It does not take much to understand the importance of the role of translator in esports, specifically to a team that wishes to import foreign talent.
In League of Legends, Korean players are hot commodities, and even with limitations on the number of imports any team can have, the demand remains high. With League being such a team-centric game, communication is extremely important on and off the stage. The translator is responsible for creating that arena of healthy conversation, and the burden is quite heavy.
A translator should obviously be expected to know the language and jargon specific to whatever game the team is playing in both languages. If the translator isn’t completely knowledgable in the game’s language, then they must be willing to educate themselves. Such was the case for Celine Cheung, the in-house translator for Phoenix1 of the North American League Championship Series. She borrowed a list of terms from No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, one of the team’s imports, to familiarize herself.
“If anything, I learned the importance of trying not to miscommunicate. There were times where the coach would say something, and I said something that I thought he was trying to say, but it turned out that he meant something totally different and I realized how vital that mistake could have been in a game setting
Cheung didn’t anticipate getting into esports at all. After acting as an interpreter for a friend’s trip to Korea, she said she enjoyed being the medium of two languages. It led to Cheung looking toward Riot Games for a position as a translator, which eventually included a bizarre moment of self promotion.
“I ended up just tweeting ‘Hey, I speak Korean and English, and I’m really interested in a translating job in the video game world, but I don’t really know how to get started,’ and then people just started messaging me,” she said with a smile. “That’s honestly how I got started.”
Cheung would also soon learn that translating for an LCS team went beyond simply sitting in on scrims and talking with the players and coaches. Possible communication meant constant communication, as Cheung described her first week with the team as “really hectic,” and explained that prior to her arrival, the team had to rely on the English tutor, who would inevitably have to deal with other responsibilities and could not be with the team at all times.
The nuance of conversation is often invisible in everyday life, but they don’t translate all over the world. Each language comes with its own set of unspoken rules or agreements, which can be lost in the case of literal translation. Lee “Robin” Seung-hwan, manager and interpreter for Cloud9, prefers to call it something else.
“What I do isn’t literal translation, it’s interpretation,” he said. “I listen to them, what they’re saying in English, and say what is somewhat the equivalent in Korean so that the other person would understand. So if you don’t know what they’re talking about when they’re saying like, ‘Rotations,’ or ‘Applying pressure in a lane,’ or ‘I can’t walk out because there is no vision,’ if you don’t know what that means, there’s no way you can translate it.”
Like Cheung, Robin also didn’t really think he would end up in his current position. Originally pursuing a PHD in South Korea after his college career in America, he intended to get his mandatory military service out of the way. But Robin was declined multiple times, which delayed his plans and then led to him working as the live broadcast translator for OGN in the meantime. He looks back amusedly, thinking that his current career came from unexpected events.
“Had I gone to the military, none of this would have happened,” he said.
Now the acting manager for C9’s League team, Robin sought out a larger role in the team beyond simple translation. First sharing some of the responsibilities with team owner Jack Etienne, he soon transitioned as the proper manager for the team, confidently saying that without him the team “would literally fall apart,” cementing his role into the team quite nicely.
Conversation often goes beyond what is simply being said, with intent, tone, and body language all playing a part in conveying a message. The translator’s job then ceases to be purely professional, as personal emotions have to be taken into account. The translator is the device in which intent is delivered through, and friction is one of the things that has to be considered.
If arguments persist, the translator can awkwardly be thrown into the middle.
“You can sense the tension, and you’re supposed to translate what they’re saying,” Robin said. “So If they’re cursing, what do I do? Do I just translate that literally? It puts me in a very awkward position if the team atmosphere is bad, and also puts a lot of stress on me because I’m the medium through which that friction travels.”
Translators are no longer just purveyors of words, but are also a messengers of feelings. Living with multiple unique personalities that must work together means that the act of literal translation falls woefully short of what is demanded of translators. It would be impossible to be a translator on a team without a strong ability to relate to people, but upon further inspection, it seems obvious. If translation would be as simple as delivering information, dictionaries would suffice, and a paid employee would not be required
Translators are some of the hidden figures that hold together a team with foreign talent together, and although they will not be shown on camera, invited to the caster desk, or even be acknowledged by the fans, their work is delivered to the fans by helping facilitate cohesive success.