Riot sounds like it's already begun to absorb the harsh feedback it received after rejiggering League of Legends' jungle in a recent patch. In an interview with GameSpot, designer Ryan "Morello" Scott acknowledged the jungle's persistent problems and pointed to character tweaks as a possible solution.
A quick reminder: "Jungler" is a unique position on a League of Legends team, one that puts the player in-between the map's three main lanes that the four other players are assigned at the start of a match. Jungling therefore involves managing two different responsibilities simultaneously: killing a series of computer-controlled monsters in relative isolation (i.e., without the help of your teammates) and dropping in on any of the three lanes to assassinate opponents or help your teammates do so by "ganking" (think "gang kill") enemies.
Given its specific requirements and its importance for the rest of the team, jungler is a tough position to play in League of Legends. The changes that Riot made in its recent 5.4 patch were unwelcome to many League fans because players felt they were making an already hard position even harder. The added difficulty in turn meant that only a small slice of the game's wide array of colourful characters could even hope to perform adequately in the jungle.
Many players didn't appreciate the changes to League's jungle, then, because they felt the adjustments limited the diversity in character selection — a big part of what makes the game so darn fun, seeing how it has more than 120 champions to choose from and play with. In his GameSpot interview (which followed a related talk he gave last week at the Game Developer's Conference), Scott explained that the 5.4 changes were in fact designed to resolve a problem with the jungle — just not the one that many League fans might have been thinking of (emphasis mine):
GameSpot: There's been crazy backlash about the jungle recently. What are your thoughts on the backlash? Is it warranted? Along the lines of the community saying, "You said strategic diversity and this is not diverse!" What are you looking to address on those concerns?
Scott: So I think there are a few major issues to talk about. I'm still glad we went this direction in the jungle, but it just shows we have a lot more room to fix things. Our goal was to limit jungle early-game impact deciding lanes, which is not a popular view. But that's a good decision and I still believe in that.
Scott gives more context for his statements about balancing the game in the rest of the interview, which you should also read. What he's talking about here is an ongoing tinkering process Riot has been working on for a while now to try and downplay the role a jungler can play in either making or breaking a League game in its early stages.
See, if you're not playing in the jungle in League, your job at the beginning of a game is to stick to your assigned lane — trying to protect your team's turrets in the lane by fending off attacks from your opponent while simultaneously taking out the enemy turrets. Having a jungler jump in and suddenly change the course of your specific lane's battle disrupts the flow of the game. That's the whole point of having a jungler on one level, of course. But it's a delicate balance all the same. Later in the interview, Scott explains that Riot has been trying to ease back on junglers' relative prowess in order "to make the game something where lanes can have more of their own agency."
So in other words: they kept trying to nerf the jungle in order to prevent junglers from having an outsized impact on the whole game? The problem, in Scott's view, is that the reduction in jungler's abilities didn't come with any legitimate trade-off:
The problem is, we didn't return anything to the jungler. Like, a jungler scale. How do they perform well? If we say don't just dump on lanes and decide lines, what else are you giving us in return? And I think that's very valid. If you're going to remove our options, where's our new stuff?
Scott goes on to say: "I think we have not done a good job in providing new options and new depth and new ways to succeed in the jungle that are either exciting or understandable at all, or even available."
Things start to get really interesting a moment later, once Scott turns to the champions. Fixing the jungle, he argues, isn't a simple matter of altering the game's map or fine-tuning the stats behind specific in-game items and abilities. If the problem is an over-reliance on a few uniquely jungle-adept characters, then the developer has to consider changing them as well.
Scott highlights two champions in particular — Lee Sin and Jarvan (emphasis mine again):
Scott: Lee Sin and Jarvan are still a problem. We can do anything we want to the jungle, and until we fix those champions, they're going to be a problem, which then limits additional diversity. Then we have a system that moves and does some different stuff — how does that affect diversity? Well, some things we know and some things we don't. But the champions stay stable. So we can do anything we want to the jungle and you're going to pick Lee Sin almost every time unless we make it so that he can't jungle.
We have work to do on the champion side, so it's multifaceted. I think the complaints are very valid. I don't think the complaints are focused on the root cause of the problem, but that's not the players' job so that's ok. What can we learn from that feedback is really the takeaway and what I've learned is that junglers are dissatisfied. Junglers aren't having a good time in the jungle and even if our original goal is good, it is not sufficient to just take that away. And there are additional champion problems that intersect with this and make it worse. That would be my takeaway from this.
GameSpot: You make it sound like Lee Sin players are going to be crying again soon.
Scott: Like I said [in the panel], Lee Sin is very fun. Shitting on people is fun. Therefore, Lee Sin is very fun. But Lee Sin probably shouldn't just shit on people.
It's funny, before reading this GameSpot interview, I probably would have told you that the jungle-friendly champion League players were sick of seeing so often was Nidalee, not Jarvan or Lee Sin. Now, players are wondering what might happen to Lee Sin in the near future. What makes all three of these champions deadly junglers is that they're able to survive extended bouts in the jungle and jump into lanes for ganks with devestating speed and efficiency. Getting to "the root cause of the problem" with the jungle will likely involve changing all of them and more parts of League in the future.