NIHONGO HONYAKUSHA – This means Japanese translator and it is just one of the many things Sarah Enders does for Team Liquid, an esports team filled with world-renown players like Double Lift, Nemo, and Hungrybox. And Sarah’s day to day as a departmental assistant is just as varied as the games Team Liquid are involved in (Overwatch, League, Street Fighter, Smash, and many more!) But how does a person go from Oklahoma, where football is king, to working in the field of esports?
Enders graduated from OU in 2017 with a BA in Japanese and Asian Studies. After that, she entered IUC, a prestigious Japanese-learning institution and lived in Japan to continue studying. But working in esports hadn’t ever been her aim. She didn’t even imagine herself being able to do what she does now.
At the beginning of college, Enders didn’t like League of Legends, the game she now mainly writes about. One of her childhood best friends introduced her to the game and this was her first reaction.
“I remember looking at it and laughing,” she said. “I’m not playing this shit.”
It was only when she first saw the early cinematics from League that her opinion started to turn.
She started to play, but just casually and not very often because of college.
Then she watched the NA LCS Finals in 2014.
“This is really cool,” Enders said. “I ended up sort of binge-watching a bunch of the games from the spring and summer season of 2014.”
This led into watching Worlds of that year, solidifying her position as a competitive League of Legends fan.
“I was like ‘OK, I’m fucking in now,’” Enders said. “This is my shit.”
By 2015, she was hooked and was watching multiple games and regions. She also studied abroad for the first time in Japan. And Worlds 2015 was in Korea, making it easy for her to watch every single game.
“At one point in early 2016, I was watching EU, NA, LPL, LCK,” Enders said. These four regions make up the majority of all competitive League of Legends scenes.
She returned briefly to finish her undergrad at OU, before returning to Japan. But despite being a dedicated fan of competitive League and a desire to work in esports, Enders still didn’t think she could.
“I was a classically trained musician, who was learning Japanese,” Enders said.
Since esports stems from video games, Enders’ idea of an esports industry job was more Bill Gates and Steve Jobs than say a Japanese-speaking Mozart. So she planned on doing manga or anime translation after graduating from IUC, despite not knowing how she would really get there.
“I was definitely like ‘Well I guess I’m just gonna be translating for the rest of my life. And I was ready to do some Toshiba microwave manuals till I got into manga,” Enders said.
That was until a friend told her about a writing job at Team Liquid. And reading through the application showed her that there were other roles in esports.
“I don’t have to be an engineer. I don’t have to be a graphic designer or an IT kind of person,” Enders said. “I don’t have to have that tech background.”
And this is the application which got her into the esports industry. It seems like complete serendipity. Because Enders wasn’t originally a Team Liquid fan. She followed C9 and it was only through a Swiss friend who was in a Team Liquid discord server that she came to know about the position.
Despite now being in the esports industry and seeing how the “sausage” is made, it hasn’t really changed her love of the game or how she watches it.
Enders also doesn’t think one necessarily has to be incredibly skilled at the game to write about it.
Unless you are writing about something technical or about the game mechanics itself, then yes, game knowledge is a must. But writing about games does not really require a high level of skill in those games.
“I think that it is actually more important to understand interpersonal stories, history, and rivalries and stuff like that than it is to understand the game where it is,” said Enders who is and always has been unranked in League of Legends.
The rest of her job is pretty varied. She writes articles but is also one of the members on the Team Liquid content creation team who knows Japanese.
One of the strangest interviews she had to translate was with the Street Fighter Player, Nemo who is known to be the salaryman player. A brief summary: Nemo works a dayjob while also being one of the top players in the world. As such ,he is known to be the consummate professional.
Except when it concerns Itabashi. The two have a rivalry which has manifested in perhaps the only way it can between two Japanese players.
Itabashi (left) and Nemo (right) at Capcom Cup 2017. Photo from Team Liquid article by Jeff Anderson.
So when the interview turned to the topic of Itabashi, that’s when things got strange for her.
“I translated this interview, and then I get the answers back,” Enders said. “And his answer was, ‘He’s (Itabashi) not my rival. I hate him.’ And I was like ‘That’s not possible. He did not just write that.’ So I literally had to google the Kanji.”
Kanji is one part of the Japanese language. And there is upwards of a thousand Kanji. But when she googled it, Enders found she had read it right.
“And then a couple of questions further down from that, I think he got mad,” Enders said. “This doesn’t make sense grammatically.” She had to turn to close friend’s Japanese husband to double check. “He had to send me a paragraph and a half- like a long paragraph and a half- explanation in Japanese about what the hell he was talking about.”
The question was asking about grapple characters in Street Fighter V. And this set Nemo off on a rant (and rightfully so in my opinion) chock full of specific Japanese Street Fighter terms. “Just from a grammatical standpoint, what he wrote in response on why he hates grapple characters was a mess,” Enders said.
Enders has been working at Team Liquid for almost a year, and she has been able to interview and interact with esport pros that she had once only been a longtime fan of.
It’s not typical for an alum of OU to cover a game outside of the traditional sportsballs trilogy of football, baseball, and basketball. But as esports fans and Sooners we should definitely give her all the support we can. You can follow Enders on twitter @senders127. She writes for Team Liquid and Monster Energy Gaming.
-Matthew Viriyapah @matthewViri