duo free to roam the map and kill your friends because they've also pushed a tower down early.
In a ranked game, you have the benefit of knowing what the other team will consist of. If you know that your opponents have a jungler, then it is almost always the right choice to have one on your own team. When they don't have a jungler, you must check with your team and ensure that someone will be able to hold the two on one lane.
This should be obvious, but unless you really know what you're doing, you don't want to be the second jungler on the team. The jungle's bag of gold and experience is small, which will force one of you into the enemy jungle, an extremely vulnerable situation.
How do I jungle?
That's the wrong question to be asking. Anyone can jungle. I'm here to tell you how to jungle in a way that's beneficial to the team. That said, let's get on with the meat of the guide.
Getting Ready (The Pre-Game)
Before you even set foot in the jungle, there's a few things you need to do to get ready. I'm going to cover the masteries, runes, spells, and starting equipment generally used by junglers, but first I'll need to talk about what makes a good jungle champion.
There are several aspects that you need to consider when choosing a champion to enter the jungle with, which are: Health/mana recovery, mobility, area damage, and enemy control. A champion does not need high levels of all of these things to do well, but some combination is necessary.
Adequate recovery and area damage will allow you to excel in the early phase of the game, which is the initial clearing of the jungle. Without being able to survive in the jungle and kill the monsters that reside there, you won't be able to do anything beneficial for the team. Mobility is what will allow you to better perform your duties to team members when they need it most. Enemy control is essential helping your team obtain lane dominance in the early to middle stages of the game.
When it comes to draft mode, choose your jungle champion by considering both the above and the enemy team composition. A few examples: If your enemy team has a jungler that has a very slow clear time, you may want to pick a strong counter jungler so that you can pop in and steal his jungle mobs. If the enemy team has a lot of channeled abilities, pick someone that has very reliable crowd control. If the enemy team is full of squishy nuke characters, someone who can assassinate is a great choice. If the enemy team lacks mobility, use someone who can backdoor. If the enemy is packing a lot of control, use someone who can avoid being kited.
The right runes for jungling depend highly on the champion you've chosen as well as how you plan to play that champion. Typically, armor seals are used to aid survival in the jungle, but more mana reliant champions will go with mana regeneration per level. Cooldown and magic resist glyphs are both common for junglers. Health quintessences are always a safe bet, but don't be afraid to use something else if you will get more benefit from it later. Many junglers need the health quints for early survivability, but offensive quints are often times more beneficial late game. The best marks are typically penetration in the flavor of damage your champion does the most of, but there are a few champions who benefit more from straight attack speed.
Remember to play to the strengths of your champion. For example, if you chose Tryndamere, at least the marks should be critical chance.
This section about mastery choices is outdated and will be corrected soon. The basic ideas still apply, so I'm not removing the information.
Like runes, masteries depend on the champion you're using, only there are a few less variations here. The mandatory picks are the experience ones and at least one point to make neutral buffs last longer. You must get the 5% experience bonus. I cannot stress that enough. As a jungler, it is already difficult to keep up in experience with your teammates and the other team. Ancient Golem and small golems give you the first level up, but only with this mastery. The first point towards bonus neutral buff duration is likewise mandatory.
I highly recommend you put a second point in neutral buff duration; you will see a lot of benefit from this in the early game. The problem, however, is that it leaves you with an ugly 10 mastery points in utility and prevents you from having the top mastery in either offensive or defensive tree. Don't grab the second point in neutral buffs if you really want that extra 5% damage or you are going to be the team's tank.
It is usually a good idea to get improved smite if you can. The rest of your points can be spent to taste, but most commonly end up most of the way down the offensive or defensive tree.
Example one: Generic high damage crit like hell champion goes with 21/0/9, being sure to pick up improved Smite, crit chance and his 5% damage boost, along with experience gain and a point of neutral duration.
Example two: Generic team tank that happens to jungle and powerball/taunt from bush goes with 0/21/9, forgoing the improved smite for the excess durability needed to be the team's initiator.
Example three: Generic raging, sturdy, but not the team tank, manbearpigturtle picks 1/19/10. A good balance that will get more use and gold out of Smite while maintaining some extra survivability.
If you want to be a competitive jungler in high elo brackets, you cannot do it without Smite. The reason for this is that clearing speed becomes critical and you will need it to ensure your buffs/dragon/baron do not get stolen from you. There are many champions who can survive through the jungle without it, but the benefits make it very hard to pass up. The damage it does to monsters is huge, drastically increasing speed when first clearing the jungle. The mastery granting an extra five gold every time you use it is nothing to scoff at. Having Smite also opens up the doorway to buff/dragon stealing, particularly Baron Nashor. Letting someone else do all the work and take all the damage, then swooping in to steal the prize and clean up the mess is like making a fresh wound and pouring the salt in at the same time.
There are times you may not want Smite. These times do not exist outside of happy fun custom games and random ass normal games. Smite is a big "I'm jungling" flag, so if you don't want to signal to the other team that you're starting at blue buff, find a way to survive the jungle without it.
Even if your jungler has some extra movement speed through some abilities, you're still going to want more mobility. Ghost and Flash are both useful spells, but when it comes to adding mobility, nothing beats Flash. Ghost may let you run through minions, but Flash lets you run through walls. This is useful both as a gap closer in the offense, or as an escape in the defense.
Ignite is also worth mentioning as a "poor man's Smite" since you can also target monsters and minions with it. I have even seen some champions get use out of the 10 ability power from the Ignite mastery in the first clearing of the jungle. As long as you can clear the jungle with it, taking Ignite over Smite will give you some more functionality out of the spell late game, where the heal prevention and true damage will shine.
More often than not, grab a Cloth Armor, five health potions and go to town. There are some champions that do better by starting with the red elixir and health potions. I don't particularly like this because I feel the gold is wasted on a temporary buff. Both items help you survive the initial jungle clearing, but Cloth Armor eventually builds into Madred's Razor, which is one of the most important tools for a jungler.
There are a few special cases, like Fiddlesticks, who should start with a Sapphire Crystal. Some champions who lack health recovery are better off with a Vampiric Scepter. Udyr and Nunu can jungle naked, so oftentimes start with boots and three health potions for faster early jungle clearing. Many will benefit from an early ward at the cost of three potions.
I've seen a few people that skimp on health potions to save gold for "more important" items in their build. This works if you're a jungler that can keep his health topped off on his own, but it's risky. Most of the time, though, that 35 gold health potion is worth the time and gold lost by having to go back to the fountain one extra time.
It should go without saying that you practice a few times before ever jungling in a game against players. Even though it's not always the optimal place to start, make sure you can start with the Ancient Golem. If you can do that, you'll be able to do fine.
There are a few tricks that can make it easier. The first is activating your first health potion as soon as you take damage. It heals over time, and the monsters will do more damage than it heals. It doesn't really recover damage so much as it makes the health you have last a little longer. Using Smite early will allow most of its cooldown to pass during the fight. This is a little risky, though, because it leaves you more open to having that initial buff stolen by a sneaky opponent. Finally, due to the way monsters "leash," there's a trick you can pull that will pretty much halve the damage you take. If you have your mid champion land the first attack against Ancient Golem and walk away, the golem will begin to chase while you proceed to beat its face in. Once the golem goes too far, the "leash" kicks in and he turns to attack you.
I go more into detail about clearing and pathing in the next section, but as you practice, you should experiment with different routes through the jungle. Start at different camps and try different starting items to find what you're most comfortable with. Try to see how quickly you can kill every camp. How quickly can you get to level four? Level six?
Welcome to the Jungle (The Early Game)
So you've picked your champion, found a good set up, and made sure you can handle the monsters in a practice game. Now it's time to step into the jungle for the first time in a normal game. Things just got a lot more complicated, but with the information in the next few sections, you will be able to succeed.
Clearing and Pathing
They just made some major changes to the Jungle again, so I'll need some time to bring this up to date. The basic ideas still apply, so I'm not removing the information.
The first and probably most important step to jungling is the initial clearing of the jungle. The faster you can do this, the better off you will be. Most champions are reliant on their abilities and mana to kill monsters and stay alive, thus why it is usually most beneficial to start at the Ancient Golem and obtain the blue buff from the beginning. Even better, the Ancient Golem camp provides enough experience for your champion to level up. This does involve a bit of risk, though, because the Ancient Golem is a tough opponent at level one. Worse than that, many people know how common it is for a jungler to start there. The enemy team may come looking for a very early and easy kill. You cannot afford to let this happen, as they will probably take your blue buff too, making your jungle experience extremely difficult to earn.
The best alternative to starting at Ancient Golem is to start with the pair of smaller golems that spawn near the side lanes. Defeating this camp will also grant your champion a level up, but it is a much safer place to begin thanks to its location deeper in your jungle near the lane and towers. Your enemies would have to be daft to attack you here.
Pathing refers, perhaps obviously, to the path you take through the jungle. This is important to have planned out because the less time you spend traveling, the faster you will complete your first clearing. Try not to cross your own path, and keep in mind where you will finish. You will want to support your teammates in the lanes, so try to end near the lane that's going to need it to minimize the time it takes for you to respond to their needs.
First example path: Start at Ancient Golem, then move on to wolves then wraiths, skip past red buff for the small golems, finishing up back at red buff.
Second example path: Start at small golems, then skip red buff and go to wraiths then wolves. You'll be level three and able to take both blue and red buffs. The bonus here is that you will have both buffs to support the lanes better.
These are just examples, as there are many other possible paths. The optimal path typically depends on the champion.
Some champions are better off waiting for level 6 before they leave the jungle. For these champions, the second path is usually best because, if you time it right, you will be able to double back to the smaller camps without ever having to go to the fountain. By this point, you will have hit level 6.
Once you complete your first clearing of the jungle, your early game is over. Even though the early game is over at this point, there's still a few more things I need to talk about before we get to your mid game.
Get Some Help
Let's go back to the beginning for a moment. Think back to how you want to start at your blue buff and how vulnerable you will be. You don't have to be vulnerable; you have teammates. Most intelligent teammates will not hesitate to give you cover, so be sure to ask for it. It works best if you have two people to cover both entrances to your jungle at the river (one player at each). There's no harm in having them hang around until the minions reach the river. Don't be afraid to ask for a couple hits to help you take the blue buff down faster, either.
It's a good idea to wait until you see most of the enemy team appear on the map, that way you can be more sure that they're not coming to get your head. I've seen it happen where the jungle cover team goes back to their lanes, only to find that the enemy was waiting for that chance to rush in. It will cost you a few seconds to wait and be sure the enemy is in their lanes, but it's far better than losing first blood, your blue buff, and seconds to respawn because you were impatient.
Sometimes your teammates will get forced out of their lane, or worse, killed in it. If this happens, it is your job to cover that lane until they return. Haul ass, get there as soon as you can, and do what any lane player does. Grab your last hits, avoid harassment and keep the enemy off your tower. Do not push! Last hitting is important, but do not do any damage to the minions you don't need to.
Yes, this will slow down your experience gain. This will put off your ability to support lanes later. Cry about it. You're better off losing time and your own experience than you would be letting the enemy team make a strong early push on a tower.
An Offensive Start
I keep mentioning how vulnerable you are starting at your blue buff. This is a sort of double edged sword because the enemy jungler is just as vulnerable at his. If you want to shut him down, this is probably the best way to do it.
Buy your boots and a ward as quickly as possible, start running for the enemy blue buff and activate Ghost if you have it. You might get there before him, and if you do, throw that ward down in the bush so it can still see the Ancient Golem and run back to your jungle. Done right, the enemy won't know you've been there, his team's cover will go to lanes and you can swoop in and smite the buff right out from under him, then kill him because he's low health. You better run like hell, though, because the nearby lanes will be pissed. If you suspect that your opponents have half a brain, don't try this alone.
Branching Out (Mid Game)
Like I said before, your early game ends as soon as you finish clearing your jungle the first time. I call this phase "branching out" for two reasons. First, you start venturing outside of your jungle, but more importantly, the actions you need to take will follow different branches, dependent upon how things are going.
Spreading the Fear
You are the team wildcard; the enemy needs to be afraid of you. Look at the lanes and determine if you can earn your team a kill. Specifically, you're looking for enemies that are pushing the lane, low on health, or have no escape ability. If you're lucky, someone fits all three. The other thing you're looking for is a champion who really needs gold to function well. Disrupting someone like this will have a ridiculous reward and is sometimes worth the risk to attack even if they aren't particularly vulnerable.
So how do you do this? Well, the first thing to do is to communicate to the team what you intend to do, who your target is, and how you want them to act. Too many attacks are ruined and even reversed by poor communication.
As far as the exact procedure, what you want to do is surround your opponent. A good teammate will bait the intended enemy closer while you go around behind. Before you get into sight range of the target, activate your Ghost spell if it's ready; otherwise, you will activate Flash to close that final gap and scare the pants off the player. You'll also want some way to stop the enemy escape (this is why you picked a champion with some kind of control or have the red buff). It works best if you can coordinate disables with your teammates. Wait for the teammate stun to wear off before activating your own. Done right, you score an assist and your teammate gets three hundred gold. The real beauty here is that you've set back the enemy's ability to gain their own gold and set up for a strong tower push. If you can, you should stick around to push the tower with your allies.
Another benefit to doing this that's worth mentioning: If the enemy team has a jungler, you might force him to stop what he's doing to fill the gap you just created. This sets him back by adding travel time that he never intended.
It's alright if you don't get a kill. Simply forcing the enemy to run back to the fountain is almost as good. If they pop summoner spells like Cleanse, Heal, or Flash, now that player will have to be less aggressive while those abilities are on cooldown. Hell, even if all you do is make the enemy carry tower hug for a minion wave, it may be enough of a gap in gold and experience for your carry to dominate the lane from there on out. It's all about the fear. The enemy needs to know that you are always watching.
Open the Eyes
Wards pay for themselves. You need to be the eyes of the team. Most junglers do not need a lot of gold and they travel the whole map, so if anyone's going to buy them, it should be you. In the last section I told you to hide somewhere and come up behind the enemy you intend to kill. The enemy will likely have a jungler who will do the same thing. You know where you would attack from, so put a ward there. He could be in for one hell of a surprise if your team knows he's there when you come up behind him and your teammates collapse backwards. Hunter became the hunted; instead of losing a teammate, your team gained a kill and an assist. Wards pay for themselves.
Pass the Buffs
Early on, you are probably the only one who can kill the buff monsters on his own and you need them to do your thing in the jungle. You are allowed to take each buff exactly twice without asking. After that, you need to check with your team before taking a buff. The AD carry holding hanging out in bottom lane will get a lot more use out of the red buff than you ever will. Likewise with the AP carry and your blue buff. These buffs respawn 5 minutes after being killed. Try to keep track of this and prepare accordingly.
You can't just leave the buffs alone, though, you should help your team get them. Let Ryze know that you'll take the Ancient Golem down to quarter health before you stop smacking it. This way, your teammate spends less time out of lane farming gold and you still get most of the experience for the monster. Most importantly, the buff goes to the right person.
Control the Dragon
Every time dragon dies, the person who got the last hit earns 190 gold for each member of his team. That's like everyone on the team scoring two thirds of a kill. Huge. One of your jobs as a jungler is to make sure the enemy team does not start swinging this gold in their favor. Other notes about the dragon: he first spawns at 2:30 game time, and respawns 6 minutes after being defeated.
Basically, if the dragon is alive, you either need to be killing it or have it warded. This doesn't mean you go solo dragon every time he's up. There are many things more important than killing dragon, but few things are more important than controlling dragon. Of course, the easiest way to control dragon is to kill him, but as long as you know the enemy isn't killing him, your time could probably be better served doing something else, particularly defending a tower.
One of the best times to take dragon is after a successful attack on the bottom lane. Either a kill or a forced blue pill will leave the lane as a three on one. The three of you should go after dragon at this opportunity. It may compel the enemy jungler into action, but if this is happening, you'll know it because the enemy in the middle lane will probably come down too. It's still a four on three at this point because your mid will join the party as well. Win the team fight here, then take dragon.
Neutral monsters do not exist just on one side of the river. There is another entire jungle for you to take advantage of and steal from the other team. Assuming the enemy team has a jungler, this is risky but the potential payoff is fantastic. When counter jungling, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Unlike in your own jungle, you do not want to clear the enemy jungle. What you want to do is take out the big monster in the group and maybe one of the smaller ones, but it is important to leave something behind. You get experience and gold in good amounts and maybe a buff from Ancient Golem or Lizard Elder, but you don't let the respawn timer start right away. If you steal your opponent's wraiths, they might respawn before he even gets back to them and he'll never know you were there. But if you leave one of the lesser wraiths, he gets a slap in the face when he expects a full camp of experience. The only thing worse than finding your Ancient Golem camp empty is finding it with one creep and a full five minute respawn timer to go.
Most of the time, if the buff camp is alive, the enemy jungler is already trying to kill it. You can plan to be there at the right time since you know how quickly the buffs respawn (right about 7:10 minutes in for the first blue buff respawn if the enemy jungler is half decent). With Smite and a well placed ward, you can probably steal the buff and get away unharmed. If you're feeling particularly bold, you can start a one on one fight. Be ready to run, because help will likely come looking to send you back to the fountain in a casket. Keep in mind, if you die, you pass the buff right back to the enemy that kills you, completely reversing any benefit you tried to get by stealing the buff in the first place.
These actions don't just disrupt the enemy jungler; they can disrupt the entire team. The jungler relies on levels and gear to be able to support his lanes. Denying him that edge makes his gank presence weaker and makes the enemy team play more defensively. Lane players will often dive into their own jungle for an extra gold and experience lead on the opposing team, which is another thing you can deny through counter jungling. Eventually, the enemy jungler should be passing his buffs to his team, but he cannot do so if you are taking them away first. If you'll think back to a few sections ago, you'll remember that you are not allowed to take your own team's buffs (without asking) after the first two. The enemy buffs are always fair game.
The better you get at counter jungling during a game, the more risky it gets. People learn, and you will have to be careful because the enemy may ward their own jungle. You can still use this to your advantage, though, as long as you pay attention. If you see the lane players beside you disappear into the fog, haul ass out of there and grab an Oracle's Elixir. Next time you dive into their jungle, be sure to pass through all the bushes looking for wards to destroy. This will piss them off even more, and now you can bait them into traps. Either they spend time chasing you while your teammates push towers, or you draw them into team fights that you want to have.
Kill the Monsters
Yeah, somehow amidst all this other stuff I'm telling you to do, you still need to kill the other monsters in your jungle to farm up experience and gold. This is usually the lowest priority, though. Just remember that no aspect of this game rewards inaction. You should always be doing something. Even if you stole both enemy buffs, have every lane fearing you, passed your buffs to your teammates, and killed dragon, you do not kick your feet back and relax.
Winning the Game (Late Game)
Eventually, the game switches gears and everyone starts moving together. At this point you turn off most of your jungler instincts altogether and do what it is your team needs you to do in the team fights. Keep up dragon control, and tack Baron control on top of it. If those creatures are alive and you're not killing them, they need wards. No questions. You should be a pretty sturdy champion, or a very hard hitting one, so after your team wins team fights, you should be pushing lanes.
If you've done the earlier parts of this guide well, then this stage of the game tends to be easy.
Now go and win games!