This vs That: In-Person Vs. Online Cosplay Contests

Much like cons, cosplay contests have shifted online since the start of last year with the pandemic. Having competed in both types, here’s my list of pros and cons of both types.

Similarities

Before we go over how the two types of contests differ, let’s talk about where they’re the same. There are some common aspects between the two kinds of contests. These are at the core of every contest, though the minutia of it may differ.

Cosplay contests will typically have judges who will view all the entries and decide winners. The number of judges, types of prizes, number of prizes, and number of categories differs based on the contest runners. But you can always bet that there’s gonna be someone making the final call of who wins the contest.

You of course can’t have a contest without contestants. Contestants typically consist of cosplayers who made and are modeling their own cosplays. But you can of course have contestants who use models for their entries. And then there are the craftsmanship vs. performance entries. More on those in the “In-person contests” section.

Contests—unless they’ve been very poorly marketed—will have an audience, whether it’s an auditorium of people or viewers watching on a stream. Having an audience and getting to show off your cosplays to a wider audience is a big draw for some contestants. This allows your work to be viewed by more than just the people who run into you on the convention floor or the people who follow you online on your social media. Understandably, however, not everyone likes having an audience, which is why Hallway contests within in-person contests are an option for those who rather be away from the limelight.


In-person contests: Masquerade & Hallway

Anime Dallas 2019 Winners Circle

In-person contests are typically run as part of an event like a convention. They are scheduled in advance and have different ways of registering (either in advance online and/or in-person during the con). For the sake of this post, I’m going to be talking about these two types of in-person contests: Masquerade and Hallway. Before the pros and cons, here’s a quick summary of the two:

Masquerade

Masquerades typically consist of a craftsmanship pre-judging portion as well as a live performance. The performance can either be a skit or dance, or for some contests, a simple fashion runway-style walk-on entry. As is the theme of this post, no two contests are run exactly the same (which is why I keep dropping the word “typically.”).

Hallway

Hallway, like Masquerade, has a craftsmanship judging portion. However, there is no performance for Hallway contests. Instead, the focus is solely on craftsmanship. This is a very lowkey contest and perfect for someone who may want to enter a contest but doesn’t want the attention of the Masquerade.

In-person contests: Pros

Kumoricon 2016: Ashweez using veil poi to waterbend as Korra on stage

Easier for judges to see details: nothing beats seeing a cosplay up close and personal in-person. You can even touch (with permission) the cosplay to see how well it’s been crafted. This is great for judges to be able to really scrutinize a cosplay and ask questions immediately.

Harder to cheat: When you’re able to see a cosplay in person, it’s much harder to hide mistakes. It’s also harder to fake knowing how you made a cosplay when asked questions.

The Green Room experience: Many cosplayers when asked say that their favorite part of the cosplay contest experience is getting to be in the green room with the other contestants. This is when, before and during the contest, cosplayers backstage can chat and get to know their other crafting enthusiasts. Many a friendship is made in the green room of a contest.

Shorter time spent waiting for results: When you do pre-judging in the morning, performance in the evening, and winner announcements an hour or so after, there’s really only about 12-14 hours give or take towards the cosplay contest from start to finish. For someone like me who is impatient and gets more anxious with each passing hour spent waiting, shorter wait times are much less stressful.

The Stage is the great equalizer: Every contestant gets the same stage, the same time limit, the same lighting. This means that it’s easier for the audience to view each cosplay based solely on the cosplay and performance itself, rather than other irrelevant exterior factors. Everyone starts on the same even ground.

In-person contests: Cons

Judges have less time for judging and deliberation: You really only get 5-10 minutes with the judges. Of course, that duration depends on the event runners, but it’s not a very long time. This means the judges really have to know their stuff to be able to ask the right questions and evaluate quality in a short span of time. This speedrun of judging can be very taxing for judges, especially when they have to judge so many in just a few hours.

Not good for people with stage fright: Unless your event has the Hallway contest, cosplay contests do not favor those with stage fright. If you don’t like crowds, having all the attention on you, or being on stage, this can be difficult.

Less variety in entries: If you’ve competed in local contests, chances are you’ll run into the same people over and over again. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: You can create friendships and bonds this way. But it does mean that there’s less variety.


Online contests

Online contests will typically consist of an online form to be filled out by the competitors during a set amount of time. Then, judges will be given time to go over all the entries and deliberate winners. Finally, there’s an online event usually via a live stream showcasing entries and announcing winners.

RTX at Home 2020 Overall Winner Finalists

Online contests: Pros

More accessible: Online contests, when done correctly, can be more accessible than their in-person counterparts. Live streams have the ability to add live closed captions and can also be recorded for later viewing. (Some in-person ones do this too, with varying degrees of quality.) Online streams also mean that viewers can watch from the comfort of their own home, without need for any accommodations like ramps, elevators, or the like.

More time for judges to deliberate: I’ve competed in two online contests: RTX at Home and the 2021 Ultimate Online Cosplay Championship. For both contests, there was a registration period, followed by a waiting period, and then finally the livestream with results. That gap between registration and the event is spent preparing for the stream logistically (videos, photos, graphics, etc.) but also for the judges to view all the entries and deliberate on winners. This gap can be anywhere between a week and a month, but the longer it is, the better it is for judges to get a handle on all the contestants. Rather than spend a hurried 5-10 minutes on each entry, they can pour over the build books meticulously. (To a limit! They are still under a deadline and UOCC saw over 200 entries.)

A wider audience: Being online means that—unless for whatever reason the stream is region-locked—more people can view the contest than just those attending an in-person event locally. Conventions themselves can be hard for some people to attend, whether because of money, time, or location restrictions. But online conventions face no such burden as they’re on average free, recorded for later viewing, and readily available online.

2021 Ultimate Online Cosplay Championship

Online contests: Cons

Easier to hide mistakes: The judges will only see what you’ve given them. So if your pictures, video, and build book leave out your mistakes, the judges won’t be able to see them (unless they go snooping through your social media, but there’s a limit to how much they can do that for every single entry). You could say this is a pro for contestants, but I view it as a con for judges.

A wider audience: I mention this as a con as well as a pro because it’s a double-edged sword. While having a larger audience can be great, it can also be detrimental if it draws attention from the wrong kind of crowd (i.e. trolls, bigots, etc.).

Longer wait times for results: As a contestant, you’ll be doing lots of waiting. Waiting for the applications to open. Waiting for the applications to close. Waiting for the live stream to start. Waiting for the actual results. Lots and lots of waiting. And while, as mentioned before, this can be good for judges, it can be very stressful mentally for competitors. It’s just more time for anxiety and imposter syndrome to set in.

The lack of the Green Room experience: While there is a sort of digital Green Room experience with some contests (the live stream chat, a separate Discord), it’s not quite the same as just hanging out in person with the other cosplayers. I myself found my experience a bit disappointing with UOCC because I unfortunately get easily overwhelmed with big Discord servers once they reach 50+ members. While I’m sure the people who had joined the UOCC Discord had fun and could maybe liken it to a green room, I only lasted a few hours before I felt flustered from all the notifications.

Inequality in production value: While in-person contests have the stage as an equalizer, online contests have no such thing. Cosplayers may have the same time or file size limit, but their recording equipment, cinematography, and backdrop can differ vastly. One cosplayer may only be able to take a video on their phone in their apartment, while another cosplayer may be able to hire a videographer to go on location for sweeping detail shots and dramatic slow-motion clips. This creates a wide gap between those with and without access to such means of production. And while these parts shouldn’t be taken into account when judging a craftsmanship contest, it’s hard to tell if the judges were truly able to look at it without bias towards the more Hollywood style entry.


Conclusion: Try both and decide what works for you

Animefest 2019 Winner’s Circle

There are many reasons why you may prefer one over the other. No contest type is perfect and no experience as a contestant or judge is exactly the same. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to enter a contest, whether it be online or at a con, I say to absolutely go for it! You’ll never know if you like it or not if you don’t try it at least once. Maybe you’ll find that you prefer the more laidback nature of online contests. Or maybe you—like me—will learn that you much prefer the green room experience in-person. It’s really up to you.

While there is unfortunately, as of this writing, no standardized system for hosting and running a contest (online or otherwise) this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to participate in one. Over time, you’ll simply learn which ones you prefer. And, over time, you’ll start seeing the same faces again as those of us who like to compete tend to do it more than once! This can be great for building lasting friendships and connections.

Don’t count yourself out before you even begin. Know what to expect going into each type of contest and, most of all, have fun!

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