Esports: Lost in Translation

Mon 4th Apr 2016 - 2:49pm

Communication in general can be a difficult thing. Professional sports teams hire communication experts to help teams connect on and off more effectively, and esports are no exception. High performance sports or esports aside, in this globalized world many of us have experienced playing a sport with people who do not speak our language. While a game of football or basketball in the park is not necessarily the most competitive situation, it might illustrate a challenge esports players face on a daily basis. Ask anyone who plays games online; they often find themselves on teams with teammates that don’t speak the same language in the majority of their matches. So how do you communicate with someone that literally doesn’t speak your language?

The Language Barrier

The first solution is; you don’t. Game designers have been confronted with this issue long enough that they have developed a few answers to this puzzle. One of the earliest solutions was that players input their preferred languages before they enter a game. The same 10 players that would have otherwise been matched up based on skill level have since also had their language preferences taken in to account.

Then there’s the choice of diminishing communication possibilities, and having those translated in advance. A great example of this is in the game of hearthstone. The developers here specifically chose not to allow people to communicate with each other freely. There are only around six messages that a player can send their opponent, and these are translated into that opponent’s operating language. So I might send the message ‘Greetings, Friend’ in English to my friend who’s playing in French, and he receives; ‘Salutations’. As of writing this post there are at least 12 languages that this game cross translates in.

The above mentioned game is played one versus one, so there is not an inherent need to communicate with your opponent, unless you would feel the need to taunt them. In team games however, communication is key. And a similar solution has been found. A chat wheel exists where players can quickly choose from around eight predetermined phrases very rapidly to send to teammates. These are then translated in to that teammates’ chosen language, enabling the most common necessary phrases to be communicated, no matter what language people speak.

The Technical Barrier

Aside from the language barrier that has solutions but is still not at the Star Trek Universal translator level, there is also a technical barrier that exists. Many players might not be aware of this, and that can cause a lot of miscommunication in teams. What happens in online esports events is that lag interferes with messages needing to be sent. Most people have experienced this phenomenon when having a long distance phone call; it can take a few seconds for messages to get to the other person, or vice versa. This happens in esports too, except you’re trying to make split second decisions together, while your communication can take longer than a split second to get to each other. This phenomenon is only properly understood when they sit next to each other, and communicate via their computers. A player can then hear the time that it takes for a message to get from one computer to the other, and that’s not even taking in to account the human error that is always present in any form of team communication.

The language based challenges already have solutions in place; the only thing we’re really waiting for is a universal digital translator to be implemented. After that, esports players will truly be able to cross cultural barriers, speaking one language with their opponents as well as their teammates. The technical barrier is the bigger issue at the moment, even if players don’t currently realize how long it takes for their messages to reach each other. These two barrier can create a lot of friction between a truly international community, and hopefully game developers will continue to innovate creative ways to bring this differentiated group together.




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