Excel Esports’ start to the 2023 LEC Winter Split has not gone as planned. The team suffered a loss against both G2 Esports and KOI in the opening weekend and now stares at an 0-2 score. Top laner Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu expected his team to need some warmup time, though. Before the season kicked off, he spoke with Em Dash about leaving Rogue, finding a new home, and why Excel’s roster is an exciting, long-term project for him.

Leaving Rogue

Welcome, Odo! As cheesy as it is: new year, new you. But it actually seemed like a bit of a surprise to you as well that you would join a different team in the offseason. Early into the offseason, you said KOI [then Rogue] had not extended your contract. Later, there were some… let’s call it misunderstandings about your future as a pro overall. Can you tell me a bit about how the year ended for you?

I mean, Worlds was bittersweet. I think we kind of did the most we could with that roster and that identity. I think, at Worlds, we were really limited with the things we could provide and the drafts we were playing and executing. Our identity as a team was not great for Worlds, I think. We were not really flexible enough with the things we could do. For me, in a way, it was a sad ending. My last game at Worlds was kind of bad. Some unfortunate things happened in that game. [Laughs] Worlds left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I was not happy with my performance. Given that the year was so great, ending Worlds with that Maokai game was a bit sad.

Going into the offseason, I wouldn’t really say that there were misunderstandings. For me, it was quite clear what was happening and what was going on. If that’s how the other parties like to do it, playing the ‘misunderstanding’ card…

No, to be clear, I’m calling it that. There are two sides to every story, right? You’ve been very clear about your perspective, saying someone in management was spreading the rumor of your retirement, but I have to treat it as your side of the story. They haven’t addressed it—

[Laughs] No, why would they?

Odoamne embraces his former teammate Malrang. (Source: Michal Konkol for Riot Games)

LEC offseason dynamics

To clear the air? I don’t know. Anyway, you parted ways with an organization on which you won your first LEC title, and where you arguably had your career highs in terms of individual performance as well. I suppose that stings extra. How did you process the fact that your journey with the team would end?

That’s just how the industry is. People come and go. The fact that I didn’t get a contract extension didn’t really matter much. I would be a free agent and there’s always the chance that they would not be interested. There is no time to sit there and sulk, or to be upset. Going into the offseason, I just looked at what offers were on the market. There was not a lot. [Laughs] It didn’t really look great. There was a lot of shady stuff going on with some of the teams that I was talking with.

“I didn’t believe that we could get all these players. I’m super excited.”

Can you give an example of the things you encountered? You publically commented on the Vitality/Excel deal being a bit flippy, but what do you mean by ‘shady’ things?

I mean, the exact offer came very late into the offseason for EU standards. Once the Excel offer was on the table, I just snatched it because it was a great offer. Let’s just say that one of the other teams that I was talking with did a lot of stalling. They were not being straightforward or professional and saying, “Hey, listen, we’re interested in other people.” What they did was ghosting, coming back to keep me interested and on the hook, sending non-binding offers.

If you’re not experienced enough, you kind of fall for it. You can sign the contract, but it doesn’t matter because the other party didn’t sign it yet. Stuff like that, to keep you on the hook. These things always happen. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t really mind it so much. It was just kind of funny that it is still happening.

Funny in a sad way, though.

Yeah, but that’s kind of just the meta in EU. You eat or you get eaten, in that way. [Laughs]

Excel’s lineup has struggled at the start of the new LEC season. (Source: Michal Konkol for Riot Games)

Joining Excel’s rebuilt team

It’s a cutthroat industry, definitely. But at least you’ve landed on a team that many people are quite excited about. Excel went for a big rebuild. Which players were confirmed to be on the roster when they reached out to you?

Just Patrik. This offseason was one of those offseasons where the most important piece of every roster was ADC. The way the offseason went this year, is that everyone was waiting for Hans [sama] to go somewhere. That’s what everyone was alluding to with the domino memes et cetera. A lot of teams were interested in Hans.

So, a team having a high-profile ADC like Patrik was one of the most valuable assets that anyone could have going into the offseason. Upset’s future was uncertain and there were a lot of moving pieces. It was really hard for teams to secure the ADs that they wanted. I think everyone was interested in Hans at the beginning of the offseason. So yeah, for me it was a bit of a no-brainer. Looking at the other offers I had, this was a clear winner even though it was only me and Patrik.

Then we looked from there. I think that, given the free agents that were on the market, there was a good chance that a good roster would assemble at Excel. Patrik was there, and then I was there, so we kind of could attract the people that we wanted, even though we didn’t have it as a guarantee at the beginning.

“Whenever Worlds starts, top lane becomes the most OP role all of a sudden. Everyone is surprised, and I’m like, “Top lane has always been OP, but you guys just don’t care about it.””

Let’s look at the roster. In the jungle, you have Xerxe, who had a great Summer Split on Astralis. In the mid lane, there is 2022 Spring Split MVP Vetheo. And as a support player, you have Targamas, who won the LEC in his first split back in the league. Not too shabby, right?

I feel great. I think Excel got their first choice in every role, in the offseason, with the pieces that were available. That rarely happens, you know? [Laughs] I didn’t believe that we could get all these players. I’m super excited. Given how my offseason went, having to leave Rogue and finding a different place, I feel like this is great. It’s the best I could get.

Still, this roster is a combination of many players from different rosters. It’s natural for the team to take some time to come together. What are your personal expectations?

It’s a bit rough. Well, not that rough. But compared to when I was a part of Schalke and Rogue, or even H2k, it is a bit weird to come into a team that has no skeleton, no framework. When I joined Rogue, I was the new guy, but three of the players on that roster had stayed. It was easy to feel the identity and fit into it. Right now, we’re at a moment where we’re trying to create our own identity. It’s a bit of a process to get the feel of everything and make sure that you do all the things right. That you’re using all of the strengths that you have. It’s going to be interesting.

At the same time, I have never really had set expectations. Every time you ask me what my goals are, I’ll just say that I want to play League of Legends, you know? [Laughs]

Odoamne started the new LEC season with impressive individual performances. (Source: Michal Konkol for Riot Games)

Odoamne unshackled

Yeah, but what you mentioned is exactly what I’m talking about: forming the team’s identity. When I looked at how the puzzle fit together, I naturally gravitated to: Odo is the weak side king, Xerxe enables his laners, Vetheo and Patrik play to carry, and Targamas roams constantly. Is that the blueprint for the team, or do you expect to play more through top as well?

I’m definitely not enjoying being a tank forever, you know? [Laughs] I feel like I have a lot more to show than just that. We see it every time at Worlds. Whenever Worlds starts, top lane becomes the most OP role all of a sudden. Everyone is surprised, and I’m like, “Top lane has always been OP, but you guys just don’t care about it.”

But yeah, we do have this expectation from before, on our previous teams. I also think that there is a bit more ambition in the group that we have. I’d like to play more actively than just playing reactively and being weak side. I also think that Targamas, with Patrik, now has an opportunity to play with someone who’s a lot more dominant. Patrik is undeniably very talented and clicks very well in-game with him.

It’s still a work in progress now, I would say. We’re figuring out everything that we feel would give us the highest chance of winning.

“Now that I don’t have that pressure on me anymore, I either am going to become a lot better, or I’m going to become a lot worse because I become complacent and lazy. [Laughs] I think it’s gonna be the former.”

Well, to round up, I started with the cheesy ‘new year, new you’ and I want to loop back to that. You’re coming off the back of an amazing year in the LEC. You said you don’t have specific goals, but what are you taking into 2023 from last year?

It’s a bit weird, but I don’t know the answer to that question yet. I need to see it for myself. I don’t know. In the past, I always played with some fear. In the LEC, there were many, many times when the best team on paper didn’t really win. After I got reverse-swept by MAD Lions, I felt very guilty, even though there is no one specific to blame for that series. Everyone played really badly and everyone took turns inting the game. It was one of those moments when I wondered if it would ever happen.

It’s always a flip, every year, with who ends up being a very strong team. No one expected G2 to be super strong in the Spring Split and win, when the roster got assembled. No one expected Rogue to be so good after Hans and Inspired left. There were times when I felt that I might never get a chance again and that I would be one of those good players that become nobodies, just because they never won. I had that in the back of my mind at some points.

Now that I don’t have that pressure on me anymore, I either am going to become a lot better, or I’m going to become a lot worse because I become complacent and lazy. [Laughs] I think it’s gonna be the former. I just play with a lot less pressure. I’m expecting a new version of myself this year.

Excel plays its next LEC game against Team BDS on Monday, Jan. 23rd, at 7 PM CET. You can watch the game live on the official LoL Esports channel.