It's a story as old as time in sports: a promising, skillful young talent held back by his apparent strong personality. He bounces from team to team, building a reputation. Maybe he finds the right team, a place where he can thrive and mature as a player and reach his full potential. Or that once-promising rookie becomes a journeyman, whittled down by each experience that lessens him, and eventually retires as a footnote with stories of what could have been.
Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett is at the point of his League of Legends career where he could go either way. One of the most talented players in the North American LCS, he racked up the most "Player of the Game" awards of any player in the league last split on Immortals.
Now, Dardoch is no longer on Immortals, having been moved to Counter Logic Gaming earlier this week. The line is the same as when he left his first professional team, Team Liquid, and joined Immortals this year; things were supposed to be different in a new situation, and it took less than a year in a three-year contract with Immortals to become a one-split relationship.
His significance to teams in the NA LCS is only amplified by the fact he's a homegrown talent. In a league in which foreign-born players are almost a necessity for teams to stay competitive, Dardoch's high-end talent is comparable to some of the top international players. Add that to the fact he doesn't take up one of the two all-important import slots a team is allowed to use, and he's a worthwhile gamble despite his reputation.
At his best, when he was the ace of Team Liquid and Immortals, you see a player capable of great heights; a player with the mechanics and split-second decision-making that can keep up with the likes of SKT T1's Han "Peanut" Wang-ho or Flash Wolves' Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan.
Other times, though, Dardoch in-game can be a detriment to his team by how hard he tries to lead his team to victory. He's a bit like the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, playing at a breakneck pace and constantly pushing forward, leading to times when his reckless play has hurt himself and his team. Dardoch would often try to push the pace too hard, jumping into the mid lane, dying and putting his mid laner, Eugene "Pobelter" Park, in an awkward position for the rest of the laning phase.
He might not be the most efficient player in the league, but his class still stands out among his peers. Dardoch is a rare North American talent, and if developed correctly, could be one of the best players the United States has ever produced in League of Legends.
One player who shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those with a rocky reputation is Peanut of SK Telecom T1. Before he was scoring 14 kills in 12 minutes at Mid-Season Invitational, as he did on Friday, he was seen as a problem child. Peanut's rookie season was marred with impulsive plays and benchings on NaJin e-mFire. Everyone knew the talent he possessed, but his maturity inside and outside of the game weren't there yet, and the team decided to sit him out of games instead of getting him repetitions in the starting lineup.
When the season ended, Peanut moved to the ROX Tigers, replacing the team's captain Lee "Hojin" Ho-jin, and found his home on the team. By the end of the year, Peanut was considered one of the best junglers in the world, if not the best. Now, in the middle of 2017, chants of "Peanut!" ring around arenas all over the world, and the 19-year-old is a legitimate worldwide superstar in the game.
If Dardoch achieves even half of what Peanut has done in the past two years of his growth, CLG's gamble will be seen as a genius move.
On CLG, Dardoch won't be pushed into a leader's role. Since Dardoch came into the LCS as a rookie, he has been asked to be one of the primary voices on the team, and sometimes the only voice. For a rookie, no matter the skill level mechanically, that pressure can be too much. With CLG, there is longtime captain and veteran support Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black already rooted as the main voice. Dardoch, for once, can just focus on his mechanics and play around Aprhomoo's calls instead of going for rushed 50-50 gambits that either won or lost him games with Immortals.
Another plus is the presence of head coach Tony "Zikz" Gray. Dardoch has never been on a team with a stable head coach. On CLG, he will finally have that in Zikz; the team is far more likely to drop Dardoch than it is Zikz, one of the most well-respected coaches in the league, and that's a good thing. Aphromoo and Zikz bring a stability and authority that Dardoch has never really had on his teams. He's played with veterans before and butted heads, but that won't happen on CLG.
Unlike Immortals, Dardoch will not have to put up 10 kills every game. CLG plays through the bottom lane with Aphromoo and Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes. Stixxay, even with a relatively disappointing season last split, was still in the discussion for one of the top AD carries in the league. Stixxay is the type of player CLG wants Dardoch to become; at the Mid-Season Invitational last year, Stixxay didn't flinch under the pressure of the international giants, and broke out as the main offensive weapon that got CLG all the way to the MSI finals, the greatest achievement any North American team has accomplished internationally.
Stixxay and Dardoch, conducted by Aphromoo as shot-caller, has the potential to be one of the scariest one-two punches in the league. That dreamlike future with Dardoch and Stixxay at Worlds, with the mechanical skill ceiling to match the best the rest of the world is a salivating thought. Dardoch and Stixxay are special talents, and the homegrown combination is one that hasn't really been seen since Cloud9's all-American lineup blitzed through teams in 2013 and was one game away versus Europe's Fnatic from making the semifinals at Worlds.
And for CLG, it's OK if everything goes in the wrong direction. Even if Dardoch doesn't fit well with the team, even if Dardoch's playstyle doesn't work in CLG's formation, even if the entire thing goes up in smoke, CLG has a Plan B in the form of CLG Black standout Omar "OmarGod" Amin. OmarGod was top pick overall pick in last year's Scouting Grounds prospects tournament, and after getting signed by CLG Black a few months ago, he and his team finally got into the Challenger Series for this summer split. If Dardoch doesn't work out, CLG can call up a player that has been in the team's system for half a year and has the potential in his own right to be a big star in the NA LCS.
CLG stagnated last season, and if things work well with Dardoch, the sky's the limit. If things go sour, OmarGod can be called up. If Dardoch was ever to succeed in a situation similar to Peanut's with SKT, it would be CLG, where the team is chock-full of experienced players and led by a head coach who has been with the team for years at this point.
For Dardoch, this is his chance to quiet the haters. He's on a team with skilled players. He has the infrastructure. He doesn't need to shot call. He's on a team of four players who have gone to MSI and made the finals. They've faced SK Telecom T1 in a best-of-five final. These are players that don't need motivation; CLG knows it can go far, with or without Dardoch.
For Dardoch, however, there are no more excuses if the story remains the same.