Forget the Madden Curse -- the coincidental falters and injuries befalling upon NFL players after gracing the popular video game title cover -- could there be a new jinx occurring in the League Championship Series ranks? Over the past three splits in the North American and European regions, Riot has given out an individual award to the best performing rookie of that campaign, similar to Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA or any other major team sport.
After one of the best debut seasons in recent memory, it was announced Friday that the spring's Rookie of Split, Team Liquid's Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett, would be suspended to begin the summer season.
"Effective since the 18th of May 2016, Josh has been placed under suspension from Team Liquid for behavioral issues-namely, insubordination," said team co-owner Steve Arhancet in a press release announcing the disciplinary action. "Faced with a difficult decision to keep his suspension active and prevent future competitive play for the remainder of his contract, I decided that it would be fair to facilitate a possible transfer for other teams."
This news takes a giant hit towards TL's chances of winning a title this upcoming season. Dardoch was one of Team Liquid's greatest weapons against the rest of the league. He was young, only turning 18-year-old just recently, and was a resident of the league, meaning the team didn't need to use one of its two import slots for an elite level player. Coming off an inaugural performance where he almost helped his team make the North American LCS finals for the first time in organization history, his sophomore split was shaping up to have even more impact.
If Dardoch is transferred to a new LCS team this summer, it would make the fifth Rookie of the Split winner moving teams in less than a year's time. Yeah, the beacon of hope -- the future of said team, would have left or traded five out of the six times the trophy was awarded.
To dig a little deeper and see if there is truly some sort of curse we can run into the ground talking about for splits to come, let's go over each of the six award winners and see how their careers have gone since receiving the prestigious, and possibly cursed, Rookie of the Split.
2015 Rookie of the Split, Spring (NA): Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen
Things were perfect for Santorin's first season on NA's most popular team, Team SoloMid. He was the shield to ace carry Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg's sword, and the club won an LCS title in his rookie season. He was given the Rookie of the Split award, and everything appeared to be on the upswing for the young Dane.
When summer started, the stagnation of the team's strategies started to take center focus, and his lack of action on the map was picked apart by the community. He went from being a player expected to be the Robin to Bjergsen's Batman to being called a human ward by his critics. When TSM failed to win a title in the summer against rival Counter Logic Gaming in New York City and successively bombed out of the World Championships, Santorin left the roster and returned home to Europe for the start of 2016. Santorin had so-so results in the minor league of Europe, and eventually signed with NRG Esports to become its new starting jungler for the 2016 NA summer split.
2015 Rookie of the Split, Summer (NA): Kang "Move" Min-su
Similar to Santorin, Move appeared to be heading towards a bright future in the NA LCS. He was one of the best warding and vision junglers in the Western region during the 2015 summer campaign, and his team Gravity were chugging along nicely to a possible No.1 in the playoffs. Unlike TSM's former jungler, however, it didn't take a second a split for the wheels to come off the train for Move's Gravity. The team went on a hard slump in the final few weeks of the season, dropped out of a top two spot, and were eliminated, coincidentally enough, by Santorin's TSM in the quarterfinals of the postseason. Move was knocked out of the tournament, and his chances at going to Worlds were thwarted when Cloud9 reverse swept Gravity in the North American Regional Finals.
After the season, shiny Rookie of the Split hardware in hand, Move was left behind as the Gravity NA LCS spot was sold to Echo Fox for the spring 2016 season. He was unable to move to a new team, and the promising rookie jungler sat on the sidelines during the 2016 spring split. Fortunately for the former Gravity member, he is back in the LCS with Europe's Unicorns of Love. We'll see if he can rebound in a new region and on a new club in NA LCS' sister league.
2016 Rookie of the Split, Spring (NA): Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett
As mentioned before, Dardoch is suspended at least for the opening weeks of the NA LCS season, and the standout rookie talent might be even transferred or traded to another team. In his stead, sophomore jungler Galen "Moon" Holgate of Team Liquid Academy would most likely step in as a jungler. The former jungler of NRG Esports -- now, coincidentally enough again, filled by Santorin -- would be forced to step up from his play from the previous season, as his rookie statlines paled in comparison to his suspended clubmate.
If it were to happen, it would make Dardoch the third straight jungler to win the Rookie of the Split award and be gone from the team he won it on in less than six months.
2015 Rookie of the Split, Spring (EU): Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon
Moving over to Europe, we see it is less the player getting removed from the team and more so the player leaving on his own volition. Huni won the Rookie of the Split award in the spring of 2015 for Europe, and the South Korean import took the region by storm with his humorous personality and happy-go-lucky attitude. He won two domestic titles in his year-long stint with Fnatic, along with making the semifinals of the Mid-Season Invitational and World Championships.
After his wildly successful year with Fnatic, he left the team for reportedly more money in the North American region with venture capital-powered rookie organization Immortals. Since joining the Immortals, he hasn't really slowed down much, still keeping his level as one of the West's strongest mechanical players. He won another regular season title in the LCS with Immortals, but lost in the playoffs for the first time when TSM swept them in the semifinals. Although he still counts towards the number of Rookie winners leaving their teams, it'd be hard to say Huni is cursed in any sort of manner.
2015 Rookie of the Split, Summer (EU): Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen
Zven burst onto the scene with rookie juggernaut club Origen in the summer of 2015, and his ascent to the Rookie of the Split throne was more of a waltz than a struggle. Similarly to Huni, Zven's performance or standing really hasn't changed in the past year. Sure, he is a two-time runner-up in the EU LCS, losing in the finals to both Fnatic and his new team G2 Esports, but there are worse things in the world than being the second best team in a major region. Zven made the World semifinals in his first year playing, and he has consistently been one of the best playmaking AD carries in the world the past year outside a small slump to begin the 2016 spring season.
Even with all that said, like the winners before him, Zven left the team that he broke through on. After seeing he wasn't reaching his full potential on Origen, Zven moved to G2 Esports in this most recent offseason, and he will play for the club who beat him in the European finals come this opening LCS week. The only setback from moving to a seemingly stronger team on paper is the backlash he received from moving to Origen, with some of his former fans calling him a 'traitor' for leaving the team he made a name for himself on.
Rookie of the Split Spring 2016 (EU): Luka "PerkZ" Perković
Well, this one isn't too difficult. PerkZ had an incredible first season on G2, and pole vaulted himself into the upper-echelon of mid laners in the West. He won the regular season title in his first season, the overall championship, and wasn't too far off from winning the entire MVP award. PerkZ had as good an initial split you could ask. But, after winning all that and being held up as a contender on the world stage, it all came crashing down to earth when his club failed to do anything at the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai.
Like Santorin the year before where TSM went 1-5 and only beat the International Wildcard, PerkZ's G2 went 2-8 and only picked up a pair of wins over Turkey's SuperMassive. He didn't look himself the entire tournament, and was repeatedly killed in the mid lane against the players he was compared to as a possible equal entering the competition. PerkZ will now enter the summer season with Zven, 2015 summer's Rookie of the Split winner, and see if they can win a title together.
Odds-wise, though, by looking at the other winners, he will be on a new team come the 2017 spring split for whatever reason. We'll see if he can break the curse and not leave, get suspended, or moved from the club come the upcoming offseason.
North America for sure has something going wrong with it. Santorin won the award and had a drastic drop-off in his second season. Move won the award and wasn't even able to compete in his supposed second season. And Dardoch has made it a trifecta by being suspended and possibly moved before he even can play the first game of his sophomore split.
Europe, however, it feels more like it is the team and region as a whole affected more than the player. Huni is doing just fine in North America, but Fnatic failed to reach a European final for the first time in the organization's history this most recent season. Zven and Origen did make the final again in his sophomore split, but the team slumped hard overall in the regular season and didn't look like themselves up until the postseason. With PerkZ, G2 Esports were atop of the world heading into Mid-Season Invitational, and left the competition having its own region angered at the preparation and performance the team put forth.
I'm not saying this isn't all a bunch of coincidences just like the famous Madden Curse, but maybe come voting time for the next Rookie of the Split winner, teams should think twice before circling their hot new prospect.
Just in case, you know?