Jake “Jmook” DiRado set the bar low going into Californian Super Smash Bros. major Genesis 8 in April. Though the New York native had been playing Melee for about eight years, he had never left the East Coast for a tournament before.
He performed well a few months prior, placing 13th at the Smash World Tour Championships in Florida, his first out-of-state major since Super Smash Con 2017. Despite that, Jmook merely expected to place somewhere in the top 64 at Genesis.
“If I were to get knocked out early, I didn’t want to be too upset about it,” Jmook said. “I was just there to have fun [and] compete, and if I didn’t do well, so what? It’s still an amazing experience to be there.”
But while he was there, Jmook put on a show. He defeated players like Arjun “lloD” Malhotra and Cody “iBDW” Schwab en route to second place, while only dropping sets to the best player in the world, Zain “Zain” Naghmi.
Jmook’s performance marked the highest placement of an unranked player at a major since official Melee rankings started in 2013. He also became the lowest-seeded player to reach grand finals of a Melee major since 2005.
Since Genesis, Jmook has consistently put up high-level results, even joining FlyQuest’s budding Melee roster. He wants to be the best Melee player in the world, a goal he knows he shares with just about every other high-level player.
In the meantime, Jmook plans to travel to different regions so he can display and hone his Melee prowess, as he’s never had the chance to before; he’s already attended more majors this year than he did in the first eight years of his Melee career combined.
Thanks to FlyQuest, Jmook was even granted the opportunity to travel to Phantom 2022 in Australia, which would have been his first tournament outside of North America. While a positive COVID-19 test has put that trip on hold, the once-hidden boss from New York will still aim to show off his skills all around the world throughout this year.
“The opportunity to travel, the opportunity to wear this [jersey], the opportunity to showcase greatness wherever that may be, I’ll be able to do that knowing that there is more support behind my goal,” Jmook said.
A historical rise to the top of Melee. Now on a mission to #ShowcaseGreatness & to cement himself as one of the greats.@jakedirado joins the battle as our newest Super Smash Bros. Melee competitor! pic.twitter.com/fR1ZdxnuZz
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) June 10, 2022
Jmook’s early Melee grind
On the surface, it appears that Jmook’s skill level has risen at an unprecedented speed. However, FlyQuest teammate John “KoDoRiN” Ko said that assessment is flawed.
“It’s less so that he’s improved really fast out of nowhere, and it’s more so my suspicion that he was actually always this good,” KoDoRiN said. “It’s just that he never had a chance to showcase it.”
Between his studies at SUNY Broome Community College and his part-time job as a barista at Starbucks, Jmook had little time to devote to Melee before this year. He almost never traveled for tournaments and rarely competed.
“When I had free time, I had to make it count,” Jmook said. “I couldn’t just have a couple hours a week to practice Melee; that alone wasn’t enough.”
Jmook originally studied music education in college before switching to a liberal arts and sciences major. While he loves music, he found he lacks the same passion for teaching it. Still, he imagined that he would end up with a career in music production or something similar.
Then, Genesis happened.
At Genesis, Jmook garnered attention for his “Jwalking,” or his willingness to incorporate walking into his movement in order to better position himself. He also racked up huge punishes against opponents through his precise reaction tech chases with Sheik, which he often initiated with well-placed boost grabs.
lots of very cool moments during the @jakedirado Genesis run but can we talk about jwalking for a sec pic.twitter.com/pbz6dPEiJO
— 【Bernard】 (@raynexpress) April 20, 2022
KoDoRiN had been looking out for such a breakout performance from Jmook since he saw that same reaction tech chasing on display at a pair of online tournaments in early 2021. He was also impressed with Jmook’s proficiency in the Fox matchup, which is considered one of Sheik’s hardest match-ups.
KoDoRiN said Jmook uses Sheik’s tools even better than Melee legends like Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman and Justin “Plup” McGrath, and that he has a better chance than anyone else of winning a major with solo Sheik.
Jmook starts a new Melee quest
Emboldened by his performance at Genesis, Jmook quit his job at Starbucks after graduating from college in order to pursue Melee as a full-time career. While he already had some sponsorship offers at the time, he said none of them felt like the right fit.
Meanwhile, FlyQuest CEO Michael Choi had his eye on Jmook. Melee is Choi’s favorite esport and, as COO, he had played a large role in bringing KoDoRiN onto the team.
Choi said KoDoRiN’s work as a content creator and tournament organizer made him fit well with FlyQuest’s brand, which was even more important to Choi than KoDoRiN’s tournament results.
But, since taking over as CEO in June, Choi has begun to push for FlyQuest to be the best organization in Smash, with players that could place in the top four or better of every major tournament. After seeing Jmook’s top placements at Genesis and Smash Summit 13, Choi said it was clear that Jmook would be a crucial part of growing FlyQuest into a greater competitive threat in Melee.
KoDoRiN vouched for Jmook, and FlyQuest made an offer. Jmook said he was attracted to the organization because of how it engaged with the Melee community through KoDoRiN’s online tournament series, Training Mode Tuesdays.
“I felt that to be signed by them was a very good thing for me,” Jmook said. “I feel like they will help me bring out the best in myself.”
Choi also said Jmook fits well with FlyQuest because of his upright posture while competing. For Choi, it symbolizes the organization’s desire to build up others in the esports community rather than tearing them down. Of course, the meme potential also helps.
Does @TeamLiquid need a chiropractor or something? pic.twitter.com/yttPD3UP8v
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) July 3, 2022
While many in the Smash community have taken note of Jmook’s posture, he said it’s simply a habit he built up over the years in order to conserve energy and feel the best he can both physically and mentally.
“It’s the body language out of game, which affects your in-game posture, if you will,” Jmook said. “I kind of honed this mentality of ‘when I show up, I want to be 100%.’ I want to be fully present.”
From unranked to the top five
KoDoRiN said he considers Jmook a top-five player in the world right now and thinks that, even if Jmook’s results start to dip, he will still be in the top 10 by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Jmook more modestly ranked himself around ninth or 10th.
For what it’s worth, the results align more closely with KoDoRiN’s judgment. While Jmook has yet to win a major this year, he has beaten three of the four players who have — Zain, iBDW and William “Leffen” Hjelte — only failing to take a set off of Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma. He holds positive or even records against all three of them, including a 3-2 record against Zain.
In addition, Jmook has placed no lower than fifth across the four majors he has attended, and his worst loss so far is against last year’s No. 1 player, Joseph “Mang0” Marquez.
Jmook expects to underperform at some point. He said his success up to this point has largely been because of the “unknown factor” of his playstyle, and he expects top players will eventually figure him out. Jmook also said he struggles at recovering from deficits.
Nevertheless, KoDoRiN said he’s confident that any setbacks Jmook faces will be temporary.
“He’s probably going to slip up a few times here and there, because it’s impossible to only ever go up,” KoDoRiN said. “I think once he goes down, he will find a way to go right back up.”