Fun fact about my career: between 2014 and 2016, I was part of a small crew (and later, an even smaller crew) who translated League of Legends into Romanian. I started off as a freelancer when someone recruited me off of my old personal blog. Sixteen months later, I moved to a different vendor who worked with Riot Games on-location (in Dublin, Ireland). It was, and I don’t say this lightly, one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. Not because of the work itself, mind. Work was the fun part. Seeing how it’s been more than five years since, I might as well share some of the things I learned as a video games translator, as well as the reason I decided to step away from localization altogether. Know your audience. League players (and gamers in general) are outspoken and unforgiving. If you mess something up, they’ll call you out on it. That’s why you need to know them — who they are, what they need, how they talk. The last one is critical. Your copy can be perfect — not a comma out of place — but, if you miss the mark on the slang, your players will call you out on it. The old League of Legends Romanian board carried a warning that posts about how much Romanian LoL sucked will not be tolerated, and that’s partly why. That’s not to say League’s pre-’14 copy was anywhere near perfect. Which brings me to something that’s just as important: Quality matters. A lot. When you target smaller languages — say, Romanian — keep in mind that your players are used to being disappointed. Big Five companies like Google and Microsoft have consistently dropped the ball on localizing their flagship products into Romanian at an audience-appropriate level. If you want your product to stand out, localization done right can really make your brand shine. (On that note, always test your product for strings that pop off the screen because they’re too long, or shrink too much to be legible. Some languages are wordier than others.) Back to League, a lot of the older stuff wasn’t up to scratch. Most of it sounded artificial, which likely resulted from an unfortunate combination of rushed translations and translators themselves not being familiar enough with the target audience or subject matter. A lot of the text was literal to the point where the original meaning was pretty much gone. To illustrate, “Heads up!” turned into “Keep your head raised.” („Ține capul sus.”) not once, but several times. And don’t even get me started on Lucian’s VO. Always read the news. Cultural context matters. Back in ’15, we ran into a sentence that went something like this: Rumble (…) burned his enemies alive… (Context: Rumble is a cute, fuzzy creature who drives a giant, fire-spitting robot.) We translated it as-is, unaware of the deadly fire that had occurred at a metal concert in Bucharest just a few days before. It was, mostly, my bad — I didn’t keep up with the news as closely as I should have — but by the time we caught it, the translated copy had already gone out, and people noticed. The moral of the story is, be aware of what’s happening in the country you’re localizing for and pivot accordingly. Talk to your audience, not at them. If your audience — in this case, League players — tell you your work sucks, listen. Sure, some of that feedback can be soul-crushing (yes, I cried reading player feedback, and yes, more than once), but more importantly, it gives you a chance to improve going forward. (The other option is to maintain how your translation is grammatically correct, etc., and it’s them who are wrong, and keep on keeping on. Which is usually not sustainable in the long run.) My job as a translator was to help Romanian players get the best possible experience, and that’s exactly what I set out to do. Player feedback was a big part of it. If my reviewer wanted to change a casual phrase to a more formal one, I countered by saying that that’s how the players talk. My instincts were usually right, but sometimes I bit the bullet and went with something I knew wouldn’t land well. And, usually, it didn’t. Which brings me to the last and most important thing I learned, and the reason that, much as I love League, I wouldn’t take this job again: Forget about loose lips; big egos sink ships. The two years I spent on League were some of the most interesting, most demanding, and most rewarding years of my entire career. I saw a bunch of cool stuff and met a bunch of cool people, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. I also ran into some of the biggest egos I’ve ever had the misfortune to work with, before or since. We’re talking Office Space levels of mindf*ck, and I didn’t have a printer to take it out on. So I bottled it up. There was a profound disconnect between what my bosses wanted me to do and what League players expected from us. As a player and a long-time fan, I cared deeply about League, the players, the Lore, and how our work reflected on Riot’s brand in Romanian cyberspace. I worked long hours for obscenely low pay and took on as much extra work as I could manage because I loved what I did. (I know better than to do that now; crunch doesn’t pay, folks!) All my manager saw was a translator who worked too fast (I was told to lower my output from 1,000 wph to around 300 wph) and challenged the reviewer when the reviewer was off the mark (refer to Know your audience, above). That’s not the worst of it — that whole place was toxic as hell — but as far as work went, it was enough to turn a job I loved to do into a Dementor-esque vortex that sucked every bit of joy and fulfilment out of what I did. It took me more than a year to let myself start enjoying League again, and it never felt quite the same. To hear my old co-workers tell it, it took them eight months to find someone else to do the job. There’s only so many Romanian translators out there, and even fewer who wanted to work so much for so little. Katy Perry said it best: Cover photo: Spirit Blossom Ahri (official splash art) by Jeremy Anninos.