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What I've Learned

Mar 30 2018
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Riot Games
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Riot Games
Joshua Hartnett
League of Legends Pro
Mar 30 2018

I’ve spent most of the past year apologizing to everyone around me. I mean everyone: Team owners, teammates, coaches, everyone at Team Liquid, Immortals, and Counter Logic Gaming, and especially to Piglet, who remains one of my favorite guys in the League of Legends scene. Seriously, every now and then I rush into his DMs to re-up my apology, just in case he forgot. I think back on some of the arguments we had, and how petty I was being all the time. I can’t help but feel a fresh wave of embarrassment.  

Safe to say, I’ve learned a lot over the course of my career in the LCS. I’ve learned what it feels like to win, what it feels like to lose and what it feels like to be completely alone. Right now, when I look at the standings and see that I’m on a team with one of the best records in the league, I can’t help but consider it an extra life.

I don’t plan on screwing it up this time.

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My name is Josh but most people know me as Dardoch, which was just a randomly generated moniker I received when I booted up my League of Legends client for the first time. I joined my first pro team when I was 16. I got suspended for the first time when I was 18. I turn 20 next month.

O.K. wait, let me back up. If you follow the LCS closely, you probably know me as someone with a toxic, team-killing reputation that poisons every roster I’m on. What I will tell you is that for a period of time, that was true. What I’ll also tell you is that wasn’t always the case. When I first started, I was just a kid who really loved League of Legends. I played it obsessively while going to high school in Pennsylvania, and eventually went pro the old-fashioned way: by grinding to the top of the ladder and forcing people to notice me. I was picked up by affNity, a small organization on the fringes of the scene, and then in the summer of 2015, Team Liquid signed me to their developmental squad. I still remember those early scrims with Team Liquid. Somehow I wasn’t nervous. It felt like I deserved to be there.

That rookie year, man. It was a gift and a curse. I was brought up from the farm team and made an active substitute, and I was playing some of the best League of my life. When I started getting reps as Team Liquid’s jungler, people started calling me one of the most capable rookies they’d ever seen. As I played more, people upped their praise and said I was one of the best junglers in the NA LCS overall.

I won’t lie; that felt pretty good.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to spend so much time dreaming about going head to head with against some of the biggest names in League, and the euphoria of learning that you can actually hang with them. In the span of a few months I went from being a relative unknown to a budding star.

This should’ve been the best year of my life — and it was, for a while. Until I turned it into a nightmare.

The team wasn’t playing well. Everyone could see that. We were losing games we should’ve won, and morale was down. But I was still a teenager, and in the middle of my best season as a pro. All of that positive feedback started going to my head. After every match I’d come home and people would @ me on Twitter saying things like, “Wow, Dardoch and Piglet just played a 2-v-5.” It was a lot of little messages like that which basically fed my ego until it grew out of control. Most professional athletes know how important it is to tune out social media, because generally that stuff causes far more harm than good. I wasn’t that smart. I did the worst thing any pro can do and bought into what the egg avatars on Twitter were saying about me.

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Before long, I was operating with the attitude that I really was being held back by the Team Liquid roster, and obviously, my relationship with those teammates started deteriorating exponentially. The attitude I had towards the mistakes we made in-game became so much harsher and crueler. I became way more critical, and didn’t have the patience to try and help them improve. The whole environment became so toxic. Everyone was walking on eggshells around me, because they knew they were one bad engagement, or missed “ult,” or dumb rotation away from me lashing out. If you know anything about League of Legends you know how damaging it can be to your chances of success when your team plays scared. Usually that fear is injected by the other team, so it took me a while to realize that the rest of the roster was scared of me.

God, looking back I thought I was so much better than I had any right to. It’s a shame too, because I do believe that Team Liquid squad could’ve done some great things if we got our chemistry right. I was uncompromising, though. On May 27, 2016, Team Liquid informed me that I was being suspended for “behavioral problems and team dynamic issues”” ahead of the summer split. That’s a pretty nice way to say I was being an asshole. I was benched for two weeks. At the time I was frustrated and didn’t understand why I was being punished. I’d go as far as to say that I was in denial. I truly did believe that my suspension was unjust and that I was being treated unfairly.

After Team Liquid got rid of my contract and I signed with Immortals. At only 18 years old, I felt like my career had hit rock bottom. For my entire time with Immortals I still felt like hot shit. I was still the awesome rookie of the year who was the victim of jealousy and conspiracy. But then, in an instant, I realized that wasn’t the case. I reflected on all the awful things I said to the people I played with – people that were there to help me, and trying to win with me – and it was hard to live with myself. I typed my name into YouTube and saw all these videos of analysts and commentators calling me one of the most toxic players in the league, and someone who was uncoachable. It’s funny, once upon a time people were telling me how exciting it was to watch me play. Now, people were talking about me like a pariah. As I read through all the negative comments, what bothered me wasn’t their tone. What bothered me was that they were true.

I considered what it’d be like if that was my legacy going forward: promising rookie turned derelict headcase. I might never be able to change what people think about me, but it was really important to me to at least try.

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Last offseason, I signed on as part of Echo Fox’s revamped League roster. The team looked great from the outside — Huni comes with an SK Telecom background, Adrian has proved himself as great support over and over again and Altec is one of the sweetest Canadians I know. However, I’m especially close with Fenix. We go all the way back to our Team Liquid days. Once I knew Echo Fox was bringing him on, I knew I had to sign.

We clicked immediately. I think it helps that I came to Echo Fox as a veteran who had burned a lot of bridges, rather than someone considered to be the next big thing. For the first time it was, “Hi, I’m Dardoch, and I’m here to help the team,” rather than, “Hi, I’m Dardoch, and I’m going to freak out if we start losing.”

I think a lot of people expected this cocktail of personalities to to mix poorly, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. There’s an equilibrium to this team that I haven’t felt on any other roster. We’re easygoing, cooperative, and loose. Did I expect us to win 11 games and be a favorite going into the Spring Split playoffs? No, not really. Obviously I’m frustrated that we let 100 Thieves steal the No. 1 seed from us, but I do feel that when we’re playing well, nothing can stop us. That’s a reality that struck me after we lost to Team SoloMid earlier in the year. The next day we beat Team Liquid — who was running pretty much the same composition — in 22 minutes. That was so eye-opening. I was like, “Woah, the things that people have said about us are so untrue. We don’t go on tilt when we face adversity, we just play better.”

What’s even more reassuring is that I don’t think we’ve played our best. There are still plenty of places where we can improve our game. If we make that happen, I think we can win the NA LCS, and maybe even make the quarterfinals and semifinals at Worlds. Who knows? We’re still so young — if the roster stays together, we could be a contender for a World Championship in a couple of years.

It’s a blessing to be here. Because really, it wasn’t that long ago when my entire career felt like it was permanently derailed because of a bunch of dumb stuff I said when I was younger. Yeah, I realize that there’s nothing I can do to permanently expunge my record, I know that some people will always consider me to be a toxic player who can’t get out of his own way, but I’m still moving forward. I would do so much differently if I could live those years again, but in retrospect, I think messing up and paying the consequences was the best things that ever happened to me. I got a brutal firsthand lesson in how a team comes together in League of Legends. I was humbled, humiliated and blacklisted until I realized exactly what I was doing wrong.

Still, I survived and the dream is alive. I’m never letting it go again.  

Joshua Hartnett
League of Legends Pro