“People don’t know this, but I watched Breaking Point at least 20 or 30 times,” says Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. “And every time I listen to it, I have to pause and stop and be like, ‘What the fuck am I saying? What’s wrong with me?’ How am I such an ignorant, stubborn piece of trash in these moments… where it’s the complete opposite of how I am outside a competitive environment.”
When I talked to Dardoch at the beginning of this year, Huni wasn’t even in California yet — there was no guarantee Dardoch would get along with his new teammates for the duration of the year. In the second half of 2017, people weren’t even sure if he’d get another shot. And from an outside perspective, it seemed like he was clearly a huge issue if he was removed from every team he was on. So when the Echo Fox roster was announced, it seemed like it was a team full of strong personalities. The signs for an implosion were all there. We were just waiting for the trigger.
But that didn’t really happen. Not with Dardoch, anyway. Eight months later and FOX is preparing to take on TSM in the Playoffs. Dardoch is coming off a season in which he’ll likely be the 1st or 2nd team All-Pro Jungler. Sure, they’ve endured roster changes, but for once it’s not Dardoch being ushered out. I don’t know if that’s a surefire indicator that he’s changed, but change is a gradual process, right? He’s not going to be the hot-headed kid forever.
Dardoch’s brother, Devin Hartnett, is six years his senior and has literally seen every single iteration of Dardoch. “He was very much the kid that would throw controllers at me,” says Devin. “That’s just who he was. He was never a gracious loser. I think he’s getting better now — probably because he’s getting older — and realizes being a sore loser isn’t good for the team environment.”
Devin served as not only an older brother but also filled the duties of a father figure for Dardoch. Their father was in and out of the picture, and their mother worked full-time, so a lot of the onus fell to Devin to take care of his little brother and his temper. The two played all sorts of games together growing up, and Devin himself is a League of Legends player, though he insists he’s hardstuck in Platinum.
Because of his computer, Dardoch was stuck in Silver or Gold for a while, but once he upgraded he instantly shot up to Diamond and then Challenger. For all the concerns around his attitude, the thing that’s never really been questioned is his talent. In the context of whether he was good enough to warrant his behavior? Sure — there you could question him, but in terms of raw talent, he is one of the best players NA has produced in a long time.
Devin says it’s because of his work ethic: “He would stay up to 6:00 am watching the LCK and just consume as much information as possible and then tell me all these things — this is what Dandy is doing, and this is what Kakao is doing, and I didn’t understand any of this. Like, if you do X with this XP quint, then this will happen. It was insane. [At first], he didn’t like being worse than me, and then eventually he just [realized] he liked the game. And then he figured it out. He’s consumed so much content from this game just from an analytical VOD perspective. His work ethic is nuts. I don’t know how he does it and still can function as a person.”
That’s still joy is still there today — like, yes, Dardoch hates to lose. He’s become infamous for his tantrums when he loses. But he might be one of the few players that understands exactly the love for winning, too. He says, “The amount of enjoyment I get from winning and from grinding and playing the game so much to try and improve… it’s just worth it. Even if I [only] lose the rest of my career.”
I think that’s a rare thing — even in the LCS — to find someone who can love the game despite it becoming a full-time grind and job. These days, he sounds off on all the crazy things about the game that he discovers or the tiny intricate mechanisms of his team to his girlfriend, who he lives with in an apartment away from the FOX training facilities. The separation of spaces has likely been one of the key factors for him — not having to live with your teammates gives you a lot of mental freedom.
FOX is also the first situation for him where he is very definitely not the biggest personality on the team. That distinction probably belongs to Huni, though you could maybe make a case for Dardoch. But it’s a little humbling even for him to play alongside someone who has had so much success and is still an enjoyable person to play with.
He says, “Being around Huni especially has taught me a lot about how to have a healthy ego and have it push you more than have it hold you back. [Our egos] are mostly similar in that we think we’re really good at the time, and we think we’re really good in the NA LCS with respect to our roles. We think we’re good and that makes us hold ourselves to a higher standard in practice and in everyday life instead of us being like we’re gonna slack off because we’re better. We think we’re better and we need to show that every day.”
FOX has been somewhat inconsistent this year — after jumping out to a dominant start in the Spring Split, the team had to settle for 3rd place, and then Summer Split saw them replace three members on their team. They’ve rallied a little bit to earn the 4th seed this go around, but that means they’ve got a long road ahead of them still if they want to reach Worlds — something that Dardoch has only ever been an envious spectator to.
On the way to California to see Dardoch — who Devin hadn’t seen in three years — Devin says, “Our family is very straight forward. They’re very blunt people. I had a conversation with my dad on the plane. He said, ‘What if he messes up this time? What will he do?’ I just said, ‘Hopefully he doesn’t.’”
Dardoch immediately chimed in when Devin recounted that story: “I just won’t. Simple as that.”
Perceptions around Dardoch never really surprised his family. Devin says, “I think that Breaking Point thing… part of me knows that the way things are edited makes it worse than the way it is. But I also know that they could probably be that bad.” Team Liquid even called Devin to ask for his advice on how to deal with Dardoch at times — so it’s not like this kind of thing is particularly surprising. You might turn a blind eye to it if you’re family, but that’s not the same as just not seeing it. You know each other better than anyone.
So of course his family became a little nervous about his purported last chance. They follow everything that’s said about him on the internet — Devin has watched at least 99% of the games Dardoch has played. Devin says, “For me, I grew up on the internet. I know people are horrible. They’re so mean. So when [I see comments like] this kid needs to get beat up so he understands… things like that… I mean it doesn’t surprise me. [But] my mom will read things and she’ll be like, ‘Oh man, why are they so mean to him? He’s a good boy.’ And I’m like, ‘Mom, you don’t understand. He’s kind of an asshole most of the time.’ My mom is very much just, my kids are the greatest thing in the world. I feel like my brother could do way worse, and she’ll be like, maybe it’s not so bad. There are times where my dad will be like, ‘No, honey, he’s a dick.’”
That kind of self-awareness doesn’t escape Dardoch, either. Becoming more mature isn’t necessarily about changing how you think — it’s also about learning how to filter those thoughts. There isn’t anything inherently wrong about Dardoch thinking he’s better or thinking his teammates underperformed. It’s more about how he vocalizes (or doesn’t vocalize) that. And luckily — he’s learning more and more how to say the right things, whether that’s to me writing a feature about him or to his teammates after a loss. He understands this might really be his last chance — and for all the talking he’s done, he just hasn’t won enough.
Devin says, “When [Breaking Point] first came out, I talked to him about it, and I was just like, ‘Why? What the fuck did you do? Why are you dumb?’ It’s just like, you have this pie, and then you throw it on the floor. I was like, why are you throwing away such a crazy opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. After the fact, I get why he’s upset. But his actions aren’t necessary. There was a point where he stopped caring and would cruise control games and play brainlessly and not care at all.”
I think we all saw Dardoch’s autopilot mode on stage at times. We’ve heard it in audio clips from games and we’ve seen it in documentaries. But that just hasn’t been true on Echo Fox — particularly this year, there have been games where he played his heart out in losing situations. There have been games where he’s been the only relevant player. But still he’s managed to stay out of trouble.
The two brothers talk on a weekly basis. Surely there are things about this iteration of Echo Fox that still bother Dardoch — how could they not. Not everyone is perfect, and for all the ego that shrouds him, Dardoch knows he can be better, too. But you can’t just isolate your play and use that as justification for your worth. He says, “My actions were completely unjustifiable and I was just a straight up bad teammate, bad player, and bad person.”
A humbling offseason of being unwanted has helped him realize he’s not irreplaceable like he once thought. There’s also a new crop of talent steadily making its way into the league, and perceptions of NA not having natural talent are being chipped at. Dardoch can lead this generation of players, or he can fade into obscurity as an afterthought. Those stakes were made immediately clear to him when FOX was the only team to offer him an opportunity.
But changing how he interacts with his teammates is only one part to the puzzle. Ultimately, the whole reason he was toxic to begin with was because he wanted to win. The wins are supposed to come if he reforms himself — that was the belief. And it’s not enough to just not flame his teammates, he must inspire them, too, if he wants to take that next step and transform into a winner.
“It’s been three years, you know?” says Devin. “Now it’s a redemption story. He’s been a trainwreck of a person that’s had its own documentary. Now you get to see him do what he wants to do without the drama afterwards.”
However, Devin also conceded this: “On his wedding day, I’ll be like, I made a home movie for you. And then it’ll queue up to 1UP Studios, and he’ll be like, ‘Oh no, not again…’”