Welcome to my introduction to competitive cosplay!

This entry is the first in a series on competitive cosplay, explaining what competitions are, why you would enter, and what to expect. Following entries in this series will cover individual competitions, rules and entry processes!

I am an avid follower of cosplay competitions and have previously represented in World Cosplay SummitClara Cow’s Cosplay Cup and European Cosplay Gathering. I am also an experienced judge.

Many of the competitions included here are hosted internationally, but there may be some cultural differences from the UK. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved, read on!

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These are the topics covered in this post – you can keep scrolling to read it all, or click on the links below to jump to each section!

Cosplay Competitions
Types of Competition
Why Enter?
Judging
International Competitions
Tips & Advice

Cosplay Competitions

Cosplay competitions come in all shapes, sizes and difficulties! They are an excellent way to display and celebrate your hard work, get feedback from judges, and win prizes!

Most competitions run as part of the cosplay masquerade at the event, and some require you to do a performance for the audience to enjoy. Some competitions allow you to sign up on the day of the event, and others will have you sign up in advance. Some are serious, some are just for fun!

Competitions with larger prizes will restrict entries to handmade costumes only, with a private round of judging to determine the winner.

If you are interested in competing, it’s important to check the rules first and understand what expectations the event has, as well as any restrictions that are in place (banned materials, height limits, access to microphones, etc)!

Be aware that not every competition gives prizes, some may give commemorative trophies or certificates instead. That said, most competitions will offer goody bags, cash or sponsored prizes to winners!

Types of Competition

Every competition is different! It’s impossible to give an overview of every single one, so here are some examples of the most common types of competition and where you’ll find them:

Photography by Arphrial


Local Events

Many small, local events will have a cosplay contest just for fun! Most are aimed at beginners and children. If you are new to competing, it’s a great way to get experience being on stage or in front of an audience!

Masquerades
Some events may run a masquerade, announcing a “best in show” or deciding a “favourite” costume by an audience vote – but it’s about as non-competitive as you can get. There are usually no restrictions between bought or handmade costumes, everyone is encouraged to take part.

Cosplay Contests
Some small events that focus on cosplay will run contests with dedicated judges. Prizes given can vary, but they usually include prize certificates or free tickets into the next event.

Depending on the size of the event and popularity of their contests, some events may have different categories based on your skill level for handmade costumes (beginner or advanced); it’s up to you to decide which to enter. This information is usually listed on social media or on their website!

Photography by ManyLemons


Weekend Conventions

In the UK, many of our conventions operate with a private membership (AmeCon, KitaCon, MinamiCon, etc) and each of these have dedicated in-house competitions! Across the weekend there is one masquerade and an omake, making them some of the biggest and most popular events on the schedule.

These events have a clear line between costume and performance; if you want to show off your costume, you enter the masquerade. If you want to do a stage performance, you enter the omake. These shows are usually on different days so it gives you an opportunity to enter both with different costumes, if that’s your style!

Cosplay Masquerades
The masquerade is the biggest event of any convention, drawing huge crowds! If you want to be part of it, you have to register in advance via an online form or email and there are limited spaces.

Most events will ask if you want to be judged for the competition; it’s up to you to decide. This means you can still go on stage without being judged if you are new to competing or cosplay and just want to take part. Everyone will be queued up together and go on stage in order, with timed opportunities to pose for the audience and photographers.

Many people will bring out costumes that are large, difficult to move or see in exclusively for the masquerade. It’s the perfect place to show off something big and impressive.

Typically, the focus will be on handmade costumes, but some masquerades may allow bought costumes (check the rules)!

There are usually prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Some masquerades will also have a Best Group category with separate prizes. Prizes include commemorative trophies or certificates, goody bags or tickets for the next event.

Very few masquerades at this type of event allow for custom music or a dedicated stage performance; if that is what you’re after, enter the omake instead.

Skits/Omakes
If you want to get up on stage and really bring your character to life, this event is for you! Maybe you want to do a dance routine or a stand-up routine based on your favourite series? Sure! The omake opens the stage for whatever you want to bring to it.

As with the masquerade, if you want to be part of it you have to register in advance via an online form or email and there are limited spaces. There are also time limits depending on what you plan to perform; this varies between events.

There are usually prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Prizes include commemorative trophies or certificates, goody bags or tickets for the next event.

The great thing about omakes is that there are no limits if you want stage helpers, a live microphone, props or motion; as long as it’s within the safety regulations it’s fine. There are usually no restrictions between bought or handmade costumes. For some you don’t even need a costume, as long as you put on a great performance!

Photography by ManyLemons


National Events

Events that stand out in the cosplay calendar – something like Rai Con or MCM Comic Con! Bigger events with bigger interest means bigger competitions.

Masquerades
Typically, masquerades at larger events will have prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Prizes often include sponsored gifts, goody bags or vouchers. There is usually one masquerade per day at larger events across the weekend.

Masquerades are usually not restricted – especially if it is running alongside a dedicated competition – so you can enter with something that is bought or handmade. Depending on the judging criteria, handmade costumes will often have an advantage – but a great performance with a bought costume may still win a prize if it impresses the judges!

Some masquerades will require you to register in advance via an online form or email, and some will have open sign-ups on the day. Either way, there will be limited spaces so it’s best to check first!

Cosplay Competitions & Championships
Most larger events will host their own cosplay competition or championship! During the masquerade, hosts will announce which entries are competing as they take the stage.

You have to register in advance via an online form or email and there are limited spaces. On the day, you will speak to a panel of judges who will inspect each entry. All costumes must be handmade and you may be requested to bring progress materials to explain how your costume has been made to support your entry. If you are entering as a group, you will be judged together at the same time.

Most competitions will expect entries to do a performance, using audio and stage directions submitted with your original entry online. Typically, performances will last between 1-2:30 minutes. Most will allow the use of props and accessories during a performance, but each competition has their own rules and limits so make sure you check first. Not many events offer rehearsals, so come prepared!

There are usually prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Prizes will vary, but they can be very generous if you win an award! Many offer cash or vouchers, consoles, goody bags and trophies. If you enter as a group, your prize will be split between winners, unless stated otherwise.

Most competitions in this category do not have restrictions based on skill level. That said, the bigger the prize.. the bigger the competition! Cosplayers will bring along their best, so don’t expect it to be easy!

International Qualifiers
The big ones!
Most international competitions will host at large national events to draw as big a crowd as possible.

In the UK, these include World Cosplay Summit, European Cosplay Gathering, Clara Cow’s Cosplay Cup, EuroCosplay and Championships of Cosplay. If you would like to learn more about these competitions, they are explained individually later in this entry.

Each of these competitions are international qualifiers! If you win, you will fly out and compete in the international finals with other cosplayers from around the world. Some qualifiers are months in advance to give winners plenty of time to prepare.

As with the competitions above, you will perform during the masquerade, often at the beginning or end of the main show. Hosts will announce which competition it is for and the prize at stake! There will be promotional videos and speeches from organisers or sponsors of the competition at the event.

You have to register in advance via an online form or email and there are limited spaces. On the day, you will speak to a panel of judges who will inspect each entry. All costumes must be handmade and you may be requested to bring progress materials to explain how your costume has been made to support your entry. If you are entering as a group, you will be judged together at the same time.

You will be expected to do a performance, using audio and stage directions submitted with your original entry online. Solo performances usually last 1-1:30 minutes. Group performances last up to 2:30 minutes. Qualifiers will allow the use of sets, props and accessories during a performance as long as they are within the rules. As above, not many events offer rehearsals, so come prepared!

Winners will become the next representative for your country! Some competitions have both solo and group categories, where winners will be selected for both roles. Most competitions will also give runner-up awards; if winners are unable to attend the finals, the award will be passed to the runner-up instead.

Qualifiers for international competitions are exciting and high stakes. Think about your time with the judges as an interview – your time on stage is when you can really sell yourself. Cosplayers will spend months of time and effort working on costumes for those few minutes on stage!

I advise anyone interested to look up performances from previous qualifiers and finals to understand what is expected from the competition, especially if you are new to competing. Enjoy the show!


As always, do some research first; different competitions have different standards, especially at a higher level! It’s best to know which competitions fit your interests and skills best rather than entering randomly.

Why Enter?

Let’s be honest.. who doesn’t want to win a prize? It’s a nice reward for hard work!

Why Not?
Most competitions are free to enter as long as you have a ticket to the event, so you have nothing to lose by trying! You get to wear your costume on stage and get some great photos of it in action, even if you don’t win a prize on the day.

Competitive Nature
Some people are naturally competitive – if you’re proud of your costume, it makes sense to get up on stage and show it off!

Improve Your Skills
Knowing your work will be seen not only by an audience but possibly by a dedicated team of judges is a big motivation to up your game and make it perfect. Speaking to judges is also a valuable way to get feedback on your costume after the competition is over, a great way to improve and learn!

Meet New People
Competitions attract a lot of different people, with one common interest. It’s a great way to meet new friends and like-minded people, and an amazing opportunity to admire everyone’s work up close!

Unique Experiences
Competing can literally take you across the world! Every competition is unique, and many of them will take you overseas to compete in championship finals against different countries to represent your craft – experiences that money can’t buy.

Great Prizes
Sometimes it’s all about the prizes! Some competitions offer cash, consoles, vouchers, trips overseas.. and you can win these things while enjoying your hobby? What’s not to love! You’ll never know unless you enter!

Personally, I like to push myself to try new things and reach new goals – competing is the ideal way for me to do that. I’m not a very competitive person, but competing allows me to better myself, and that’s what I like about it. There’s no way to buy the experience competing gives you, you have to earn it!

On that note, competing isn’t for everyone. It’s fine to think “this isn’t for me”! The best thing about competitive cosplay is that even if you don’t take part, you can still enjoy the show!

Judging

Many competitions will have a round of judging. You will be given time to present your costume to a panel of judges (typically 2-5 judges), where they will ask questions and inspect your work.

You will usually have between 5-10 minutes with judges; most will split this time so you may only have 2:30 minutes to explain your costume – check the rules first and use your time wisely! The remaining time will be used for questions and for the judges to thoroughly inspect your costume.

Most international competitions will have their judging criteria listed online, which may help you understand what is expected from the competition. Most competitions will have a 50/50 criteria between costumes and performance; it’s best to understand what the judges will be looking for first.

Some competitions will encourage you to bring along a progress book or progress materials. These will help support the construction of your costume, and serve as proof that it is handmade!

Judges are usually selected based on experience. A typical judge’s panel will have a variety of specialists, suited to judge any costume that walks through the door! Most events will announce judges in advance to give you time to research their work.

You only get one shot – so make it count! Judging is effectively an interview, especially for international competitions – try to make a good first impression!

International Competitions

There are lots of international competitions and each one is unique! For each competition, there will be a “qualifier” round held where entries compete to win a place in the finals as an international representative.

As explained earlier, most international competitions will require you to do a performance as your character on stage. All costumes must be handmade and many request entries to submit progress materials.

Here is a brief introduction to some of the biggest competitions with qualifiers available within the UK!

World Cosplay Summit is the biggest cosplay competition in the world, hosted in Japan! As of 2019, 40 countries from all over the world travel to Nagoya to compete in the finals. Each country sends a team of 2 cosplayers. Costumes must be from a Japanese source.

WCS is an amazing cosplay experience, and so much more than just a competition – teams will spend up to 12 days taking part in different parades, photo shoots and public events. Most teams will take at least 4 costumes to Japan.

The WCS judging criteria is made up of 50% Costume/50% Performance. Teams are encouraged to make and wear costumes that stand out and perform well on stage. Most teams will use amazing stage props and sets to put on the biggest, best show possible!

The competition final is streamed online for fans to enjoy. Many video recordings will be uploaded to YouTube after the show.

European Cosplay Gathering is hosted in France! As of 2019, 15 countries from all over Europe travel to Japan Expo to compete in the finals. There are two separate representatives chosen; one team of 2-3 cosplayers and one solo entry. Costumes from anime, comics, movies and games are allowed.

ECG is a 4-day experience. The biggest part of the weekend is of course the competition final, but teams will also take part in stage parades and photo shoots. Most teams will take 3 costumes to Paris.

The ECG judging criteria is made up of 50% Costume/50% Performance. ECG is famous for an incredible, varied show on a unique stage alternating between group and solo performances.

The competition final is not streamed, but high quality videos of every performance are available shortly after the finals on the official European Cosplay Gathering YouTube.

Clara Cow’s Cosplay Cup is a fun, lighthearted competition hosted in The Netherlands! As of 2019, 16 countries from all over the world travel to AnimeCon to compete in the finals. Each country sends a team of 2 cosplayers. Costumes from anime, manga, comics and games are allowed. Costumes based on live action, TV or movies are not allowed.

AnimeCon runs for 3 days, but contestants for CCCC are only busy for the first two days – the last day is free for everyone to enjoy the event! Teams are only expected to bring one costume for the finals, but are welcome to bring more costumes along if they wish to.

CCCC judging criteria is made up of 40% Costume/60% Performance. It’s all about putting on a great show!

The competition final is streamed online for fans to enjoy, and videos of each performance are available shortly after the finals on the official Clara Cow’s Cosplay Cup Facebook.

EuroCosplay is the biggest cosplay competition in Europe, hosted in the UK! As of 2019, 28 countries from all over the continent travel to MCM Comic Con London to compete in the finals. Each country sends one solo cosplayer.

EC takes up roughly one day of the event; all judging, photo shoots and performing happens on the Saturday – otherwise entries are free to enjoy the event and relax with other EC competitors. Each entry is expected to bring one costume for the finals, but they are welcome to bring more costumes along if they wish to.

EuroCosplay’s judging criteria is made up of 40% Accuracy/40% Construction/20% Performance; with this in mind, many entries choose intricate, detailed designs with “simple” performances to show off their costumes.

The competition final is streamed online for fans to enjoy. Many video recordings will be uploaded to YouTube after the show.

Championships of Cosplay is hosted in the USA! Representatives from all over the world travel to Chicago to compete in the finals. Each country that chooses to participate sends one solo cosplayer.

CoC is a high-stakes competition with amazing prizes; the top prize is $5,000! There are prizes for the Global Champion and for the following categories; Needlework, Armour & FX.

The CoC judging criteria is 100% Costume. Each costume will appear on stage, but there is no performance element to the competition. Many competitors make large, exaggerated costumes for CoC to take advantage of the amazing stage!

The competition final is streamed online for fans to enjoy. Many video recordings will be uploaded to YouTube after the show.


There are many other competitions, including CICAFCosplay World Masters and International Cosplay League. Some of these events have ran in the UK previously, but do not have current qualifiers.

Tips & Advice

I would encourage anyone passionate and crafty to give competing a go! All of this advice is based on personal experience – it’s up to you if you take it. Good luck!


Start small
If you’re new to competing, try some smaller competitions or masquerades first. Dip your toe in first, understand what competing is like, how you cope with nerves, and whether this is something you’re going to enjoy. Competing will help you understand how to improve your costumes.

Don’t be discouraged
If other people’s progress is making you question your own, remember that nobody wants to talk about failure! Everyone makes mistakes – just because you don’t see them on social media doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Losing is fine, too
Understand that competitions are competitive and for every 1 winner, there are lots of losers. Unfortunately, you can’t win em all! Be happy for the winner and take any losses as experience you can grow and learn from.

Get inspired
Most international competitions are available on YouTube, so grab some popcorn and do some research!


Bring your best
Know that most competitions are high-stakes and everyone brings their best – you should too! It may be something you make specially for a competition, or a costume you already have. Be proud of your hard work!

Make something you love
Passion comes through when you compete. Choosing a design because it’s big and impressive is nice but if you don’t care about it, it will impact your work; if you’re going to spend hours on it, make sure it’s something you actually like!

Choose something that suits you
Pick a costume that matches what you want to do. Consider designs you like and what will suit your skill. Choose something you’re comfortable making and can do a good job on, rather than what you think “might win” – remember that designs don’t “win”. Hard work does!

Consider every aspect
This is my cosplay motto. Consider every aspect! Look at everything that’s on your design and ask yourself – is this suited for a competition? With enough effort, almost every design can be “competition worthy” – if your costume is simple, make sure you give a great performance to go with it and it will balance out.

Think about it.. What materials can you use? What would look best on stage? Can you hide gimmicks for your performance on your costume? How can you do it without affecting accuracy? Do you need to make any adjustments? How will the proportions fit your body? Which colours compliment each other? …the list of questions and things to consider is endless!


Stand out on stage
When performing, think about how the audience will see you. Make sure there are suitable pauses for emphasis during your performance, and photo opportunities for photographers. This is the only time the audience will see your costume – make sure they see it at it’s best!

Tell a story
Use your performance time wisely! Some people recreate a scene their costume is famous for, and others tell an original story. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it looks good and makes sense – not everyone will know your character.

Use your audio
Music and sound effects can make or break a performance! Use it to your advantage, make sure it is clear and emotive. Most performers will record their own dialogue due to licensing (it also gives you more freedom rather than using pre-written lines).

Use props & sets effectively
Many performances benefit from gimmicks, props and sets; use these to your advantage to make your costume stand out and shine! Think outside of the box – a great set can totally transform how your costumes look on stage.

Rehearse
Make sure you listen to your audio, gesture along, and get plenty of practice in before the big day! Ask friends or family to watch you perform and give critique. It’s best to be prepared!


Rehearse speaking to judges
Time will fly and you don’t want to miss anything important! Get someone to listen to you, time yourself and think of how to explain each piece step by step. If you struggle with timing, ask the judges for a 1 minute warning before you begin.

Be honest
If you have made adjustments to your costume, tell the judges. If something doesn’t match your reference, explain why. If you have received help making your costume, explain how. Do not lie and do not enter in a costume you have not made.

Be comfortable
No judge wants you to feel uncomfortable! Judges will get up close and personal with your costume – if this is an issue, tell them before judging begins.

Ask judges for feedback
Make sure you ask for feedback after you compete! Judges can offer you advice about your costume, techniques and performance, telling you what worked, what didn’t and how to improve for next time. Most judges are happy to give feedback, just ask.

Progress books & materials
Personally, I recommend using no more than 30 images, to keep words to a minimum, and most importantly – don’t rely on it! You can reference it but don’t expect it to explain your costume for you. For more advice, please check out my entry on Cosplay Progress Books!

Enjoy!

The excitement and inspiration you get from watching others is incredible. I’d encourage anyone to check out cosplay competitions – there’s something for everyone to enjoy!

Thank you for reading! I hope this introduction has been interesting and insightful. Further entries outlining personal experiences, rules and expectations for international competitions will be coming very soon.


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