Dardoch Returns To Team Liquid: The Positives and The Negatives

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We’re still several weeks away from the offseason, but that isn’t stopping Team Liquid from making moves.

Less than 24 hours after revealing the signing of former ROX Tigers mid laner Young-min “Mickey” Son, TL tweeted this video out to announce another shocking development that no one could have seen coming:

Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, the gifted yet problematic jungler, has come home to where he started last year. As a member of TL last year, Dardoch quickly became a star player known for his jaw-dropping mechanics on Lee Sin and Graves and hyper-aggressive playstyle. But even with his raw talent, he proved to be a problem too big to solve for TL. The incredible Breaking Point documentary paints a picture of a player determined and hungry to play at the World Championships on the biggest stage against world-class talent. But it also outlines the reason Dardoch is now on his third team this year and why Liquid ultimately released Dardoch last year.

Listening to the farewell video posted by Immortals and reading this statement from Counter Logic Gaming leaves a lot of question marks surrounding Dardoch’s LCS future. Knowing Dardoch’s feelings on the organization only makes this move even more of a head-scratcher.

TL has recommitted to a gifted player with known attitude issues that will conflict with their attempt to rebuild a healthy team environment. At his worst, Dardoch becomes a player who would get reported by his entire team if his behavior showed up in a ranked game on solo queue. But TL knows better than anyone else what they get with Dardoch on his best behavior.

The consensus on Dardoch, based on his mechanical skill, is that he’s a player who owners would give their right leg and more to sign to their roster. Because of that, owners will continue rolling the dice with him in the hope they can fix his attitude in a team environment and mold him into a mature, professional leader who sets a great example for his teammates.

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At least this move can make some logical sense in the big picture. The core of the roster that Dardoch took the NA LCS by storm with in 2016 has been maintained. With Dardoch’s playmaking ability, Samson “Lourlo” Jackson looked like a competent top laner while Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae and Matt Elento could play with confidence in the bot lane. There should be no problem for Dardoch to adjust to this roster given he spent most of 2016 bedazzling the world with Team Liquid.

There’s also the potential for Mickey’s carry potential to be unlocked consistently with Dardoch’s proactivity on the map. An aggressive playmaker could be what Mickey needs to help him become a strong mid laner. If it helped Jae-hyun “HuHi” Choi look like a top-3 mid laner at times this summer, just think of what it could do for Mickey. Like Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer, Mickey has talent to be a consistent starter. Also like Goldenglue: Mickey is wildly inconsistent.

The key difference that’s made TL roll the dice on Mickey? Mickey’s potential to take over a game when he gets going. His best games with the ROX Tigers came when he was given a commanding lead. But when Mickey plays poorly, his numbers look awful. That makes Mickey a risky gambit as a boom-or-bust option out of mid lane. But pairing him with Dardoch immediately gives Mickey incredible potential.

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But even with these positives in mind, here’s where I have a problem with these moves. The original starting roster for summer is fresh off a strong 2-0 week. They were finally fun to watch because they were proactive on the map and decisively won games when they were given the advantage. This would be the time where you keep that same roster intact and see if they can build on their momentum. Instead, TL looks to go ahead and throw Dardoch and Mickey in the fire with three tough matchups against Immortals, Cloud9, and Dignitas waiting in the wings. How do you expect to create a winning culture when you don’t try to maintain some form of consistency?

That’s like watching a star runningback carve up the opposing defense in the first half on the way to a commanding lead and then taking the ball out of his hands in the second half. If a bone-headed decision like that cost the Atlanta Falcons a Super Bowl victory, then why would these knee-jerk reactions from TL work now? Why would TL make these changes now? More importantly, why would Dardoch return to an organization he doesn’t respect and an organization he knows that won’t make it to the World Championships? What part of this move makes sense for any party involved?

I understand that Steve Arhancet made these moves with the intention of giving his team the best chance to win. It’s why no owner in their right mind questioned TL’s acquisition of Peng “Doublelift” Yillang when his talent and game knowledge ended up saving TL from relegation in spring. I also understand Steve’s desire to field a roster of world-class talent. Every team owner should have the same goal of building a dominant roster like Korean powerhouse SK Telecom T1. But given the timing of these shake-ups, given the issues of inconsistency for Mickey and attitude clashes for Dardoch, how can you defend these signings?

One day, Steve will have to learn that you can’t solve every problem by throwing money at it and hoping it fixes itself.

The Nightmare Year For Team Liquid

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The collapse of Team Liquid has been a depressing, heartbreaking sight to watch. I can only imagine the pain of being a Liquid fan is exactly how Cleveland Browns fans have recently felt watching their team struggle year after year.  Like the Browns, Liquid used to field dominant squads and hosted several talented players that were fun to watch. They also fell short of the finish line one too many times, suffering several demoralizing, gut punching defeats before finally watching the years of hard work and effort go down in flames.

Liquid deserved one trip to the World Championships and at least one NA LCS title. Now, Liquid squarely sits as the worst team in the league. A star player like Peng “Doublelift” Yillang won’t save this doomed squad any more.

Part of the blame should fall on the organization. It’s hard to inspire confidence with fans when your starting roster for summer is the same roster that only collected two wins in spring. It’s also hard to boost team morale when you’ve thrown everything at the wall trying to improve your team’s standing with no positive results. Steve Arhancet has had to learn a hard lesson this year: you can’t just fix your team by throwing more money at it. Yeu-jin “Reignover” Kim came to Liquid with a reputation as one of the best junglers in the world. Now he looks like an overpaid, underperforming veteran with the worst team in the LCS. In traditional sports, the worst teams are the ones that have to overpay for talent. Those teams only get worse before they get better.

Even more damning for Liquid comes with the list of talents that have come through the organization over the years, dating back to its time as Team Curse. An organization that once had names like Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell and Eugene “Pobelter” Park should have never let them walk to other teams. It’s insane to think of the success Liquid could have in alternate timelines with a few changes at key positions. Especially in the cases of Hauntzer and Pobelter, former NA LCS champions who have been to a World Championship tournament, it reflects poorly on the organization that some of its former players have gone on to have greater success with its competitors.

To be fair to Steve, a lot of these faults come down to chance. There was no way he was going to keep every talented player he’s found under the Curse/Liquid banner when a lot of players want a guaranteed job as a starter. This isn’t the first time he’s rolled the dice on young talent. By now, he knows not to take anything for granted. Some times he’s found a superstar or a starter. Other times he’s found a bust. No one could have expected Reignover, Lourlo, or Matt to faceplant in 2017. But there are things that simply don’t come to chance.

One look at the organization during a turbulent 2016, courtesy of the brilliant Breaking Point documentary, paints a strong picture. The same issue that doomed head coach Yoonsup “Locodoco” Choi’s tenure with Team Solo Mid ultimately ends up being his undoing with Liquid. His inability to create an effective team environment and earn his players’ respect was only exacerbated by Dardoch, the outspoken yet immature star player. Look no further than the pivotal meeting between Steve, Dardoch, and Locodoco. The passive aggressive actions from Locodoco such as flicking his lighter and placing a roll of toilet paper right by Dardoch aren’t what you should expect from any decently respectful human, let alone a professional coach.

It didn’t help matters when Dardoch, like Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae, was proven to be too valuable to replace on stage. By letting Dardoch off the hook and ending his suspension early, Liquid sent a bad message to its players and to Dardoch. If they would have stuck to their guns earlier and kept Dardoch benched, Dardoch could have properly learned that his actions have consequences and could have learned he’d have to work harder on his attitude issues to re-earn the starting job.

Instead, Liquid made it clear that Dardoch was beneath punishment because his raw talent was too significant to the team’s success. Liquid ultimately did the right thing cutting Dardoch loose but by the time they made the decision it was too little, too late. When your authority has no credibility, players have no reason to trust the process. Furthermore, when you decide to give the same two-win roster from spring a second chance to prove they can make it work, you should give that roster a fair amount of time to develop. But when your knee-jerk reaction after one day of live action gains the ire of a normally impartial shoutcaster like James “Dash” Patterson, you’ve sent an alarming message to your fans and your competitors.

If it wasn’t official after the first week of summer, everybody knows it by now: Team Liquid is an absolute dumpster fire. Are they doomed for relegation? Mathematically speaking, there’s a chance Liquid can still finish 7th and avoid relegation. But a deeper look at their summer numbers, roster instability, and remaining games make any chance of Liquid avoiding relegation a long shot. Unless Steve can find lightning in a bottle, there’s no saving this squad from playing in the promotion tournament.

While I am aware that the next NA LCS split will officially mark the end of relegations and the beginning of franchising, I don’t believe in slamming the door shut on the teams that win the promotion tournament provided it happens. How fair would it be for EUnited, Tempo Storm, Gold Coin United, or Big God Jackals if they weren’t accepted into the NA LCS after winning their way into an LCS spot while a relegated squad gets to re-enter the NA LCS as if nothing happened? Even if Liquid is allowed to franchise with the NA LCS, how would Liquid attract quality free agents to play for their team with recent history in mind? Why would any player with ambitions to play at Worlds want to play for Liquid? Why would any player think their career is in good hands with Liquid after this year?

That’s not to say Team Liquid has never done anything good or productive for the development of the NA LCS. This is not meant to smear Team Liquid’s positive contributions to the scenes. Steve Arhancet is an owner who is well-liked by his peers and fans of different reaches due to his passion and his dedication to the business. He’s a pioneer in the sense that his idea to increase competition between his players and develop talent for the LCS stage for the long-term eventually resulted in the Academy League set to replace the Challenger Series.  Even as Liquid continues onward through this nightmare season, Steve remains the calm in the storm, diligently working to do anything and everything he can to give his team the best chance to win.

Long-time veterans like Doublelift and even team owners like Team Envy’s Mike “Hastr0” Rufail have respect for Liquid as an organization and do not want to see them go away. Losing Team Liquid in the NA LCS would only crush a strong, dedicated fanbase the same way Art Modell crushed Cleveland when he moved his franchise to Baltimore. But the reality of the situation could be too heartbreaking for Liquid fans to admit when they take a deep look in the mirror. This is an organization that’s a far cry from its glory days. Liquid is too bad to compete with too many question marks about its coaching and infrastructure. But they’re too significant to exclude from franchising.

If the players on Team Liquid want to prove that their team and the organization is worth believing in for the future, it must solely be on the merit of their performance. Over the next three weeks, whoever plays for Liquid on the LCS stage must step up and play their hearts out. At this point, there’s nothing left to lose. Worlds and playoffs are highly unlikely to happen but every Liquid player should be looking himself in the mirror and asking if this is the way he wants his season to end. Come out with some fire and passion and prove to your doubters, myself included, that you can play League of Legends at the highest level and that you’re worth believing in.

Your owner said it himself. Winning fixes everything.

In Defense Of Phreak

In the previous week of NA LCS action, Riot aired a segment during its live broadcast with David “Phreak” Turley giving his opinion on the current rankings of every NA LCS AD carry that’s seen action on the rift this split. The tier list has drawn polarizing reactions from Redditors, coaches, and players.

“Never mind, just saw Phreak’s tier list. There is a new low.” – Parth, Team Solo Mid Head Coach

“what is this a joke?” – Dyrus, Delta Fox Top Laner/ex-Team Solo Mid Top Laner

Several people have been critical of Phreak’s ratings. His opinion hasn’t been well-received or regarded kindly. But it doesn’t deserve this much scrutiny.

For one thing, this isn’t Phreak’s first rodeo. He gets paid to form opinions and defend them with accurate analysis. As Dot Esports’ Aaron Mickunas explains, the tier lists will force analysts “to research and keep themselves up-to-date as possible when it comes to talking League.”  Given that Phreak himself has gone on the record to explain his thought process and defend his opinion several times on Reddit, it’s clear that Phreak did his homework and has made it clear this is his opinion, not Riot’s official view. But that still wasn’t good enough to bring the discussion to a satisfying close.

Cabramaravilla at Blitz Esports recently shared his view on the controversial list. To be fair, he provides a fair counter-point to consider in contrast with the numbers: outside elements that you can’t find on a stat sheet. His thought process looks similar to Around the NFL’s Gregg Rosenthal, one of my favorite writers who gives a fair analysis of every starting NFL quarterback during the season based heavily around a thorough review of tape. While I agree that context behind the numbers is important, I don’t necessarily agree with attributing performance to minor details like roster turnover or champion selection.

Suggesting that Arrow’s performance is the direct product of Phoenix1’s early instability at jungle and support while Doublelift wasn’t producing numbers with the resources he was given due to his pick is absurd. That’s like saying an NFL quarterback couldn’t make a routine throw because he wasn’t wearing gloves. It’s black or white with no shade of grey: They’re either performing at a high level or they’re not up to par.

If you’re looking for context with the numbers, then you should compare the stat sheets with the tape for clarity. I believe Phreak did just that and kept it in mind when forming this list. Apollo and Piglet being ranked highly is fair given that, at the time, neither of them were the main reasons behind their teams’ struggles while Arrow and WildTurtle were further down the list as a reflection of their sluggish starts despite strong performances in spring.

Now, if I’m Phreak and I’m thinking about my tier list this week, Arrow and WildTurtle would have my attention but I need to see more games before I consider making a change. Knowing that Phoenix1 plays TSM and that FlyQuest plays Counter Logic Gaming, I’ll be watching to see how they fare against two of the strongest bot lanes in the region.

For a tier list that has a fair amount of fundamental basis, research, and reasonable judgment for the time it aired to receive this much flack is nearly jaw-dropping. Where was the uproar over Caps’s tier list for EU LCS midlaners?

Where was the basis for Caps’s opinion? Does it make sense to be angry at Phreak for basing his opinion off what players have done in summer to that point and backing his argument with numbers and video, while Caps can simply say “I chose to put myself highest” and have it be taken as the gospel truth?

I can understand being upset at a tier list you don’t agree with, but I can’t understand having no concerns with a current player creating a tier list that could potentially create conflicts of interest and reek with personal bias, let alone someone who hasn’t done his homework or can’t logically defend his opinion.

That’s why we loved James “Dash” Patterson at Worlds two years ago when he forced analysts like Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi at the desk to expand and defend their viewpoints when they were challenged. Great analysts come prepared to answer almost anything and justify it with evidence. You may not like the way Phreak ranked the players, but you can’t dismiss the list just because you don’t agree with it. If he hadn’t put any effort into ranking the players with numbers and tape available for this split only, there would be plausible concern and legitimate critique. But that isn’t the case.

The most important aspect of analysis is to generate discussion. Analysis uses known facts to build a case and challenges readers to think critically with every resource available. It gets fans talking to other fans about the game and its players. It gives stories for every NA LCS team extra juice. The past week of NA LCS action and Rift Rivals have gone a long way to put a spotlight on the bot lane and it’s thanks in part to Phreak.

This is the kind of quality we should come to expect from Riot as the NA LCS continues to take steps toward legitimacy as a sport. E-sports may never be on the same level as traditional sports, but with dedicated analysts preparing developed opinions and presenting them as fact, e-sports will earn the respect it deserves.

The bottom line is that analysts aren’t supposed to have only popular opinions. Analysts shouldn’t be afraid to discuss “worrying trends” or critique player performance because that’s their job. Unpopular opinions with analysts will happen, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard their opinion because we don’t like what they have to say.

Even the most unpopular opinion that has a solid foundation in research with a well-written and defended opinion deserves a modicum of respect. Regardless of how you feel about Phreak’s tier list or Phreak himself, we should openly encourage him to continue to deliver engaging content provided he continues to form his thoughts through extensive research and thorough, sound explanation.

In that regard, I commend Phreak for doing his job and doing it well.