Catching Up With English Tutor, Sophie Ahn - Behind the scenes of Overwatch League Players.

When you are living far far away from your home, it seems like the most problematic aspect is language. In order to eat, sleep, and live in that far far away environment, you need to communicate. However, learning a language is easier said than done. What’s more, if you’re a foreign player, you have to learn the language fast. It becomes even more difficult than it already is.

Being a veteran English teacher, Sophia Ahn has been teaching Korean players in NA for almost over 2 years. If Sophia Ahn taught English mainly to League of Legends players last year, this year she teaches around 20 Korean players in the Overwatch League. She also helps them transition easier into the NA lifestyle.

Related article: Interview with Sophie Ahn, English tutor helping Korean players in NA LCS 

The Overwatch League marked its first start this year. Within the players in the league, how demanding must it be to study English? Is there a difference in the use of vocabulary/terms between Overwatch and League of Legends players? Meeting up with Ms.Ahn who has been guiding the players in and outside of the game, I was able to catch a glimpse of the life of an Overwatch player.


¤ It has been awhile since we last met. Could you update us on how you have been and what you have been up to?

This year, I have been taking on multiple classes for Overwatch teams. Now that most of the League players learned English to a certain level, there are not that many League students in need of dire help. Some students even graduated. With the start of the first Overwatch season early this year, I was assigned to teach English to LA Valiant, LA Gladiators, Philadelphia Fusion, Boston Uprising, Houston Outlaws, Dallas Fuel, and San Francisco Shock. A total of 7 teams I am responsible for teaching English to.

¤ Within the Overwatch teams you teach, I am curious on which specific players you teach English to?

From all the 7 teams I have listed, you can think of it as all the Korean players on those teams. There are numerous Korean players in the 7 teams. I teach a majority of them. Unlike League of Legends, Overwatch does not restrict how many foreign players you may have on a team.

With teams that have all Korean players, the players have no need communicate in English. Therefore, I don't need to teach them. However, if there is even one player with a different nationality, English is a must learn.

¤ You teach multiple players at once from one team. When you do conduct group lessons, do you have a different teaching method compared to that of 1 on 1?

It really is immensely different. When tutoring 1 on 1, the advantage is that you are able to focus on that one person. In regards to grammar, I am able to give detailed feedback as well. In addition, there are some players that specifically ask for 1 on 1.

On the other hand, it becomes quite fun when teaching groups or 2 students at once. When a player speaks in English, another player laughs. I even allow them to role-play practice. Since the kids are professional players, they are familiar with the competition. When one player is praised 'Oh, good job!', another player on the same team always has the urge to prepare for the next question. Maybe they act this way because they hate to lose. As a result, I believe it is best to teach multiple players at once.

¤ When teaching English, do you focus on colloquial language? Or do you focus on vocabulary specifically needed for gameplay?

It differs from team to team, player’s personality, and what stage they started their English language learning. If I have additional time, I do tend to start with colloquial language. The players do tend to learn gameplay terms relatively fast. For example the teams that have started early with me: Gladiators, Valiant, and Boston, I practice colloquial language with. If a player joins a team mid season, I need to teach the player gameplay vocab as fast as possible. For instance with Valiant's Bunny and San Francisco Shock's Architect, I had to rush gameplay terms right away. Just so they can use it in teamfights ASAP.

I sometimes teach them gameplay vocab that I received earlier from their coaches. The coaches will write down specific locations on maps. For example, there is a ramen shop on the Hanamura map. When teaching English, the student and I go inside the game to the ramen shop. Afterwards, I ask the student what the 'ramen shop' is in English.

In regards to the San Francisco team, it was the team that started the latest with me and needed the most help. Due to this, I made them write down gameplay terms and repeat them as loud and fast as they could. I told them to practice while walking, eating, showering, and even sleeping. Although all these terms are relatively short and simple, the player's mind go blank on stage. Only when they practice speaking it out loud a 100 times and over, will be okay. 

¤ I would assume that the vocabulary taught to an Overwatch team will be different from a League of Legends team. In Overwatch, what are some of the game specific terms?

Just like how it was when I taught the League of Legends players last year, I had to learn all the Overwatch terms from scratch. The funny part is, every Overwatch team uses different words. When restoring health, some teams would say ‘Heal me’ while others say ‘Give me a heal’. Also instead of 'Soft dive', there are teams that use 'go in' as well.

Choosing what to use is crucial. If a player who can’t speak English that well uses ‘Heal me’ and hears ‘Give me a heal’, the player doesn’t understand. As a result, I usually consult with the coach first before teaching the players some of Overwatch’s gameplay vocabs.

There are so many others. ‘Damage boost me’, ‘Pocket me’, and ‘Force them to use ult’. One time, Asher Kakao’ed me asking how to say ‘Make them use ult’ in English. With this term as well, there are some teams that use ‘Make them use ult’ or ‘Force them to use ult’.

▲ Asher 'swinging' on where to use his new learned words.

¤ If teams use different representations for the same term, the English terms Overwatch players use and  English terms League of Legends players use must be completely different.

Completely different. The English words Overwatch uses are Zenyatta’s Transcendence, Force them to ult, Soft dive, Pocket me, Heal me, etc. The most used English words for League are Teleport, Flash, Lane phase, Last hit, Tower, CS, Minion, etc.

Even displaying certain grammar/phrases such as ‘You are slain’ is different. For example, League presents it as ‘An enemy has been slain’. On the other hand, Overwatch displays it as ‘You were eliminated’. In regards to grammar, the use of ‘has been’ and ‘were’ is different. When teaching new grammar to the players, I use these as an example. Since the Korean language does not have Present Perfect, it is a lot easier for them to learn it this way.

¤ Besides what you have clarified prior, is there anything else that differs in English between League of Legends players and Overwatch players?

Due to Overwatch’s games being fast paced, the players need to communicate at ridiculous speeds. This is why I ask my students to practice saying the same phrases shorter 10 times in succession. Only when they practice like this, the players can more comfortably communicate on stage.

When teaching League of Legends players, the players learned to say English a lot slower. Sayings such as ‘Karma no Flash’, ‘I’ll go to enemy jungle, you ready?’, and 'Olaf is Mia. Poppy is here'. It is very common to find more complete sentences. Overwatch is more ‘D’Va, D’Va, D’Va, D’Va!’, ‘Go, Go, Go GO!’, and ‘Make them use ult, ult, ult!’ (laughs).

To be honest when I first heard a recording of how the players spoke on stage, I was in complete despair. When listening to League players, I was able to listen to everything slowly and write notes. Meanwhile, Overwatch… I once brought in the players to ask if they understood what was being said in the recording. They said they really understood it all. Everyone was better than me.

¤ I would assume that the sentences taught must be short for Overwatch players.

That is correct. When I first teach them sentences, I would teach them ‘Focus on monkey’ for example. A way that is grammatically correct. However, players would complain that the sentence is too long. They tell me that ‘on’ needs to be removed. (Imitating the player) ‘Focus monkey! Focus monkey! Focus monkey! Focus monkey!’. It is grammatically incorrect, but I have no choice but to teach it this way. ChoiHyoBin always asks me 'Make it shorter. Can you not make it shorter?'.

Still, there are some players who want to learn grammar perfectly. For example, players such as Fate, Bunny, Carpe, DayFly, and OGE all persist on learning perfect English grammar.

▲ Ssumday is slee.. studying. 

¤ In order to best teach gameplay terms to the players, you need to have a basic understanding in games. To learn gameplay vocabulary, have you ever personally played games before?

Yes, I have. But, I gave up. I like to believe I have a kind personality. Even if the students are unable to keep up with the class, I patiently wait and guide them. Despite getting multiple things wrong, I never get angry at my students. But when I played games, a new side of me came out. Afterwards, I came to respect professional players even more so. When I saw players rage prior, I used to think ‘Why is his mind so weak?’. Now, I truly understand how difficult it is.

¤ You have been to numerous Overwatch team houses. Is the atmosphere different for each team?

The atmosphere is completely different for each team. From the houses to the lifestyles, everything is different. There are some teams that live in a palace like homes with king like treatment. Other teams have the team divided into 2 players living in really nice apartments. These 2 players will only join up with their team for practice. Some teams order food from really nice restaurants, and others have a validated famous chef cook for them.

There is also an atmosphere difference between teams that have Korean coaches and Non-Korean coaches. The teams that have Korean coaches have a very Korean-ish feeling to their lifestyle and practice. This is why I am amazed and have a lot of fun every time I visit each individual team.

¤ In your personal opinion, which Overwatch team seem to have the most luxurious home?

Philadelphia Fusion. That team really lives in a palace like home. When you look at the house from the outside, you feel quite intimidated. I had the exact same feeling when I last visited League of Legends Echo Fox’s team house. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I get the chance to go inside a house like this during my lifetime.’.

On top of all this, Philadelphia Fusion’s swimming pool is not family size pool. It is big enough for legitimate swimming practice. They even have a large garden and Basketball hoop. Philadelphia Fusion is truly living in a beautiful and lovely palace.

▲ Proud Philadelphia Fusion is proud.

¤ I feel like, in a place like that, they will also have equally as nice food.

Yes. At the house, they have an experienced and accomplished chef to cook their food. Despite this, the Korean players on Fusion still tend to eat ramen after the chef cooked meal. They want to eat spicy food (laughs). On the first day I went to teach, I ate hotel level cooked food. However, it seemed like HotBa and Sado craved Korean food. They were eating Samgyeopsal (Korean grilled pork belly) and Ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping sauce). I decided to eat the Samgyeopsal with them and got close with them in an instant. For the Gladiator team, Korean chefs serve western and Korean dishes.

¤ Out of all the Overwatch players, which player has improved the most in English?

Because of the difference in how many lessons taken, it is impossible to compare players overall. But if I had to say, the players who learned English relatively fast were La Valiant Kariv, Bunny, Fate, and Asher from LA Gladiators. Kariv first started with ‘I am’ and ‘You are’. Now, there is no word Kariv cannot understand. When teaching League players, I was honestly surprised to learn that professional gamers were extremely smart and responsive.

Kariv is a natural at English speaking. He finds it really difficult studying while sitting still. During the lessons, Kariv would ramble on about ‘Hey, do you want to eat some dumplings? So, I went to Koreatown the other day (blah blah). Hey, my teammates Agilities did so and so.’. It was difficult for him to really focus on studying. Regardless, Kariv learned English extremely fast due to this very talkative nature. Whenever he would burst out like that, I would always ask him to repeat what he said to me in English.

Asher has a strong sense of responsibility. Even while saying 'AH, English! AH, English! I'm going to go crazy. Crazy English.', he still studies hard and does all of his homework. But, Asher has to put his head down and rest for 2 minutes every now and then to keep focusing.

There are also players that study hard as if it was a class at school. Players like Fate, Izayaki, Carpe, DayFly, and OGE.

Oh! And one important thing is that a majority of the Overwatch players love studying English. This work makes me the most happy. For example, Architect will send me a message saying 'Is there no more homework?'. At this point, ChoiHyoBin replies in the group chat 'unfortunately we have no homework' (laughs).

Players such as Bunny and OGE want to study so bad that they leave me a message saying 'When are you coming?' and 'Can you please come today?'. They always carry around English notes and review them well. The Boston players are extremely hard working. Even though their lessons are in the morning on an off day, players such as Neko has never been late once in the past 5 months. He is always the first one to sit down and tries his best. Unfortunately, Neko isn't much of a talker. I want to hear him talk more (laughs).

▲ Asher a bit stressed from studying.

¤ Are there players that have improved English to the point that they do interviews in English as well?

Due to League players learning English for such a long time, there are players that do interviews in English. However, for Overwatch, the longest anyone has learned English is less than a year. This is why it must be difficult for them to go about doing an interview in English. The Overwatch players will have a translator provided. They also don’t need to say much in person.

Despite what I had just said, Kariv recently did an interview in English. I was so moved when I saw it. To be honest, I think that a lot of my students can do English interview even if they get their grammar wrong. They are just too shy to do it. Players like Carpe, Fate, and Kalios are really good at English. These players could probably do an interview without any difficulty. 

Korean players that like to talk to foreigners learn fast. For example, HotBa really gets along with foreigners. Players like OGE and Kalios love to fit in and make jokes with foreigners. In fact, the players hearing all the swear words actually helps the learn even faster. It is a shame that Asher and Kariv have a talent for swearing...

Houston Outlaw's ArHaN had only arrived 2 weeks ago. Going onto the stage while handling both the live games and English must have been difficult for him. ArHaN is very creative (?) with his English. It is very entertaining. For instance, he says 'Do you have time tomorrow' as 'Can you date with me tomorrow?' or 'I don't agree with what you are saying' as 'Shut up'. There are moments when I am laughing so hard that I cannot continue with the lesson.

¤ Amongst the players you have taught, there are some players that have left the U.S. and gone home. Before they leave, do you ever meet up with them?

Yes, of course. When I hear that a player needs to return to Korea, I get really upset. This is why before they leave, I always meet up with them and buy them food. I buy them the type of food that is hard to find in Korea. With the Overwatch season about to end, the time period between the end of this season to the next season is incredibly long. Since I don’t know who will be able to come back to the U.S., I already feel sad.

▲ She often missed her formal students.

¤ I have heard that you also teach English to coaches. Is the English the coaches learn differently from what the players learn?

There are different vocabularies that I teach to the coaches. When I teach them standard English, I teach them to say ‘I hope, I wish, I want you to play better’ or ‘It will be good if you.../ You should...'. I teach them a broad range of how to say things as gentle as possible to all the way up to as strong as possible.

¤ Teams like LA Valiant have a variety of players other than Koreans. Do you also teach Foreign players who don’t know English?

Because there are coaches/players who want to communicate with their Korean players, I do teach Korean to coaches and players who want to learn Korean. Besides, my original job is teaching Korean at a college after all. Hence, teaching Korean is an extremely easy task for me.

Amongst the Overwatch teams, the players at Philadelphia Fusion said they wanted to learn Korean. As of now, I am giving them lessons. Sometimes they miss out on a few lessons here and there because of their game schedule. Regardless, they can all read Korean. They know how to say ‘I am British. I am Simon. I love Zenyatta’ in Korean.

Because LA Valiant’s coach is French and wants to learn Korean, I am currently teaching him Korean as well. iRemiix from LA Gladiators also wants to learn Korean just so he can joke around in Korean to the Korean players.

¤ Are there often times when players learn words or phrases that you didn’t teach?

Oh yeah, there is a lot. For example, a word like ‘insane’. In normal circumstances, you say ‘you are amazing’. You rarely use ‘you are insane’ to that aspect. However, in games, it seems like a very common phrase to say.

The players also use a lot of slang. One time, I taught Asher how to say ‘I have something to do today’, but he says ‘I have some s*** to do today’ instead. He tells me he learned it from his teammates. I never teach my students any bad or negative words. They learn them by themselves (laughs).

¤ It was an amazing experience to hear the stories of players you usually don’t see on live. Is there anything you want to say to your friends or players reading this interview?

I don’t believe I am teaching English to Esport players because I am somewhat special. I started this line of work because the opportunity came by chance. The work fits me perfectly as well. From the long period I have been in teaching, I have learned there are some students that require a different route of study compared to others. I wanted to challenge the idea that if I could teach them, I could teach anyone as a teacher.

Unlike ordinary people, players learn English as a tool to win games. Every week, they extract the little time that they have in their incredibly tough and busy schedule to learn English. Looking at these players, I want them to be as happy and successful as possible. Behind the spotlight, everyday people cannot fathom the immeasurable stress and frustration these players live with every single day.

Lastly, there is something I want to say to the people who will read this article. The players play scrims and live games every day and week with the sole goal of winning. On top of this, they need to learn how to speak English in a place where they cannot eat their favorite Ddukbokki (Hot and spicy Korean rice cake) with ease. If you favorite player just experienced a loss, you should embrace him/her with support rather than criticism. The ones who want to win more than anyone else and please their fans are the players themselves. I will also do my very best for the players and the fans!


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