Cosplay Competition - To enter or not to enter?

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#1 Jigouku Chou on 2 months ago

I really want to challenge myself and enter a cosplay competition next year, but I'm afraid my craftsmanship isn't up to snuff. Big costumes like ball gowns or suits of armor just aren't in my wheelhouse, and I'm worried I won't even have a chance. I'm best at smaller pieces with lots of detail work, but I don't know if anyone enters with just that. Any advice is appreciated.

#2 walkerofdarknes on 2 months ago

Honestly, I am not that good a cosplayer (yet) but I'll be the first to admit that entering the contests is both the best and worst thing I've done. So far, I've had 4 contests. I've not won anything, but I've enjoyed the time nonetheless.

Now as to why I've said it's the best thing I've done: let's face it, contests break down a lot of the barriers you might find in a con, even among the various folks who are cosplayers themselves. The last couple of contests I've been in, the folks around me at the contest are universally more open than you might find walking around the con. We've exchanged stories, shown off techniques, gotten little tidbits from each other right there. At one contest, my costume was suffering from glue failure (it was an armor piece) and a couple of folks put straight pins in RIGHT as I was waiting to help keep it together during my time on stage. Which it did thanks to their help. That's not exactly something you expect of complete strangers, and it restores a little bit of my hope for humanity.

Now why it's the worst idea I've done (in cosplay so far): Let's face it, you're going to take the stress you normally deal with for a cosplay and jack it up. By a factor of 10 at least. If you think your cosplay isn't that good, by the end of your creation process you'll be positive it isn't. But the judges may yet surprise you. Since you've never entered a contest, you'll be at the lowest category, which will either be Beginner or Novice depending on the con in question. The judges will (hopefully) know their stuff and be able to judge it on the merits of the costume, not the rank you enter at or your overall experience. That means you might have more going for your costume than you think. Case in point, at the contest I entered in this year, the judges had a winner whom they upgraded from Novice to Apprentice due to the entire level of work done on her costume, which had a lot of details done (I also suspect they had a shortage of Apprentice entries, but that's a different point). There was also a winner who had made a Queen from Cinderella, and her biggest part of it was the 80 little bows on her dress. All of which she made BY HAND. The judges gave her an award for the craftmanship, but not a category.

So there's some thoughts on your question. Hope they help. If you do intend to enter, I'd strongly suggest you pick a costume that either A) plays out the most to your strengths, or B) plays out to most of your strengths and still lets you learn a new technique (since the first time judging will be a tad more lenient than your higher tier contestants). I would also point out that due to some of the quirks in how conventions set up their standards, and the lack of an overall organization, you might end up having to compete against folks who are under their skill class. Don't be discouraged, but feel free to try to talk to them and see what little things you can learn from them. Especially since you'll get a good up-close look at their costumes, and can learn a lot that way.

#3 Syon on 2 months ago

I'm someone who has absolutly zero chance at winning any competiton at all. My armor starts to look decent, same with my props, but in the last years the competitons has gone through the roof. I've seen people were I couldn't tell if thats even made by a hobbiest anymore. So I see contests solely as a chance to show off my work on stage, get cheered at and experiance a sense of community backstage (because you can end up spending a couple of hours with the other participatians). I'm a shy wallflower, so thats a godsend for me.

#4 CapsuleCorp on 2 months ago

First and foremost, if you are a beginner, good news: you don't have to go up against the ballgowns and armor directly. At least, if the competition you're entering is any good. A REAL competition is fair, and has skill divisions - at minimum two, beginner and advances, at most 4 like they do in Canada. Most of the time you'll see it listed as Novice/Journeyman/Master. If you've never competed before at all AND are not a professional or have literally been making clothing for 20 years, you're a Novice and you're only judged against the other Novices. Side note: master class is actually "open" class, meaning you can enter at that level if you wish, you're not actually required to jump through the hoops to go from novice to journeyman to master. But, some contests don't recognize that. If you're not confident in your skills, don't worry, this is why Novice exists: so that beginner or inexperienced costume-makers have the protection of their newbieness to allow them to work things out, get the gist of how the contest works, compare themselves to other people on their level, etc.

So, if you have every confidence that the contest is a good one - word of mouth says they're fair and treat contestants really nicely, their rules are solid and the director sticks to them to make sure everyone has a fair chance - then there's really nothing that says you can't go for it. I always advocate for making sure it's a fair contest, first, because there are a lot of cons and a lot of them just sort of copy-paste rules without really thinking about why that rule is in place or how it affects the competitors. A good competition will make YOU the star, the director and A/V team make sure you're presenting your best side to the audience, the backstage crew makes sure you're comfortable and well-cared-for, and the emcee isn't heckling or belittling competitors. After all, you're basically providing yourself and your costume as free "talent" for a major event, they had better treat you like a star and not like a disposable piece of meat.

That said, when should you enter and when should you not?

Enter a competition if you have a costume that you think would look better on stage than in the halls. A costume that might be too hard to wear all day and would be better if you can just wear it for a few hours but by showing it on stage, most of the congoers will get to see it all at once. Enter if you have a good idea for how to present a costume - not to knock walk-ons because I love walk-ons but I've judged, directed, and emceed so many competitions where a lot of people enter because they have some kind of vague idea that if you're wearing a costume on Saturday you have to enter the cosplay contest. They really don't know what it's about or how it runs, so when the director asks them what they're going to do on stage, they blank. They have no idea. And if it's not a very visually impressive costume, a couple of standard poses really don't look any better on stage than they do in the hall in front of a photographer. Competition is more fun and more interesting both for you and for the audience if you have something to DO on stage - brilliant posing, fight moves, good music, a transformation, etc. And, like I say, don't knock brilliant posing - but brilliant means it's a step above just posing like the character's default promo pose.

Enter if you want to challenge yourself. Enter if you've built something where you tried out a couple of new techniques and think you did well with them. Enter if you want a chance to measure yourself against others in your skill level in your area. Enter if you've heard the judges are really sweet and give you a good experience whether you win or lose. Enter if you love the character and costume and really want to show it off with an extra flair above just walking around the halls. Enter if you want a new experience.

Don't enter if...

...you don't want to give up your entire Saturday. Some cons have different judging/rehearsal/stage time structures for their event, but for the most part you'll be giving up a big chunk of Saturday. You may be pre-judged, meaning getting into your costume a lot earlier than you wanted, which can be very hard to deal with if there's a lot of makeup involved, lots of layers or heavy armor or props, etc. I personally HATE getting into the whole thing at 9am on Saturday for judging and then getting out of it because it's a hardcore costume, then getting back into it at 4pm to be in the green room by 5. And yes, for a good quality competition, you will be in the green room for probably 4 or 5 hours for that 30 seconds on stage. If there's rehearsals, that's another thing you have to work into your Saturday schedule.

Don't enter if the competition has a bad reputation for treating its people like shit. Don't enter if you don't feel like you have anything really noteworthy to do or say on stage. Don't enter if your costume is less than 50% handmade. I hate to say it, but don't enter if your costume is just a shirt and jeans. Even in Novice class you WILL be going up against people who are wearing multi-layered costumes, and even if both of you made it all yourself from scratch, someone who pushes themselves to try different and new things usually gets more attention than someone who played it safe. And another one that most people disagree with me with, but worth keeping in mind: don't enter if you've been wearing the costume all day Friday and all day Saturday and plan to wear it all day Sunday...because by the time Saturday evening rolls around, everyone sitting in that audience has already seen you up close and photographed you. They no longer care. It's hard to hear but it's true. I've stood on that stage as an emcee and heard the quiet groans from the audience when they realize "oh, it's THAT Noctis I saw yesterday, and this morning, and this afternoon, and not a new and prettier Noctis." Don't enter if you can't take the stress of knowing that people are silently judging you.

DO however, enter, if you're not going to let a silly thing like stage fright get in the way of you having a new and exciting experience. Shit happens. Props and costumes break on stage. The music cue is wrong or tech loses your music entirely. You trip on the steps. You panic and forget your third pose. These things have happened even to the best of us, and we roll with the punches. The show goes on. You soldier on, do your best, and you know what? Judges are really impressed when people soldier on and manage to salvage a good presentation out of disaster. I've won despite breaking a wing, losing a shoe, and having my music completely fucked up. It can be an enlightening, thrilling, and unique experience.

Competition isn't for everyone, so don't feel like you're less of a cosplayer if you never enter a contest. There are thousands of cosplayers who never compete. And really, "winning" isn't really winning anything. At some places you might get a shiny trophy or a big flashy ribbon, but you don't GET anything from winning. You don't get prestige, you don't get cash prizes (most places), you don't get internet cred, you don't get anything except the ability to say "I won best in class novice at X-con in 2018." What you do get is pride. A sense that you've been fairly evaluated by your peers and won their approval. You get a nod to your job well done. You get to know that someone said "yes, as a matter of fact, you DID do really well on that costume!" And, as time goes on and you know for a fact that your skills are improving, that kind of ego-boost can really make your hard work feel worth it. But don't feel like you ever NEED to, particularly if you ever reach a point where you feel like striving to be "better" for competition is draining all the fun out of cosplay.

The last time I competed was 2013. I pushed myself and wasn't happy with the end product, so even if I won Best in Show, it took so much out of me that I just haven't bothered since. I found a lot more personal joy in making hall costumes that I liked, from my favorite series. I may finally compete again next year, but as a Master, I actually am going straight up against the armor and hand-beaded ballgowns. It's a hard place to be in.

#5 gypsy_girl on 2 months ago

Go for it!!!!!

Yes, the completion culture in cosplay has changed a lot. Those Novice entries are really good. Most cosplayers don't enter with the first thing they've ever made. It can be intimidating and frightening, and there may be times when you wonder what on earth the judges saw in a particular costume, but there's a lot of great things about it too.

For me, I've entered a couple of masquerades because I miss performing. I used to figure skate and I miss it. There is a difference being on stage and moving and reacting to a live crowd. THere's nothing quite like it.

The fellowship in the green room is wonderful. Everyone is asking how you made that one piece. Everyone is supportive.

It may not be for you, but the only way to really know for sure is to try it. It's great to have entries that aren't ballgowns or armour. I don't make those either.

#6 Slapthefatcat on 2 months ago

Thank you CapsuleCorp for your input. It's exactly what I needed. I'm going to be competing for the first time at Otakon 2019 (although I may do Katsucon 2019 first, since it's six months beforehand, but the plan is Otakon). I'm not really one for stage fright, but also I tend to wait til the last minute to practice things.

#7 Respawning on 2 months ago

I have almost entered the competition at my local con twice, and chickened out each time. Next time I want to try it for real. I don't think I will win since, as PP's have mentioned, the level of building seems to have just skyrocketed over the years, but I would like to experience it.

As for big ballgowns/armor always winning, the winners at my local con had what seemed like very simple costumes comparatively. They entered as a couple and did a couple characters from (I think) Castlevania. They had no armor, she had a short dress and he had a big coat. And they won. They were sent on to the national competition as representatives of Western Canada. Now they are experienced cosplayers, and she has impeccable skills and sewing, but it was his first big sewing project (I believe), and they still looked amazing.

#8 CapsuleCorp on 2 months ago

Slapthefatcat - anytime! I do like to encourage people to give it a shot because they don't know, until they try it, if competition is their jam. Flex your skills and give it all you've got! Show yourself off! And if you end up deciding it's more hassle than it's worth, don't ever feel bad about deciding not to enter. It's not like you're not still an excellent cosplayer even without someone's "best in class" or "judges award" cluttering up your mantel.

#9 Slapthefatcat on 2 months ago

[QUOTE=CapsuleCorp;5068472]Slapthefatcat - anytime! I do like to encourage people to give it a shot because they don't know, until they try it, if competition is their jam. Flex your skills and give it all you've got! Show yourself off! And if you end up deciding it's more hassle than it's worth, don't ever feel bad about deciding not to enter. It's not like you're not still an excellent cosplayer even without someone's "best in class" or "judges award" cluttering up your mantel.[/QUOTE]Nah. Competing has always been n my list of things to do. I won't chicken out. If I have a solid goal, I will get it done. I have (almost) all the tools and materials I need. Over the years I have tried out so many different things that I've become a Jack of All Trades, Master of None. I don't specialize in anything so it's taken me ten years to reach the point most do in one or two years. LOL. I am also the type to take very little personally so it's not going to kill me if I don't win anything (although I am going to put my all into the build, making something I believe would have the potential to win). I am considering finally putting together my idea for Spirit Bomb Goku for Katsucon, with an expanding Spirit Bomb that can be held overhead.

#10 loz64 on 2 months ago

Competitions can be super fun and terrifying at the same time! I started off competing at a very small con back in 2015. The costume I entered then was pretty awful, but since I had decent props and accessories I ended up with an award. The judges (who are still active in the east cost con circuit) were nice enough to write me a kind note of encouragement on the back of my certificate and I've been competing and getting better ever since!

Costumes that look simple can win over the flashier things. I watch a lot of competitions on YouTube and I've noticed that big bulky armor costumes actually tend to do pretty poorly (stuff breaks off on stage, they can barely move, etc.) and rarely win awards higher than judges' picks. In one competition I entered in 2017 the winner of the Best Novice award had a deceptively simple costume that was very well constructed with clean seams, nice finishing, and a super smooth and perfect prop. So don't let appearances fool you; it's possible that a fancy beaded ballroom gown looks impressive on the outside but is poorly constructed so you'll win over them!

#11 Syon on 2 months ago

[QUOTE=CapsuleCorp;5068459]First and foremost, if you are a beginner, good news: you don't have to go up against the ballgowns and armor directly. At least, if the competition you're entering is any good. A REAL competition is fair, and has skill divisions - at minimum two, beginner and advances, at most 4 like they do in Canada. Most of the time you'll see it listed as Novice/Journeyman/Master. If you've never competed before at all AND are not a professional or have literally been making clothing for 20 years, you're a Novice and you're only judged against the other Novices. Side note: master class is actually "open" class, meaning you can enter at that level if you wish, you're not actually required to jump through the hoops to go from novice to journeyman to master. But, some contests don't recognize that. If you're not confident in your skills, don't worry, this is why Novice exists: so that beginner or inexperienced costume-makers have the protection of their newbieness to allow them to work things out, get the gist of how the contest works, compare themselves to other people on their level, etc.
[/QUOTE]

You people on the other side of the pond are truely blessed :D

But an excellent write up about contests!

#12 Scunosi on 2 months ago

Tons of good points here, too many to reasonably quote.

I've only ever entered two contests myself and I went into both assuming I wouldn't place but still wanting the experience of it. The first was held at a relatively small, free convention so it was a bit more low-pressure than say a contest at one of the bigger cons in the country. The other was a third-party contest not sponsored or hosted by the con itself and held at a nearby after-party.

For both contests I'd had my cosplay done for a while beforehand and since I wasn't striving for first place I wasn't all that stressed about it other than some slight stage anxiety about what to do in front of all those people. I think half of alleviating contest pressure is just making sure you stay on task and not succumbing to last-minute con crunch. Make sure your main concern is stage presence and finishing touches, not if your costume is going to even make it to the contest.

I think another part of what made it not as stressful for me was I didn't go into either contest assuming I was going to place. If you don't place after being so sure you were going to it will only make you feel bitter towards the people who do end up winning or the judges. I'm not saying to not be optimistic and hope you may place, but try not to focus on it too much and instead just focus on yourself and making sure that what you put forth is your best.

The Novice vs Other distinction is also a huge factor as far as comfort competing goes, so don't feel too intimidated by those elaborate master-level cosplays as typically you shouldn't be competing against them anyways. I say shouldn't but I'll admit both contests I entered didn't have such divisions. The first one wasn't for high stakes and it was definitely more of a "for fun" contest and the second was small enough that almost all the entries were journeyman if not master-level already. Definitely put some research into the contest beforehand if the thought of possibly competing outside your skill group worries you, but if you just want to get your toes wet and aren't worried about winning anything entering a more casual contest may be a good place to start.

I can also confirm that big and complex costumes don't always automatically win. Admittedly in the first contest I entered first place did go to a ballgown (an interpretation of Belle from Beauty and the Beast), the judge's choice (or maybe it was honorable mention) was a very simple Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe. They had a ton of praise for her seam and zipper work and finer details like fake nails that the audience couldn't see at all.

And I guess that's really the answer for why "simpler" things can win over more visually complex things; the judges can and will see a lot more than the audience can so they'll notice the little things like seams and finishing, whereas the audience will naturally have a bigger response to a physically larger costume that they can recognize from afar but won't be able to tell if hems are messy, etc. So whatever you're doing, be it simple or extravagant, just be sure to actually do it well (as opposed to rushing just to fit more bits and bobs in) and you could still end up winning something.

The other points about contests are also very valid. Even though the contests I was in were both rather small (the second was held at a venue with a max capacity of maybe 100) they both still took up a good chunk of my time.

For the first it took over an hour just to get to the venue and while I rushed to get in line on time I still ended up standing there waiting for the contest to start for at multiple hours. Luckily for me it gave me time to get my stuff on as it wasn't a costume I could safely drive in but even then I ended up with a lot of time just standing there looking pretty. That contest was actually held fairly early in the day, I think around noon or 1 and I definitely remember there being some delay to them starting, but as a contestant I was supposed to be there by around 9AM (I think, it's been a few years) so that tells you how much time all the contestants spent just standing there behind the stage.

It wasn't awful as you do get to chat with your fellow contestants but it does take away a lot of time that could be otherwise spent attending panels, shopping, or just hanging out with friends. Since we were literally in the open behind the stage my friends did stop by a couple times to check on me but I'd assume most "official" contests where contestants get ready in a private room don't allow guests so you can't bank on getting to talk to your friends during that whole waiting period.

For the second contest there wasn't much travel time since I was staying near the convention but there was a ton of sitting around and waiting due to the way they dragged out the contest so I ended up spending hours in an un-air conditioned venue in a sweltering costume while my other friends got to spend that time hopping through multiple other parties and events.

Another thing contests seem to generally be good for is getting feedback on your cosplay. Even though I didn't win one of the judges at the first contest did have some good things to say about what I'd entered, and they had feedback for things they would've changed or improved about it. And of course talking to other contestants you can get even more feedback but especially if you end up feeling like you want to compete more in the future getting feedback from actual judges and what hearing they look for may end up being more helpful.

My main takeaway from that first more casual contest years ago was that most people entered just for a chance to be on stage and have fun. The contestant next to me had literally made her first costume the night prior because she had really wanted to have something fun to wear, not because she expected to actually compete. Sure it was already falling apart by the time she made it to the stage but she seemed to really enjoy herself and was young enough her parents may have been in the audience and gotten to enjoy seeing her up there, too.

The second contest, while much smaller in both contestants and audience, was actually a lot more competitive and honestly I think less fun because of it. I did like getting a chance to show my more obscure costume to a dedicated audience but I think because of the more competitive air in the venue (and partly due to the venue setup of separate tables) contestants didn't seem as chatty and came off more cliquish. Still though, I don't think any of them would've been there if they didn't like the spotlight at least a little bit. So if you think that may appeal to you I definitely trying to find a local contest to enter to try it out, especially if you can find something "low stakes" to help you ease into it.

#13 Amanita on 2 months ago

I remember one costume contest where I did a dual sword routine- partway through I managed to drop one of my weapons. But I kept right on going, finishing off the routine with a single sword. Later on, most people told me that they hadn't even realized I'd messed up, and those who did notice said that they appreciated how I kept going anyway. I didn't run off the stage in tears, I made it work. That year, another lady dressed as Cat Woman did a gymnastics routine and fell on her but doing a move- again, she got up and kept going.

I agree with pretty much everything CapsuleCorp said- You don't HAVE to compete if you don't really want to. And don't join contests that have a habit of treating competitors like crap. This isn't American Idol, an emcee or judges who rip you apart or heckle you aren't worth your time, effort, or self respect.

#14 Tigress on 2 months ago

Pay attention to the basics. Clean lines, finished edges, pressed seams. Give your costume a once-over before you get judged to make sure there's no hanging threads or flaws. If your costume is made of patterned fabric, make sure your pattern lines up along your seams. Make sure your costume fits you well. (Make a mock-up out of muslin or cheap broadcloth before cutting into your costume fabric to make sure everything fits.)

I've run and judged lots of contests and the #1 thing that brings down entrants is ignoring the basics in their eagerness to do something big and flashy. What looks good from a distance may in fact be held by twine and duct tape up close. (NGL, this has happened. A guy in one contest had a great looking armor-heavy costume. But when you looked at it from closer than 10 feet away, you could see the packing tape holding the armor together.)

Put together a travel kit of sewing supplies and/or craft materials for last-minute repairs. Also a small bottle of Woolite and a cheap toothbrush if you get any surprise stains.

NEVER say "this isn't very good" to the judges. Don't deprecate your own work as it shows the judges that you aren't confident in your own skills, which will ding you. You worked hard on this, so own it!

And if you don't win, NBD. You never "lose" a costume contest.

#15 PeaceDivision on 1 month ago

I have participated in cosplay contests since 2015, and I won about 7 awards. Cosplay contests should be about having fun and gaining experience, not actually winning something. You can always show off with good acting, if it's a fair contest. My Sylvanas cosplay at that time was horribly inaccurate, I lacked the facepaint, contacts and a lot of stuff, but I still won first prize because my acting was good, thus surpassing my country's qualifier for EuroCosplay, who had a very good costume and I was thinking that I could get a third or mention, definitely not first place.
So never say "oh I will never win a contest". If you have something you're very good at, put a lot of effort into that said thing, and cosplay whatever you are comfortable with and confident in your cosplay skills. Don't cosplay a character you don't like or have no knowledge about, just because other people do it or just because you want to jump on the bandwagon (*coughBowsettecough*).