Cosplay, the act of dressing up as a character from a film, book, or video game, has drawn together dedicated fanbases in countries across the world, and South Africa is no different. Thanks to the tireless work of a few key people, South Africans have the opportunity to get involved in ‘costume play’.
Jade Bayes, Head of Cosplay at GES for the last five years (aka the lead cosplay organiser in the country), has done a magnificent job of growing the hobby, expanding the events, and even digitising the competitions to make cosplay more accessible to all.
“Cosplay is for everyone!” is Bayes’ favourite quote. “People often worry that maybe their costumes aren’t good enough, or expensive or elaborate enough, but honestly, the community is not like that. Whether you dress up in simple items from your home, or you go all the way with a handcrafted costume, the cosplay community wants you to be involved,” she says.
So, How Exactly Do You Get Involved?
rAge, the Really Awesome Gaming Expo, is the best place to start, according to Bayes. rAge hosted the first official cosplay competition in SA almost two decades ago, in 2006. Since then, the competition has developed to hold an international pedigree in the cosplay community. South Africa boasts some of the most dedicated and tight-knit cosplayers in the world. In fact, South Africa has the highest ratio of cosplayers to non-cosplayers within its gaming, tech, and geek culture industry.
GES also hosts cosplay events throughout the year, depending on what is happening within the industry. For example, cosplay events often coincide with new game or movie releases, from titles such as Fallout (a video game franchise) or Disney.
Cosplaying at rAge
This year’s rAge Expo will be held from the 8th to the 10th of December at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng. There is plenty to expect from the mega event for video gaming, technology, esports, geek culture, and digital entertainment.
For cosplayers, or cosplayer newbies, here is what you can expect from the competition.
“Start your cosplay journey by deciding on your budget and the level of accuracy you want,” says Bayes. There are effectively five levels of effort involved in cosplaying, or five different ways to approach it.
Level 1: Check your cupboard for bits and pieces that combine into a decent outfit.
Level 2: Try ‘thrift’ cosplaying. Head to cheap second-hand stores or thrift stores and purchase your outfit piece by piece on the cheap.
Level 3: Purchase your costume online from popular cosplaying stores. Be warned, these are generally overseas markets and charge in dollars. Popular cosplay stores include Doki Doki Cosplay, Miccostumes, and EZ Cosplay.
Level 4: Have your outfit commissioned by an expert. This is generally for experienced cosplayers who want unique costumes and are happy to pay for expert tailoring or craftsmanship.
Level 5: This is the pinnacle of cosplaying, where you make your outfit yourself at a very high level. South Africa has plenty of incredible cosplayers who follow this tradition.
When it comes to the actual event, cosplayers can enter in multiple categories. There is a simple, baseline online competition where cosplayers just send in a photo. There is a ‘friendly’ masquerade, where everyone is invited to dress up and strike a pose on stage for everyone else.
But the real excitement comes in for the Craftsmanship Competition, and this is where the true cosplayers get to flaunt their efforts. The Craftsmanship Competition has four main entry divisions:
Needlework Cosplay: Costumes which are 70% sewn or cloth.
Armour Cosplay: Costumes which are 70% armour (such as board, foam, cardboard, plastics, etc.)
Festive Cosplay: This is for costumes which are festive in design and includes both armour and needlework.
Skit Division: This is a fantastic variation where solo or group cosplayers get to do a small skit or performance with their costumes.
All cosplaying is also divided between Masters (the best of the best), Intermediate, Novice, and Youth (under 16).
Tips for Getting Into Cosplay
“Honestly, I think the biggest tip I can give is just to have fun,” Bayes says. “Cosplay really is for everyone. The community is wonderful and has people from all walks of life. We are an open, caring group of people who use our enthusiasm for geek culture to build each other up. The next best tip I can give is not to worry about contact lenses. They don’t matter nearly as much as people think, and often the judges can’t even see them. My final tip? A wig almost always looks better than styled hair.”
What Comes After rAge?
Winning at rAge is not where it ends, though. Winners from various comps are sent to represent Africa at the Crown Championships of Cosplay – pitting them against the best cosplayers in the world.
South Africa has sent three Champions to the Crown and all three have placed on the podium. Kinpatsu came 2nd in 2019 with her Sister of Battle, Jinxie Cosplay came 1st in 2020 with her Priestess Bathory, and Ludus Cosplay came 2nd with his Aratak in 2022.
It’s Costume Time!
If you are a first timer, or new to geek culture, then the rAge Expo is definitely the place you want to be this year! Check out the event online to find out more about how you can enter your first every cosplay competition.