Susie Kim: “If organizations want to bring in Korean players, having a support staff for them is very important. Your game mechanics can only take you so far.”

The Inven Global Esports Conference was an event held in Irvine, CA on May 1st to bring together industry leaders to discuss all things esports. This allowed Izento the chance to speak to with Susie Kim, also known as The Esports Mom, the current General Manager of London Spitfire from the Overwatch League, formerly known within the scenes of Starcraft and League of Legends as a translator. This interview has kept in mind to be more general, for both Overwatch and League of Legends fans to garner some knowledge from it.

Earlier in the split, I talked with Impact, top laner for Team Liquid, about going to a team without a Korean speaker and the difficulty in acclimating to an environment like that, and if he was willing to do that for a different team. So, do you think it’s possible for a Korean player to play at their peak without someone to fully communicate with?

No. I think it’s really difficult when you bring in a speaker, whether it’s Korean or any other language, who doesn’t speak English. Your game mechanics can only take you so far and especially in a game like League of Legends or Overwatch. Both of these are team games and communicating with your teammates is imperative for success. I think if organizations want to bring in Korean speakers, or any other speakers, having a support staff for them is very important. It’s not even their day-to-day…I mean, this is important as well, but for in-game communication, it is quite difficult.

You’re in a unique position to where you grew up in America and then moved to South Korea and got to experience the culture over there. Is there any culture shock that you prepare players that come from there over to North America?

I spent the last 10 years in South Korea. I grew up in a Korean family so I was aware of the Korean culture before moving out there.

Culture shock for players that come over to America is a lack of structure. In Korea, in very established teams especially, they have a distinct hierarchy. You listen to your coach whether you like it or not, or if your head coach gives you advice or tells you to wake up at a certain time; the Korean system is very regimented. America is more relaxed, where players have more power, maybe too much power over the organization. This is probably one culture shock, along with the food.

Also, with teams in Korea, even if you have a day off, you end up spending most of that time doing something else together as a team. You might be playing soccer or going to a movie. There’s a lot of comradery, whereas in western teams, when you have a day off everyone goes to do their own thing. So, for players that come over and don’t have friends, and they’re just kind of by themselves, it’s kind of like, “oh, I thought these people were my friends, what do I do?” That’s also very difficult.

Then there’s leaving behind your support system, your friends, parents and all the fans that love you.

Speaking to that, since it’s related to gaming houses, do you view gaming houses as a healthy part of esports?

I do, but it depends on the team and their culture. When we first started the London Spitfire, everyone was in separate apartments; there were 3 to 4 guys in each apartment. This caused somewhat of a divide.

Most of the time, when players are very young and are used to having a parent take care of them, it’s really hard for them to jump into becoming an adult. Recently, we’ve all moved into one gaming house and that’s actually made our team atmosphere a lot better.  Everyone wakes up at the same time, goes to bed at the same time and doing activities such as hopping into the pool or playing Playstation. This allows the team to grow together, not just in having synergy in the game, but to just have synergy with one another in person. This then translates into the game and you’re able to understand, “oh, when this guy calls me trash, he doesn’t really mean it, it’s just the way he is”. So, personally, depending on the team, I think gaming houses are still good and it allows for growth for a team. Then again, there are teams where people have girlfriends, who want their own space and are a bit more acclimated to being real life adults. They don’t need the constant prodding, because if it’s time to practice, “oh, I need to go to the office”. I’m more for team houses, but I see the necessity and benefits of having a separate apartment as well.

It seems that Koreans in the LoL community have a work ethic that is unrivaled. Where do you think this type of mentality comes from?

I think we’re kind of bred that way. By that, I mean, at an early age, the Korean education system is on a bell curve. For example, let’s say you’re in an English class. Let’s say you’re the best kid in the class; that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting 100s on your tests, that just means you’re better than everyone else. So, if everyone else sucks, you just suck less. If everyone else is good and you’re in last place, you could still be amazing, but you’re just not as good as all the other amazing students.

The idea of competition and rivalry has been with us forever. Also, the Korean military system that all the boys have to go through, it teaches you hierarchy. It’s always, “you do this, because you’re this particular rank. Then when you get to my rank, you tell someone else to do it”. I think that kind of mindset makes players more competitive and so their work ethic shows that, if you want to be the best, you put in the work.

Regardless of nationality, what are the biggest psychological problems in esports players that prohibits them from being the best player that they can be? What’s a common trend that you see amongst esports players?

This is a difficult question because it varies a lot.

I think one potential issue could be that Korea, moreso than before, didn’t take mental health into account and so, if you were down, you just tried to talk to someone about it and you’re done with it. The idea to see a counselor, therapist or psychologist was…I don’t want to say taboo, but certainly wasn’t a common practice. I think more teams are realizing a need for that and are starting to do it, which is great.

Again, there’s also the aspect of competitiveness. For example, say if you’re a mid laner and you’re really really good, but not Faker. In your head, no matter what you do, you’re thinking, “I’m never going to be that good”. That type of thinking can put you down and can affect your gameplay.

This type of problem is case by case and it’s not just Koreans. Generally, as a gamer, you’re striving to be the best. Maybe you’re getting into your own head thinking that you might not be the best, or you think you are but you’re not and everyone else is putting you down.

Another psychological battle is when you start getting all these fans and girls might be giving you more attention. How do you deal with that? Most players, let’s put them at the age of 18-25, and you’ve been a gamer all your life and you’ve never had much interaction with a member of the opposite sex or someone you’re attracted to, and now these girls are like, “I LOVE YOU”! Dealing with that in a realistic term is very difficult.

As an aside, do you ever have to give relationship advice to a player, past or present?

I have not, but it might be because I’m female, because it might be difficult or awkward to talk to me about stuff like that. We do always tell our players, remember, this is also your job. If she’s affecting your job, then you may have to reconsider, is this a job you want to keep? Or, is this a woman that can understand what your job is and give you that space to be able to do the best that you can do? We talk to our plays and we don’t prohibit our players from having girlfriends, but we do try to talk generally on how to maintain those relationships as a player so that you’re able to do what you’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes they’ll break up with their girlfriend because it doesn’t work out and it stands in the way of their career dreams.

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Izento is a journalist present at the NA LCS, armchair analyst and car enthusiast. As an avid Season 1 League of Legends player, he's since pursued his passion for esports through the power of writing.

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