Jade “swingchip” Kim was in college at the time when she helped produce an indie rhythm game called “A Dance of Fire and Ice”. Born in Hong Kong to Korean parents, she had wanted to compose ever since she was 13, and after moving to the United States for college at age 17, she became the lead composer for the game in 2015.
Shortly after college, bored and hunting for jobs, she started playing Overwatch, and soon met other Korean players in North America that became her social circle. The 2016 and 2017 World Cups then got her into the world of esports.
swingchip worked as a composer and sound designer before joining the Mayhem as a team manager. Image credit: Ella Pravetz.
What took her by surprise the most however was that “A Dance of Fire and Ice” became a huge hit in South Korea. She recalls seeing RunAway manager Flowervin rage quitting the game, and heard about others such as Fleta and SeoMinSoo that played it. Fast forward to November 2019, she now finds herself as the team manager and translator on the Florida Mayhem Florida Mayhem OWL Rank #8 , taking care of the team’s needs and translating for them.
In the esports industry, the players are always going to be in the spotlight. As time went on, staff members such as coaches have gotten recognition for their contributions to the team, and the 2020 Overwatch League season will be the first to have a Coach of the Year award.
Other staff members, however, haven’t gotten the same sort of recognition yet. From managers to translators, their work is mainly done behind the scenes. But their jobs are just as important within the esports cogs, and they can be the difference in turning a good team into a great team.
What do managers do?
The roles and duties of a manager vary from team to team, but there’s a common goal amongst them - to make sure the players can just focus on the game, whether it be getting the team ready to play, buying groceries or keeping an eye on their well being.
AVALLA is currently the assistant manager and translator of the Paris Eternal Paris Eternal OWL Rank #7 , and joined in December 2019 shortly after her time as a coach for the Washington Justice in the 2019 season. Prior to that, she got started in Korea’s Open Division with Frecia Gaming, and moved up into Contenders with GG Esports Academy and Meta Bellum.
AVALLA became a manager for the Eternal after coaching the Justice in the 2019 season. Image provided by AVALLA.
On the Eternal, she checks the players’ setups such as testing Teamspeak and updating the tournament clients, and makes sure the players get to the practice facility on time. On the business side there’s answering emails, handling sponsorships and the award votes.
There are no set day-to-day tasks for managers because they don’t know what’s going to occur. “But if something comes up, you need to do it in a timely manner,” said AVALLA.
Steven Kim, the player manager of the New York Excelsior New York Excelsior OWL Rank #5 , describes himself as a swiss army knife in reference to how many responsibilities he has within the team. He got started in esports as a freelance translator for OGN for two years, and was signed on the NYXL at the same time AVALLA did with the Eternal.
He makes sure the players’ well being is okay, helping them with whatever they need. Back when they were in New York, he helped them get food and stay on their workout routine, and currently assists with media and content creation such as YouTube to engage with the fans.
Steven also acts as a bridge between the team and the franchise, with the roster being all-Korean. “If the company wants something done, I'll be there as the bridge role,” he said. “Helping the player out such as fulfilling content, and then helping the players’ conversations by translating.”
Steven describes himself as a swiss army knife with the amount of responsibilities he has on the NYXL. Image credit: New York Exclesior.
swingchip focuses on the emotional needs of the Mayhem, making sure everyone is happy and no one is hurt or sick, getting groceries or taking them wherever they need to go.
Managers like them also do double duty as translators for the team. They did interview translations at the homestands live on the stage and the post-game conferences, and continued to show up on the broadcast after the league moved online.
The most important skill in being a good translator is being able to translate on the spot. “While they're replying, you need to still be listening to what they're saying while constructing the English version of that in your head,” said swingchip.
Being a translator is also understanding people’s emotions and the core of their message. “When you're doing a direct translation live, anything can happen,” said Steven. “This person can say anything, whatever they want, and it's not prepared.”
Where they were before
Steven’s path into esports management started from a study abroad in Canada for two years at a young age. He had always wanted to play with the other kids there without having language difficulty, and the only time he got to was with sports. It was there that he started to learn soccer.
After coming back to Korea, he got more into sports and esports such as Starcraft and League of Legends. He self admittedly wasn’t talented at either, but his passion for both led him towards a new path.
“I decided to think about what I could do to help this industry,” he said. “That's the point that I started with sports management.”
Steven attended an international school from middle to high school, and enrolled in a sports and leisure major in university. Deciding that it was better to get into the field of sports early, he became an interim manager for Suwon FC, a soccer team in South Korea's K League, for one season, but he dropped out after the workload became too much.
Steven worked as a freelancer for OGN before serving his mandatory military service in Korea. Image credit: Blizzard.
A month after, he found his chance in esports as a freelancer for OGN in 2015, translating live players interviews during the English broadcasts and the content they published. He mainly worked for the LCK in League of Legends, but he was also present during APEX Seasons 1 and 2, standing behind the Western teams in the booths in case they needed help.
He then served his mandatory military service for about two years with the KATUSA, a Korean army branch that is integrated with the U.S. Army. Working with them helped him maintain his English skills and learn how to talk with people from different backgrounds.
He held onto the connections he made in esports when he returned to civilian life and university afterwards. That led to an opportunity to join the NYXL when their general manager, nuGget, reached out to him.
“I felt that working in the U.S. would be such a great opportunity,” he said. “It’ll be a new chance for me to go to esports, and that's the reason why I decided to join the Excelsior.”
AVALLA went to an international high school in Korea. While there, she helped organize a Model United Nations, learning how to manage accounting, organizing people and scheduling. She later went to law school, learning critical analysis and attention to the essential details of complex legal systems. All of those skills transferred over to her role as a manager at the Eternal.
She joined the Justice as one of their coaches in their expansion team debut in the 2019 season, but the season itself became a tumultuous one.
AVALLA felt that the coaching structure during the Justice's 2019 season was bad. Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
“I feel like our coaching structure was really bad,” said AVALLA, looking back on her time with the Justice. Each of the coaches were assigned to work on specific hero roles, but it developed into a closed off structure between them. “I wasn't even allowed to talk to say Ado, who was a DPS, because I was supposed to only coach support.”
Their season ultimately ended in a bottom three placement, and soon after AVALLA parted ways with the team. Doubt clouded her that she was ready for the Overwatch League, as other coaches in the league had more experience in high level competitions like APEX.
She started working with the Eternal in November of 2019 before her contract was finalized the next month. The team underwent a massive shuffle in the off-season, swapping out nearly half of their European players and all of their staff for Koreans, and they needed someone that could be their manager, translator and English teacher.
When she joined the Eternal as an assistant manager, she didn’t like it at first. But over time, it grew to work out much better. As a coach, she didn’t have any time off - seven days a week with no break. Being a manager lifted a lot of weight from her shoulders.
“It just suits my natural abilities and characteristics better,” she said. “I feel so happy with my new job.”
swingchip had previous experience in esports with Team GXG in Contenders Pacific and the Gladiators Legion. She had also worked as a sound designer in the video game industry; alongside “A Dance of Fire and Ice”, she was a sound designer with WB Games Boston and another indie game titled “At Sundown: Shots in the Dark.”
swingchip reached out to the Mayhem at the end of the 2018 season when they were looking for people. She did an interview and was set to fly out and meet the team, but she was then told that they found someone else.
swingchip got a second chance with the Mayhem around Stage 4 of the 2019 season. Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
However, a second chance showed up at her doorstep.
The Mayhem contacted swingchip again, and she started on-ramping with the team midway through Stage 4 of the 2019 season, doing document translations for the team’s analysts and their scouting reports. She was eventually signed on full time near the end of the year.
“Being a manager compared to being a sound designer, your knowledge is a lot more niche,” she said. Working as a manager is more so about interpersonal relationships. “You need to know English and Korean, and you just need to be there to emotionally support these gamers. So it's really not that bad.”
On the road, but then sent back home
It was the first homestand they attended in the 2020 season. The Mayhem just won against the Houston Outlaws, but swingchip knew that tomorrow would be their match against the hosts - the Philadelphia Fusion.
“I remember being super scared the first time I had to interview,” she said. “There was just a crowd of Philly fans that are obviously there for Philly, and we were playing them the next day, too. So we were going in as the enemy and it was so scary, but it was so fun at the same time.”
Steven kept the NYXL team together at their homestand in February. Image credit: Steward Volland for Blizzard Entertainment.
The biggest task that the managers had at the beginning of the season was the homestands. Much of their work consisted of handling travel itineraries, booking flights and bringing equipment as they traveled across the United States.
“What I would do is set up logistics,” said AVALLA. “On what time we're going to the practice facility, the hotel, what plane we're going to be taking, and telling players what they need to pack.”
Steven was at the New York homestand in February, where his role was to keep the home team together. “Although they’ve been professional players for a while, they could get nervous when they stand in front of a lot of fans where they’re screaming,” he said. But he made sure they were comfortable and stayed on routine.
Scrims were also much harder during traveling; there were only a few days to practice the meta, some of the practice facilities were barebones, and the Mayhem had a case at the Houston homestand where they weren’t allowed inside their practice area because they weren’t on the guest list.
Despite some of the chaos, the homestands were a fun experience, a testament to what the 2020 season could have been.
The players on the Mayhem were excited for every new city they went to. If they got a few days early, they’d spare time to see the sights and smells, whether it be getting cheesesteaks in Philadelphia or Texas barbeque in Houston. There was a lot more work, but swingchip says it was more rewarding at the same time.
The Mayhem team would spend their spare time seeing every new city they went to. Image credit: Steward Volland for Blizzard Entertainment.
The mother of all curveballs however weren’t the practice facilities, the potential travel fatigue or incorrect guest lists, but a global pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic gradually cancelled the rest of the homestands in the 2020 season, and stay at home orders were issued across the world. It became the most daunting challenge the managers faced as the league moved online, and some of the players struggled to adjust.
The cancelled homestands were a major morale blow to the Eternal. Missing the energy of a live crowd, playing online just felt like another scrim. As New Jersey, where the team resided, was hit the hardest early on, they couldn’t gather at the practice facility at their apartment complex.
“A lot of people started getting mentally troubled because of the whole situation,” said AVALLA. Many also grew homesick. Due to international travel bans, going home for the European players meant they couldn’t come back to the U.S., and while the Korean players could travel two-way, they felt bad for their European teammates, so they chose to stay.
Once the players got to meet with each other back at their practice facility, being able to see and talk with each other helped them tremendously. AVALLA also credits general manager NineK with making sure the players are alright physically and mentally.
The Eternal players being able to see each other again helped them tremendously during the pandemic. Image credit: Tasos Katopodis.
The players on the Mayhem had no problem playing at home at first, having been used to being at home all the time playing games. But months of staying inside made it clear that cabin fever reached its peak, not helped by Florida still being hit super hard by the coronavirus.
“Near the end of June, coach Kuki was like ‘I'm going to die of depression if we don't get to step out of our house ever’,” said swingchip. So they started using the Mayhem’s office facility as long as they were the only ones that went there.
swingchip also started to take them outside occasionally for fresh air, whether it be Costco or the beach, as long as they stayed safe and stayed away from a few spots.
Over at the NYXL, Steven acting the bridge for the team proved to be very crucial when the pandemic hit, making sure the players were calm, followed safety regulations such as wearing masks in public as well as getting anything else they needed to feel comfortable.
“I can't overstate how critical [Steven] was to ensuring that as all of us were adjusting very quickly to a lot of unknowns,” said Will Cutrone, the director of communications at Andbox. “He helped keep the players and the team as safe as possible.”
Steven was critical in ensuring the NYXL adjusted to the unknowns of the pandemic. Image credit: Joshua Roberts for Activision-Blizzard.
Eventually, the team moved back to Korea for the rest of the season. While the country has far less cases than the U.S., the threat of the virus is still very much present, so Steven has to keep their place safe. With the season ending, the amount of team content Steven had to be involved decreased, so his attention turned towards the team's performance in the playoffs.
“Even the little things, let's say, running out of water, I refilled the bottle,” said Steven. “If they're in trouble in the bathroom and they run off the toilet paper, they call me. ‘Steven! Bring the toilet paper, I’m stuck in the bathroom!’ I’m there like Superman, anytime.“
Teamwork (and staff) makes the dream work
For all of them, being a good support staff makes the difference in a team’s performance.
The important part of being a manager for AVALLA is the attention to detail; not missing any emails, deadlines or meetings. Being the team’s English teacher and doing her part in social media is also important.
“Back on the Justice when we didn’t have a manager, it was really hard for us to get what they needed for our players,” she said. “I'm glad that the players can come to me with their problems instead of hiding it or trying to deal with it themselves.”
AVALLA is glad the Eternal's players can come to her for any problems they have. Image credit: Carlton Beener for Activision-Blizzard Entertainment.
Steven says that it’s important to balance between the lifestyles in and out of the game. He focuses outside the game, such as getting food during the meetings, and listening to any personal concerns they have.
“When I first came as a manager, one thing that I promised myself is to get the players to focus more on the game rather than a bunch of other things,” he said. “The more engaging that the staff are, the players have less things to worry about”
swingchip knows that if players don’t feel supported by the upper management, then the players won’t care. The majority of players are very young in a completely new culture, and in cases where meltdowns happen between Korean players and the staff, she asks if they had a proper support system.
“Nine out of ten times, the answer is no,” swingchip said.
The organization that she personally thinks dropped the ball was the Vancouver Titans, who picked up the RunAway roster from Contenders Korea and surpassed expectations as one of the best teams in the 2019 season, and became the runner-ups in the Grand Finals.
From swingchip’s perspective, a lineup full of underdogs and marketability went radio silent; seeing no support or marketing in sight, they turned into a mysterious entity of a team. She reached out to the organization to be a translator, but was rejected because they were looking for a Los Angeles local.
She assumed that the Titans picked someone up. “But no, it's just the fact of the matter that they picked nobody up and just let them take care of themselves,“ she said.
The Titans parted ways with their all-Korean roster in May. Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
The roster and staff then suddenly parted ways in May. ESPN reported that there was conflict between the players/staff and the organization over whether to work at their homes or a practice facility in Korea due to the pandemic.
All that was left for the Titans was to pick up a mix of Western Contenders players that ultimately finished in the bottom two of the North American playoffs.
“I don't think any Korean who knows about what happened to the previous roster is ever gonna wanna sign with the Titans ever,” said swingchip. “That's on them. They messed up, that's their karma.”
A manager shines bright in the cosmos
All the hard work that managers do in the Overwatch League to run the teams efficiently begs the question: what could the league and the greater esports industry do to recognize managers more?
The answer from all of them is that it’s unfortunately going to be hard. The league itself is always going to be about the players since they’re the most marketable, and they say it will take a lot of work from the league to get more recognition.
Steven says that the NYXL team is very thankful for his work. Image credit: Steward Volland for Blizzard Entertainment.
Behind the scenes however, they’ve already received it. AVALLA says that the teams’ translators showing up on broadcast have raised awareness, and many people recognize her in game. Steven says that the team is very thankful for his work.
“We’re supposed to be behind the scenes,” says swingchip. “And I’m completely fine with it.”
Cover image by bleghfarec.