Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang stared straight ahead at the camera, speaking rapidly in Mandarin.
The only time he looked away was to listen to the questions in English from interviewer Laure "Bulii" Valée. While waiting for translation from Clement Chu, answering the questions himself, and waiting again for them to be translated into English for the broadcast audience, he continued to face forward, staring with a smile. His team, FunPlus Phoenix, had just qualified for the League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals.
His bottom lip curled upward, giving his chin a slight dimple, transforming his face into a half-grimace.
Doinb was at once the gregarious, outgoing mid laner and disapproving in-game leader of FunPlus. Their group stage performances had been subpar, well below his and the audience's expectations. He stood still throughout the interview, a stark contrast to his emotional onstage outbursts after important wins in China's League of Legends Pro League, all flailing limbs and screaming. Here, only his fingers twitched unwittingly, clasped together in front of his jersey. There was no rocking back and forth on his heels, no fidgeting. Even when he moved his head, it seemed deliberate, a second language to accompany his verbal responses.
The next question came and went. Doinb interrupted himself, clicking his tongue between his teeth with a chiding sound before continuing with his answer. At the end he laughed broadly. His head shook self-deprecatingly, and his tongue darted out, licking his lips as if to stop himself from clicking it again in mock-disdain.
"I'm not satisfied by my performance," he said. "A lot of times, I can be quite good, but a lot of times I can be quite bad as well. I really dislike players like that, and by saying that, I really dislike myself right now."
A more open smile revealed a gleaming row of white teeth. This, too ,was directed forward, at the camera, his captive audience.
Summoner's Rift is, in a way, a stage. And Doinb, now a centerpiece of the Chinese League of Legends scene, is one of the great performers of our time.
Doinb arrived in China in 2015 never having played professionally for a South Korean team. Instead, he was scouted by a Chinese team from the South Korean solo queue ladder and was part of a large wave of South Korean pro gamers leaving their home country for China, North America and other regions during that time. To this day, that 2014-15 offseason is called the Korean Exodus.
Doinb caught the attention of many immediately during his rookie season with Qiao Gu Reapers for his outgoing personality and distinct playstyle. His reputation only grew over time. In his first year in the LPL, he made a final and a name for himself because of his off-meta champion picks and oddly tanky build patterns. He didn't move like other mid laners, focusing more on affecting his side lanes than controlling mid lane in a more traditional way. This meant sacrificing waves of minions (and valuable experience) voluntarily.
It wasn't always optimal, but it worked surprisingly well for him, especially if he had strong synergy with his jungler.
"I think Doinb is a very steady player on the team," FunPlus jungler told Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang told Korizon Esports at this year's world championship. "Whatever champion he picks, he's able to fulfill that champion's role and effectiveness. As a jungler, if Doinb is winning his lane, I don't have to help him much. But if he's losing his lane, then I try to get him going first."
Despite earning a reputation for being enigmatic with his champion choices and item builds, Doinb is actually more predictable than most, and his teams always play a certain way.
"Doinb has a very deep champion pool," FunPlus support Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song told Korizon Esports. "He can play some very strange champions as well. In terms of tank champions, if we choose these kinds of drafts, it means that other players must do even better."
FunPlus is no exception to the playstyle employed by Doinb's previous teams, but it is the only team of his that has managed to qualify for the world championship. It is the strongest iteration of a Doinb team, thanks in large part to the support-jungle duo of Tian and Crisp.
Doinb owns his place on the Rift, both figuratively and literally, but it has taken this entire team to finally bring him to worlds after all these years.
At the start of every LPL match, as initial pings sound, warning or directing teammates across the Rift, the traditional cheer starts.
A cheer captain or leader of a team's fanclub will yell the name of the team in a call-and-response chant. The crowd, or section of the audience who are fans of that team, respond by yelling "加油! [jia you]!"
Its literal meaning is to add fuel to a vehicle. Figuratively, it's comparable to the South Korean cheer of "One, two, three [team name] fighting!" -- a wish of good luck to spur the team on and let members know that fans are there for them. Players say that sometimes, even through heavy noise-cancelling headphones, they can hear the crowd. If the cheers are loud enough, they reverberate through the venue and can be felt physically as well.
Doinb's wife, former Dungeon Fighter Online caster Li "Umi" Youzi, leads the cheers for his team. At the start of every FunPlus game, be it in the LPL or at the world championship she begins by shouting "FUNPLUS!" to callbacks of "JIA YOU!" throughout the bulk of the month-long competition.
On the final day of Group B's matches, she once again led a small FPX cheering section that went up against the much louder, rolling "Let's go Spl-y-ce!" chants from a European crowd that filled Verti Music Hall. She held up a sign that read "Super Carry Doinb," one of her husband's nicknames in the LPL.
Doinb is a natural performer, oozing charm and confidence in a way that's simultaneously disarming and approachable. He seemingly wears his heart on his sleeve. He chats with his streaming audience as if they're his friends. He appears to open his personal life to the public as much as he can.
During his time on FunPlus, Umi has been by his side, crafting fan goods, leading fan events and making her voice heard before every FunPlus game. She has been spotted by other fans several times in the LPL in the crowds, holding a camera larger than her head, recording the action as if she's the head of a fansite. When she realizes another camera is on her, she smiles and waves.
Two weeks after joining FunPlus in December, Doinb attended an organization event. While onstage, he proposed to Umi in front of a live audience.
"Thank you for keeping me company for the past year," Doinb said her. "I hope you won't be my girlfriend anymore, but that you'll be my wife from here on out. Do you want to?"
The audience screamed with delight. Photographs of Doinb and Umi appeared on the bright LED screen behind him onstage. In the front row, a photographer turned back to the crowd, camera trained on Umi making her way up to the stage to Doinb's side. She was crying. Soft, sappy music played in the background.
Umi wiped tears from her eyes as the host of the event gave her the microphone. She said a soft, "I do." Doinb handed his microphone to Umi as the host exited the stage. Someone rushed up to Doinb, handing him a giant bouquet of flowers. He hugged her, hiding her face from the cameras with the bouquet.
This too was a stage piece, carefully crafted and produced for the purpose of proposing to Umi in front of the cameras, but no less emotionally affecting for it. It was also another reminder that he, a South Korean player, has chosen the LPL as his home.
On the Jangchang Arena stage following FunPlus Phoenix's first, and only, win for the LPL in the Rift Rivals final this year, Doinb was asked if he had any words of encouragement for JD Gaming, the next LPL representative.
Like his recent worlds interview, Doinb stood mostly still, holding the microphone tightly with both hands as he looked at the audience rather than LCK interviewer and translator Park Jeesun.
"LPL jiayou! JingDong jiayou!" was his response.
He yelled, and the LPL fans in the crowd screamed. He took a deep breath afterwards as if this cry had expelled all of his remaining energy and he was about to collapse.
Doinb is a special player for in-game reasons, which were demonstrated onstage at Rift Rivals through his Pantheon pick. This was another peek at how unique of a player Doinb is outside of the game as well.
The Korean Exodus has been talked about from multiple angles, and Doinb's existence as a South Korean LPL player is an interesting part of that conversation. Doinb uses a Mandarin-to-English translator for his English interviews, not a Korean one; LPL press and casters have joked that Doinb's Mandarin is better than their own. More than a few times, after casually overhearing a Doinb interview without knowing his history, people have mistaken him as a Mandarin native speaker.
Doinb has chosen the LPL as his home, and reiterates this through his words and actions on every stage available to him.
Doinb and FunPlus entered worlds as a favorite of many casters, analysts and broadcast talent. They were placed in the much-maligned Group B, derided as one of the worst groups in worlds history because of the lack of top-tier talent and macro understanding. As reigning LPL champions, FPX entered Group B with the expectation that they would raze through their opponents in similar fashion to their formidable 14-1 regular season record in the LPL summer split.
Instead, FPX went 4-2 in their group and had to play Splyce in a tiebreaker for the first seed. While they eventually won that coveted first-place position, Doinb and FPX were disappointed with what they had showed onstage thus far. And so, Doinb stared ahead at the camera, denigrating his own performance.
"To the LPL fans," Doinb began.
Another tongue click. Doinb pantomimed checking his wrist for the time melodramatically.
"It's actually really late right now. It's about 3 a.m. in China. Thanks for supporting, and thanks for watching. Tomorrow we will cheer for other LPL teams."
It was another entertaining and endearing onstage performance from Doinb, and another reminder of his dedication to the LPL whose fans have embraced Doinb as one of their most well-known faces.