Of all positions hit by the Korean talent exodus of 2015, the jungle role was hit the hardest. Top junglers like Choi “DanDy” Inkyu, Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon, Baek “Swift” Dahoon, and Lee “Spirit” Dayoon left the region, leaving a gaping hole that was slow to fill. Jin Air Green Wings’ Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun took the lead, and in spite of faltering at the introduction of Cinderhulk, redefined himself as one of Korea’s best. Behind him was veteran Bae “bengi” Seongwoong, salvaging his career after a wholly uninspiring 2014.
Following these two, the drop-off was a bit steep. Former KT Rolster AD carry Go “Score” Dongbin showed promise, but needed a support to aid in warding while he tried to improve his routes and early pressure. Meanwhile, CJ Entus sent former mid laner Kang “Ambition” Chanyong into the jungle, but turned out flat performances when not on Rek’Sai or, oddly enough, Nunu. NaJin e-mFire showed an impressively stubborn loyalty to washed-up jungler Cho “watch” Jaegeol over the younger jungle talent of Yoon “Peanut” Wangho.
This year, following a far less tumultuous offseason, the Korean jungle has begun to fill out and grow. A crop of promising, young up-and-comers received starting spots in Champions Spring 2016, and Week 1 provided an interesting peek at what they may have in store for the rest of the season.
CJ Entus' Bubbling
Last year, Park “Bubbling” Junhyeong was lighting up the solo queue ladder as one of few young jungle prospects left in the Korean scene. He had his ups and downs with Anarchy in Challengers Korea before the team picked up Nam “lira” Taeyoo and Bubbling ended up on Winners. CJ Entus signed Bubbling after Ambition’s departure in their long-anticipated roster destruction where the organization finally committed to investing in younger talent. Bubbling is presumably a part of this picture, in addition to mid laner Gwak “Bdd” Boseong and AD carry Jang “Ghost” Yongjun. Unfortunately, the latter two won't be eligible play until they turn 17 in March, so it’s up to Bubbling to try and jump start this placeholder CJ Entus team in the interim.
SK Telecom T1 made fairly quick work of CJ Entus in this past week’s Champions Spring 2016 opener, and CJ didn’t fare much better against the ROX Tigers in their second series of Week 1.
Against SK Telecom T1, Bubbling locked in Kindred twice and was unable to apply any early pressure, in spite of numerous attempts. More often than not, his movements not only resulted in unsuccessful ganks, but led to SK Telecom T1 easily tracking him down. This mitigated any sort of presence that Bubbling would have had, rendering him ineffective.
Bubbling looked even worse in CJ’s games against the ROX Tigers, with another young jungle prospect in the Tigers’ Peanut showcasing stronger transitions from his paths to plays, able to kill Bubbling’s solo laners while the CJ jungler struggled. Bubbling’s only highlight from these games was when he took advantage of Peanut’s greedy pathing, solo-killing the Tigers’ jungler around six minutes in Game 2. This was subsequently followed by an ill-advised dragon steal attempt, resulting in Bubbling’s death.
In his four games, Bubbling has the third worst kill participation (52.4 percent) of all Korean junglers – one of whom is SK Telecom T1’s Kang “Blank” Sungu who only played one game against Jin Air – and none of his aggressive moves have paid off. He shows a willingness to take risks, even when the reward isn’t worth it, and this questionable decision-making is what he’ll have to work on going forward, especially when Bdd and Ghost are able to play.
SBENU Sonicboom's Flawless
Somewhat transforming SBENU Sonicboom from one of the worst teams ever seen in Champions to a respectable underdog in Champions Spring 2016 is jungler Sung “Flawless” Yeonjun.
Flawless’ Champions debut was unfortunately KT Rolster's Score's coming out party as a legitimate jungler who no longer needed to rely on a roaming support to make up for his lack of pathing knowledge. Showing patient early play against the SBENU Sonicboom jungler in Game 1, Score did not allow Flawless an opportunity to use Elise’s kill pressure to his advantage. Score took over Game 2 with Elise, reading Flawless’ early pathing and stymieing his Nidalee.
Of all Korean junglers after Week 1, Flawless has some of the worst statistics, including a dismal 44.4 percent kill participation. This is in comparison to having the second-highest kill participation (73.6 percent) of all junglers during his impressive performances in the KeSPA Cup. SBENU have only played two games, and they were against a KT Rolster team that appears to be one of the stronger teams in the region out of the gate. Flawless still has a lot of time to show just how well he fits into this SBENU team. With laners like Oh “SaSin” Seungju in the mid lane and AD carry Sin “Nuclear” Jeonghyeon in bot, Flawless has a talented supporting cast, top lane aside. He also has a leg up on CJ Entus’ Bubbling, if only due to a larger amount of practice time and experience with his team.
ROX Tigers' Peanut
Peanut is hardly a new jungler on the scene. His eagerly-awaited debut came last year with NaJin e-mFire, but he was quickly benched in favor of veteran jungler watch due to NaJin's mismanagement and reported attitude issues. Known as another aggressive early jungler, Peanut’s comparatively few appearances for NaJin showcased his mechanical talent and ability to apply early pressure, along with a lack of knowledge in how to turn those advantages into objectives with a team.
NaJin e-mFire weren't a team, but ROX Tigers are the complete opposite of that, repeatedly stating that they pride themselves on their strong communication in and out of the game. However, a glaring weakness of the Tigers was their poor early game, which stemmed from former Tigers junglers Lee “Hojin” Hojin and Kim “Wisdom” Taewan’s inability to take advantage of their opponents in the jungle. Peanut was brought on board to fix this very issue, as his play style is the complete opposite of a farming or passive approach – sometimes to the point of overconfidence or recklessness.
His only opponent thus far has been the aforementioned CJ Entus Bubbling, who he thoroughly dismantled in both of the Tigers’ Week 1 games. Following the series, Peanut stated that he knew Bubbling from solo queue and stealing Kindred away from the CJ Entus jungler was a key to his own dominance. This was followed by a bit of a dig at CJ, saying that the match was easy. Peanut will face tougher opponents this coming week, and he’ll need to tone down some of his greedier pathing routes, as both KT Rolster Score and Longzhu Lee “Chaser” Sanghyun will take better advantage of these small mistakes.
On the whole, Peanut has seemingly synergized well with his new teammates. Their communication was crisp and Peanuts aggressive early nature meshed well with the Tigers’ knack for mid to late game teamfighting and objective control. Peanut was a part of nearly everything the Tigers did in their games with a strong 70 percent kill participation along with the highest damage percentage for his team and the highest damage dealt to champions of any Korean jungler in Spring thus far.
In addition to the three junglers mentioned, Week 1 of Champions Spring 2016 had saw strong performances from Longzhu’s Chaser, Jin Air’s Park “Winged” Taejin, and an improved – First Blood aside – showing from Ambition, now on Samsung Galaxy. There’s a lot to look forward to in the Korean jungle this year.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.