Tae-you Nam, more commonly known by his in-game moniker of “LirA”, is currently the jungler for North America’s Team EnVyUs. An import from South Korea, LirA was on the roster for many famous teams. These include the KT Rolsters Arrows, CJ Entus Frost, and Afreeca Freecs. He’s played with some of Korea’s all-time superstars as teammates: Shy, MadLife, CoCo, and MaRin.
In 2017, he joined Team EnVyUs, who had formerly managed to make playoffs in their first split as a team in 2016. He replaced the former jungler Seyoung “Proxcin” Kim. Of course, we know that in Spring 2017, Team NV fell flat, with a 3 and 15 match record and a 14 and 31 game record. However, statistically, Team NV was one of the best early game teams in the League. Our top teams, such as Cloud 9 and TSM, actually were in the middle of the league in this regard.
Those early game advantages came off the back of the consistency of LirA, who despite having his team in last place for almost he entirety of the split, earned a reputation for himself. He was voted onto the 2017 Spring Split all-pro team, alongside Hauntzer, Bjergsen, Arrow, and Smoothie.
His teammates sing the highest praises for him. Team Top Laner Wu-yeong “Seraph” Shin, formerly an import himself, said “He’s the best jungler that I’ve ever played with.” Apollo “Apollo” Price, the team’s ADC, said “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s the best jungler in NA, and he’s become a major leader for our team. He helps us all improve a lot.”
And of course, we’ve seen the result of that improvement. After Week 2 of the NA LCS, no team has emerged unscathed from a loss. Team NV is tied for first place at a 3 -1 Match Record with DIG, CLG, and IMT. It’s still obviously very early in the season. Their series were against Dignitas, Phoenix1, Immortals, and Team Liquid. They have yet to play CLG, TSM, C9, Echo Fox, or FlyQuest. Many expect a resurgence from TSM and C9 as is consistent with the past. However, Team NV has definitely improved. Although it’s not clear where their strength lies exactly, it’s certain that it’s unlikely to be a repeat in 10th place. It’s safe to assume that Apollo was correct, LirA has helped the team improve to large degrees. They have every right to be proud.
A Queen Dethroned
LirA has demonstrated supreme proficiency on most champions that have been meta throughout the season so far: Kha’Zix, Rengar, Lee Sin, Elise, and Graves. A lot of pro players have that pocket pick, and for LirA, that pick is Nidalee.
In Season 6, we know that Nidalee was a monster of a jungling champion. This champion dominated soloqueue and competitive alike. This champion had an insanely high amount of presence at 2016 worlds. “Presence,” by the way, is a term analysts use to describe the rate at which a champion is picked OR banned. “Banned” made up the bulk of that presence.
Nidalee fell on hard times at the dawn of Season 7. Part of this was of course, nerfs given to the champion to attempt to bring it down to more reasonable terms in Season 6. Meta shifts were a bigger contributor, as they were not in the favor of this champion. Nidalee’s most popular Keystone Mastery of choice was Strength of the Ages. Preseason replaced this with Courage of the Colossus. Not just on Nidalee, SotA was the most popular choice in general for junglers. Free stats and sustain for doing the thing you would do as a jungler anyway? Yes, please!
After the completion of Runic Echoes, Nidalee’s most popular item option was to go for Rylai’s Crystal Scepter. As a relatively squishy champion, Rylai’s provided not only damage, but 400 health worth of much-needed bulkiness. The nerfs to this item made it far less desirable for our cougar friend. The slow also added to her pick potential.
What Does Nidalee Do?
Nidalee is a pick that I feel is misunderstood, so I want to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of this champion as a whole. That way, we can understand why Nidalee was able to be such a strong pick on the past.
When you talk about Nidalee, the first thing you have to bring up is her clear speed. In 2016, Nidalee essentially had the best kit for clearing the jungle. To begin with, she was ranged in her human form. Ranged junglers have the ability to clear parts of the jungle largely unscathed as long as they are properly kiting the buff out to the reset point. On certain camps this didn’t work quite as well. For example, Gromp and Raptors, or Birbs, as I like to call them, are ranged themselves. The range of course wasn’t the only thing Nidalee had going for her. She also had a heal, attack speed buff, a jump that could be reset, and AOE spells. Not to mention, Nidalee’s spells in cougar form don’t cost mana.
This could turn into an insane problem very quickly, as discussed here. With Nidalee’s superior clearing methods, she would basically have a level advantage on the enemy jungler for free. Having level advantage as a jungler opens up so many doors for you and closes so many for the enemy jungler. The first possibility granted is the potential for invading. If you’re a level up, you are likely to win that jungle skirmish thanks to all the free extra stats you have. Strength of the Ages made this an even bigger issue, as it provided even more stats for clearing jungle camps. The enemy jungler must be very conservative with his pathing when down a level. Ganks on lanes that don’t have level advantages themselves are now very risky. If he ganks a lane where the levels are equal, he has to be very careful that Nidalee is on the opposite side of the map. Otherwise, a countergank from Nidalee could result in a very advantageous situation for Nidalee and her teammate.
These strengths were the major factors behind Nidalee’s soloqueue and competitive dominance. In competitive play, snowballs can be hard to come by. Having a champion like Nidalee who accrues those small advantages that a master can milk for all they’re worth makes taking that lead easier.
Take it from an expert, Yoon-jae “Rush” Lee, former jungler for Cloud 9 was known for his Nidalee. Keep in mind, Rush was still struggling a little bit with English at this point, so he sounds a little repetitive going back to sentence starters that he knows. Still, he knows what he’s talking about.
Some of the information in this video is outdated. He mentioned Nidalee being the only jungler without CC, at the time that was true, but not so much in the current meta. The auto reset for changing forms was removed. He of course mentioned the usage of Thunderlord’s, which was a much stronger option compared to SotA at the time the video was made. However, SotA is out of the game. Now if you check op.gg, you can see that Nidalee’s most popular option is Thunderlord’s once more. Stormraider’s is the highest winrate, but with a very low rate of usage.
Of course, Nidalee has her weaknesses, which Rush covered beautifully in the video. She lacks the CC to bring those ganks home and often relies on counterganking or ganking laners who bring that kill threat themselves. Nidalee’s low tankiness and CC makes it harder for her to get picks and makes her a weak teamfighter. Her sustain and poking/zoning are the tools primarily utilized in the mid and lategame. You’ll notice I placed her in my examples for poke and siege comps.
In addition to the earlier mentioned issues with Nidalee, Riot changed a lot of the jungle around in Season 7. One change that affects Nidalee in particular is the change to the Krugs. As I discovered as an ADC/mid player, Large Krugs take much less damage from your autos if you’re ranged. Towards the beginning of the Season that was an issue since the experience off of Krugs as so abusable.
It’s a bit of an overstatement to say that Nidalee is back in the meta, but it’s also an understatement to call her garbage. This champion has had a few itemization changes in her favor as well as a few direct buffs. First, Nidalee’s base attack damage was actually buffed. It had been very low ever since Season 4. AD Nidalee top was actually very popular in Season 4. She could bully other laners with range and become a very powerful duelist by abusing some in-meta items. Sound familiar? Trinity Force was the item that this nerf was aimed at reducing Nidalee’s synergy with. Nidalee’s Q actually converts her autoattack to magic damage. Abilities that convert the damage type of your basic attacks also work with Trinity Force (and other Sheen items).
In fact, the man we’re here to discuss attempted a jungle version of this dueling-focused Nidalee build.
“I’m LirA and my Pocket Pick is Nidalee”
LirA, his teammates, and NV’s organization still have a lot of confidence in this pick for him. In a mere two weeks of Summer Split, he’s already picked up for himself 3 times. He’s won 2 of those and lost 1.
Nidalee’s itemization has taken some changes. The prevalance of using resistance-based boots on champion that would normally lean towards Ionian Boots or Sorcerer’s Shoes is becoming a situational trend. He may not have as much tankiness when it comes to health, but you can see he’s really stacking up those resistances.
As an analyst, I would have actually liked to see this game go on a bit longer because there’s a growing soloqueue trend of Athene’s Unholy Grail on Nidalee. In the past, that itemization choice was really only seen in competitive. However, as of late, that item has been receiving buffs to what it does statwise instead of only relying on the utility of the item. That makes it much more accessible in soloqueue. Since Nidalee’s heal is based on missing health. A heal on a low health ally fully charged up with Athene’s can be massive. He’s got the Fiendish Codex and the Null-Magic Mantle, which could also have been built into Banshee’s Veil. Another prominent meta item. After checking is runes and masteries, I noticed that he brought 10% worth of CDR in his glyphs, 5% from scaling and 5% flat. That makes the Banshee’s Veil more likely as the Athene’s would have overcapped him on his CDR.
People can get pretty tired of seeing the same-old-same-old picks, so an exciting off-meta pocket pick like this is exciting. It’s extra exciting that it’s actually getting results. I hope to see a lot more of LirA’s Nidalee in the coming weeks and months.