To some, the prodigal son has returned. To others it’s insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But no matter how you feel about it, the reality is Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett has made his way back to Team Liquid.
Whether you're a Dardoch fan or not, the fact that he's going back to his old stomping grounds, which he publicly derided, does not bode well for his personal development and has prompted a re-evaluation of his stature both within the community and competitive scene.
First, it's important to establish the key dynamic between Dardoch and his suitors. Teams will always want to sign Dardoch, especially in a franchised system. When he's at his best, he's a top three most valuable player in the NA LCS, just by virtue of being a domestic competitor.
Second, teams will always have enough confidence to believe that they have the approach and solution to “the Dardoch problem." Think of it like this: some people will always fall in love with the bad boy because they think they can fix him. These two factors — Dardoch's NA residency and the allure of unlocking his talent — create a never-ending demand for Dardoch's services.
In Breaking Point, a Team Liquid documentary, Matthew “Matt” Elento relents at the results-driven Team Liquid scrim dynamic, suggesting CLG as an ideal alternative to an otherwise dour situation.
“Well the solution to that would be like we actually have to be friends. Like that’s like a solution. It’s not just like say friendly things. I mean you see how CLG is like a very friendly environment. They’re very teamwork driven. And they got 2nd at MSI. I’ve talked to you [Loco] before about how CLG’s environment is ideal for people to improve. … If they’re losing scrims it’s still a productive scrim.”
Enter CLG, a team that has recently become known for its camaraderie between players. The expectation of all who saw Dardoch's transfer to the NA org was that this friendly identity might negate his well-documented attitude issues. Unfortunately, it did not work out.
Over the course of the split, we found that Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett did not align with our focus on teamwork and culture. We therefore brought in Omar “Omargod” Amin as part of a six-man roster in order to show Dardoch what a group of five people invested in teamwork can accomplish. Dardoch helped the team find their competitive spirit early in the split and we knew that if we could help Dardoch learn to make those sacrifices - we would have the roster we needed to become LCS champions once again. Unfortunately, Dardoch was unwilling to adhere to the set of standards expected of every member of the team.
We currently don't know the full scope of the rift between Dardoch and CLG the same way we do with other teams, but the political doublespeak of their press release suggests a recurrence of the problems we are already familiar with.
It is reductionist and intellectually lazy to suggest that Dardoch’s problems are a product of solely himself in every circumstance. On Team Liquid, he entered the team with a heavy burden and high expectations carried over from Team Liquid Academy, only to have roster moves around him ruin his confidence in the team's chances at World's. The same can be said of his time on Immortals. At the time of his signing, Dardoch expected to play with Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and a bot lane that did not feature newcomers to the NA LCS.
To put it simply, Dardoch seems to be a player who is at his highest performing level when the narrative suggests he is not one the team's best players or leaders. Often, the issues associated with Dardoch bubble up when he has to assert himself as a leader or key figure of the team.
As he notes in an interview with theScore esports during his last stint on Team Liquid, he was explicitly asked to be a leader for his team. Meanwhile, in another interview with theScore esports just a few weeks beforehand, Dardoch was very vocal about his own immaturity.
The fact that teams misconstrue his frankness and honesty as a sign that he needs to be the one guiding others instead of being supported by them is shocking and another avenue by which his ego as a player is unnecessarily inflated.
Instead, putting him in an environment where he clearly has something to learn can have better outcomes. Having staff that are better equipped to deal with conflict management can help as well, and identifying him as a clear work in progress both in and out of game instead of a mentor figure can further help.
When I think of the predicament Dardoch is in, I'm reminded of the movement of Artour "Arteezy" Babev, a highly skilled Dota 2 player. Beyond their similarities as hip-hop loving white MOBA players, their drama with teams and constant movement despite their talent runs parallel. Fueled by a desire to win, both players jump into teams headfirst and subsequently have irreconcilable differences with their new team.
However, when Arteezy was at his best, he was playing with individuals who were just as skilled as he was. Brief instances on Evil Geniuses and Team Secret saw his team climb to top three team in the world, and it was not solely by virtue of his individual skill. In comparison, Dardoch has gone to one international event by invitation and has yet to get beyond a fourth place domestic finish.
So long as Dardoch is forced into the mindset of being the one dragging a proverbial corpse to the finish line, he can't replicate that kind of success. His stats reflect this mentality as well. His high death percentage among junglers shows his propensity to force plays, while his below average warding shows that he forgoes information for his team in favor of personal combat stats.
This is where the key distinction between Dardoch and Arteezy lies: when Arteezy left and everyone assumed the skill deficiency with respect to his departure would ruin Evil Geniuses, they ended up winning The International 2015. Dardoch cannot be in a position where his team has a dependency on him, as was evident in the media put out by Team Liquid, Immortals, and various esports media.
That's why it's important for his career that he finds that group that allows him to function under the radar, like Juan "Contractz" Garcia does with Cloud9, and finds a position that actively avoids leadership in a team. This doesn't mean neglecting his aggressive playstyle either, but instead finding a way to have him adjust to facilitate his teammates. It's something which would likely be more comfortable for him in an environment where he respects the skill of his teammates and the pedigree of the staff over him.
Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a news editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.