Jake “Xmithie” Puchero’s career is the story of Counter Logic Gaming. A perpetual underdog, he’s been around the professional League of Legends scene nearly since its inception, but never quite pushed himself over the top. That is, until he did last year.
If there ever was a North American success story, Xmithie is it.
Xmithie started his career with the incredibly-named APictureOfAGoose, a squad eventually picked up by mTw, then Monomaniac Ferus, then Team FeaR. But it wasn’t until he joined Team Vulcun (eventually renamed to XDG) that his career really started to take off. Already a solid, adaptable player, his jungling abilities were on the rise, helping establish him as one of the best junglers in North America.
However, his team wasn’t quite keeping up. XGD struggled throughout the 2014 season, largely due to, according to Xmithie, their instability as a roster.
“We role swapped,” he says. “I was AD carry for half a split, maybe longer. We swapped again after we were doing poorly. It was too late for us to get back on our feet, and we got relegated. I took a break for a split.”
The breather was a long time coming, as he had difficulty remaining focused towards the end of the XGD run, often contributing to his team’s losses. Xmithie took some time off to avoid the pressure of playing League of Legends at its highest level.
“I was playing other games mostly,” he says. “I’d play [League] like once a week or once every two weeks. I just really wanted to take a break on the game because I was really burned out.”
After a split away, Xmithie says he was inspired to come back while watching the 2014 World Championships.
“I wanted to try out for teams,” he says. “And CLG ended up picking me up.”
His first split for CLG didn’t go well. They finished in 6th place after losing to Team Liquid in the first round of the 2016 Spring Split playoffs, and Xmithie caught a lot of flack for his team’s struggles (especially with his now-infamous Sejuani play in Game 2). The team was at a crossroads. Something needed to change.
“The five of us, Hotshot, and [coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray] set an ultimatum,” he says. “It was going to be this [Summer Split] or we were going to get new people. We would be done.”
The ultimatum worked. CLG bounced back with new mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park and fought their way to 1st place in the 2015 Summer Split, bringing down archrivals Team SoloMid in the process.
To complete the return to form, Xmithie and CLG completely reworked the way they thought about competing.
“The first Spring Split when I came back, we lost. It was like the XDG days,” he says. “But my goal was to get to Worlds and have a really, really good showing. I wanted to beat Korean teams, even if we didn’t win the whole thing. Everyone in that first Split didn’t have that high of a goal, they just wanted to get through the split.”
They did, in part because of what at the time was a novel concept: coaching.
“We were one of the first teams that got a coach, a real coach, not a strategic coach. That was one of the things that changed our lives… that improved us as players. We had a healthy mind.”
Clearly, it worked. They repeated their NA LCS championship run, once again beating TSM in the 2016 Spring Split finals to take home the trophy and a trip to the 2016 Mid-Season invitational. All seemed right for the roster, and with two NA LCS championships under their belt and a bevy of international experience, they seemed poised to go for the NA LCS threepeat.
But despite becoming the most successful North American team on international soil thanks to their 2nd place finish at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, CLG currently sits in 7th place in the NA LCS 2016 Summer Split. Xmithie is still playing well, but doesn’t seem to have the same level of confidence that he’s maintained for the last year.
Now that he’s tasted greatness, however, he won’t be resting on his laurels. He knows how to bounce back, how to put in the work to get to where he needs to go. Unsurprisingly, it all boils down to practicing hard and practicing smart.
“Even if you scrim like 10 hours a day, but you don’t learn anything and just grind the games, you’re just going to be the same player you were.”
Follow Taylor Cocke on Twitter @taylorcocke.