Alternative costume: Videogames, eSports and soft power

Do you remember the first time you saw someone out in the street playing Pokemon Go? In recent years gaming culture has been slowly popping up, in and around mainstream culture, and it’s likely to only be the beginning. Phenomenons like Fortnite are also proof that games are currently mass cultural events, a fact that can be verified by the huge number of spectators who tuned in to the League of Legends finals in 2017.

When we see professional athletes celebrate by imitating moves from the aforementioned Fortnite, it’s the sign of things to come. Gaming is now a source of inspiration to the mass audiences who once would’ve lapped up films in the cinema, sitcoms on the tv or music in megaclubs. One of the other side-effects of this prominence is a ‘splash’ effect, wherein gamers go out and create culture based on their favourite games.

Cosplay is one such side-effect. A powerful form of performance that crosses over from the gaming world into the mainstream, it has manifested after a long time into new forms with the new wave of gamers and the titles they enjoy. Groups such as #BlackCosplayerHere spearhead political thought into this artform by making waves and showing the diversity of modern gamers. Similarly drag queens like Drag Race’s Phi Phi O’Hara can be seen as representatives that break away from the traditional idea of the gamer. O’Hara’s phenomenal 365 Days of Drag performance, which saw a different drag outfit a day for a year, had plenty of Cosplay examples. Taking on character design and performance brings design ideas out of the virtual space and throws them into the real world.

This is hugely important for eSports. As the competitive scene of gaming grows the most important bond isn’t the games but the people around it, their willingness to create communities and the inclusivity of those spaces. Cultural collateral around games, in the form of new narratives, mods, stories and performance has a vital part to play for people seeking new connections and modes of expression outside of the confines of these popular behemoths.

Nadia SK, the Italian cosplay queen and a friend of Yamzu has this to say on the subject: “As a practice of portraying a fictional character, Cosplay is a mix of both costume and play. It’s a form of performance art that draws from things that are typically geeky, such as comic books, video games etc. Because of the element of acting that is required I usually choose to recreate characters that I feel an affinity with. I like strong, decisive personalities from across films and videogames. Recently I portrayed Natasha from CS:GO, who’s a cool example of this. She’s the Russian Army’s number one sniper, out to avenge the death of her best friend and basically a total badass.” For Nadia, cosplay acts not just as a tribute but a unique blend of artistic expression that melds together a blend of skills.

This kind of soft power is a natural byproduct of cultural weight, and will develop as more people are drawn to play with the iconography that games currently present. The growing platform is not just something that inspires Nadia but also something that she thinks will see more people join. “More and more people play video games now. It’s no longer a niche hobby, and for my generation I don’t think it ever was in the first place. During eSports competitions we’re starting to see diverse teams and I hope this number will grow, particularly from the point of gender diversity. I’m confident this will happen to be honest, as the sport gets bigger people will grow up sharing joint cultural experiences and putting together new teams that cross the bridge of gender division.” To us at Yamzu, Nadia is the perfect example of the next generation of gamer, who will look to bridge previous cultural gaps and change the face of the industry.

Cosplay is just one element of a huge cultural shift that is happening across the globe. More connected than ever before, gamers can play across borders both physical and cultural, taking part in tournaments that bring people together and create incredible memories. As gamers ourselves we want to be part of that, and our platform aims to be as forward-thinking and smart as the gamers of tomorrow will need it to be. Read our views on the importance of the blockchain in this process here, why we think eSports could be bigger than baseball here and take part in our ICO here.