18 champion tiles hang on the wall in the LEC studio in Berlin. At the very start, Fnatic, who toppled Lemondogs in 2013 to become inaugural EU LCS champions. At the end of the wall, MAD Lions: the team that broke the cycle of G2 and Fnatic domination, and in 2021 became the third-ever team to win back-to-back titles. The LEC wall is the living history of the league and the teams that forged it. This weekend, another tile will be added.
But for every tile on the wall, there are hundreds of players that never make it there. Ahead of the 2022 Spring Finals, one veteran stands out among them: Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. Rogue's top laner is already in the finals, so close to winning what would be much more than simple recognition of "being the best" and more than a ticket to Busan's Mid-Season Invitational. For Odoamne, winning the LEC would be the conclusion of a career-long quest that has escaped me for nearly a whole decade: the quest for validation.
From an early high to years of nothing
Validation is an abstract concept, but no LEC player embodies the desire for it better than Odoamne. The Romanian is one of the most seasoned professionals in current-day League of Legends, his career roots dating eight years back to 2014, first with Cloud9 Eclipse and then the team that'd bring him his first successes: H2k-Gaming.
H2k peaked in 2016. A third place in the EU LCS Summer Split playoffs qualified them for Worlds as Europe's #2 seed. In hindsight, one could look at the roster and say that it was budding with potential. Alongside Odoamne were Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook, Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou, and Oskar "Vander" Bogdan. That line-up not only won their group over EDward Gaming, but made top 4 too after a lucky draw against even more unbelievable underdogs Albus NoX Luna. It was at Worlds Odoamne flaunted his skills on Jayce, winning all four games he played with the champion. Years later, it would be one of his most signature champions.
That was the highest Odoamne would fly for years. After Samsung Galaxy swept H2k and sent them packing from Worlds, Odoamne spent one more year on the team, but couldn't get close to EU title contention in 2017. Absentee results followed in 2018 with Splyce, and then in 2019-2020 with Schalke 04, a stint which went as low as eight place in 2020 Spring and as high as missing Worlds by one game in 2020 Summer. By an inch or a mile, Odoamne kept missing international podiums.
As the meta evolved and changed, so did Odoamne. Champions such as Gnar, Shen, Renekton, and Ornn kept popping up for him as he slowly mastered the skill of playing "weak side", the side that's supposed to lose the lane match-up, but win in teamfights through utility or scaling. An outlier to Odoamne's developing specialty was Kennen; while the champion inherently could fulfill the same role of just being a teamfight enabler, Odoamne would often pilot it so well that he would carry his team.
Falling at the finish line
And then came Rogue, who in 2020 had begun consistently competing among the top LEC teams for the first time. While the team attended Worlds 2020, their campaign ended in a disappointing last-place finish in the group stage, triggering a rebuild for the 2021 offseason.
For that, they needed a veteran centerpiece, so Odoamne got the call.
In no time, Rogue became a menace in 2021 Spring with a devastating early game. Fast forward through the split, and Rogue were leading MAD 2-0 in the Spring Grand finals. But then 2-0 became 2-1. Then 2-2. Then a reverse sweep. The "one game away" curse had returned to once again rob Odoamne.
Rogue’s wounds had seemingly healed in the break between the Spring Split final and the start of the Summer Split. Once again, the lineup cleaned house in the regular split. They finished in first place, the fans voted Odoamne as the best top laner in the split… Everything was roses.
But in the playoffs, it became clear that the wounds of the Spring Split hadn’t healed at all. On the contrary, they were festering insecurity and instability in the team, awoken by the finals loss last split. In their first-round win against Misfits, Rogue looked shaky and vulnerable. But where Misfits couldn't close, MAD Lions and Fnatic gave no quarter, sweeping Rogue in successive 3-0s. And while Rogue were a lock of Worlds as #3 seed, it wasn't hype, but doubt and apprehension that followed them there.
2021 was Odoamne's first Worlds in five years and this time he would leave it even sooner than in 2016. Even with a melting down FunPlus Phoenix, the "Group of Death" ended Rogue, qualifying DWG KIA and Cloud9 forward. The team atmosphere had grown sour, the early game formula had failed.
The losses had piled into a mountain at this point for Odoamne and hit him extra hard. He later confirmed that he had been on painkillers due to an early hospitalization, which visibly affected his play at Worlds, but at the end of the day, he was still empty-handed. Almost eight years after he had started his career, Odoamne had nothing to show but a couple of Worlds duds and zero domestic titles.
2022: Hail the weak side king
In the offseason, the consensus among pundits was clear: Rogue would keep their two best-performing players, jungler Kacper "Inspired" Słoma and bot laner Steven “Hans sama” Liv. To fix the team’s level of play, either Odoamne, Emil “Larssen” Larsson, or Adrian "Trymbi" Trybus — or all of them — had to go. Rogue saw it differently. Inspired was sold to Evil Geniuses, and Hans sama left to join Team Liquid. Their replacements became Kim "Malrang" Geun-seong and Markos "Comp" Stamkopoulos. A sub and a benched player. Surely, this would downgrade the lineup. Surely, this would mean Odoamne had wasted his last shot at winning the title in 2021.
Contrary to all logic, Rogue flourished. The new line-up had revitalized the players, Odoamne included. Whereas the lineup with Inspired had revolved around enabling the jungler, Malrang sacrificed his role to enable his team. Odoamne's already well-polished laning skills shone even brighter with a jungler who was now giving him resources, instead of demanding them. In the opening weekend of the 2022 LEC Spring Split, he rained down hell on his opponents and led his younger teammates to a clean 3-0 start. The victory lap only grew larger. In the first half of the split, Rogue didn’t drop a single game.
Odoamne was unleashed. After years of struggling to find his spot, in Rogue he finally could display what he was made of. He became LEC's "weak side king" for his sublime laning phase in unfavorable matchups that he perfectly transitioned into high-impact performances come mid game and late game. Other players might be flashier, other players might have a deeper champion pool than Odoamne and find success on odd picks. But Odoamne shone through stability, wielding his wisdom accumulated over the course of eight years.
That experience was on full display in the first rounds of the playoffs. Against Misfits Gaming, Odoamne shredded Shin "HiRit" Tae-min in all four games of the series. In the next series, Fnatic gave Rogue a much better fight and put them on the ropes but even when down 0-2, Odoamne held his ground even — if not better — than Martin "Wunder" Hansen. Odoamne was the chief reason why Rogue almost mounted a comeback in those first two games and ultimately reverse-swept Fnatic by game 5.
Odoamne reflected on his performance after the series, saying, “I feel like top lane is one of those roles where you benefit from having a lot of experience, and I'm just really happy that after eight years of my career, I'm playing the best League of Legends that I think I've maybe ever played.”
Only the winners are remembered
Yet, while being back on top of the league is a great personal milestone, it isn’t enough for Odoamne. Years down the line, nobody will be talking about a team that “almost won the LEC.” As caster Aaron “Medic” Chamberlain pointed out, Odoamne is the LEC player with the most games under his belt without winning a title. Only those who rise to the occasion earn their tile on the LEC wall of champions. Only those who can bear the weight of the most important matches will be celebrated and remembered.
Eight years since the start of his career, Odoamne plays in his second-ever final of Europe’s highest competition. Unlike last year, Rogue is the favorite to win the title. They're the end boss waiting for either G2 or Fnatic to meet them on the stage. They've shown their resilience. Now, the ultimate test awaits.
Ever-sarcastic and down-to-earth, he is not one to quickly show what the opportunity means to him. We got a glimpse behind the hardened shell last year, when he made his first grand final ever, and teary-eyedly spoke, “I’ve been through so many good teams that I didn’t get to make finals [with]. Now, after seven years, being a boomer, I get to finally make it.”
We can expect Odoamne to be stoic and sober heading into the series on Sunday. But if Rogue clutches it, be ready for the emotions to flow. Eight years, countless teammates, numerous victories and defeats later, would drop from his shoulders and the pressure is released. It is the final step in Odoamne’s long, long journey seeking the acknowledgment, the validation of truly being one of Europe’s greatest top laners ever.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.