"Honestly, I trash talk because it's fun," Team Liquid's star jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett told ESPN.com following his team's 2-0 weekend over Cloud9 and Team Envy. Suspended at the start of the split, "Dardoch" has returned to the lineup. Coupled with the emergence of promoted TL Academy AD carry Jovani "Fabbbyyy" Guillen, it has lifted the team to a 6-4 record after five weeks, following a tough 0-3 stretch to begin the split.
"I'm confident in my play," Dardoch continued. "I just trash talk because who's going to follow a team leader that isn't confident? If I go into every set saying, 'Oh yeah, it's 50-50, either team can win,' then nobody on my team is going to go in there ready to play and win."
From its beginnings as Team Curse to the present day Team Liquid, the club has failed to live up to expectations throughout its history. Anytime there was a feeling of glory on the horizon, something would go wrong and the team would swing back to the starting line. In the five years of the organization's existence, it has never made it to the World Championships.
An organization that has prided itself on strong veteran leadership has withdrawn to welcome a new generation. With talented and brash youngsters like Dardoch, Team Liquid hopes this revolution of adolescents can become the golden generation. Out of the current starters on the team, four of them started out on the Academy squad under the main roster in the League Championship Series. Over the course of the last year, the hardened faces of battle have transitioned into the likes of the Matt "Matt" Elento in the support role and Samson "Lourlo" Jackson playing the top lane role.
"The community backlash -- just as many people are supporting me as hating me," he said, divulging his thoughts on how some parts of the community see his trash talk as unprofessional and bad for the sport. "I'm cool taking all the heat. If I trash talk and I get all the blame -- as long as [my teammates] aren't getting the hate -- I can take it all. I have thick skin. I don't care at all about [what] any of these people say about me."
That quote summarizes what I've learned of Dardoch's personality from previous interviews. He's straight to the point most of the time, and he stands behind it. He'll give out compliments where he sees fit with opponents, yet doesn't shy away from believing in his own abilities as well. When it comes to his teammates, he'd rather be the one getting all the criticism and negative comments. As the leader of this possible golden generation, Dardoch believes he can deflect any unfavorable press that comes his way, as long as his team sticks beside him.
"We ran into a bunch of internal problems in Korea," he said. "They're getting resolved, and we're pretty well off now. We're progressively getting better."
Team Liquid has never made it to a North American League Championship Series Final. Not as Team Curse. Not with Curse Academy. Closer the last two splits as Team Liquid, but both times losing in the semifinals. With only one regular season title under the club's belt, there has been a drought of success for Liquid as an organization in League. The addition of former world champion Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin at the start of the 2015 year was supposed to be the next -- and more successful -- chapter in the history book of Team Liquid. And although Piglet has been individually one of the better players in the NA LCS the past two years, the team itself has no NA LCS finals appearance to show for it.
"[Fabbbyyy] is probably going to be our starter for the rest of the split," he said. "Piglet brings the experience, game knowledge, and has the macro understanding, but me and Matt have picked up the macro understanding so we don't need that from Piglet. Fabbbyyy has more motivation. He's hungrier to improve and win, so he has that over Piglet. And he's not picky with his champion pool. Like, Fabbbyyy will pick a perceivably bad lane matchup 2v2, but he'll pick it if it's better for the team. Where Piglet will, most of the time, just want to dominate the lane.
When discussing the differences between the two players more, Dardoch wanted to make sure it was a joint decision between the team and Piglet. Piglet wanted to reset his mind and is feeling better playing with the Academy squad at the moment, and Fabbbyyy is proving his mettle by performing in the major leagues. And while Dardoch and Piglet get along and there is nothing personal about the decision, the current meta fits the style Fabbbyyy brings to the team more than Piglet's. In a landscape where selflessness rules the bottom lane and the game is played towards the middle and topsides of the map, the rookie American is currently a better fit in the starting five.
"It wasn't Piglet's fault that we were losing when we had him on the team," he said. "We had -- the other four -- little to no knowledge. We didn't know how to play the game as a team. So even when Piglet got these 40, 50 CS advantages in-lane, multiple kills, we still couldn't close out the game because we were just a worse team. It had no problems with Piglet."
Liquid last season was a one-dimensional team. Piglet and Matt, if left alone in a two-on-two matchup, would win lane, pick up kills, and start snowballing on the rest of the map. As long as Piglet was able to get off to a good start and the team was able to keep up the pace into the mid-game with at least a bit of finesse in closing, Liquid looked to be a championship contender. When teams neutralized the bottom lane, however, TL's mid-to-late-game management was shown to be subpar, and the rest of the team wouldn't be able to get anything else going unless Dardoch found momentum early in the laning phase.
This group from TL wants to change that trend. A one-dimensional team, as shown last split, can get only as far as fourth place. For Liquid, anything but the World Championships this year as a top three seed from North America would be a massive failure. Fourth isn't an option.
"I honestly thought it would be bad when Piglet left because he's the only Korean," said Dardoch, talking about the fifth (and only non-Academy) starter on the squad, Kim "FeniX" Jae-hun. "But FeniX is so Americanized now that he's not living in Korea anymore. All he does is spam North American memes in our comms and really jokes around. Me and him got a lot closer, so I feel like he's just as comfortable."
Graduation time has come for the four Academy members that presently sit in the Team Liquid house as starters. Many doubted at least at one point their maturity level, talent, ability to perform on the main stage. But they've come together to bring Liquid into the forefront of teams in a competitive NA LCS campaign.
"To everyone who has supported me for so long, just thanks a lot," Dardoch said. "The suspension stuff is over. The fall of TL is hopefully over, and we're definitely on an upward trend. I think this is the split we'll definitely break the fourth place curse."