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Muay Thai by day, League of Legends by night: A conversation with Tanet “Jacky” Puangngoen

When he comes onstage in the second-to-last panel in Tribeca Games’ “The Craft and Creative of League of Legends,” Tanet “Jacky” Puangngoen is not an immediately imposing figure. He’s on the shorter side, with a kind face and polite demeanor. Nevertheless, when he throws a mock punch in demonstration at James Patterson, the esports host flinches pretty hard. It could have something to do with the clip we all just watched of Jacky kicking a training pad over sixty times in a minute. Or it could just be the general knowledge that Puangngoen spends most days training in Muay Thai, the art of beating another person into submission with your elbows.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: James Portnow, Lead Game Designer for Riot Games, Greg Street and Stone Librande attendthe Tribeca Games Presents The Craft And Creative Of League Of Legends on November 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Tribeca Games)

But Jacky’s not just here because he’s a great fighter—he’s also an avid League of Legends player, having logged more than 3,000 games. This intersection of competitive passions is what Riot has brought him here for; they’re making a documentary about him, Live/Play Fight. I chatted with him afterward. (It’s an interesting conversation, but dense with Muay Thai and League references, so I’ve added explanations where necessary in italics.)

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KS: What are some commonalities between playing League of Legends and boxing?

Jacky: It’s the goal. When you’re Darius (Jacky’s favorite champion in League of Legends, a brutal fighter best suited for one-on-one combat), it’s all about winning your lane. You don’t really need your jungler to gank (A League term meaning ambush, basically). Also in Muay Thai, your goal is always to win. To beat your opponent. And the way you practice is the same. Your goal isn’t just to land your ultimate—you have to know your weaknesses, you have to know your strengths. And also your opponent’s. Don’t let him connect with his skills—don’t let him land a low kick if he’s famous for doing low kicks, but his weakness is his punching. If you’re fighting against a brawler, (A Muay Thai fighter who relies on powerful punches at close range), for example, you don’t brawl with him. But if you’re fighting with a boxer, maybe you brawl more with him. It’s the same with League of Legends. You wouldn’t buy a pink ward if you were fighting against Teemo. Something like that.

You have to know your weaknesses, you have to know your strengths

KS: Do you think League of Legends is different because it’s a team game? Do you have a different relationship with it than Muay Thai, for that reason.

Jacky: Well, it’s only a team game when it’s late game. I’m not very good at teamwork. And my friends always complain about me, like, “Darius, you can’t carry (to win a game by yourself), this guy sucks in team fights, stop using him.” It was before the new Darius rework (Jacky’s referring to the changes Riot recently made to the character, to make him more useful in all stages of the game). I always had like ten kills, five kills in lane, but after the lane phase, I’m pretty much useless. So I don’t see it as a team game, really.

KS: How many games do you play in a week?

Jacky: It depends. Fifty? After my Muay Thai training.

KS: Does it ever get in the way of your training?

Jacky: No, it’s all scheduled. In the morning I train people, train myself. The afternoon, late night, that’s my time. That’s why I always have to argue with my girlfriend. Like, this is what I have to do. This is my time. This is my League of Legends time. There’s no girlfriend time, so, she has to live with it.

(It’s worth mentioning, here, that Jacky’s girlfriend has been standing about five feet behind him for the duration of this interview. During the panel, Jacky mentioned that they had almost broken up before traveling to New York, because of the amount of time he spent playing League of Legends. He laughed on stage, but it’s unclear whether or not he was joking.)

Darius-League-of-Legends-Wallpaper-full-HD-3

KS: How do you prepare for a boxing match?

Jacky: You have to lose weight. You have to lose a lot of weight. You have to be prepared, mentally. You have to know your opponent, you have to study your opponent, just like I said. You have to stay calm, make sure you do what you practiced in the ring. Train everything. The most difficult part would be the weight loss. Jogging, and jogging, and not eating, and jogging. Jogging and sauna. It was the most difficult part of preparing for the fight. The fight, that’s different. But preparing yourself to weigh-in—I dropped about twenty pounds, in total. You have to lose the last ten pounds in five, six days. I look very different. You’ll notice in the documentary, I have—(Jacky gestures to his cheeks, which are sucked in to look hollow.)

KS: In a fight, how in-your-head are you? Are you thinking more, are you more strategic, or is it reflex and natural response?

Jacky: For me, I’ve been fighting for quite some time, so you know what to do already. If you say, “I’ve played 3000 games of Darius,” I can tell you, I’ve landed more than a million punches and kicks in my life. I’ve been doing it for eleven years. So it’s not really something I have to think about, it’s just muscle memory. When he kicks, I block. When he drops his hands, I punch him. It comes naturally, in the ring. Even on the street, if somebody hits me, I’ve already lifted up my hands to block. It’s easy.

KS: Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever gotten into a fight outside the ring?

Jacky: No. It’s funny, I’ve been training for eleven years, but nobody ever wants to fight me.

I’ve landed more than a million punches and kicks in my life

KS: I guess that makes sense.

Jacky: No, no, no—it’s because I look like a geek! Nobody wants to beat up a geek. It wouldn’t mean anything! If you look so tough, like Mike Tyson, then everybody wants to fight you. But if you tell your friend, I beat up that geek, they’d be like “What the hell? Why are you bullying that kid? Poor guy!” If I’m tough-looking, people would want to beat me up, but even when I go out partying, nobody wants to fight me.

KS: League and fighting for you are both about that win, for you. That’s the ultimate goal, right? Winning at the end. Can you tell me about the last time you lost?

Jacky: You get so disappointed when you lose. When you fight, your goal is to win. You get injured, people hit you—when you win, it’s all worth it, all the hard work that you went through, the training, the weight loss, everything’s worth it when they lift your hand. But when you lose, it’s like the end of the world. It’s like—it’s hard to compare. The feeling, when you win, is even better than sex. It lasts forever. But when you lose, it’s also the same. It’s going to last forever. You will always remember it.

KS: League is your big thing right now, but what other games do you play?

Jacky: I’ve been gaming since I was young. The game that I suck the most at is fighting games. I can’t win, in Street Fighter. I’m too stupid. I’m like, “You’re not supposed to fight like this!” They always want to land their ultimate, it doesn’t make sense! I love driving games. Grand Theft Auto. And now, the mobile game is Clash of Clans. I have good friends who play it. Now, I won’t really play games that I can’t play with my friends, because I’m already alone in the gym, and in the boxing ring. So I want to find something that I don’t get from boxing. You know what I mean? I’m just looking for something that I don’t have.

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Photo from “The Craft and Creative of League of Legends” by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Tribeca Games

Photo of Muay Thai fighters from David Maiolo via Wikipedia Commons