It can be hard to play under pressure, and nobody knows that better than the new Immortals. With the exception of Eugene “Pobelter” Park, we fielded an entirely new roster, and faced high expectations heading into the Spring Split of the NA LCS. Analysts and fans were buzzing about the combination of jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and top laner Ho-Jong “Flame” Lee. Both players have a lot in common: past issues with their temper, shining moments of mechanical prowess, and perhaps most importantly, a ravenous desire to win.
As Immortals worked through early synergy problems in their first weeks in the LCS, that pressure bore down on both Flame and Dardoch. On previous teams, under different circumstances, they may have cracked under the pressure. Instead, Immortals is climbing the ranks and preparing for a strong playoffs run. The team has Summer in their sights, and Spring is a time to adapt, grow, and build crucial synergy.
As the team grows and connects, these two powerhouse players are forming a foundation for future success. If that wasn’t heartwarming enough, they’re also building quite the bromance.
Dardoch was the second member to join the new Immortals, and he had a specific vision in mind for his next team after leaving Liquid in a much-discussed personality clash.
Dardoch’s decision was ultimately influenced by wanting a healthier, more competitive environment. He explains: “I felt like I was the strongest level of Team Liquid and I didn’t like the thought of joining a new team and trying to build up, so I wanted to join a team with strong members.” While he was only the second member to join the new IMT, the management inspired faith that there wouldn’t be a repeat of his 2016 season with Liquid.
Noah Whinston was, of course, at the helm of picking these new players and building a roster around Pobelter. “We’ve seen in the past that the most motivated players are the ones with something to prove.” he says. Dardoch’s rise and fall with Team Liquid clearly showcased that Dardoch was hungry to prove himself, and in need of a structure that would allow him to do so. The new Immortals would be a perfect fit.
Flame’s first exposure to Immortals was from afar. “I watched NA LCS a few times last year and I watched Immortals dominate the league.” he says, but he was less interested in the players than who was behind them. “I noticed their management had a good reputation as well.”
As the Immortals roster came together, the team had to make a choice. “We had a lot of options for top lane.” Dardoch admits. “The most risky one was Flame, due to things in his past.” Some players would have hesitated, looking for a safer choice, but Dardoch wasn’t deterred. “I told Noah I was comfortable playing with Flame on my team, and he picked him up.”
“Going into this year, we wanted to prioritize players that we knew had incredible work ethics.” Noah explains. “No player works harder than one with something to prove.” Both Flame and Dardoch have buckled down with the new team, playing their hearts out. Some people might have seen these pickups as risky, but Immortals saw the potential behind these players, and more importantly, the fact that they were willing to work to prove every critic they had ever accumulated wrong.
The first hurdle
Dardoch and Flame didn’t have much of a past together before they found themselves as teammates. “I played with Flame in Korean solo queue when I was there with TL; I knew him because Fenix knew him.” Dardoch says, but it hadn’t exactly been a close friendship. “The first time I met with him and played with him was a week before IEM.”
IEM Gyeonggi was the first time the team came together, and the the tournament was a pressure cooker. The team had just been assembled with less than two days to go, and they would be playing on the international stage. To make matters worse, the team struggled with synergy in the limited time they had to scrim. “After we played together, we realized we weren’t meshing well right off the bat, and didn’t have that natural synergy. We were like: “Damn, do we really have to play at IEM?” Dardoch admits. “We thought we were going to do really poorly.”
The team got on stage expecting an execution, but instead something magical happened. “After we played on stage, we clicked for the first time together. We wanted to play more after we lost to Kongdoo.” Dardoch says.
The team set their sights on Spring, and with IEM Gyeonggi over, Flame and Dardoch had time to get to know each other.
People have been drawing comparisons between Flame and Dardoch since they were both announced on the same roster, and it was predicted that they’d be the bedrock of the team’s success. Flame has nothing but compliments for Dardoch, commenting that “He is very friendly and fun outside of the game. He works hard and helps a lot in our growth as a team. I am very thankful for that.”
Dardoch is also thankful for the company of his top laner. “It’s just… Flame’s an interesting character. He’s not really normal by any standards. Take a normal person. He’s not even close to that. He’s just a really odd character. It’s not even cultural differences. I’m sure even to Koreans, he’s super weird.”
Flame’s trademark audacity in top lane translates off the Rift as well. “He’s just a confident person, so there’s a lot of things he does that are completely normal to him that everyone else is confused by.” Dardoch says.
i think flame is reading first aid translations he keeps saying "where does it hurt" and "does anyone know CPR" .. WutFace
— Joshua Hartnett (@Dardochlol) January 14, 2017
While Immortals showed signs of aggressive shotcalling and team cohesion during the early weeks, we also slipped up quite a bit. The team went 2-4 in their first three weeks, and fans started to get a little concerned. Behind the scenes, the players could easily identify what, exactly, had gone wrong.
“For the first week, Olleh flew in on Thursday night and we played Saturday.” Dardoch explains. The team was momentarily unsure if Olleh would even make it into the country in time. “We got one full day of scrims with him, and he was jet lagged, so he’d wake up at 3am. It was awful for him.”
Olleh was so tired on stage that he was having trouble playing, and combined with stage jitters, the effects were deadly. Working hard in scrims just made the problem worse, and the support was so tired he even missed a ban on stage against TSM. The problems ran deeper than just one tired player, however.
“We knew going in that we wouldn’t have the same day one chemistry that we did with our 2016 roster.” Noah says, looking back on their first week of play. While the players were scrambling to find their footing, putting in long hours of work, the management has their eyes on the long game. “We’re not building to be the best in the regular season of the Spring Split, we’re building to make it to Worlds.” Noah explains. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
As the games advance, the flaws in their play became apparent. “Our gameplay was solo queue-esque; we had a lot of fiestas and were relying on our individual mechanics to try to win. There was no strategy put into it because we were a brand new team. We [didn’t] understand that the correct play can depend on your region.” Dardoch is blunt and honest in his autopsy report of Immortals’ early performances.
“Me and Eugene played on two different team styles [in NA], Flame played in Korea and China, Olleh was in Brazil and Taiwan, and Cody was in Challenger. Our ideal in one situation could be seen as four or five different things. It was really hard for us to get it together in week one, because we didn’t have much time to mesh together.”
Mindset can be a powerful tool, and Immortals’ upwards climb is proof of this. The early failures were expected, and the support staff was able to zero in on those flaws and correct them. Flame talks candidly about some of those early problems: “We didn’t have much practice, due to visa issues, and had to adapt our style on stage.” Flame also blames himself for some of the early miscommunication. “I still need to study harder to learn English and smooth out our communication to lead the game with TP plays and team fights.”
He may be concerned about his own performance, but Flame has a lot of hope – and he has some strong allies at his back. “I am still confident in my in-game mechanics and champion pool. Dardoch has been friendly and helpful from the start, and Pobelter and Olleh have been helping me alot with language barriers. I am very thankful for our teammates.”
Immortals has banded together as a team to tackle the future, and the support staff and management at their backs are a huge part of this new outlook. Every loss is a lesson, and there are immediate answers to the problems that plague the players. As Spring continues, the team is slowly working out those issues. Of course, it’s not an instant process.
Finding their footing
Much of the team’s success so far can be attributed to Dardoch and Flame. Early on, the team tried to see if Flame could play his trademark carry picks, but it didn’t work out (well, except for that Fiora quadrakill).
“We tried to play the Fiora carry style top, but that style is harder to play without team communication. We defaulted and put Flame on tanks for the remainder of week one, but I think me and Flame are probably already the best top/jungle combo in North America, but we couldn’t show it because we put him on tanks every game.” Dardoch explains, but it was for the best. “That was what the team needed.”
Both Flame and Dardoch may have had rough pasts or struggled to show their stuff, but Immortals has become a home for them. “I think we have one of the best staffs – management and coaching staff – that any LCS team has.” Dardoch says about their early practice. “We have a really good structure on Immortals. It’s made me ten times better as a player, working with the coaching staff so far.”
Flame elaborates about the relationship between the staff and the team: “The practice with our team as a whole is very enjoyable, we learn new things every day and we are growing as a team.
I am feeling positive about our place as a team right now, we are concentrating on growing and building synergy as a team in Spring split and are aiming to perform in the Summer Split and into Worlds.”
The top and jungle are also in agreement about something else: the fact that once they figure out their flaws, they’ll be unstoppable. Dardoch has been uncharacteristically humble throughout the interview, but he shows a flash of trademark bravado when he says “I’m confident that we can beat anyone on top and jungle – I’m not really worried about anyone in NA.”
He’s not alone in that sentiment. Flame adds “I have good synergy with Dardoch in tournaments and in scrims, and I have a lot of trust in his play. If we can practice and keep up our synergy, we can be the best duo in the league.”
By Cass Marshall