The annual jungle-changing ceremony is upon us once again as Riot continues to add further strategic depth to the Rift. Plants aim to grow upon the unique objectives and terrain layouts of the jungle and provide new ways for players to adapt and interact with the environment. It’s hoped that these infrequent, but impactful interactions can offer tactical decision making within the jungle. However, the community with the new changes and it looks as though the jungle plants could cause more harm than good. But what do the plants actually do?
The new jungle plants are small, single-use neutral objects that activate when attacked by a champion. They spawn in semi-random locations in the jungle (similar to Bard’s chimes), and appear as seedlings for 60 seconds before the player can interact with them. This allows both teams fair access to each plant and gives players the chance to adapt to various situations ahead of their spawning. Plant spawn points are restricted during the early game, making sure they don’t have too much impact on early ganking or invading. Once the jungle plant has been activated it will respawn after a window of regrowth.
The Blast Cone acts like a universal Ziggs satchel, throwing all units away when attacked. These explosive plants only spawn in two spots of the jungle quadrants and can be used to hop over walls, or even gain access to dragon and Baron Nashor pits. They give champions without dashes more potential to outmanoeuvre and outplay their opponents, while providing opportunities to juke and launch enemies into danger.
When Scryer’s Bloom is destroyed it releases pollen across the map that reveals enemy units and ward placements. It spawns near the river ramps and the reveal lasts for 15 seconds, but greatly diminishes on moving champions. This gives the jungler enough time to acquire potential targets, destroy hidden wards and counter jungle enemy camps.
When destroyed, the Honeyfruit drops life-giving fruit that restores your missing health and mana (scaling with champ level). This plant spawns in the river and allows units to stay healthy when clearing the jungle. Junglers can use this fruit to provide further ganks or choose to farm and accumulate more gold. In certain cases the Honeyfruit can help champions avoid life threatening ability’s and can turn a potential loss into victory.
Old vs. new
The biggest concern people have is the plants are completely random and this has no place in the competitive scene. After all, randomness can make for pretty miserable in-game experiences that completely disregard player skill. When you play ranked, you’re playing because you want to showcase your skill and prowess over other players. The random factor that plants bring to the competitive realm greatly diminishes the skill level between each individual. Crit chance is a good example of how high variance RNG favours one unit over another. Those of you who have given away First Blood to a champion with low crit chance understand how infuriating RNG can be in a game that rewards skill (most of the time.)
However, randomness isn’t always a bad thing. Well-designed RNG has its place in competitive strategy games, and League is no different. The Elemental Dragons and the Scuttle Crab are good examples of how controlled randomness can create a variety of in-game experiences while offering equal opportunities to both teams. The purpose of these plants is to make jungling more interesting and unpredictable. These changes could inject a lot more excitement and create further tactical depth, but it does leave us questioning whether they reward skill or luck. For many players League of Legends is a game of mastery. Playing a champion well at a competitive level takes a tremendous amount of skill, time and effort. Random factors like jungle plants could make the role feel gimmicky and unfair.
It’s understandable that Riot is seeking new ways to freshen up the overall experience. But is this the best way to do it? The removal of Smite buffs (Smite will now heal you when you Smite any large monster) has given Riot greater flexibility when it comes to implementing new dynamics to the jungle. However, it’s hard to see how the new Smite bonus and jungle plants will make up for the lack of buffs. The major problem with the current jungle changes is that they add complexity without actual meaningful depth.
Having plants that can heal, launch and provide vision doesn’t change the deeply embedded rules and restrictions of the jungle role. Most junglers rely on a leash to help them clear their first camp which greatly limits their overall choice. This also impacts the top and bottom laners who have to give up their lane control in order to help with the clear. What if junglers could clear their first camp on their own? This change alone could create further diversity without the need to decrease the roles overall complexity.
The current system requires junglers to communicate and make decisions for the general well-being of their team. Many players feel the addition of randomised plants and the subsequent changes to the Smite rewards removes the identities of the jungle. Jungling is one of the most complex roles to master and holds great tactical depth. Choosing between saving Smite for ganks or getting buffs for faster clears can have a huge impact on the overall outcome of the game. The current jungle is simple yet intuitive and you have complete control over it. Your immediate surroundings are not there to impede your progress, but this isn’t the case for the jungle plants. Essentially, plants make for new randomised terrain that you have no control over.
Whether Riot’s jungle plants will eventually flower into a worthy addition is hard to say, but for now the community seems rather unhappy. The plants aim to fight the stagnation of strategy, while bringing further diversity to a role that continues to evolve.
Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing and without it we wouldn’t have the sheer amount of choice we have now. Riot are looking to develop the plants overall impact, so this is by no means the death of the jungle. However, it will take time for the new changes to grow and flourish into something that all players can enjoy.