League of Legends: A Gaming Localization Failure

I’m a ridiculous League of Legends fan. If you don’t know the game, stop whatever you’re doing and check it out right now. Still not sure? I’ll tell you this: it’s a game in which larger-than-life fantasy characters fight each other with eldritch spells, guns, bows, grenades, water balloons and giant rockets. Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting for you while you install the game.

Back? All right. There’s a thing in League of Legends called “burst damage.” For those not in the know, it’s when you’re strolling through the map, minding your own business and thinking of cats, when all of a sudden your screen flashes red before turning gray and a giant “YOU HAVE BEEN SLAIN” notice reminds you of how bad you are at the game. Or, if you prefer a more technical definition, “burst damage” is the dealing of large amounts of damage in a short period of time (like an explosion, hence the “burst” image).

Now, every gun nut out there will surely know that “burst” can also refer to the quick discharge of a series of shots from a firearm. The two concepts have some similarities, and League of Legends does have some characters who attack really quickly using a gun, but they aren’t considered to be doing “burst damage”; theirs is “sustained damage” or the ability to deal damage consistently over long periods of time (read “long” as “before an invisible shadow ninja, a humanoid lion or a deadly clown jumps on you” – trust me, it does happen).

What Does All This Have to Do with Translation?

A while ago, League of Legends was localized into Italian. The official translation for “burst damage” is danno a raffica, which refers to the second meaning I’ve given you: a series of quick discharges, not a sudden release of pain, flames and unholy energies. It gets weird when you read about a character who basically has no capacity for “sustained damage” and relies on big bad spells to do their damage: the game texts, official blog posts and the like talk about danno a raffica, which doesn’t have the same meaning in Italian as what the game texts and the official blog posts are actually talking about.

This shows the importance of field knowledge in translations. Sure, “burst damage” can be translated as danno a raffica, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. A more suitable translation would be danno esplosivo, or danno improvviso or perhaps esplosione di danno (it’s bad when you can think of dozens of alternatives that all sound better than the one chosen). Any Italian League of Legends player, provided with the two alternatives, would choose the right one, because they know.

Even if they aren’t translators, and even if they barely or don’t know English, they are experts in the field and can provide an informed opinion. When you don’t know if the construction worker who’s also the main character in the novel you’re translating will sound natural to readers, you should ask a construction worker to review the translation. These people might not work in your field, but they work in the field you need.

For the record, League of Legends has a fan base of 27 million daily active players, according to Wikipedia. Even if only a small part of them are Italian speakers, it’s still a huge number of people who won’t be impressed by that translation.

About Ernesto Pavan

I’m a native Italian translator based in Italy. I have a degree in journalism, and my specialty areas are journalism translation, advertising translation, and literary translation.