How to Counter Jungle in League of Legends

Published: February 19, 2022 Updated: May 18, 2022
League of Legends Beginner Guide

Are you a beginner or intermediate jungler looking to up your game by learning the best paths, strategies, and tactics to get the upper hand on the enemy jungler? If so, then this guide on how to counter jungle in League of Legends is definitely for you. Counter jungling is one of the most important skills to learn as a jungler in LoL, but counter jungling poorly or without a plan is a recipe for disaster.

What is Counter Jungling?

Counter jungling is invading into the enemy’s jungle to take the camps that spawn there. This is usually done by the team’s jungler but can be done by any ally.

Why Counter Jungle?

Counter jungling not only gives you access to more gold than just resorting to your own jungle, but it also denies that gold from being available to the enemy. This can help you win games. Unlike minion waves, where only your team can get gold from enemy minions, and enemies can only get gold from your minions. Of course, you can manage the wave to make getting access to that gold much more complicated and riskier, but you cannot really deny them the gold because you cannot take it yourself.

The benefit to counter jungling is that you can not only use the exact same strategy as the idea of making minions challenging to get for the enemy, but you can also just take the gold for yourself.

How to Counter Jungle

To counter jungle successfully, it's essential to constantly evaluate the state of the map and ask yourself a few critical questions. Knowing where the enemy jungler is and what enemy jungle camps are left up to steal without contest is vital. As most junglers should know, tracking the enemy jungler is the best way to have the most information to make informed decisions, regardless of your specific jungle tactics.

Counter jungling is no different and requires you to at least know where the enemy jungler is or anticipate where they will be. There are multiple reasons for this being the most important. First, you need to know what camps they have done (which you can figure out if you track them), which allows you to invade and take the still available camps and not waste your time searching the enemy jungle for an open camp.

Second, junglers need to know how much time they can spend in the enemies jungle, and knowing where the enemy jungler is will make it easy to figure out. This is especially true when you are playing a jungler that is slower at clearing camps.

Finally, the last (and most important) is that tracking the enemy jungler gives you an idea of where they intend on going next and, therefore, what you can do to have the most significant impact on the game (which may not even be counter jungling).

When Should You Counter Jungle?

So, when is the right time to counter jungle during a League of Legends match? When you know the enemy jungler's location AND what camps are available, the last factor to think about (in the jungle matchup) is if there is a better use of your time.

LoL Map Showing Mid Lane and Red Buff

For example, if the enemy jungler ganks bot lane with 8 CS (and blue buff), you know that there is a camp available in their blue side jungle, but is it going to be as impactful as choosing to counter gank bottom lane?

Should You Counter Gank before Invading?

Chances are, at this early point in your jungle path, if you are close enough to counter gank, then you have done two camps (likely red buff and Krugs) and you may be stronger than the enemy jungler. If this is the case, you should counter gank the enemy jungler and help the bottom lane. If you do, not only will that grant you double buffs, but it will get your bot lane ahead. You can then invade and take the enemy jungle camp left up.

The other option of immediately counter jungling would likely mean you can steal one camp away, but your bottom lane dies (and the enemy jungler is now stronger than you). Instead, stop to think about this play and realize that you can get the best of both worlds by counter ganking! The perk of ganking before invading the jungle is that you gain lane priority which is crucial to having successful counter juggling.

Communicate with Your Teammates

Without your nearby teammates having the option to help you when you are in enemy territory, it's often a death sentence. Even if enough time has passed since the gank that the enemy jungler will be at the camp you plan to take, your teammate can rotate and help secure the camp, punish the enemy for attempting to contest, or even kill the enemy jungler AND take the camp.

Mini map showing a successful gank on the opposite side in the top lane

As you might notice, the impact the jungle matchup has on the game is very evident because every benefit to one jungler is a direct detriment to the enemy jungler. The jungle matchup is a 'zero-sum game' because every secured camp is one that the enemy cannot take for themselves. To emphasize the point, if you finish clearing your jungle and attempt to steal the last camp the enemy is looking to take, you will have completed an entire clear plus one camp. The enemy jungler will have cleared one camp less than a full clear, and the net difference is two camps!

In Some Situations, Counter Jungling can Cause You to Fall Behind

With such a crucial back-and-forth of plays and counter-plays in the jungle matchup, it's essential to discuss when counter jungling will cause you to fall behind. The most important is invading the enemy jungle without knowing their exact (or even approximate) location. If you misinterpret their position, you can end up wasting time invading and not finding any camps to take. This means you will also miss out on experience and gold and lose out on tempo and pressure.

This dynamic will sway the tempo dramatically into the enemy jungler's hands because they are wasting your time and can use the difference to make a play that cannot be matched or countered. Time is a precious asset in League of Legends and especially the jungle role. So, it's essential to use it as effectively as possible.

Avoiding Common Mistakes when Counter Jungling

The most common mistake from beginner players in counter jungling is forgetting what the enemy jungler can and will do during the meantime. Many junglers can effectively track their opponent and identify the optimal time to invade the enemy jungle to counter jungle. While this is a step in the right direction, players forget to continue estimating where the enemy jungler will go while clearing enemy camps. Often, this results in a bad trade where you can counter jungle and take some camps, but the enemy jungler dives your bot lane to get a double kill, for example.

The other subtle situation players find themselves in is not realizing that the enemy could be counter jungling you while you counter jungle them! While this may seem like an even trade, without realizing the enemy jungler is clearing your camps, you will return to your jungle to take them and find out they have been taken already. Again, wasting your time and losing tempo. The better jungler will know that the enemy is counter jungling simultaneously and know to path around those camps while they respawn.

Reksai near red buff preparing for a successful gank in bot side jungle

The last common mistake from less-experienced players is forgetting how other matchups play into your matchup. It is crucial to know whether you can win duels in your jungle matchup, but that is not enough information to assume you can successfully counter jungle. The matchups in the connecting lanes are very impactful to the success of your counter jungling. If unaware, you will easily find yourself trapped in the enemy jungle surrounded by enemies (and sometimes the enemy jungler isn't even there).

Always look to push advantages where you already have some established.

In counter jungling, this means using your lane's priority to apply pressure to that side of the map's jungle and generating a jungle advantage. The last common mistake from more established junglers is assuming your laner's advantage can generate that jungle advantage you're seeking.

This is for two main reasons. Primarily, without communicating your intentions with your teammates, you cannot assume they will assist you with your counter jungling, and you may still wind up getting collapsed on. Although it is frustrating, it happens and can easily be prevented with some proactive communication.

Yone is one of a few champions with a sword in League of Legends

Second, just because your laner has an advantage of priority does not mean that you and your laner will be able to win a fight with the enemy jungler and their laner. For example, if your laner is ahead on Yone and you are playing Amumu, it does not mean you will be able to beat Lucian and Volibear in a fight. Lucian can quickly push the lane faster than Yone (even while behind) and rotate to you in their jungle much faster than Yone will. Overall, it's not as simple as an ally with an advantage assisting you; it's about if the ally's advantage is enough to help you!

Best Champions to Counter Jungle with in League of Legends

Now that we've covered the essentials of counter jungling let's look at some of the champions that are great for it… and not so great for it. The best counter junglers have fast clear speeds (minimizing time in the enemy jungle), an escape (preferably over a wall), and/or are good duelists to capitalize on poor enemy jungler position or fight your way out of the enemy jungle.

Some of the best, fast-clearing junglers in League of Legends are Ivern (with Smite), Nunu, Evelynn, Graves, and Udyr, to name only a few. These junglers all have kits that are designed to clear any kind of camp with ease! Nocturne is a great duelist and a fast jungle camp clearer, but only after he hits level 3 and has all of his abilities.

The best counter jungling champions with escapes are Jarvan IV, Ekko, Kayn, Kindred, Lee Sin, and Shaco (for example). These champions have abilities that can be used over most (if not all) walls in the game that also aren't needed to clear the camps or are on low enough cooldowns! These champions are very frustrating to play against because they are so slippery and difficult to collapse on!

Ganking Jungler Ekko

Finally, the best examples of dueling junglers are Xin Zhao, Lee Sin, Warwick, Viego, Vi, and Olaf. These champions all have decent clear speeds for camps but mostly don't have a method of escaping the jungle quickly. Instead, they have insane damage and defensive stats with low-cooldown abilities making them a sure-bet in an unexpected 1-v-1 fight at an enemy jungle camp!

Jungle Champs that Usually are Bad at Counter Jungling

Next, what are the worst counter jungle champions? It's not to say that counter jungling is a bad idea for these champions, but it requires a lot more information to make sure counter jungling will be efficient. Usually, these champions tend to come from the same class of junglers, which is Controllers.

Controller champions tend to be tanky and prioritize utility in their kits. These junglers are best used to gank (and gank often). These junglers are also exceptional at counter ganking because they can quickly rotate to the lane being ganked and provide crowd-controlling and defensive abilities that can swing the fight in their favor.

Champions that fit this category include (but are not limited to) Nautilus, Rammus, Amumu, Gragas, Poppy, Sejuani, and Zac. These junglers are so impactful when prioritizing counter ganking instead of counter jungling. The benefit of their prowess in counter ganking is that they alleviate pressure on that side of the map, which can be converted into an opportunity to counter jungle afterward (when the enemy jungler is dead).

This requires a lot of attention to keep tabs on the enemy jungler's location at all times and, when done correctly, will obviously provide you with enough information to safely counter jungle afterward (because the enemy jungler is dead)! Without this preparation, it is rarely ideal for invading even if the enemy jungler is bottom lane and you can invade on the top side of the map.

Instead, it's best to use that agency on the top side of the map to first gank top lane (getting them ahead) and, using that lane priority to get plates on the tower, get Rift Herald, or counter jungle afterward! On these champions, you want to be a nuisance to the enemy laners and draw pressure from the enemy jungler while ganking because it is where you are most likely to get advantages. The approaching enemy jungler is just playing into that plan!

Jungle Champions that are Easy to Counter Jungle in League of Legends

With that out of the way, let's consider what junglers are easy to counter jungle! The easiest (and most rewarding) junglers to counter jungle are champions with bad early games and slow clearing speed! These junglers have such influential mid-to-late games that they need to be compensated with a bad early game! They are also often very strong in late-game team fights or in picking off enemy carries.

These are the champions that you want to counter jungle whenever possible: Karthus, Evelynn, Dr. Mundo, Amumu, Hecarim, Master Yi, and Shyvana (and more). Some of these champions have pretty good clearing speed but are notoriously weak in their first clears, and that should be capitalized on! By invading these junglers, you can quickly kill them and take whatever camps are leftover afterward!

Karthus has a slight advantage in many situations with his long range and global R

This strategy will put these junglers MILES behind and create a colossal tempo advantage that you need to proactively manage to keep! It's also important to discuss the champions on this list in case you plan on playing them! Just because these champions are on this list does not mean they shouldn't be played. It just means they shouldn't be played on 'autopilot.'

By evaluating the dynamic of the matchup and which categories the two junglers of the game fall into, it's easy to establish what the early game should ideally look like for both junglers. With that knowledge, the weak early game champion should plan a route to avoid being counter jungled at all costs!

Example Jungle Matchup: Nidalee vs Dr. Mundo

Take the example of Nidalee against Dr. Mundo. As Nidalee, you have access to all your abilities at level three and can clear very efficiently. As Dr. Mundo, getting rolling is a bit slower and will have more efficient clear speeds after some levels and items. As a result, Nidalee should be thinking about invading the enemy Dr. Mundo as soon as possible (even if that means level one!). Nidalee can both clear faster and fight Dr. Mundo easily because she outranges him and has more abilities to use, not to mention an ability with an executing effect!

As Dr. Mundo, you should be aware of that power difference and use the time before the camps spawn to get wards at entrances to your jungle to see Nidalee coming before she can do anything. Once spotted on the ward, Dr. Mundo needs to quickly decide how to avoid her. Using the Tab Menu, Dr. Mundo will see how many camps Nidalee has cleared and what buff she has taken.

In this example, Nidalee has taken her red buff and one additional camp and is invading the blue buff of the opposing jungler; Dr. Mundo can assume she has taken her Krugs and instead invade and take the enemy's camps, in particular the blue buff. Although it seems counterintuitive to do so, it's what Nidalee wouldn't expect and, because of the wards, should give Dr. Mundo plenty of time to retreat if Nidalee comes back out of Dr. Mundo's blue side jungle!

Nidalee may steal all your camps with her rapid clear abilities
Nidalee can rapidly clear most jungle camps in the early game

The only downside to this plan is that because Nidalee clears faster, she will still come out with a lvl advantage with more camps cleared in less time. Being disadvantaged by removing four camps to her five before Scuttle Crab spawns is MUCH better than being disadvantaged by dying at your own blue buff to Nidalee and being down three camps and without buffs when Scuttle Crab spawns.

Proactively identifying these situations before they happen minimizes your weaknesses instead of reactively attempting to escape a problem you could have avoided altogether. In these situations, Dr. Mundo should not expect to come out ahead unless Nidalee drastically misplays or fails to adjust her pathing! Proactively managing matchups where one side has a stronger early game will lead you to reach your power spikes faster and prevent the enemy from abusing theirs!

How to Clear Enemy Jungle Camps

The last feature of counter jungling that is important to touch on is how to clear the enemy camps. There are mainly two ways of clearing them. Either fully clearing the camp or leaving one small monster to prevent the camp from respawning until cleared. Both techniques are crucial to dominating your enemy jungler, but it's vital to know when to use one over the other.

Should You Leave One Jungle Monster Behind?

The basic principle of this strategy is to leave one small monster left so that the enemy must waste time traveling to the camp and clearing the one small monster to get the entire camp to respawn and only get a fraction of its gold. While this is generally useful, there are two main reasons to fully clear the enemy camp. The main reason is that you expect to be back at the camp when it respawns to take it from them again! If that's the case, leaving just one small monster is only hurting you!

The other main reason is when playing a heavy farming jungler that relies on maximizing gold and experience consumption to quickly scale to your mid-to-late game power spike. In that case, your goal should always be to clear camps as soon as they spawn (including the enemies), and fully clearing the camp will minimize the amount of time until it is available to clear again.

Mini-map showing a successful gank on the opposite side in the top lane

The added benefit to fully clearing the jungle in both cases is that you are aware of the respawn timer, and the enemy jungler can only guess when it will respawn. By just leaving one small monster at the camp for your enemy to clear, it is easy for the enemy to know when it will be back up next, but also make it difficult for you to know when it will be back up next!

Conclusion

Overall, counter jungling is a vital part of being a good jungler and is certainly not an easy task! But, by establishing the dynamics of the jungle matchup and tracking the enemy's whereabouts and lane priority, counter jungling is perhaps the most consistent way to create and maintain a lead over your opponent!

Remember, jungling is all about having the most information available to make the best decisions, AND minimizing the amount of information the enemy jungler has available to them, so they make bad decisions!

If you liked this intermediate/advanced guide and are looking to improve other areas of your League of Legends gameplay, check out our advanced guide on making the most of Lethality in League of Legends.

Images Courtesy of Riot Games.