It began as a superstition shared by junglers in the League of Legends Pro League. When Team WE’s jungler, Xiang “Condi” Renjie, hovered around the Baron pit, commentators and spectators alike guffawed at the audacity of any challenger who would dare to approach.
In 2016 LPL Spring, Condi stole Baron from Royal Never Give Up’s Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu not once, but twice in one game, turning a match that should have been Royal’s comeback into a three-game series.
“Oh my god, he stole it again!” caster Julian “Pastrytime“ Carr declared as Condi’s Rek’Sai slipped into the pit 40 minutes in and seamlessly transitioned to knock up AD carry Wang “wuxx” Cheng.
As Condi cackled into his microphone, Mlxg slumped into his chair. WE plowed through the Nexus and kicked off a rivalry between LPL’s most promising jungle stars in their second year of playing in the region’s highest league.
To build a fanbase in the LPL, junglers usually need to meet the prerequisite for flashy plays. Spectators seldom celebrate efficient pathing, placing stable wards in river, or understanding map pressure, but they love level two ganks and 50 minute Baron steals. That doesn’t always facilitate the development of intelligent and resourceful junglers, and Condi wasn’t one for the first two years of his career — but he certainly made an impression.
Condi managed to steal so many Barons in 2016 LPL Spring that his fans gave him the nickname “Son of Baron.” Every enemy jungler from whom he had managed to smite the buff away was put into an “elite club,” including notable players like Ming “Clearlove” Kai, Mlxg, and Choi “DanDy” Inkyu.
What most junglers would consider lucky, Team WE actually began to rely upon. They played as if they expected Condi to steal Baron at around 40 minutes and rescue them from a deficit, choosing weak lanes and scaling compositions that helped them build for late game teamfights.
It shouldn’t have worked, and eventually it didn’t. Vision setups around Baron evolved, and teams opted for fewer forced objective takes in 2016 Summer. Team WE had to change, but while glimpses of the new squad appeared in the second split of last year, it didn’t fully take shape until the cross-conference stage of 2017’s LPL.
Part of WE’s rise and victory over Group A top squad Royal Never Give Up came from a meta that highly favors their key players. Traditionally, Condi has gravitated toward the likes of Graves, Lee Sin, Rengar, and Gragas — all picks that made the high priority list on Patch 7.4. AD carry Jin “Mystic” Seongjun’s signature Ezreal runs rampant, top favors a wide range of pickups, and Su “xiye” Hanwei can latch onto assassins.
But the changing meta isn’t the only thing that has made WE improve this split. I touched on it briefly when I broke down Team WE’s matchup against EDward Gaming earlier this year, but it reared its head once more against Royal Never Give Up last Saturday.
WE’s most significant change is in the way Condi approaches early game jungling. While last year he erred by either over-ganking or turtling in his own jungle to farm and build items, Condi’s understanding of early pathing and how to use his laners’ advantages to invade has drastically improved in 2017.
When commentators and analysts criticize a team’s draft for having weak laning matchups, what they’re really pin-pointing is the amount of pressure a team can generate in the early phases of the game. Having a strong mid lane matchup becomes most important, as mid lane impacts both sides of the map. If the mid laner can push further forward in lane, he can assist his jungler on invades or in roams for objectives and side lane ganks either on bottom or top.
Following that, having a strong top or bottom lane matchup allows a jungler to consistently invade and pressure the enemy jungler on one side of the map. If he has good timing and coordination with his lanes, the jungler can build an easy advantage in experience and farm, which means that any move he makes to pressure a side lane becomes difficult for the opposing jungler to answer.
As a result, mid and jungle synergy has become even more important in a meta without lane swaps. With longer camp spawn times, there are more opportunities for the jungler to act and more punishment for losing a single camp.
Fans first began to flock to Condi for the same flashy plays that make Royal Never Give Up’s Mlxg popular now. When Masters3 added Condi to the roster as their third jungler of the 2015 LPL Spring split, his Lee Sin ganks sparked excitement. Like QG Reapers’ Kim “Clid” Taemin, Condi’s clutch Dragon’s Rage in the final hour of a game against Team WE’s Mystic attached itself to highlight reels for the season.
Both Condi and Mlxg seemed cut from the same cloth. They took risks to influence lanes and only started to farm on certain champions. Mlxg’s famous level two mid lane ganks could cost him camps, but they set his mid laner ahead.
This year, however, Condi’s pathing and ability to grow his own leads in conjunction with his laners has improved. He identifies the correct lane to play off and has used lane pressure to invade on a strong side of the map, setting the enemy jungler behind.
WE have drafted lane advantages on the top or bottom half of the map depending upon whether the team plays on red side or blue side. If the team plays on blue side, the opponent raptor camp will spawn on the top half of the map, and top and mid lane advantages become more important for invades. As small raptors provide a great deal of experience, consistently denying the enemy his raptor camp can make it easy for a jungler to advance by multiple levels.
When Condi plays Graves on blue side, his team helps him invade to deny the raptor camp. In the LGD Gaming series when Condi played Rengar on blue side, his top and mid lane invaded on their own against the enemy Graves while he farmed his own raptors safely. This allowed him to do a full clear, then gank top side and snowball for a final score line of 12/0/5.
As a result, it didn’t surprise me to see substitute jungler Wang “BayBay” Youchun when Team WE played against Royal Never Give Up. Though Mlxg had fallen ill, I have previously pointed out problems in Mlxg’s ability to make efficient decisions in the jungle. He has given up camps for unsuccessful ganks or spent too much time crossing river between camps for vision upon which RNG don’t capitalize. This jungling style makes him extremely vulnerable to Condi’s more refined approach.
It also meant strong lane matchups dictated much of how the Royal Never Give Up and Team WE series progressed. In the first game, RNG had a strong top side matchup in Kled into Gragas, and pressured bottom well with Leona and Ezreal against Kog’Maw and Lulu. Even with these constraints, Condi identified that he could generate a lead by ganking mid and was able to defend his own raptors. As side lanes snowballed, however, he struggled to make his usual plays.
The situation changed drastically for Condi in Game 2 when he used top lane and mid lane push from WE to contest BayBay’s raptors with help from xiye. As BayBay was forced to back, Condi accrued an early level advantage.
Even though RNG eventually caught Condi invading wolves, he did so on RNG’s bottom lane backing and didn’t anticipate that Shi “Ming” Senming would head through the jungle on his way back to lane. Condi’s decision to invade at this time still reflected a strong understanding of when his team had pressure, and he only invaded with Nam “Ben” Donghyun following up.
Though Royal got a lead through snowballing the bottom side, WE still played well in the early game by understanding where they could control the jungle. When RNG made bot side plays, WE responded by pushing out both mid and top and damaging turrets. Condi maintained at least a level advantage over BayBay until their comeback fight at 18 minutes into the game.
In Game 3, Condi’s creativity shone through again. Knowing BayBay started at blue because of the ward placed by WE’s bottom lane and knowing that Royal’s bottom lane would have the push advantage, Condi anticipated that BayBay may try to invade his blue buff. As a result, Condi started by taking only his own raptors before moving to his blue buff area and clearing. This prevented BayBay from counter-jungling and made sure blue buff would have an early enough second spawn to help xiye in the Syndra into Vladimir matchup.
At 10 minutes in, Condi translated a successful bottom lane countergank into counterjungling BayBay’s krugs, taking the first dragon for WE, and then moving with his bottom lane to pressure the mid turret and break open the game.
In both matches, Condi kept an experience advantage that allowed him to dictate the pace. His creative pathing opened opportunities for Team WE because the opposing jungler couldn’t contest his movements.
Though WE have fallen behind in the early game, watching the way Condi moves around the map, coordinates with his lanes, and adjusts his pathing based on pressure from lanes indicates that Team WE have a better understanding of which early game decisions are optimal and instead lack in execution. It seems insincere to refer to them as a late game team.
In fact, their average game time has decreased significantly. In 2016 LPL Summer, WE had the second longest average game time at 38.9 minutes. This split, WE have had the second shortest average game time at 36.1 minutes. Though meta changes don’t make this comparison 1-to-1, the fact that they have a much shorter average game time relative to teams within the LPL is telling. WE are able to close out games more decisively off logical early game plays, even if they do occasionally fall behind early.
Condi sits at the core of this. Relative to Mlxg, whose style relies much more on ganking early and giving up camps, Condi has averaged 3.79 neutral minion kills a minute to Mlxg’s 2.97. While neutral monsters aren’t uniform in the amount of experience they grant, almost one extra monster a minute reflects a more efficient sense of pathing. He doesn’t farm at the cost of pressure in lanes or teamfight involvement either. Condi has maintained a 67.7% kill participation, above Mlxg’s 64.7%.
In 2017, Condi became a very different jungler from the Son of Baron. WE no longer rely on his ability to time his smite and their opponent’s failure to prepare vision. His understanding of the jungle and how to play with his lanes finally makes him one of the smartest junglers in the LPL.
With DanDy gone, Clearlove only just returning on a non-permanent basis, and Mlxg still struggling to transition from flashy to efficient, Condi is this split’s current Jungle King.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.