Jake "Xmithie" Puchero is almost inarguably the best jungler in the history of LCS, and in the summer of 2022, he's returned to the forefront of the scene in a new role. The last time Xmithie was seen in the LCS ecosystem was as the jungler for Immortals in the 2020 Summer Split, but he has now returned as the head coach of TSM Academy nearly two years later.
Xmithie joined Inven Global for an interview to reflect on his playing career, his approach to coaching, and he became the head coach of TSM Academy.
You are the head coach of TSM Academy. Can you talk me through the process of accepting this new role and what led to it in context of your career?
When I stopped playing two years ago, I was thinking about myself in terms of what my path should be and what I should do next. I personally decided that I was going to take a break for half of a split in the spring of 2021 to figure out what I was going to do, but even then, I still watched a lot of League of Legends. I was still up to date with the competitive scene and it made me realize that I still want to be "in" League of Legends in any way.
I was trying to look into coaching and I had a lot of friends who had transitioned from playing into coaching. I got a lot of advice from them in terms of what they think I should do and what I should figure out. I tried to find teams as a coach but I also didn't really know what to expect since I had never been a coach.
I always knew what my coaches did when I was with them, but I didn't know things outside of the game or when they were only talking with other coaches. I wanted to get that experience. I didn't get a coaching position in the last Summer Split, so I just tried to get as many resources as I could. I joined a collegiate team as their positional coach, which was actually Xpecial's team, Harrisburg University. I think I was there for three or four months and that collegiate gig was the only thing I was doing in the Spring Split.
Before the Summer Split, I applied for a couple of teams. TSM was the most interesting to me. I had never been a part of TSM and TSM Academy was last place in the Spring Split, but at the same time, I felt like their micro and mechanics weren't the problems. They just didn't have anyone to lead them, really, so I took the TSM job as the TSM Academy coach.
Was there anyone specific you spoke to about this career change?
It was just a lot of people who are in the scene but not as vocal as others. I spoke to Westrice, Goldenglue, and even Joseph Jang. They are all my friends and I just asked them in passing by what I need to do to be a really good coach and what not.
Throughout your career as a player you were praised for your cerebral approach to competition. Do you think that has lent itself to your approach to coaching?
I think it's definitely a big part of why I think I can be a good coach. I have experience on the rift, especially in a high level of play where not a lot of coaches were, save a few exceptional coaches, obviously. I feel like that's one of the things that I am better in a way compared to some coaches who have just started or even coaches who have been around here, I guess. That's what sets me apart from them.
When you took a break from competing after the 2020 season, did you know right away that you wanted to transition into coaching?
I was actually thinking of doing things in and out of the vicinity of esports, but not coaching or playing. I was thinking about applying to certain companies like Blitz. They're not really a competitive brand, but my focus on things like that was just being in esports in general.
You said you considered things outside of esports. Is there anything in that realm that you dabbled in or tried?
There wasn't really anything I physically dabbled in, it was more of just a thought of 'What if I went back to school?' or if I could join somewhere that included connections in the esports industry just being a manager. Other than that, I was mainly thinking about going back to school.
If you had gone back to school, what would you have studied?
Before I went pro I studied computer animation and modeling, so I would have just probably tried to go back to that. Going to school for that when I did was pretty fun.
There are a lot of people who have expressed happiness in response to your return to the competitive LoL esports scene. Do you ever reflect upon your legacy as a player, and would you consider playing competitively again?
When I decided I wanted to take a break I knew that I didn't want to play again. I have the mentality where I'd rather focus 100% on what I'm doing now rather than trying to reminisce about the past and see if I can play again. In some teams, some people try to be coaches and then afterward try to join the main roster or the academy roster.
I 100% know I won't come back as a player. For me, it's better to hone these rookies and these people who have been struggling. I feel like I could be of more assistance in general in doing that rather than playing.
Are there any coaches who have stylistically influenced you?
The coaches I've had before have had a positive impact on me, especially when I was on Team Liquid. Cain and Dodo were pretty influential in terms of how I communicate things to players.
I tried to understand those players' feelings more rather than just thinking logically in terms of 'Why are they mad? Why are they acting this way?' I'm a pretty logical person, so I already know what the most logical way is, but understanding a different perspective was really new to me, so I learned that from them.
When I was in CLG, even, it helped me understand that there were a lot of different ways to coach a person. Every player can't react positively to a specific type of coaching. It's on us to figure out how to teach that certain player optimally as coaches.
Are there any moments in your playing career you consider significant and does your legacy as a player help you move on to this new phase of your career without hesitation?
The biggest growth I experienced as a player was at the end of my time with CLG when I moved to Immortals, and later, when I moved to Immortals from Team Liquid. I think those were the most influential years for me as a person — not even in the game, but in real life. That span of three and a half years molded me into the person I am now. The biggest moment for me is winning it all for the first time with CLG in Madison Square Garden.
In regards my time with Team Liquid, I felt like we know how to be a leader and a follower of a team at the same time when we won four splits in a row. That's what I'm trying to incorporate into being a coach.
Thank you for sharing so much with me, Xmithie. Is there anything you want to say to your fans who I'm sure are happy to see you return to the scene in a big way?
I feel like most of my fans are either as old as me or way older than me. [laughs] I've been out of the scene for quite a long time in League years, but if you guys are still here, I really appreciate it a lot. I see everyone in my mentions still adding me or tagging me and saying things like 'We miss you.' or 'We're glad to have you back.' Things like that are really good motivation for me to keep going and continue to entertain the fans.