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The Double-Edged Sword of Putting Wins First

Let's be honest: humility is boring. When a player bows his head and says that their defeat was deserved, both teams played a great game, fans are rarely impressed with their sweet and kind-hearted nature. Instead, eyes glaze over and we wait for the next match to begin.

Arrogance, on the other hand, get people's attention. When G2’s Perkz spams laugh in mid lane during the infamous MSI 2-8 performance, fans climb on Twitter and Reddit and lambast the newest target of their rage. Players should know their place, and when you’re losing on the global stage, that’s not pushed up in mid lane spamming the laugh emote.

Of course, that’s a difficult tightrope to walk, especially when you’re only eighteen years old. Ask Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, the 2016 Spring Rookie of the Split and jungler for Team Liquid, and a player who was briefly suspended for insubordination and attitude issues. The controversy surrounding Dardoch goes beyond just players; it also reflects how eSports organizations choose to manage their talent. If the series against TSM is considered, it looks as though Liquid is putting their record before attempting to reform Dardoch. What does this mean for the organization — and for Dardoch himself?

The Power of Trash Talk

For fans of anything, whether it be basketball, League of Legends or even chess, people gravitate towards star players. The MVPs, the players who bless us with real talk, and those who shake up the space are the most visible. People are substantially more impressed and interested by a Faker who dismisses his opponents and admits he’s the best than a Faker who quietly saves his wages and gives practical advice about watching the minimap.

Dardoch spent a good amount of the Spring Split striking the perfect balance between arrogance and ability. He talked a good game, but he also backed it up. Sure, he built a Ghostblade on Lee Sin during the Playoffs — but he also racked up kill after kill, making good on his gutsy play with results.

After Counter Logic Gaming knocked Liquid out of the Playoffs, he was clearly emotional at the loss, but not too taken aback. “We’re going to smash whoever’s in the third place match,” he said. It was less of a vow and more of a casual statement. The team that ended up in that third place matchup, Immortals, had experienced Dardoch’s particular brand of confidence before when he said that they “seem pretty boosted.” The jungler’s audacity did not pay off; Liquid ended the Split in fourth, while Immortals took a clean 3-0 series off of them to climb to a third place finish.

A player who’s confident and willing to speak his mind on stage (or on social media) isn’t a new phenomenon. There’s a whole host of star players who have been called out for being overly arrogant: Doublelift, Amazing, Impact, SoaZ, ocelote, FORG1VEN, Piglet... However, a player facing internal discipline from their team is rare.

The Dardoch Ultimatum

Nobody knows the exact details of what happened in between Spring and the start of Summer that caused Liquid to bench Dardoch. The official line is that Dardoch was insubordinate and not working as a team member, and his benching (and potential transfer) was an answer to serious team dynamic problems.

Fans were shocked. Dardoch was the Rookie of the Split, and one of the few native North American talents. His main competition — Rush, Reignover, and Svenskeren — are imports. (Xmithie on CLG is the only other exception.) Liquid had a narrow pool of talent to choose from for Dardoch’s replacement, and they went with Moon, a jungler who had once replaced an underperforming Dardoch in the Challenger circuit but had fallen behind while on NRG in the 2016 Spring Split.

Liquid with Moon looked weaker, sure — but that drove home the severity of Dardoch’s punishment. eSports organizations often talk about the importance of fostering talent and thinking long term; Liquid was an organization who had taken on three rookies, and pledged to help them grow in and out of game. Dardoch, Matt, and Lourlo were more than just talent for Liquid - they were investments.

Many modern eSports organizations talking about the importance of long-term roster planning, but Liquid were putting their money where their mouth was by keeping their three rookies and working to help them grow into veterans. Echo Fox and Cloud9 have both held onto talent to foster them long term, and the organizations have seen growth as a response. However, this kind of mentoring takes time — and occasionally a firm hand.

Benching Dardoch was a difficult choice, no doubt, but it was most likely the right choice to help Dardoch grow into a veteran who could work with a team and transcend beyond his star rookie status. Just like a parent occasionally has to put their kid in the time out corner and take away privileges, Liquid made the choice to punish Dardoch for speaking out against his coach and managers and putting his own ego first.

When they put Dardoch back into the game, that message was completely rewritten. "Okay," it said. "You’ve had your slap on the wrist, but we can't afford to lose. We need you, Dardoch, now get back in your jersey and onto the lineup."

Think of the message this sends to a young star player such as Dardoch. Team Liquid has made it clear that while Dardoch's issues are troubling, they will put up them as long he helps the team net wins. And to his teammates? As long as Dardoch helps Team Liquid win, you'll have to put up with him as well.

Hu Is Hi? The HuHi Factor

One of the most common criticisms of a player who is seen as overly arrogant is that they aren’t playing up to the level of expectation that their ego sets. You’ll notice that no one ever calls Faker too big for his britches - when you’re the best, you earn the right to run your mouth, or so the logic goes.

But there seems to be a corollary for this unspoken rule. If you’re not the best, but are clearly keeping your head down and working hard, you don’t earn the same level of ire.

Case in point: Choi "HuHi" Jae-hyun.

HuHi’s entire career has been defined not by his intense mechanical prowess, or his incredible multi kills, but instead by his patience, his willingness to be a team player, and as someone who keeps his nose continually to the grindstone. He began his time with Counter Logic Gaming as a sub for Pobelter, who was considered to be the clearly better choice. Some players would have found a place where they could have built their own spotlight, but Huhi waited. When jungler Xmithie faced potential visa issues, the team turned to HuHi as a substitute jungler.

HuHi and Stixxay were originally considered the weak links of CLG when they were brought on board to replace Doublelift (who left for TSM) and Pobelter (who is now on the Immortals). Stixxay has enjoyed a massive boost in both popularity and esteem from his peers and critics; his performance at MSI was considered a major milestone in his career. HuHi, on the other hand, is still considered the mechanical weak point in CLG.

Despite the odd Azir ults and mispositions during the tournament in Shanghai, HuHi hasn’t earned a huge amount of ire from the community (of course, he’s not totally immune, but it’s well beyond what one might expect after following eSports for years and seeing some of the controversies.) Instead, fans have spoken out with largely positive input: “We’re proud of CLG.” “It’s clear that they work hard.” “They represented North America well.”

Most importantly, consider the lineup that came before the current era — specifically, CLG's troubles with Doublelift. According to statements from past team members, Doublelift ruled over CLG, and those who entered into a conflict with the star carry rarely made it out unscathed. Up until this current roster, CLG suffered a revolving door of talent, and it's probable that the conflict between player and management was the cause. CLG made the impossible choice that no one saw coming; they booted their star carry, the brightest mechanical talent on their roster, and focused on finding team players to replace him and Pobelter. The results speak for themselves: first place in NA, second place at the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai.

On TSM, Doublelift has shown remarkable signs of growth and has evolved into a player who puts the team first. While being kicked from CLG was probably a major heartache for the star, it has also shown results. Dardoch’s benching could have served as a similar wake-up call that led to an evolution. Instead, Liquid fumbled that opportunity by focusing on salvaging their early Summer Split record. They’ve chosen short term success over a long term path that could improve Dardoch and their team atmosphere.

To be fair, Team Liquid is in a pickle — there’s a small pool of talent that could replace Dardoch and succeed, and imports are not an option — but putting Dardoch back in despite his suspension may cause more problems than it solves in the long run.

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