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They say old dogs don’t learn new tricks. They said Immortals jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero isn’t supposed to be in Wuhan. They said he wasn’t supposed to lift a middling IMT squad all the way to the TD Garden in Boston. They said he wasn’t supposed to be in the running for the NA LCS regular season MVP. And yet, here he is — after having done exactly those things — playing at the World Championship in the most populous country on the planet. And he’s poised to take his team to the Quarterfinals for the first time in his seven-year career.
Some players are noticeably tense or hyped after a game — especially a long one. But not Xmithie. Like his presence on the Rift, he’s as calm and collected as can be. Part of this can be attributed to his maturity. At 26-years-old, he is one of the oldest players at Worlds.
But it’s not just age. Born and raised in the Philippines, he’s also had the opportunity to soak in many different environments, including stints on three different NA LCS teams — Team Vulcun, Counter Logic Gaming, and now Immortals. One of the toughest things about being a professional player is that you build a new family with your team. And at each turn, Xmithie has been an integral part of that.
On the other side of world — back home in Los Angeles — is a man whose summoner name is “ymithie.” He is what you might call a superfan. The account was made specifically to spectate Xmithie as he played — be it in Solo Queue, ARAM, or the latest mode in the rotating game queue. The account is owned by Xmithie’s father.
“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” said Xmithie, “But he just sees my champion kill someone or when I’m dying.” He said all of this with a smile on his face, and added, “He’s really loud. Really loud.”
Xmithie’s bonds with his teammates evolved from the close relationship he has with his actual family. They are regulars at the NA LCS studio and have been extra supportive since he showed them he actually made money from playing. “Before that,” he said, “It was just like with other Asian parents. [But now], it’s nice to have them love what I do.”
In Wuhan, though, it’s his Immortals family that will need him to be loud. Not in a vocal way, necessarily, but with his play on the Rift.
Immortals sits at 2-1 after the first week of the Group Stage thanks in large part to their patience and calm playstyle. We’ve seen them persevere in an intense match against Fnatic and then weather the GIGABYTE Marines’ bag of tricks. Even their one loss against tournament favorite Longzhu Gaming demonstrated they weren’t completely outclassed — especially in the early game.
Xmithie’s focus lately, though, is to come up with a way to be less calm. On what he felt his team still lacked, he said, “The nerves to make a ballsy or more confident play — that’s the thing missing for us right now.”
This has long been true for teams that struggle on the international stage. With domestic play, it’s enough to sit back and wait for the opposition to make a mistake. The quality of play is lower. The stakes are lower. If you are the better team, then you want to lower variance. However, at Worlds, when you run into someone who can more acutely punish lapses in judgment, then that style ceases to work.
“The nerves to make a ballsy or more confident play — that’s the thing missing for us right now.”
Longzhu and RNG have been two great examples of teams that are proactive around the map. They set up dives. They start team fights.
Xmithie has been mulling over this for the past month — ever since Immortals lost the NA LCS Finals in Boston. In hindsight, it’s easy for outsiders to look back and pat them on the back for putting up a strong showing. They did. But Xmithie and the Immortals thought they were going to win it.
When they lost, he said, “Everyone sort of lost confidence in themselves.” The subsequent bootcamp has allowed IMT to rethink their identity — this is a common theme amongst many of the Worlds participants.
Xmithie said, “[It’s one thing to] just say, ‘Be fearless,’ but I think it just comes from experience. It’s hard to just suddenly not be scared anymore or to just be confident. If you’re winning, you get more confident.”
Maybe there are better times than Worlds to have a philosophical shift towards how you approach the game. And maybe nothing much is shifting at all — as Xmithie says, it’s not exactly easy to rewrite what’s been coded into your DNA. But even a seed can wedge into you and grow into something much bigger. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all. I don’t think anyone — not even Immortals — left Boston and thought, “IMT is going to win Worlds.”
And if they didn’t think that, then the rational thing is to make adjustments until you do believe it. Nobody stumbles into a championship. Unlike the regular season, Worlds is on a single patch for the better part of two months. This makes improving much less volatile because you can control the environment. It also means that stagnation is also possible — you won’t randomly get a gust of wind to lift your flopped sail.
The two wins the Immortals secured to end the first week of Worlds should be immense for their confidence. Xmithie said IMT is just focused on learning as they practice. That’s the kind of insatiable appetite that will lift a team into the next round.
And it’s that kind of level-headed approach that’s made Xmithie so invaluable throughout the split and at this Worlds. When he was traded from Counter Logic Gaming earlier this year, he said it was a good chance to reevaluate himself. “Nick and Noah (of Immortals) asked me what I brought to the team,” he said, “And I said leadership and teaching everyone how to play the game macro-wise. They were good mechanically, but — in their words — they were all mechanics and no brains.”
One thing about IMT that he immediately liked was they allotted his voice more space, unlike CLG which has long been filled with dominant personalities. “They didn’t really have a leader, so I found a spot for myself. I could just fit in and sort of boss people around,” he laughed. When he said it, it seemed like that very fact was still new to him.
He continued, “This team reminds me of Vulcun, but more organized cause everyone is really good friends. Everyone is pretty young and wants to hang out. I see Cody and Olleh hang out after literally every scrim cause they want to talk about how to improve. If they have problems with each other, they just talk really frankly. I really like that about a team — everyone is just open about each other’s problems. That’s how people resolve pretty much all the arguments.”
The trade came after Xmithie spent more than two years with Counter Logic Gaming. It was with them that he truly established himself in the pantheon of NA LCS greats — he’s is, at the very least, one of the longest tenured and most prolific players in the league’s history. No jungler has enjoyed a longer career than him. And at his peaks, he won back-to-back NA LCS Championships with CLG.
In hindsight, it’s clear that Immortals improved by acquiring Xmithie. That was much more difficult to say at the time. The trade didn’t really catch him off guard, though. He’s been around for long enough to know that teams will make decisions that they think are in their best interest.
I asked him if he felt vindicated at all, and he said, “It’s both — I feel bad at the same time since I’m really good friends with all of them. But it always feels good to beat them and then go to Worlds but they don’t. It would have been better if both of us went, though. I enjoyed CLG.”
I wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear that — he is, as the kids say, chill. I just happen to be a petty person, and I probably would have felt super vindicated if I were in his shoes. This demeanor is the exact sort of thing that has helped Immortals get to this stage in the first place. In order to get further, though, he may need to find a way to rile himself up. Imagine a world in which he roars like his dad after a big play — that’s the kind of fire IMT will need to upend a team like Longzhu.
There are a lot of things to like about this team — from their play on the Rift to the many unique personalities on the roster. What will be most telling from here on out, though, is how well they can continue to adapt and grow. It’s one thing to be open and to want to learn. It’s another thing to actually use that space productively. As is, they have a great shot at making the Quarterfinals — a win over the Marines could be all they need this weekend.
If Xmithie’s quest to be more confident and ballsy can bear some fruits, then IMT can set their eyes beyond even the Quarterfinals. To that, he shared a piece of advice he received upon joining IMT: “Everything before you doesn’t really matter if you do really well now.” To him — the only thing people will really remember is if you can manage to win Worlds. And that’s the biggest confidence boost a player can enjoy.