New York Comic Con has long been the East Coast’s bastion of geekdom and pop culture fanaticism, drawing like-minded nerds together from around the world to celebrate all the things they love the most. A tour of the exhibition floor is equivalent to a candy shop’s worth of visual feasting, a veritable paradise for all who love games, film, television, anime, comic books, or anything in between.
What truly brings New York Comic Con’s halls to life, however, are the cosplayers. The possibility of running into one of your favorite fictional characters browsing the booths or striking a pose with a fan is, for many, nothing short of wizardry. Cosplay brings fan communities together, grants artists a platform to showcase their talent, and even allows people to embody the characters they love, even if just for one afternoon.
Take Tasha and Doremi of Spiral Cats, a Korean cosplay group who traveled all the way to New York during the Overwatch League’s Grand Finals Week to showcase their NYXL-skinned Tracer and D.Va costumes, respectively. Their portrayals of these characters were so true-to-life that it prompted one fan to snap a photo and post it to Reddit with the simple caption, “D.Va and Tracer watching the $10K match at NYXL Homecoming.”
What’s striking about that particular caption is that it accurately captures what it’s like to be in the presence of cosplayers, or even cosplaying yourself: For many, once they don the costume, they really do become the flesh-and-blood representation of the character they love, regardless of how detailed or finely crafted their costume is.
“A while ago someone asked me, ‘How do you feel when you wear a D.Va costume?’” Doremi said. “I found myself answering, ‘Huh? I AM D.Va!’ Other people thought it was a funny response, but I was actually kind of serious. When I wear a cosplay costume, I think I am really D.Va.”
Why cosplaying Overwatch feels so right
Cosplay, a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play,” refers to the art of dressing up as someone else, often (but not always) a fictional character pulled from an anime series, a video game, a movie, a TV show, a book—any and all media can serve as a potential source for a cosplay character.
So what makes Overwatch such a rich subject for cosplay? “I think people like to cosplay as characters from Overwatch because there are so many characters that people can relate to or fall in love with,” Izzy Avanesov said. Avanesov is a cosplayer who has made costumes of McCree, Widowmaker, and Pharah. “The stories and lore behind the characters are also super interesting, which makes them especially compelling to cosplay,” she explained.
Overwatch’s large and diverse cast of characters provides cosplayers with a plethora of possibilities for costumes. This is especially true when considering that there are hundreds of skins from which to choose, meaning there are often a dozen different ways in which to portray a character.
Additionally, the advent of the Overwatch League and team skins granted fans the ability to demonstrate their team spirit while cosplaying Overwatch characters. Take Allison Beggs’ NYXL Brigitte cosplay, for instance, which turned many heads at the Overwatch League Grand Finals for its realism and attention to detail.
To make the costume, Beggs first did research and took in-game pictures of the character from different angles to get a comprehensive sense of how Brigitte looks. Beggs then borrowed templates for Brigitte’s armor from Frostbite Cosplay, a cosplay team from Austin, TX who’d previously made a Houston Outlaws-themed Brigitte cosplay.
The armor itself was constructed over an intensive three week period of cutting and gluing foam pieces together. “It's basically a giant puzzle,” Beggs said of the painstaking process. “And then you prime it and paint it and paint all the details.” The painting process itself took a week to complete.
Beggs’ took the NYXL Brigitte cosplay to the Grand Finals, where she relished in the opportunity to represent both one of her most oft-played characters and her favorite squad in all of OWL. As a former New York resident, Beggs jumped at the opportunity to support her home team. “I just fell in love with the team and the Overwatch League,” Beggs said. “I wanted to pay tribute to them.”
Even Spiral Cats’ Tasha and Doremi decided to use their costumes to rep NYXL during their visit to New York during the Grand Finals. Their NYXL-inspired Tracer and D.Va costumes were some of the most lifelike on display that weekend, and NYXL’s striking colors proved a stunning complement to their designs.
“I've been Saebyeolbe's fan for a long time! Ever since he joined the New York Excelsior, I started cheering for the whole team,” Tasha explained. “Saebyeolbe’s Tracer is like lightning! He’s awesome!”
Though it often takes Spiral Cats around four weeks to design and prepare their costumes, they only had two weeks to finish their NYXL D.Va and Tracer outfits in time for the Grand Finals, often working tirelessly into the night. “Even when we landed in New York, we hand-stitched some parts that we were not satisfied with, in our hotel room,” Tasha said.
Their typical process kicks off with a week of choosing the fabrics, textures, and color palettes that match the characters that they’ve chosen. Then they spend two weeks building out the costume and finish with a week of fitting and modifying them. With such a quick turnaround, however, Tasha and Doremi were forced to hurry and finished the elaborate costumes in only ten days.
They tend to spend such a long period of time on choosing the color palettes for their costumes because they feel that distinctive colors can make their cosplay immediately recognizable, even if viewed from far away or in the midst of a crowd. “We think that's the secret to great cosplays,” Doremi said.
From amateurs to pros, anyone can cosplay
Not every cosplayer, however, is like Spiral Cats. The greater cosplay community is full of people who are determined to keep it egalitarian, encouraging all forms of cosplay regardless of polish or craftsmanship.
“Cosplay is...the most accessible it has [ever] been,” Arina Wu said. Wu has cosplayed as Mei, Hanzo, and Sombra. She tends to get creative with how she depicts her cosplay subjects; for instance, she designed her Sombra cosplay even before Sombra’s initial appearance had been released. She chose to get creative with the hints Blizzard had provided about the character before her official reveal and portray Sombra as a hooded figure with an elaborate skull-shaped mask.
Wu doesn’t think anyone should be discouraged from cosplaying merely because they lack the skill or time to hand-craft their costume. “Don't feel ashamed if you have to buy your cosplay,” she said. This is the kind of attitude that helps foster inclusive cosplay scenes. She insisted that everyone should feel empowered to cosplay, “no matter what situation [they’re] in.”
Other cosplayers echoed Wu’s sentiment. “Cosplay is a hobby that anybody can do, regardless of shape, size, gender, or race,” Avanesov said. This kind of openness within the community is key to helping every cosplayer feel comfortable and happy in their costume.
Finding community at conventions
In fact, a connection to a tight-knit, supportive community is why many people get into cosplay in the first place. For instance, Jonathan Lubarsky, a cosplayer who does a dapper Scion Hanzo, found out about cosplay as a child when someone noticed his Naruto T-shirt and told him about anime conventions. “I would spend hours every day after that researching anime and comic conventions,” he said. “I would notice people would dress up as some of my favorite characters, and I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my young, nine-year-old life.”
Tiffany Chang, a cosplay photographer who also met many of her friends through gaming conventions, finds her craft rewarding because it allows her to help empower her friends. “Being able to take photos where people usually feel like they don't look very good and having them love it is a very satisfying feeling,” Chang said. In this way, cosplayers and cosplay enthusiasts are continually re-affirming and helping each other feel positively about their work.
Cosplaying for yourself
At the end of the day, many cosplayers agree that, when it comes to their craft, the most critical person to appease is themselves. “It doesn't really matter if anyone else knows the character, or if they think it's great,” Beggs said. “If I think it's great and I feel great in it, and I'm having a good time then that's a success for me.”
Avanesov had a similar message for aspiring cosplayers. “Remember that cosplay is meant to be fun, and don't let anyone bring you down and tell you who you can or can't cosplay,” she said. “Focus on yourself and what makes you happy, and make cosplays of characters that you love.”