Flame was Dardoch before Dardoch

Fans of the North American League of Legends Championship Series already know about new Immortals jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Undoubtedly a talented player, his clash with Liquid, his former team, has been largely publicized, especially in the “Breaking Point” documentary about Liquid’s 2016 season.

Not a lot of fans know that Dardoch’s new teammate, Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, was in Dardoch’s shoes at the start of his own career.

Before he was Flame, he played under the summoner name Goldtec and was known for toxic behavior when he was a well-known player of CHAOS, a derivative of the DotA mod for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Although actual screenshots of his past toxicity are hard to find, he was known in the community for being a volatile and foul-mouthed player who often harshly criticized teammates and opponents alike.

Even after he jumped to League of Legends and made his debut with CJ Entus Blaze in 2012 as the top laner, the reputation followed. People were flabbergasted a player with his attitude could even go pro, with that sentiment reaching a fever pitch as one particular outburst was caught by a streamer who matched with Flame on the same team, in which Flame was lambasting his teammates. Although not the typical “toxic” mannerisms League players are used to, the incident was used to point out how difficult it was to play with Flame. The incident, of course, went viral, and the community bashed him for his conduct, especially after his pro debut.

Negative stories soon gave way to positive ones as Flame reached the peak of his career, showcasing immense mechanical skill and carry ability. Flame later revealed his fire — much like Dardoch — came from his competitive desire to win above everything else. In a short video in April 2014 produced by CJ Entus, the team said Flame dreamt about the game and would say “Shen ultimate,” over and over again in his sleep. What was a light hearted joke in the video gave fans a glimpse of his mentality. Another story originated from then CJ Blaze’s mid laner Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong’s rune page, which roughly translates to “since Flame is an asshole, I’ll play Lulu.” Word on the street was that Flame was rather bossy and often told his team what to do in order to win, and a screenshot of Ambition’s rune page seems to prove it. Interestingly, the day this rune page was on Inven, Ambition carried the game as Lulu with 400 CS.

Furthermore, Flame proved to be an incredibly hard worker. A photo from Inven showed him in the waiting room analyzing games with his smart phone and taking notes. He’s also contacted various high-ranked players who are known for their mastery on certain champions, personally messaging them to ask for advice such as counter picks, strategies, and other bits of information. These stories would circulate on Inven, playing a part in Flame’s image cleaning.

In 2014, CJ Entus Blaze failed to qualify for the regional gauntlet for a spot at the League of Legends World Championship. The result introduced the public to a humbled Flame, who showed just how much he matured as a person through a long Facebook post regarding his disappointment.

“What’s funny is that I was very ambitious, and when the last tournament with the chance to fight in the regional qualifiers was over, my entire body trembled and I felt the most embarrassed and shameful in my life of 23 years,” he wrote. “I was playing my best for two years, and when I thought that everything fell apart in the brief moment when I wasn’t paying attention, I was incredibly sorry to my teammates, and I wondered why in the world I did that as I was endlessly disappointed in myself.”

Later that year, Flame would move to China’s LGD Gaming to many fans’ disappointment. He saw a surprisingly small amount of play and was competing for the starter position with Choi “Acorn” Chun-joo. In an interview with Inven’s Park beom, Flame confessed that he had “lost the passion” he had once felt for the game but continued to play out of a sense of “responsibility to the fans.”

Not much is publicly known how things worked out behind the scenes in LGD, or precisely why Flame didn’t see that much playing time. The prevailing theory is that there were some complications working with Flame to a certain extent, and LGD has gone on record to say that they preferred to work with Acorn. Seeing how Acorn was close to LGD’s AD Carry Gu “Imp” Seung-bin, it holds some weight. After his stint in China, Flame returned to Korea as a part of Longzhu Gaming this year, but he again saw little play during the spring and summer splits.

Flame has made the long walk as a person and a player. As an upstart with a foul keyboard vocabulary to a hard working professional, he made quite the transformation over his career. One constant with Flame was the hunger to perform, and that impacted his interactions with others, which undoubtedly caused some problems in his past teams. It will be interesting to see just how much his demeanor has changed in the last few years and whether or not his experiences will rub off on Dardoch at all.

Cover photo courtesy of Fomos.

Slingshot staff writer and Korean League of Legends expert who also owns a Pikachu-themed iPhone case. You can reach him at Andrew@slingshotesports.com

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