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Dardoch Talks Leadership, Jungle Picks and Expectations

Dan Smyth-Temple

Few expected that Dignitas’ building roster would be the one to stand out from the crowd going into the LCS this year, but the team continues to find repeated success. The young players have certainly pulled their weight, but most of the focus falls on the standout performances from Dignitas’ most senior players— Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. Both were slapped with the dreaded “washed up” label coming into 2021, but each has proven that they’re not to be overlooked.

Dardoch TSM

Dardoch feels ready to reassess expectations for the season with Dignitas’ recent wins (Photo via Riot Games)

We caught up with Dardoch after their win against FlyQuest to talk about the champions he’s been playing, his expectations for the team, and transitioning into a leadership role.

Hotspawn: Congrats on the win! How you’re feeling after that game? I’m sure I can guess, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Dardoch: I think overall I felt pretty good about that game because that was a comp we’ve been practicing with for a few weeks now. But haven’t been satisfied with the results until recently so we decided it was a good time to show it today. I think our team performed pretty well overall.

Hotspawn: I wanted to briefly address the number of champions you’ve been playing. What’s going on there? Are you trying to speedrun playing every jungler in the LCS this season, or just some limit testing?

Dardoch: I think I did a lot of limit testing in scrims to get to this point of having a lot of champion options. I think even early on, before we even started, when I was writing out an optional champion list for our pre-season scrims or just in general [for] my coach, it was always exceeding 20+ champions. So it was like “we might as well not write it down,” and it’ll be up to me to tell my team when it’s a good angle for it in the draft. I try my best to make sure that we’re practicing as efficiently as possible, so this week especially I think I played a lot of the same champs in scrims,  more often than I normally do, but we also stayed on the exact same patch as the previous week so it makes sense. 

Hotspawn: Is it a result of the meta that you feel comfortable pulling out all these champions? In past seasons we’ve seen jungle metas with only around three or four jungle champions in rotation.

Dardoch: I think right now there is a very obvious hierarchy in terms of jungle champion strength. But I think after Udyr [and] Olaf are out, it opens up to a few more champs that have more specific counterpicks. There’s still a big three or four champs that rule over the jungle meta, normally, but the thing that’s different in this one is that there’s a lot more agency in terms of counterpicks. I feel like not everyone is using them all the time, but I think we’re starting to see in other regions, especially the Kayn into Lilia, pop up and things like that. Counterpicking leaves a lot of options in jungle in terms of what’s viable.

Hotspawn: It seems like you have a lot of confidence in Dignitas’ draft strength.

Dardoch: I think we have a very good understanding of the draft and, especially, we have a good understanding of the teams we’re drafting against. Today was also a very good example of us outplaying them in draft from start to finish. We read exactly what they [were] gonna do and everyone felt very comfortable going into the game with what we had, so I do think our draft is a very big strength of our team right now.

Hotspawn: Depending on the results of TSM’s game against Evil Geniuses you’ll be in second place, or at the very least tied for it. How confident are you feeling right now in your team’s strength?

Dardoch: In terms of team strength I think we’ve dropped games against the teams I figured we would have, and I think we’ve beaten every team we should’ve, which is the remaining five. I think we have a good opportunity to see how good we are against C9 and TSM later in the week, so I think that’ll be a more realistic benchmark for us. I think even though we didn’t get to play vs FlyQuest’s full roster, we did handle them easily in Lock In. This game, I don’t think the jungle player changed it that much, NXI to Josedeodo, so they had a very similar feel as a team and it was kind of easy to play against them. I’m really curious to see how we’ll stack up against [C9 and TSM].

Hotspawn: Last week I spoke to Aaron “FakeGod” Lee and he told me Dignitas was going to beat Evil Geniuses the next day, and he ended up being right. Shifting away from team discussion, how confident are you feeling right now in your own play?

Dardoch: In my own play I always feel generally very confident. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the junglers in the LCS right now, I do think it’s a stacked role comparing it to other years of the LCS I’ve played in. This year is very much so stacked with jungle talent individually speaking. But I do think the game has become more team-focused in general, so still, individual play only matters to a certain extent. I think you see the moments where people like Blaber or people like Closer can create an individual gap in the jungle, but at the end of the day, it is very much team reliant on how you snowball and move forward with the game.

Although I feel really confident in my own ability, it mostly stems from my comms and how I can lead my team. That’s moreso what I’m focused on than gapping enemy jungle 1v1 [laughs].

Hotspawn: You mentioned that League feels more like a team game than it has in the past. What’s the reason for that?

Dardoch: At least, in my opinion, I think the changes with turret plates and also the dragon souls made it more so that there’s a focal point on the map or very obvious conditions that people are playing for. If the dragons are down and the rift herald is down, people are most likely gonna be playing for turret plates and it becomes very predictable. So then everybody can very easily get involved and, in my opinion, that’s why we’ve seen the game shift into less an individual style game and more into a 5v5.

Dardoch Echo Fox Huni

Dardoch has played on many different teams during his LCS tenure, including Liquid, Immortals, CLG, and Echo Fox (Photo via Riot Games)

Hotspawn: And you’re feeling confident with your team in terms of that synergy?

Dardoch: Yeah I think our teamwork and synergy is getting better day-to-day. We showcased that today, although we had an easier comp to play that’s more straightforward— Seraphine, front to back. It wasn’t something that we were able to play a few weeks ago, so I do think we’re improving steadily.

Hotspawn: What are some of your personal goals for the split?

Dardoch: My personal goal is just to make it so that we have an end to the season that we’re all happy with as a team. Whether [that means] we end playing in the quarterfinals and losing, and we feel like the enemy team was just better and there wasn’t any nerves involved or we played bad or our strategy messed up I’d feel fine with it. But I do think our expectations are climbing for ourselves as we get more wins. We’ll just take it day by day I guess.

Hotspawn: You mentioned earlier that you’re focused on your own leadership skills right now. Is that a role that you’ve been shifting into this year, or have you always filled a leadership role as a result of playing jungle?

Dardoch: I think I’ve been a vocal leader but not necessarily a team leader. I don’t think I’ve slotted into the role I’m filling now on another team. Or at least not willingly, but we went into the season with three rookies— or I guess I should say younger players, none of them are rookies. But we came into it with less experienced players so it was obvious that me and Zaq would have to be the leaders of the team and lead by example. I always give more credit to Zaq in that category than I would ever to myself because I think Zaq does a way better job than I do. I’m definitely in a more leadership position than I have [been] in the past for sure.

Hotspawn: Has the transition towards leadership felt natural to you, or has that been a struggle?

Dardoch: It’s definitely natural for me because I have a very strong opinion about the game regardless, [laughs] so whether I’m the leader or not I was gonna vocalize how I felt we should play regardless. I think it’s better for everybody involved that that was kind of the expectation from the jump, that I would be very vocal about how I think we should play or how we should change how we’re playing, and things like that. Yeah, I would say I fit into it pretty naturally.

Hotspawn: Alright, I think that’s all I have time for! To sign us off, do you have any words for the Dignitas fans out there?

Dardoch: Thank you for supporting us so far. I know there’s not very many Dignitas fans, or at least very loyal ones, but I appreciate you guys sticking with us from start to finish, especially if you were a fan from Lock In and followed us to not making through groups like an NA team should, [laughs] but I think we’ll need the support against C9 and TSM, so stick with us.