Kindred will either be so strong and safe in the jungle that she would likely make just as good of a pick – if not better – as a laner (solo or bot), and so will not see much action in the jungle (where people will put a more conventional pick to round out a team comp better); or the aspects of her kit that could be abused as a laner are too weak, and so she will be segreted mostly to the jungle where she will reside as a weak fit that struggles with the current meta.
A lot of this is opinion, and is not saying that Kindred is objectively going to be bad, overpowered, or unbalanced. Kindred definitely boasts some really interesting mechanics, has a really cool theme and looks fun to play. I am really eager to see the finished product on live. This is more a reflection on how the jungle meta has evolved and what that means for Kindred and other “non-meta” junglers.
The majority of champions who are expected to function as junglers are tanks or bruisers, with notable outliers of Nidalee, Diana, and Fiddlesticks as AP mages/assasins. Kindred will be another champion who is clearly not of the mainstream design but (claims riot) is intended to be a primarily jungle pick. Although many veteran players and jungle mains will know already be aware of much I am going to talk about in this blog, the release of Kindred will prove as a kind of illustrating example on the state of the jungle meta and if Riot can, like they did with Fiddlesticks, put an unconventional champion role into the jungle without making them so strong they can simply act as a laner.
Stonewall talked about this concept of designing unconventional (meaning non-bruiser/tank champions) for use primarily in the jungle in his video regarding Runeglaive and the state of AP junglers. The core of the factors that limit an AP jungle's potential is illustrated most vividly in Fiddlestick’s design. The problem with AP champions is that the things they need to succeed in the jungle – durability, strong base damages, and sustain – will also just make them really strong laners, so there would be little point in adapting them to the jungle if they ever got buffed in this manner. Even today, Diana and Nidalee can still be contentious picks in a solo lane, Nidalee having a very safe lane while Diana’s is a little less impactful before she gets her ultimate. Fids is somewhat unique in that he was given very specific weaknesses that make him impossible to function as a solo laner. He has short cast ranges, little mobility outside his ult, and very oppressive mana costs early on. His core ability is a stationary channel that is telegraphed and easy to interrupt, and his ultimate is another extremely telegraphed move that gives a large opening to disrupt/avoid. However, these weaknesses are meaningless in the jungle; assuming it isn’t stolen Fids can use blue buff to overcome mana issues, monster camps don’t interrupt channels, his short ranges don’t interfere with his clears, and he can ult in from out of sight to surprise people.
But Kindred is not an AP mage – she is a ranged auto-attack carry. Marksman have had a particularly difficult time getting into the jungle role because of their inherent vulnerability. They are designed to be naturally squishy and have weak CC as a trade-off for the huge damage potential that comes with their itemization. This makes it very hard for them to stay healthy in the jungle early on without any items under their belt. We’ve seen some edge cases – Twitch and Vayne jungle – but these came at the time when Devourer was at its peak (and still, they had slow early games that could be punished). Otherwise, they are super vulnerable to early pressure from the enemy and have difficulty making up for lost time, since resources are already pretty tight in the jungle.
Which leads us to the linchpin of what decides how powerful Kindred will really be. Kindred is, strangely, arriving at a very bad time for any carry-style jungler with a weak early game. With the recent buff to Warrior, the nerf of Devourer, and the still semi-nerf state of Cinderhulk, we should expect to see a lot more of those early pressure bruiser junglers like J4, Vi, and Lee Sin. Expecially Lee Sin. If Kindred has enough safety to survive early invades from these kinds of junglers, then she has more safety than should be allowed for a marksman and will more often be put in the bot lane than the jungle to capitalize on it. If she cannot survive the invade (as Riot purports) then she will probably not see much play in the jungle until bruisers fall out of the meta again.
ADC junglers have some other things that require overcoming other than stability against invades. ADCs have a traditionally very expensive item builds that, while scaling super hard with stats that synergize well with each other, take some time to farm up for. Because of the tighter resource pool given to them, junglers usually opt into items with smooth build paths that can be completed relatively quickly, allowing them to hit power spikes as early as possible to help them keep up with laners. Junglers designed for damage, like Kha-zix, often have a hard time in this area – if they can’t get snowballing early, they have a hard time catching up. While there is nothing stopping Kindred from itemizing as a tank/bruiser would, there is nothing in her kit that benefits from having lots of durability. In fact, her ultimate is supposed to make her and her team “durable” while still having a damage-heavy build. Her utility-focused ultimate, really, is the saving grace in her kite than can allow her to be relevant even if she stumbles a bit. But it is important to note that this will slightly handicap her effectiveness as a marksman in relativity to other marksman with more damage-focused ultimates.
The last thing that a Kindred Jungle pick needs to overcome is the hard-set meta that league has. The jungler is usually where you see people pick part of their front line, the people responsible either for initiating or peeling when a team fight comes to a head. The secondary option is usually some kind of assassin that threatens the enemy back line. By opting into a squishy marksman as the jungle pick, with neither strong initiation nor a looming threat of diving, the options for other roles become more limited and predictable if you don’t want to have a large hole in your team comp. Riot has somewhat set the foundation for this kind of teamcomp with their Mordekaiser Bot Lane carry rework, but that itself is a strategy that has some weaknesses that can be counter-picked hard if you see it coming. Even without Morde, Kindred’s lack of CC and engage power means that both the top lane and/or the support need to pick some kind of tanky initiator to fill the hole. Which in turn makes it predictable for the enemy to read the comp in draft and picker their champions accordingly.
Kindred definitely has the groundwork to make it as an unconventional Jungle pick. However, the nature of how LoL’s meta has evolved with regards to its available resources, as well as player behaviour and the kind of strengths she would need as a marksman-jungler, Riot may have bitten off more than they can chew in not only creating but also balancing a ranged-carry champion intended primarily to be a jungler. Lee Sin’s effect on the jungle meta has been nothing short of profound and enduring, and Kindred definitely has an uphill battle if she wants to keep up.