Dardoch on his time with Team Imagine: “I was in contract prison.”

This spring has assuredly been the high point of Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett’s young League of Legends career.

The Team Liquid jungler won Rookie of the Split for the North American League Championship Series. Liquid is also playing Counter Logic Gaming this weekend in the semifinals of the spring playoffs, with a spot in the finals on the line Saturday.

The rapid rise and burgeoning career come less than a year, however, after a point at which Dardoch said he considered quitting.

Speaking to Slingshot at Week 9 of the LCS, Dardoch talked about his time in the Challenger scene. Before signing with Team Liquid Academy, things were dire. Dardoch had been kicked from Team Imagine, a Challenger team that dropped its entire roster last July.

“I had a really bad attitude back then, so I was toxic in the team environment,” Dardoch said. “So I was kicked, and that was fine by me. I knew I deserved to be kicked based on how I was acting on the team. But they also benched the other four members of our roster who weren’t under-performing.

“Well, maybe some of them were underperforming, but they weren’t negative to the team at all. They replaced all five players after we got into (the North American Challenger Series), played two weeks and they benched the entire roster, replaced everyone and just kicked them off the team.”

That was only where the problems started, though. Dardoch said he wasn’t getting paid but wasn’t let out of his contract, either.

“I was stuck in contract prison,” Dardoch said. “I wasn’t being paid, wasn’t doing anything, so the contract should be null. But they made me stay on contract. They kept my name on their lolesports page so I couldn’t join another team in the NA CS. I had offers from, I think Winterfox, at the time. And they wouldn’t let me join Winterfox.”

Now if the name Team Imagine sounds familiar, it should. That’s because it was owned by MAelstrom Gaming, the organization notoriously run by Martin Shkreli, who is currently being sued for allegedly not paying employees of his esports ventures.

Attempts to reach Shkreli and Gerard Kelly, MAelstrom co-owner and a co-defendant with Shkreli on the lawsuit, for comment were unsuccessful.

Dardoch’s claims wouldn’t be the most egregious of Shkreli’s alleged actions, but they further the narrative of esports as the Wild West.

“That situation made me want to quit the game,” Dardoch said. “I was so poorly treated by that org that it wanted to make me quit the game. I said to myself I’m not gonna join another random team unless it was from a legitimate org.

Dardoch signed with Team Liquid Academy in August and helped the team to an undefeated open qualifier and eventually make the North American Challenger Series before being called up to Liquid’s LCS team. The 17-year-old Dardoch is the youngest player in the LCS but played a big role in Liquid’s current standing.

“When I got the contract from Steve (Arhancet), it was like “OK, this is an actual good org,” Dardoch said. “TL just came along at the perfect time, so I just joined.”

The Team Imagine/Odyssey/MAelstrom disaster continues to be a fascinating case study for League of Legends. A handful of well-known players including Dardoch, Galen “Moon” Holgate of NRG and Unicorns of Love’s Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi appeared with the team.

“So I got the Imagine house and they were like, “By the way, Steelback’s coming,” said Moon, who was one of the replacements when Imagine dropped its players. “Because he was on Odyssey and we got a loan agreement from Odyssey. Like Martin (Shkreli) grouped up with Gerard (Kelly) or something. With Steelback, I didn’t know anything about it. I flew to California, and they just told us Steelback was coming later that day.”

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.

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