With her quick clear and ability to overtake jungle adversaries, Nidalee has rightfully earned the reputation of a premier solo queue jungler. Yet her use in competitive play is hotly debated.
Yesterday's North American LCS games made a strong case for her as a high-priority pick — Nidalee ruled the jungle, with a 100 percent pick/ban rate across all five games.
The Huntress has always rewarded a carry-style jungler willing to make aggressive moves early. Her knack for aggressively controlling the early game was most famously displayed by Lee “Spirit” Dayoon last year in his games for Team WE (though his supporting cast, and their in-game synergy, were sadly subpar). Unfortunately, she’s abysmal when she falls behind, contributing nothing to her team while providing a squishy target for opponents.
Nidalee’s base health is 511, placing her firmly in the range of mages like Brand, Syndra, Katarina and Annie. She used to be much squishier than many of her jungle champion counterparts, but the new Strength of the Ages keystone mastery eventually provides her with 300 additional health — roughly equivalent to a Giant’s Belt — which bumps her up to the level of Xin Zhao.
She's also benefited from changes in the metagame in Season 6. Turrets are now the default early targets, rather than neutral objectives like Baron or dragon, and teams have begun to favour a quick laneswap that kills outer turrets before an extended early-to-mid game. With her Strength of the Ages health bonuses and already quick clear, Nidalee thrives in this setup, able to use the extra time to outfarm opposing jungle champions. Of all junglers played more than once in the 2016 North American LCS Spring Split, Nidalee has the highest CS per minute, at 4.68. Her next closest competition is Rek’Sai, almost a full creep behind with 3.77 CS per minute.
With the early advantage she gets from superior farming, she can then take over the map, as shown earlier this week by Longzhu’s Lee “Crash” Dongwoo against CJ Entus in Korea. Contrary to her reputation, Nidalee can't do it alone — any individual edge accrued from out-leveling and out-farming her enemies needs to become extra vision and lane pressure for her team.
Dardoch, Team Liquid against Team Dignitas
In Team Liquid’s win over Team Dignitas today, jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett boasted an 89 percent kill participation, accounted for 31.2 percent of his team’s overall damage, and the impressive scoreline of 10/0/6. A key factor in team fights, Dardoch was a large contributor to Liquid’s early lead, landing two life-ending spears in a skirmish at nine minutes. Team Liquid, and Dardoch, never looked back.
At ten minutes, Dardoch was up three kills to Thomas “Kirei” Yuen’s none with equal farm and levels. At 15 minutes, this had turned into six kills, two assists and one level to Kirei’s no kills, no assists and one death. At 20 minutes, Dardoch was up two levels on Kirei and had taken a 20 CS advantage. Dardoch finished the game up 30 CS and three levels above Kirei’s Graves. Graves is a champion with massive burst, but requires farm and items to supplement that burst, which gives Nidalee the early edge. Dardoch took full advantage of this, particularly in his build path which included a cost-effective Morellonomicon as his second completed item. He ended the game with a Deathcap and Zhonya’s in his inventory and a triple kill at Dignitas’ nexus to seal their fate.
Rush, Cloud9 against Renegades
The Bestial Huntress has always been a favorite of Cloud9’s Lee “Rush” Yoonjae, who chose the champion more frequently than most in North America while on Team Impulse in 2015. The nature of Team Impulse drove Rush to some of his lowest kill participation percentages in both Spring and Summer while on Nidalee, opting for solo kills and aggressive jungle invades.
This year, Rush’s highest kill participation has been with Nidalee, an 82.4 percent including today’s win against Renegades. On Cloud9, Rush has been far more willing to ensure that his advantages on the Bestial Huntress have translated into team gains by placing deep vision and ganking lanes more frequently. His familiarity with Nidalee combined with her natural clear speed led to massive leads for Rush over Renegades’ Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo. As early as four minutes into Cloud9’s sub-20 minute victory, Rush had twice the farm and a level up on his jungle adversary.
Reignover, Immortals against Counter Logic Gaming
Unlike Rush, Nidalee is not a favorite pick of Kim “Reignover” Yeujin. Reignover has his pocket Olaf and Rengar, but had only played Nidalee once — a loss to Origen in the 2015 EU LCS Summer Finals — prior to today’s win over Counter Logic Gaming. Reignover’s Nidalee was unassuming compared to those of his counterparts, but ended with a strong 83 percent kill participation and was the primary facilitator for Immortals throughout the game. Taking advantage of Jake “Xmithie” Puchero’s need to farm on Graves, Reignover ganked Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya’s Ryze as early as three and a half minutes, burning CLG mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jaehyun’s Teleport. Reignover continued to take small advantages throughout the game, eventually ending two levels and 30 CS over his opponent.
Proxcin, Team Impulse against NRG eSports
Team Impulse’s Kim “Procxin” Seyoung is a known Nidalee player, but failed to make the most of the pick today against NRG eSports. Procxin started off strong, part of a four-man turret dive top onto NRG’s Jung “Impact” Eonyeong at six minutes, netting Team Impulse three kills. More importantly, it meant early gains for TiP top laner Wang “Feng” Xiaofeng on Graves. Feng’s burst in skirmishes later kept Team Impulse in the game until NRG, and their mid laner Lee “GBM” Changseok on LeBlanc, overwhelmed them.
While there’s nothing wrong with Procxin’s performance individually, this marks an example of how Nidalee can still post a fairly strong endgame statline — Procxin ended 2/3/7 — without her early success translating into a team victory.
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.