The 2019 offseason was one of the most competitive ever in Europe.
Although Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s departure to G2 Esports was the most influential move, other changes heavily influenced the various teams’ fortunes going into the spring split. Notably, the emergence of four new organizations destabilized the status quo that was prevalent in 2018. As a result, a lot of players changed jerseys.
Among them, two players effectively swapped spots with one another: Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamas went to Splyce, and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu joined Schalke 04’s rebuilding effort. The consensus regarding the move was that the trade benefited both players at the time, but none would imagine how spot-on that assessment was. To this day, it is difficult to say which player benefitted more than the other.
Regardless of our outside perspective, the players took conscious decisions as they sought better environments for themselves.
For Odoamne, the move was about joining a team where he could focus more on his performance. In 2018, he was heavily involved in Splyce’s decision-making process, almost micromanaging his teammates; the process was strenuous for a top laner whose calling card was playmaking.
“I wouldn't say that I wouldn't fit in Splyce well, but Splyce wouldn't fit me well,” he said. “I adapted pretty much to what Splyce wanted me to do. I consider myself more of a playmaker, and I am also able to play with low jungle assistance and be relevant no matter what. But in Splyce, I think I was the only one that was like that [in the beginning]. Nisqy became that near the end; he became more and more aggressive in that regard.”
In addition, the team’s macro setups were at times lacking, as there was a reduced focus on the big picture. Instead of planning rotations in advance and leveraging a lane priority event into a takeover, Splyce’s moves usually stopped after a few steps - unless the plan’s escalation steps were obvious. In the end, it took a toll on him.
“I was the only one that was willing to do that and come up with more elaborate plans on how to progress the game, and I feel like it wasn't really my job to do that,” he said. “I am the most isolated member on the map in the top lane, and there was a lot of pressure on me to come up with these plans and think for others, and tell them what to do.”
“That hindered my individual skill level because I felt, going into every game, that if I didn't perform really well, and if I don't have the best games of my career over there, then we would lose,” he added. “It was really hard because I felt I was doing more than I should. I couldn't really focus on myself. That's why I had a lot of off games: I couldn't focus on myself a lot in those days.”
In comparison, his Schalke 04 tenure has been a breath of fresh air. To be fair, he already had a good feeling about that team during the offseason. When he heard that Elias “Upset” Lipp was remaining in the lineup, he was looking forward to their potential collaboration, as they were like-minded players. Indeed, he had experienced a clash of playstyle on Splyce with Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup’s stable and risk-averse play, and Upset’s daring playstyle was more aligned to his.
Even better: the team scored Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun in free agency. He didn’t wait to see who else would be on board; he was sold. Soon, he was sporting the royal blue jersey.
“Having an AD carry that is that good makes my job easier,” Odoamne said. “I can take a losing matchup for a counterpick bot lane, and it would just make me feel like I'm not the only win condition. He's the only person I knew [was with Schalke] when I was thinking about joining them. Once we got into advanced talks and I learned that IgNar would want to join, I was good to go to join in. We have a bot lane that is insanely aggressive and that wants to fight a lot, all the time.”
It didn’t hurt that Schalke 04’s other acquisitions had the willingness to pull the trigger whenever. In fact, the team had a problem that a lot of their competitors would love to have: they were trigger-happy across the board. It's an unusual sight with new teams, as newcomers usually attempt to show their cleanest plays. In a way, the collective bloodthirst the team displayed was an excellent sign, as long as the coaching staff could ‘tame the beast.’
“Since the first day of scrims, we brawled a lot and fought a lot - a lot like ‘power but no brains,’” Odoamne recalled. “We had to tone it down a bit, because we were […] fighting for really pointless stuff; we wouldn't fight for vision or objective control, we would just fight for the sake of fighting. It slowed us down a lot. It's just that every player here wanted to fight a lot.”
Judging by Schalke 04’s results, the process has been successful. A closer look at their performance outside of their overly cautious game against Rogue reveals that they are willing to go for plays on stage, where the stakes are higher and mistakes could send a team tumbling through the standings. The team’s current playstyle is the polar opposite of Splyce’s in 2018, something Odoamne considered refreshing.
In his own words: “No one [on Schalke 04] is afraid of inting a game to try and save it.”
“There's a quality that the best players have: they are not scared to int – that's the best way I can put it,” he elaborated. “Some players feel [that] if they start inting, the game is lost, and there is no going back. But that limits you in the amount of plays and risks you want to take. You can take calculated 60-40 risks, but if you are not willing to int to make these plays, the game becomes way harder.”
Even with the team’s loss against G2 Esports, the team took huge risks in their attempts to recover the game. Although it made them look weak, they had identified that such a course of action was necessary. If they didn't tale that risk, G2 would have won the war of attrition without resistance, much like Schalke 04 did against Rogue on Week 5.
In 40-60 situations, or in situations where Schalke faced an overwhelming disadvantage, they sometimes took the fight in scrimmage sessions. However, they only did so against G2 when they had no other alternative. In fact, the team’s playstyle is well structured, with a heavy emphasis on objectives – and fighting around them.
“The coaching staff is mostly focusing on catering to our desire to fight, around healthy objectives, so that we can eliminate fighting for the sake of fighting,” Odoamne said. “Nowadays, we want to fight over objectives.”
Most importantly, Schalke 04’s players are on the same page. Beyond the five players’ ability to start team fights and call for skirmishes, they follow up on such calls; it's quite a relief for Odoamne, who had to shoulder that burden for most of 2018. With an abundance of assertive playmakers, he can focus on himself.
“I can play loose, and I can even get carried in some games,” he said. “So, it's a lot easier for me to focus. Everyone on this team is a playmaker and wants to fight, brawl, and pull the trigger. I feel like I can just play for myself, and people understand what my role is in the game, what I will do, and when I will do it. Everyone is contributing in his own way, and it's a really healthy mix. Everyone can focus on themselves and work together.”
(Photos credit from Riot Games)