What I knew about Doinb before Worlds began is very little: he plays mid for FPX, he has a weird dog, he’s married, and his weird playstyle led FPX to the #1 seed. Like most fans, what I knew was entirely through scattered clippings. But one of my favorite moments of this Worlds was something I noticed in person, which is when I spotted Doinb at the airport en route to Paris for the Finals. He was joined by his wife, Umi. It took me a bit to realize that it was just him and not the entire FPX team that was there. Later, he’d post pictures of their day out online, and it dawned on me that he probably wanted to arrive a little earlier to spend a precious offday together with her in Paris.
I tell you this because it tells me a lot about Doinb, who is someone I — and anyone who has watched Worlds — know a lot better now. I tell you this because, on the whole, I knew very little about FPX at all (and there is much yet to learn). Like you, I’ve pieced the bits together as the tournament progressed. Even through parts of the Group Stage, I had a running gag with a friend where we claimed GimGoon doesn’t even exist. We said you could replace him with any random guy from the audience between sets and we wouldn’t know. Not because he was bad (after holding his own against TheShy last week, he’s clearly not), and not because he’s new (he’s been around since 2013, actually) — he’s just a fitting metaphor for how anybody, if they are good enough, can suddenly ascend to the top of this sport.
Doinb has become a star this Worlds both on and off the Rift. His unusual champion pool and roam-centric style have made him a primary discussion point for a lot of pundits. Off the Rift, his charismatic and upbeat personality have also drawn people to him – from bantering with G2 to cute moments with his wife, fans have been quick to flock to him. If you hadn’t known any better, you’d figure he’s been here before, and often at that. Among LPL specialists, though, he’s been considered one of the best players to have never made it Worlds before now. And in this sport, you’re nothing if you don’t make it to Worlds.
I asked him to reflect on those years – whether or not he ever doubted himself – and he said, “My wife always told me that if you work hard, you’ll get a good result. But every year before this, I just needed a little bit more luck to make it to Worlds. Or if I could have gone one step further, I could have made it to the Semifinals or Finals, but I could never get there. So I always said to my wife, ‘Am I not good enough?’ She always had to comfort and console me, but this year I am finally able to stand on the Finals stage. I think it’s proof of my wife’s advice — I worked harder and the results came.”
This, of course, is only true for some people. For every Doinb that makes it here, there is a Score who can only imagine what the feeling of being at Finals is like, and for every Score, there are 100 whose names you will never even know. Hard work can only take you so far in a game that only values the result. Those are things I knew going into this Worlds.
I also knew it didn’t matter that Team Liquid made the MSI Final because it wasn’t necessarily going to make their Worlds group any easier to climb from. I knew that Flamengo, even as the best team from Brazil, was going to have a hard time living up to the passion of their fans. I knew Uzi would cry if RNG was knocked out – no matter what stage it would come. I knew China would not be kind to RNG, and I knew Korea is so desperate to be back at the top.
I didn’t know that Fnatic would make another Week 2 surge to once again make it to the Quarterfinals. I didn’t know Ning would sub in for IG and give all of their fans a two-week flash of what they once were. I didn’t know it would crash to a bitter end with TheShy – of all people – being caught out to seal the fate of the IG era. I didn’t know Faker would follow that just a day later with an equally baffling performance as SKT would bow out and extend Korea’s international win drought to exactly two years. I didn’t know every single North American team would be bounced out of the Group Stage, even if I strongly suspected it, and I didn’t know Griffin would lose another Best-of-5 set, even if that’s the pattern they’ve followed for over a year now.
In a week where everyone is making their last predictions – I have said 3-1 to FPX – a lot of scrutiny will be passed. In hindsight, people will say they knew or they didn’t know or who could have possibly seen this coming? But at this stage, there are only two possible results, even if the threads that can take us there are unlimited. One team will win, and in that moment hop out of their chairs in a moment of bliss. The other will sink into those chairs. You will see one team succumb to gravity and the other rise against it in defiance. At this moment, none of us know who is going to do what.
This is what it means to watch a live sport: you hunt for patterns and project an image of where that might end. You see the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and it looks like a fastball. You wind up for a swing, and then you miss. What has come instead is a changeup or a cutter or a slider. We see the pattern that says SKT has always made the Finals, and then the ball that is delivered is Caps making his second consecutive appearance. We see TheShy’s brilliance, and we follow that light to a place we think of as the future — another trip to the Finals — but it turns out to be an afterimage of last year. There is only shadow. Live competition blurs the line between knowing and unknowing, and the more you care, the more possibilities you see.
Perkz told me last year that he felt like he was the best player in the world before the Semifinals. G2 would go on to lose. If you feel like you are the best (whether it is true or not) – the only thing left to do is to show everyone else exactly what you are seeing. For him, that future where he would lift the Summoner’s Cup required a wild leap into the unknown, where he would play ADC and cede way to his rival, Caps, to take over a role that, in his imagination, he was already the best at. I’d tell you there was no way he knew they’d make it to the Finals, but perhaps he’d tell you he knew it would pan out this way. This an instance of his knowing and my unknowing being temporarily suspended together until the thread played out.
Surely there were plenty of moments this year where G2 felt like they were invincible and that nothing could block their journey to the top, and surely there were moments where they hit a wall they weren’t positive they could climb. I know he refused to let go of the trophy. I know G2 gathered around a ping pong table during one of our media day shoots, and I know that Mikyx beat Wunder. I know they, unlike the other teams at the shoot that day, moved as a unit to every single responsibility they had instead of sending people from their waiting room one by one.
I don’t know if this camaraderie will carry them all the way to the end, and I don’t know if Caps, sick this week, will perform worse than usual or have a fairytale-like “flu game.” I don’t know if a sniffling Jankos managed to dodge the brunt of that cold, and I don’t know if Mikyx is serious when he says his wrists “magically stopped hurting” in the summer. I do know that, unlike some of the outside commentary surrounding this match, there is a lot of respect between the two teams. I know that Mikyx watched Crisp’s Pro View VODs and was impressed by him, saying, “He does the same things as me,” and that Crisp said he’d watched Mikyx’s streams and perspectives all tournament as well.
I know that Perkz and Doinb are neighbors at our hotel, and I know that G2 has joked a lot about forming a team of mid players only — including Doinb. And at our internal media day, Doinb told me, “Today when we were waiting for the shoot, all the G2 players were there. Perkz asked me if I went to their team, which role would I play, and I joked that I would play jungle. Then Wunder said, ‘Come play top lane,’ because I play Rumble, and lots of other champions. Then I said, ‘I’ll play Sion, I’ll use my passive to do damage. When I die, I’ll just use my passive to do damage.’ It feels like I can be good friends with them. They all have really good personalities.”
This isn’t a boxing match where the players square off against each other, chests puffed out like a couple of enraged bulls. We don’t have to drum up any animosity because that isn’t the only reason or even the best reason for people to tune into the series. I like that they’re allowed to be friends off the Rift, and I like that they can smile when they see each other. I like it because that’s going to make it all the more devastating when one of them loses. It’s easy to watch someone you don’t like lose. Watching someone you do like lose is an entirely different story.
I know that watching Worlds is something the entire FPX squad has had to do until now, and I know that except for Mikyx, G2 is a team full of accolades. I know that Mikyx made Worlds in his first year, and if I’d ask him then what his future would hold, I don’t think he’d have expected it to turn out like this. He says, “Every year I was really happy with my team, and I felt like this is the year I could make it back to Worlds, but it never happened until now. I am kind of regretful that it didn’t happen in past years, because I felt like my teams were capable of it and we were good, but we just had really unlucky games I guess. So it feels good that I made it this year, but it feels bad for my past teammates that I couldn’t make it with them.”
When you stand on that stage, you carry a lot of different hopes with you. I know that Mikyx holds the spirit of all his old teammates, and I know that G2 will carry the entire European continent on their backs. I know that FPX will carry China, and I know that Doinb will carry all the old Doinbs that, even for brief moments, doubted themselves. Worlds is a stage where those very doubts are forever quashed for some and forever embedded into you for others.
There are many things you don’t even know you don’t know. Worlds is where players and fans alike become aware of those things. I know, now, who GimGoon is. He knows what it’s like to bow to an arena full of Spanish fans. I know Doinb well enough that we lower our heads to each other when we pass in the hallway. I know we are about to witness one of the most memorable moments of these players’ lives, for better or for worse. I don’t know who will win. I don’t know if any of these players will ever make it back to this stage. But I do know I’ll be watching. I know that the Worlds Finals is the convergence point for all of the League of Legends that has been played this year. I know every player dreamed of being here. I know for one of these teams that dream will fail them at the last second and jostle them awake. The other team will lift the trophy and know something the rest of us can never know. Not exactly, and not right then.