It’s rare that a player captures the world’s attention overnight. However, the explosive style of Kim Tae-sang was so unique and impactful that he’s remained relevant in the two years since FPX won the 2019 World Championship. While Doinb would not shy away from meta champions like Twisted Fate and Ryze, he earned his Worlds 2019 MVP stars largely by playing melee bruisers like Galio, Nautilus, and Rumble, often discarding the meta and refining his own teamfight-focused playstyle. His team came first every time Doinb picked a champion.
Now, Doinb isn’t afraid to draft within the meta and play better than the opponent. It’s a shame his champion pool isn’t as strange as it was in 2019, but he has been able to maintain the teamfight prowess that’s core to FunPlus Phoenix’s identity as a team. What’s more, he’s been able to refine that style over the last two years and push it to new heights, arguably to “best in the world” status.
World’s best mid “laner”
Doinb’s playstyle, especially in 2019, was oriented around rotating early and forcing fights. He wasn’t much of a laner at all. Yet, despite his low mid proximity, Doinb somehow kept up on farm and pushed a lead for his team without losing much. This low lane proximity isn’t just to help teammates, either. Playing against Doinb is typically a nightmare for both the mid laner and the jungler.
Here we have Doinb pressuring a Syndra as Rumble (which is a feat in and of itself) as he and his team looked for a dive. They didn’t find the dive, but Invictus Gaming’s Song "Rookie" Eui-jin had to back, and knowing this, Doinb headed into the jungle and continued to push an advantage.
Armed with the knowledge that no one could rotate to him, Doinb warded Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning’s raptors and moved in to harass. While not managing to steal the camp, he did pull raptors away with an E over the wall and stalled Ning for several seconds. Considering that Doinb had already shoved a wave, he had nothing to lose for denying Gragas farm and stalling his ability to gank.
These sorts of small advantages are a big part of what made Doinb’s macro play so strong in 2019, and he still makes plays like this in 2021. Then, of course, you have what Doinb is most famous for.
Doinb’s full-damage Nautilus (yes, that was a thing back then) was a highlight of his 2019 Worlds run. In this fight against IG in game 3 of their set, Doinb looks like he’s caught out. Liu "Crisp" Qing-Song, FPX’s support, just got hit by a full Lucian ult and was within an inch of his life. FPX were in a bad spot here, and their only option was committing to what was essentially a 4v5 fight.
Thanks to a great Qiyana ult from Gao "Tian" Tian-Liang, Doinb got some space to breathe. He repositioned himself, waited for the perfect opening, and hooked Rookie. The CC chain allowed FPX to easily dispatch IG’s mid laner.
Then, Doinb found another hook onto Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok’s Lucian, earning himself a well-deserved kill. Doinb used his shield to keep himself alive, spaced well, and had his team work around his CC in order to turn a fight that started very poorly for FPX.
All that said, none of these plays seem like they require strong mechanics, but that mostly comes from the champions’ skillsets, rather than their pilot. But 2019 Doinb was a player who was known for having great game sense and team coordination, rather than being a mechanical superstar like the ShowMakers or Chovys of the world.
2021 Doinb is a different story.
A new Doinb age
The 2021 meta is very different from 2019’s, and yet Doinb still has a similar playstyle: Find an advantage in lane, push for early skirmishes, and play for teamfights/objectives. However, 2021 Doinb is much more independent where he can make his own big plays, regardless of where his team is.
In this Irelia clip, Doinb’s Irelia hit two people with his E, Blade Surge his way under Team WE’s tower, charged his W, and flashed mid-channel to get the fully charged W damage onto Braum. Doinb put together a plan for how he could pull off this early tower dive and executed it beautifully. Hell, I didn’t even know you could fully charge Irelia’s W and flash to get the full-channel damage off before watching this clip.
Doinb’s mechanical improvement over the last few years isn’t restricted to complex champions, either.
Doinb’s reaction time is put on display here, considering he popped Zhonya’s moments before disaster in game 1 against Team WE at the 2021 Summer Playoffs. Doinb had no vision on Blitzcrank, meaning that his Zhonya’s here was purely reaction time. It’s safe to say that most other mid laners would have fallen victim to the Blitz hook here, but Doinb is just built different.
Additionally, Doinb can still play his 2019 style when it’s needed. FPX are still very much a teamfight-oriented roster, and their drafts reflect that philosophy. Galio is a surviving mainstay from Doinb’s 2019 champion pool (4-1 across Summer Split and Summer Playoffs combined), and he still looks as good as ever when he plays tanky initiators.
We see Doinb front-lining for most of this fight against LNG, and he managed to set up big damage for the Kennen ult while keeping his carries alive in the face of a fed LeBlanc. This may have been a 2 for 2 trade, but, with FPX being 3k gold down at that point in the game, an even trade still looks damn good. Bold plays like this are a showing of FPX’s greatest strength as a team, and part of the reason they’re so hard to take down.
Doinb seems to have kept the strong macro play, good decision-making, and overall synergy with his team that made him the 2019 Worlds MVP. On top of that, his individual skill level feels so much higher than it was two years ago.
Doinb looks for fights while keeping his farm even or ahead of the enemy mid laner, which is no easy feat. However, everything that makes Doinb strong is based on boosting himself and his team into the lead. The sacrifice he makes to elevate himself is that he has no control over his opponent. Doinb isn’t the kind of player who will normally zone players off their farm.
This weakness creates an opening for carry mid laners to counter DoinB’s greedy playstyle, as well as room for counterengage team compositions to keep FPX at bay and find leads without taking a 5v5. In the LPL Summer Playoff Finals, EDG successfully drafted team comps that were able to outmaneuver, but there’s one mid laner at Worlds I can think of that’s the antithesis of DoinB’s playstyle.
Doinb vs. the Church of Chovy
Despite Hanwha Life Esports’ somewhat lackluster finish in both Spring and Summer, Chovy is a player that stands out internationally. He always has more CS than the opposing mid laner, he never loses lane, and he’s almost always the one that wins games for HLE. Hell, even Chovy’s teammates are aware of how hard he carries games, thus the propagation of the so-called “Church of Chovy”.
On the surface, Doinb and Chovy seem similar, save for a few differences in champion pools. Chovy isn’t afraid to pick bruisers like Renekton, Volibear, and even Ornn when the occasion rises but his thought process is very different: He wants to make the enemy mid laner’s life as tough as possible, and he puts himself ahead because he has to carry his team.
Here’s Chovy on Leblanc, a champion who’s found recent prominence in the meta. Rather than fighting into the enemy team directly, Chovy chose to single-handedly zone Liiv Sandbox’s Park "Summit" Woo-tae out of the fight. Kennen is a great teamfight pick, but only if he can get there. Chovy spotted the flank and proceeded to dismantle LSB’s teamfight by taking out their carries 1 by 1. Chovy wasn’t particularly worried about fighting for Drake through this fight. He was focused on killing the enemy. This is a playstyle DoinB would almost never consider.
On top of all that, Chovy plays many of Doinb’s picks. Ryze, Twisted Fate, Galio, and Sylas are all popular picks for Chovy. Meanwhile, Chovy hasn’t picked Leblanc since 2017. Chovy could realistically pick most of DoinB’s strongest champions while simultaneously having a wider champ pool and more options in draft. It’s worth mentioning that Doinb has a few off-meta picks like Kled up his sleeve, but nothing that matches Chovy’s flexibility. I don’t think HLE would win a set against FPX, but I do think that Chovy has better knowledge of how to shut down his opponent.
Finding an opening
DoinB’s weaknesses are reflective of FunPlus Phoenix’s weaknesses as a whole. FPX tends to focus on what will win them the game rather than how the enemy team loses. The trick to beating FPX is to stay even on farm and never take a fair fight. Why fight evenly when you can get some picks first, send someone to split push, or poke FPX into submission before they can find a way in?
Doinb is the perfect mid laner for FPX. He puts his team ahead, and he wins most of the fights he takes. However, this aggressive playstyle can make FunPlus Phoenix a predictable team. Doinb is better than he was in 2019 for a myriad of reasons, but his playstyle has the same set of weaknesses it had two years ago and he’ll have to fill those gaps and control the opposing laner if he wants to carry FunPlus Phoenix to another championship title.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.