“I can use it in the interview.”
I waited backstage after the match between H2K Gaming and Team Vitality to interview top laner Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. He walked through the door to backstage with one of the media relations and player handlers of the European League of Legends Championship Series, brandishing one of the prop Katarina daggers from the photo area at the front of EU LCS.
“What if it’s a written interview?” she asked him, laughing.
“It is,” I said, waving for them to walk over.
Odoamne’s face fell. It was the first time I had seen a player look genuinely disappointed that he wouldn’t have to do an on-camera interview. He took the dagger with him into the interview room anyway.
“So, tell me about Kled.”
Odoamne played Kled in the second game against Team Vitality for an overall score of 4/0/6, but two months ago, when Odoamne locked in Kled on stream, his viewers spammed his chat with “0-9.” After the first death, it only got worse.
“Oh.” The almost guilty laugh dispelled any lingering disappointment. “I used to be super bad at this champion, and whenever I would like stream for a bit, I would play Kled, and I would legit go 10 deaths every game on stream.”
Odoamne has 22 games of Kled played on his main account on the EUW server this year, but only a win rate of 32 percent, and he averages five deaths per game.
“Maybe in practice it just goes really, really well because I feel like teams right now are kind of trying to just play ARAM a lot,” Odoamne said, “so this pick just kind of works a lot because I feel like also teams are just kind of clumsy with their rotations when they grab side waves, and they rotate to mid. I think even when they stay mid as five, their formation is not as tight. So they kind of just have this tendency to split up — at least in EU.”
Throughout the game, though Odoamne fell behind initially in CS against Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet’s Gnar in an unfavorable early matchup, when Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski went top or Odoamne managed to push out a wave, he looked to move into river for vision or ult mid lane. Taking the bad matchup is something Odoamne is often comfortable doing. He can play out the lane easily, hardly falling behind his opponent, and look for flanks mid or Teleports to the bottom lane.
Odoamne has a sense of pride in being able to play bad matchups and stay competitive or even win some of his lanes. At the moment, with many teams drafting mid lane earlier in the process and teams banning more top laners, he can show off the flexibility in his role.
“Most the time with the draft the way it’s going,” Odoamne said, “I either play for counter pick top if we’re purple side, or I just go for a good blind pick. With all the mid priority and the top focus, the top pool gets pinched a lot, so I think it’s just the safest to go for a safe blind.”
Favoring the “bad matchup” has separated Odoamne from a lot of his peers throughout his years in LCS. The win against Team Vitality’s top laner, Cabochard, has particular significance in that regard — or at least it used to.
In season 5, Odoamne said, Cabochard “was the exact opposite” of him. While Odoamne spent a lot of his time in the lane focusing on the 1-v-1, Cabochard has often been known for calling his jungler to his lane and snowballing heavily.
“I kind of had — not really a hatred for him, but (I mean, yeah, I kind of hated him), but there was this grudge because I would just be really annoyed.”
For Odoamne, however, this grudge has died down to an extent, and Cabochard has become a more versatile player. Even if he might rib on Cabochard in the opening sequence to the match, beating Cabochard doesn’t have the same weight as it might when both H2K and Gambit struggled early on in 2015.
At least, that’s what Odoamne says, but he still had a fair amount of venting saved up.
“They still have this predictable path,” Odoamne said of Team Vitality with Cabochard and Charly “Djoko” Guillard, “and it’s like at three minutes their jungler is always top and stuff like that, but that’s not as obnoxious as it was before with him and Diamondprox. Like that team was just unreal. You could never play lane alone because — I don’t know, the reason why it annoyed me so much was because he would make so many mistakes in lane, and I would punish him so much, but ultimately his jungler was always there, and I could never do anything.”
The stylistic beef between Odoamne and Cabochard was one of the unsung rivalries of EU LCS in 2015, perhaps in part because both H2K and Gambit had difficulty finding a consistent stride early in the year. But, more importantly, the way Odoamne saw Cabochard digs deeper into his personality. He wants to be seen as the best.
“He was being regarded as one of the best laners and stuff,” Odoamne said, “but — his style was really good, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was like bad, but I think the way he was playing in a 1-v-1 setup was kind of poor.”
Although he hasn’t exposed that side of him in Riot features or other interviews as much, Odoamne is a fiercely competitive person. When I told him it’s pretty clear it gets under his skin when commentators put other EU tops a tier above him, he laughed it off.
“Ummm, kind of,” he admitted. “I’m really serious and competitive, and on camera I don’t have many, you know, funny moments or banter-ish moments. I would like to just kind of be more of myself because I’m just really, really sarcastic, so I just feel like the way the environment and the community just like perceives stuff like this is kind of like — negative — in a way. I would like to talk shit some more, so — lately I’m kind of trying to do that whenever I go on the desk. Maybe soon. I will start becoming a bit of a trash-talker myself.”
That naturally set up a convenient segue for discussing the upcoming match against Unicorns of Love this week. Like Cabochard and Odoamne, Unicorns of Love top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás debuted in the EU LCS in 2015 and played against the others in Challenger Series before that. Last split, Vizicsacsi became the first top laner to win the EU LCS MVP.
Unlike Cabochard, however, when I compare Vizicsacsi to Odoamne, I come to similar stylistic points. Both have honed their craft in the 1-v-1 with or without jungle pressure, have a reputation for playing Shen, and have stood out as some of the most consistent top laners since they came to the LCS.
Of course, Odoamne had his own take.
“He doesn’t necessarily make mechanical mistakes in lane,” Odoamne said. “He plays it good. But the way he plays is just really — in my opinion, it’s way too risky. Because like even scrims or even, you know, like there’s even LCS games where it’s Minute 4 in the game. He has both his trinkets up, and he just, you know, uses his gap close to go in, and the jungler is in the brush, and he dies.
“Mechanically, I think he’s really good, but he’s just really, really greedy… He just has this really big tendency to ignore whatever could happen. If there’s like a 10% chance of killing, he would take it.”
A high risk tendency is consistent with the way Unicorns play across-the-board. Head coach Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant sites it as a strength of the team pushed by support player Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov. Unicorns of Love look for more opportunities to play aggressively and take risks.
In the Unicorns and H2K games of this year, however, it’s often H2K’s risk taking that has proved costly in fights around Baron or hard pushes mid. If the team burned a Teleport and Odoamne failed the resulting flank, it seemed as if they would feel compelled to commit to the Baron anyway. Unicorns’ eye for team fight openings saw Vizicsacsi besting Odoamne in team fights.
Overall, Vizicsacsi hasn’t had the same split this summer as he had in spring. The broadcast often flashes his mounting count of solo deaths that places him near the top of the list for players in EU LCS for dying when only one opponent is around.
The risk-taking may be catching up to him, but Odoamne also says “the meta kind of shifted away from his power picks.”
Although it’s true Vizicsacsi’s Shen and Nautilus, his most-played in the spring, don’t have as much impact on the meta this split, Vizicsacsi has become increasingly meta-resistant over the years: something in which Odoamne also prides himself.
When I first interviewed Odoamne in 2015 after H2K’s third place match against Unicorns of Love, he was adamant that, despite the running narrative that he is a “tank player,” he didn’t feel he had a weak style. The topic came up again when I asked Odoamne if he felt he had an advantage because he could play champions like Rumble, a long-time signature pick.
“I don’t think I really have a strong meta and stuff,” Odoamne said. “It’s just — I kind of can play every meta at the same level. At Worlds, the only reason I looked so good was that I was just in Korean bootcamp for two months, and we got really far at worlds… I got a lot of practice playing against people that don’t allow you to make mistakes.”
At first, I wasn’t exactly sure why Odoamne would bring up his worlds run, but then I realized it would likely stick out in the minds of many spectators who thought of Odoamne as a tank player. He played lane-punishing champions like Jayce and Kennen and gained respect from the likes of Song “Smeb” Kyung-Ho and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.
Odoamne really focuses on something incredibly valuable in a top lane role: versatility. The wide variety of champions that grace the long lane forces players to experiment with a variety of styles, to go from ranged to melee, to play burst, sustained damage champions or tanks, and to understand interactions that many in other roles may gloss over.
Before Odoamne left the interview room, still carrying his Katarina dagger, he delivered the crux of his confidence in one simple line:
“I can play in all metas, others can’t.”
It has kept him near the top of LCS even as newer contenders like Martin “Wunder” Hansen rise. It gives him room to laugh a little. It gives him room to “be more himself.”
“I think this year we managed to beat [H2K] three times the last three times we met,” Vizicsacsi said after the match against Splyce, “so I’m looking forward for fourth time.”
If Odoamne and H2K can take down Unicorns of Love at the close of 2017 EU LCS Summer for the first time all year, he’ll stake easy claim to the European top laner throne. I and the rest of the audience will look forward to seeing more sides to one of Europe’s now most consistent stars.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games