In Season 2, there was a healthy conflict between tanks and bruisers: tanks had inevitable scaling into teamfights regardless of gold levels, while bruisers could secure gank, farm, and objective advantages in the early-mid game.
At the risk of diving overly into what differentiates a tank from a bruiser, I shall define a tank jungler as a jungler who brings a high amount of CC, has less resilience in the jungle, and typically is the enabler in ganks, not an equal party. To an extent, this lies tangential to the “herbivore” jungle distinction, and it should be noted that – with exception of Clearlove in Season 4, the last herbivore jungler was Season 3 Meteos, who played almost entirely Nasus and Zac. While the tank/herbivore mapping is not 100%, it should be noted, as it is relevant to the problems facing tank junglers.
Ultimately, this puts bruisers and tanks in healthy conflict. If allowed to freely farm or gank, tanks will outscale bruisers in teamfights. However, bruisers can use their early game strength to bully tank junglers, either by countering their ganks or invading their jungle. Either way, bruisers can deny tank junglers gold while still securing their own, allowing them to outscale through gameplay rather than innate kits.
It should be noted that a few champions straddle the line between the classes. Jarvan, Vi, and Rek’Sai all have gap closers and CC paired with damage, allowing them to force a gank and still follow it up with good damage. Any attempt to change tanks will have to carefully consider the strength of these junglers as both tanks and junglers, and may require nerfs to these champions. However, given their general strength, this shouldn’t be a problem.
This balance is upset in a very strong way be the current structure of the jungle items.
Most bruisers synergize very well with the Warrior Enchantment, while the natural first item for tanks is Juggernaut. However, this creates a conflict with the above balancing between tanks and bruisers: the higher damage of bruisers (thanks to Warrior) means they clear more quickly (with the side effect of taking less damage).
With the extra time they spend not clearing (and the extra health they have), they can put more pressure on the map: ganking, counter-ganking, invading, or even just warding. Even if they choose none of those options, they can simply spend more time clearing, and thus outscale tanks through a gold advantage.
There are many ways to solve these problems, and give tanks the bump they need to be played again. I am ignoring the obvious option of “buff tanks”, because the last tank buffs (Maokai and Alistar) ended up leading those tanks to be extremely strong top laners. In many cases, there is nothing wrong with their kits, but simply the way they fit into the game.
The first solution is simply to give alternative ways of itemizing for clear speed. Currently, the Machete passive is relatively small, and most of your clear speed comes from damage. A slight change to the Machete passive could help scale the clear speed of tank champions. Given that the Machete passive serves as a sort of safeguard level of clear speed for champions who aren’t building damage, adding an element of Bonus Health scaling to its damage would greatly help along tanks without over-buffing bruisers (by the time they start building health items, they have enough damage as to not need more clear speed).
While this is a decent solution, many tanks care more about resistances than about Health. Currently, Armor/MR scaling exists in only a few niche cases, so adding Armor/MR scaling to the Machete passive hurts game clarity more than it helps the game. However, those champions are so few in number that it may make sense to simply deal with those champions on a champ-by-champ level.
However, a jungle item which builds out of Glacial Shroud would help along a lot of those champions by simply providing them a coherent build path. Skarner is a perfect example of a jungler who really doesn’t want to build any of the current jungle items.
Maokai received % health damage on his Twisted Advance, and it went a long way towards making him one of the strongest top laners in the game. Tanks spend much of their time peeling bruisers off of their carries. With their relatively low damage, they do this mostly by holding bruisers in place. Upgrading most tanks to possess one % health damage ability would increase their ability to help peel and kill bruisers without affecting their damage against carries.
There are many reasons that tank junglers are not prevalent, and some of them are meta-related. Lane swaps, the duo jungle, and roaming supports all do not work well with tank junglers, and so any jungle tank buffs should be made knowing that they may not have an impact on competitive play, thanks to the threat of a lane swap. However, in solo queue where lane swaps are rare, we should be able to see the results of such changes.