Ren-jie “Condi” Xiang is the jungler for China’s Team WE. You may recognize the name Team WE from MSI 2017, in which they were a quarterfinalist. Condi himself has been a pivotal member of the team with regards to their recent success. He is heralded by a good deal as the best jungler in China’s LPL. Unfortunately, WE fell early in playoffs to Invictus Gaming, causing them to have to go through the Regional Qualifier. During the second game of their rematch with Invictus Gaming, Condi played Ezreal jungle. Although he and his teammates lost that game, it spawned a soloqueue trend.
Actual Popularity, Your Silver Teammates Aren’t Just Trolling
Here are the op.gg soloqueue stats for Ezreal jungle on the Korean server in plat elo+. As you can see, it is 4th in playrate, being seen in 13.65% of games. Even for a winrate being sub-50%, that’s quite impressive. It seems to be doing well in soloqueue.
Why Ezreal Jungle?
Whenever a champion traditionally played in one role moves to another role, it spawns a lot of questions. The first people typically go with is “Ezreal can jungle?”. Normally, I don’t shame questions, but I think a better one to ask is “should Ezreal jungle?”. The ability to clear the jungle alone does not make you a viable jungler. We need to determine if there are any specific advantages to Ezreal being played in the jungle as opposed to as an ADC. As a matter of fact, there are.
One complaint many have had about Ezreal as an ADC is that his early game item spikes leave a lot to be desired. Pretty much only the mid-game feels noticeably better than most ADCs. Manamune is a large part of this. Ezreal simply needs mana to play the way he does. In theory, he could get by with Trinity into Blade of the Ruined King, but that’s a 3733 gold item into a 3400 gold one. Muramana provides a better spike combined with Trinity Force for an entire 1,000 less gold. You’ll end up spending more money to do less dmg. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Ezreal already struggles to keep in dmg in the lategame with most ADCs, but without Muramana? Forget about it. As you can see, however, Ezreal jungle’s most popular build doesn’t use Tear!
In an attempt to fix Ezreal’s abysmal ADC winrate, they gave him some buffs, first, a lower CD to Mystic Shot at early ranks. Later, an AD ratio increase for Mystic Shot. “The buffs to Ezreal’s Q ratio him a good jungler” said former professional jungler Christian “IWillDominate” Riviera “It lets him clear and get out onto the map to do stuff faster which is essential for a jungler.” The AD ratio change makes the early spike of a warrior enchantment more significant. The massive regeneration from the hunter’s talisman passive clears up a lot of Ezreal’s mana issues when clearing jungle.
Speaking of clearing the jungle, Ezreal is actually very good at it. Not only is he ranged, allowing to kite out the camps to take less damage, but he can do so with both his autoattacks and his Q. His kit also comes with two attack speed steroids. This allows Ezreal to, on a fairly regular basis, clear both of his buffs before the enemy jungler is able to complete the same task. That means, he can invade. As long as Ezreal knows what camp the enemy jungler starts with, he can visit them at their second buff.
Once Ezreal has gotten ahead, he functions similar to Shaco. Getting a lot of cheesy, no-CC ganks off or simply continuing to counter jungle. Red smite makes Ezreal a pretty fearsome jungle skirmisher. The only difference is that Ezreal is a marksman, giving him a lot more options for the lategame when it comes to grouping with his team. He’s also not as dependent on that very early cheese to come online. A much more tempered and slow style is also possible.
“It changes the way laners need to play the early game”, says my colleague Brian “BadLuckBrain” Chatfield. One would think Ezreal would be like Graves jungle, not an exceptionally strong ganker. However, Arcane Shift’s ability to go over walls with ease allows Ezreal to take creative gank paths. And he typically takes Stormraider’s Surge as his keystone mastery of choice to help with those ganks. Of course, if Ezreal has a laner with good gank assist, it makes things easier for him.
What the Future Holds for Ezreal
As we’ve already mentioned, something must be gained from playing a champion historically known for one role in a different role. In early Season 6, when Rammus top was becoming a scary soloqueue threat. Riot said that in this situation they look to make sure that appropriate sacrifices are still being made. Ezreal jungle is certainly not making the same sacrifices that Ezreal mid did. Jungle Ezreal’s power spikes are much more fluid in terms of build path. The power dips that Ezreal ADC is known for taking early simply are not applicable. That’s not to say that Ezreal jungler doesn’t make sacrifices though. That power dip eventually rewards you with a very large midgame spike that you didn’t spend much gold to get. With Ezreal jungle, that won’t happen. With that being said, you are using Ezreal as a jungler. You’re very squishy, and you don’t provide much utility for your team. Even other jungle carries we’ve seen up till now have surprising amounts of utility. For now, Riot is not convinced that Ezreal jungle needs to be rebalanced.
What is Ezreal’s Place in The Jungle Meta
The jungle meta can be pretty harsh right now. Even if you can win in several early skirmishes against the enemy jungler, it isn’t really doing that much. Cheap, supportive-style items like Knight’s Vow and Locket of the Iron Solari in the jungle are very strong. Catchup experience also makes it surprisingly simple to close the level advantage. The issues that this provides for people wishing to play aggressive junglers are not to be ignored. Many have suggested to Riot Games that they do away with catchup experience altogether. They argue that the mechanic is not interactive and allows too easy of a window back into an otherwise snowballed game.
Personally, I do not believe this is a likely event to occur. This pattern makes the game more team-based, which is an effort Riot has been vocal about pursuing. The fact that jungler need to translate advantages accrued on themselves to laners is pretty consistent with that idea. Additionally, I don’t think catchup experience is the real issue here. Catchup XP has existed for at least as long as I’ve been playing the game. Up until now, it doesn’t seem to have created those mention-worthy issues. Its tandem with the cheap support items in the jungle and the ease of peeling for backline is the problem. Think about it, if you’re Rengar, and you get all your passive stacks, you’re very strong. Kha’Zix could have a successful gank that puts him back in the game. That’s pretty annoying, but it doesn’t change that you’re strong. ADCs right now have Knight’s Vow, Ardent Censer, Locket of the Iron Solari, and Redemption essentially at their beckon call. That makes it hard for a diving-style champion, which makes up the bulk of the carry jungler pool, to do their job.
What does this have to do with Ezreal in the jungle? Well, low-scaling junglers have trouble making an impact if they don’t translate their advantages to laners. So, what if you played a carry-style jungler that IS more about the scaling? Sounds like a perfect solution if you’re trying to carry in soloqueue to me! Problem is, this is somewhat of a mythical beast. Damage almost inherently, at its very nature, lends itself to the concept of early pressure in the jungle role. What scaling carry-style junglers are actually available?
Well, there’s Kindred, but who wants to play Kindred in 2017? Lul. Graves has decent scaling, but he isn’t necessarily amazing against tanks. Master Yi scales extremely well, but is also very easily punishable. Phoenix 1 jungler and Rookie of the Split Mike Yeung even attempted to play Shyvana against TSM in the regular season. Ezreal may not be a crit-style hyper-scaling marksman, but he is a marksman. He’s got good consistent DPS and good range. Although, you don’t provide as much to your team in the lategame as a tank would. It makes those advantages you take for yourself more worth it. And if they try to pick low tempo junglers, then you won’t have a problem outpacing them at all. That’s not to say you can’t pick Ezreal at all in aggressive jungle matchups, but it makes getting ahead even more important.
We’ve already seen some Ezreal jungle at worlds, and I suspect we will see more of it from teams looking to have a high tempo jungler in the early game. It may be an effective strategy against junglers who lean on a team-oriented, “protect the carries” meta.