This was supposed to be his season.
Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett is one of the best homegrown talents in the North American League Championship Series, and following a rough season on Immortals in the spring, his summer signing to perennial contender Counter Logic Gaming was supposed to be the season when he could touch championship hardware for the first time and make his first appearance at the world championships.
That ended up not being the case. Although CLG with Dardoch remained near the top of standings for the majority of the split, Dardoch and CLG parted ways right before the transaction window for the summer closed, with CLG deciding to go with rookie and former CLG Black member Omar "OmarGod" Amin for the starting role. Dardoch returned to Team Liquid following a highly publicized split between the two last offseason.
In the media release, CLG wrote, "Dardoch helped the team find their competitive spirit early in the split and we knew that if we could help Dardoch learn to make those sacrifices -- we would have the roster we needed to become LCS champions once again. Unfortunately, Dardoch was unwilling to adhere to the set of standards expected of every member of the team."
Although the send off prompted questions of how things went wrong again, Dardoch wanted to make sure to clear the air.
"In reality, it was just me not fitting what the coaching staff had planned for the team," Dardoch said to ESPN. "There were a lot of things we disagreed upon, but it was never me raging in scrims or having a personal conflict with any teammates. If you go through and ask any of my CLG teammates, I did not have a shouting dispute with anybody. I had issues in-game, but I fixed most of them, and I was always consistently moving toward what was best for the team, in my eyes. Whether me and the coaching staff or the players disagreed on that is another thing, but it was definitely not 'Breaking Point 2.0.' View the vague CLG statement as what it is -- a vague statement -- and try not to look into it too much."
Away from Team Liquid, Dardoch has been thrusted into another difficult situation. Once a leader in the standings and eyeing a placement at worlds, he finds himself now at the bottom of the table with no chance at qualifying for the biggest tournament of the year, and in danger of having his team go through relegations for the first time in his two-year career. He isn't in the place in the standings he'd want to be, but with the limited time left in the season, he wants to end the 2017 campaign on a high note regardless.
"My mindset right now is to give as much of my knowledge to my teammates as possible, and just improve the team as much as I can, in case we have to fight in relegations or go for next split -- some people will stay, some people will go, whatever -- and just try and help everybody improve," Dardoch said.
His reintroduction to Liquid, according to Dardoch, is going far smoother than where he and TL left things last year. Already close to some of his teammates, most notably Samson "Lourlo" Jackson, Dardoch has been making strides with other members with whom he had less of a connection last summer when he departed. It might not be the perfect situation for Dardoch as someone whose main focus first and foremost is to win, yet maybe this is where he was supposed to end up all along.
How can one walk toward his future without taking care of business that was left unsettled? Internally, Dardoch feels like the version of himself today is an improved version of the one Liquid fans waved goodbye to last fall.
"My mental strength is more potent now," Dardoch said. "I don't struggle as much in-game and out of the game with the frustrations I had during my rookie split, so I think I just matured a lot and got a lot better at the game. So those mixing together make me a much better teammate, as well."
For many professional players, getting knocked down once would deter them from going any further. Hundreds of professional players, possibly thousands, have retired over the various international regions over the seven-year professional League of Legends scene. One bad break, one benching, and that can be it for a player; those talents will fade into nothingness, and their histories will be written as players who just couldn't cut it. In a little over a year, Dardoch has experienced more than some pro players have gone through in their entire careers.
Dardoch won Rookie of the Split in spring of 2015 with Liquid. Weeks after that, he was suspended from the team due to bad behavior. Less than a month later, he was back in the starting lineup. At the end of the year, he had possibly the most well-documented departure of any player in esports history when a full-length documentary was centered around his fractured relationship with his organization and teammates. Less than half a year later, another video, this time produced by Immortals, had an underlying theme of Dardoch, once again being the team's main issue when it came to communication. And now with the vague "future endeavors" from CLG and re-signing with TL, Dardoch has been through a 12-round boxing match, getting knocked down more times than a Chumbawamba song.
And if you think he's ready to give up, throw in the towel and fall back into a cushy streaming career in which his outspoken personality would rake in the viewers and money, you'd be wrong. Dardoch wants the one thing that a lucrative streaming career cannot buy -- victory.
"[I want to] win everything, under any circumstance. Win LCS, win every game, no matter what," he said. "I just have the drive to win, and I know I'm good enough to be at the top level in any region, so knowing that and knowing my worth as a player, as soon as I find either an organization that will consistently build me up or have understanding teammates that will be with me through thick or thin, I will have a lot of success. I don't think there is anything that will stop me from playing League of Legends competitively."
So going into the last week of the regular season and the possible promotional tournament following it, Dardoch will attempt to rewrite the wrongs that ended his last tenure with Team Liquid. Regardless of what how his 2017 campaign ends, Dardoch is ready to continue walking forward.
"To all my true fans, thank you for the constant support, and I appreciate everyone constantly supporting me through these many teams and all the ups and downs of my career so far. And just in general, I'm not going to retire. It's not in my plans over the next however many years. The only thing that would make me quit is like my arms falling off or if I lose complete motivation, which I've never struggled with. I think the future, although it might not look bright right now, will be bright come the 2018 season, and I hope all you guys stand next to me."