Dardoch has reached his NA LCS coming of age

This year has been one of growth and maturation for Dardoch.

Photo via Riot Games

Enveloped in the cheers of the now standing fans within Miami’s Jackie Gleason Theater, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett turned to confirm Echo Fox’s victory with his teammates before also arising from his seat. In Echo Fox’s special Miami Vice-themed jersey, which complimented the Floridian city he was in, Dardoch packed his peripherals then walked to the theatre’s center stage for an interview alongside top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon . In the background of Dardoch’s interview was a sea of spectators, cheering both his and Huni’s names.  

For Dardoch, such a scene didn’t come often. Due to mistakes made earlier in his career, such as the poor handling of teammate relationships, Dardoch had become a polarizing individual within the NA LCS. But this year, that label has slowly been removed, thanks mostly to his efforts to grow both in and out of the game. It was Dardoch’s in-game prowess, however, that earned him the Miami spectators’ loud praise.

Echo Fox had just swept Clutch Gaming to win this year’s NA LCS Spring Split third place match. Leading the charge in the organization’s best split finish since joining the NA LCS in 2016 was Dardoch’s Olaf. Dardoch had the entirety of Clutch under his control as the frozen berserker in the first two games of the best-of-five series.

While not the star of game three—that honor went to Huni’s Camille—Dardoch’s Sejuani played a pivotal role in setting up kills for his carries.

Although this was Echo Fox’s first time participating in the third place deciding match, it was Dardoch’s second. Two years prior he reached the same LCS heights in his rookie split on Team Liquid. In the sunny land of foreign imports known as the NA LCS, Dardoch quickly became one of North America’s hopes. A statement to the world that North America could still produce homegrown stars.

A boisterous talent who was unafraid to trash talk when given a microphone, Dardoch was silenced by Immortals after they swept Liquid at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay in the 2016 Spring Split’s third place match.

Two years later, Dardoch had overcome his former fourth place peak as part of Echo Fox. Given the microphone previously denied to him by Immortals, Dardoch’s post-game interview was devoid of any of the trash talk he was once known for.

“For the most part trash talking is viewed as a negative thing, at least from a fan perspective. So when you trash talk you’re probably gonna come out of it on the worse end,” Dardoch told Dot Esports.

During the first half of his career, Dardoch experienced harsh fan backlash because of trash talking. Within the NA LCS fandom, trash talk almost always leads to loud community backlash if not backed up, even if it’s playful. Some League fans pounce on a player once they fail to deliver on declarations, no matter how grand. Whether these fans liked the insulted team, or are unable to understand sportsmans’ banter, the reason for their mob-like response is not entirely known.

Community backlash wasn’t the only reason Dardoch stopped making hubristic statements, though. “In general I just don’t really see the purpose in [trash talking] anymore I guess. I’m not too sure, I guess I just calmed down,” he said. “I used to really want to prove myself but since the community opinion of me is now that I’m a pretty good player, I don’t have to talk for myself.”

Photo via Riot Games

Over the course of Dardoch’s almost three year career, the community’s opinion of the jungler has alternated from heavy praise, to scorn, and has only recently slowly returned back to praise with his strong performances on Echo Fox this year.

At the onset of his LCS career in the beginning of 2016, Dardoch received tons of recognition from fans and pundits alike. Not only was he able to hang with, and sometimes beat the NA LCS’ best junglers, but he was able to accomplish such a feat in his rookie split. “As I played more, people upped their praise and said I was one of the best junglers in the NA LCS overall,” Dardoch recounted in his Players’ Tribune article, titled “What I’ve Learned,” which released near the 2018 Spring Split’s end.

As Liquid’s performance worsened over spring of 2016, Dardoch received more and more messages via social media saying that he was being held back by his teammates. Dardoch soon started believing the community’s opinions, which deteriorated the relationships with his Liquid teammates. “The attitude I had towards the mistakes we made in-game became so much harsher and crueler,” Dardoch said in his PT article. “I became way more critical, and didn’t have the patience to try and help them improve.”

Nowadays though, Dardoch’s attitude towards his team during a slump is one of understanding. “Most of the time you just kinda have to be patient because most of the problems in-game that can plague an LCS team are not easily fixable within one or two days, so you just gotta wait and be patient for the issue to get resolved,” he told Dot Esports. Dardoch extends this rationale to his Echo Fox teammates, saying that “when it’s individual play or champion pool errors, you just have to wait for the person to put in the time and actually fix the errors on an individual level.”

Dardoch’s current teammates have taken notice of their jungler’s change of attitude, and have been willing to talk about it. “I’m really happy to see [Dardoch] trying to improve as a personality, because he knew that everyone says that ‘Dardoch has problems.’ I’m really happy to see he’s working on it,” Huni told Travis Gafford in an interview near the start of the Spring Split. More recently, Echo Fox’s newest support Andy “Smoothie” Ta explained to Inven Global how Dardoch is “very vocal and very willing to listen to [his] opinion.”

Dardoch’s Echo Fox teammates are not shy in commending their jungler’s actions, both on and off Summoner’s Rift. “I feel like we’re just a tight knit group. I think there’s a brotherhood kind of bond going on,” Dardoch told Dot Esports when describing the current Echo Fox roster. “We all have pretty strong voices, but everyone does listen to each other.”

With glowing reviews from those around him, in addition to Echo Fox being in the midst of their best LCS season thus far, community opinion of the jungler has risen dramatically over the course of 2018. But instead of letting community opinion get to his head like he did during his Liquid days, Dardoch has learned to handle it differently.

“I don’t want to say I ignore it, but for the most part I’ve stopped caring what the community’s opinion of me or my team is, or really anyone in the LCS in general” Dardoch said. “I just kind of ignore the feedback.”

Like other professional players such as TSM’s support Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez, Dardoch has also begun to disregard anonymous feedback from Reddit and Twitter. In Dardoch’s opinion, the best feedback a player receives comes from the “general coaching staff, teammates, and peers.”

Instead of focusing on social media, Dardoch pours his focus solely into League of Legends. Even in an era of the NA LCS where teams like Echo Fox have multiple triple scrim-block days a week, Dardoch’s love for League persists. “I never get tired of the game at a competitive level so triple blocks aren’t very tiring for me. Triple blocking doesn’t really get me fatigued whatsoever. I just always enjoy playing the game at a high level.”

Though when asked if this is a mindset shared by most LCS players, Dardoch laughingly responded: “No. Definitely not an opinion held by every LCS pro.”

Photo via Riot Games

Dardoch’s career as a professional player has been one of learning and personal growth. Making his NA LCS debut at 17 years old, Dardoch is now nearing the end of his third competitive season at age 20. During this almost three-year timespan, he has matured from a kid to a responsible adult.

In literary criticism, there’s a term used for stories like Dardoch’s—bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a genre of maturation, where a story’s focus is on the protagonist’s personal growth as a human.

Though despite overcoming his problems, and reaching the NA LCS’ upper echelons, Dardoch’s bildungsroman is still not over. “My 2018 season can easily be my career-defining moment, or just another time where I don’t make it quite as far as I want to. So I just have to wait and see.”

With playoffs about to start on Aug. 25, the community will soon find out how Dardoch’s bildungsroman concludes. Win or lose, the changes Dardoch has made over this past year will undoubtedly help carry him to greater heights for seasons to come.