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How Blizzard is successfully using cosplayers to promote its brand

You’ve certainly heard about those nerds who wander in the alleys of some Comic Con, wearing costumes of their favorite characters. The cosplayers. Well, a few years ago, they were still considered like weird hardcore fans and nothing more. But things are changing, and Blizzard is leading the way.

As one of the leaders of the gaming industry, it’s no surprise to see Blizzard coming up with innovative ways to promote its games. But this time, the company is crafting an interesting strategy involving its more extreme and visible part of its community: the cosplayers. And it seems to work out well. Let’s see why and how Blizzard’s teams are making this happen.

Why focusing on cosplayers in the first place?

Well, the most obvious answer is because cosplayers are part of your customer base, and as such, you need to pay attention to them. Like most of the other customers, they’re playing Blizzard’s games, they’re enjoying all the transmedia elements around the lore, and they’re buying the merch. But they’re not exactly like most of the other customers. Indeed, when regular fans are consuming what Blizzard has to offer, cosplayers are also producing content. And they’re doing so both online and offline.

Cosplayer Yaya Han, wearing a Wizard costume from Blizzard’s Diablo 3

Don’t get me wrong, content produced by fans is not a new thing: fan-arts, fan-fictions and so on are everywhere on the internet. But cosplayers are going one step further and are literally bringing the characters to life. From 2D to 3D. From fiction to reality. By creating content inspired by Blizzard games — be it full costumes or props, photo shoots or videos, detailed tutorials or 2-second snaps- they are spreading the brand awareness, casting light on the most obscure characters, entertaining the other fans and overall giving life to the community.

And they’re more active than ever. While it’s almost impossible to survey how many persons identify as cosplayers right now, the growing number of conventions, contests, and shops dedicated to this hobby in the past couple years is a good indicator of its popularity. The fanbase of some of the most famous cosplayers - like Yaya Han or Jessica Nigri - is rising up to millions, and shows as well how beloved cosplay is these days.

Involving people that are part of your fanbase, producing (often qualitative) brand content, and bringing life to your community both online and offline is a no-brainer. At least for Blizzard.

How do you cooperate with cosplayers?

That’s basically the first thing to do if you want to acknowledge your cosplayer fans: show them that you noticed their existence. Blizzard did that pretty well by frequently sharing cosplay pictures on their various social media accounts. They are also hosting their own cosplay contests during Blizzcon, their official convention, or other events like Gamescom. The level in these competitions is insanely high and Blizzard teams pick only the best cosplayers to compete on stage. The result is a very entertaining and high-quality show, which always gathers a lot of attendees, and generates a good amount of positive word-of-mouth and press coverage. Plus, it creates emulation among the cosplayers, thus resulting in even better costumes year after year!

Aya as Elune, from World of Warcraft, on stage during Blizzcon 2016

In Europe and in the US, the focus is often put on the crafting part of cosplay, whereas in Japan for example it is more common to buy a costume. But building a bigger-than-life CGI armor you can only see from specific angles ingame is definitely not an easy task. So if you want cosplayers to be able to pay hommage to those type of characters, you’ll have to give them a little help. That’s why Blizzard has been sharing online free cosplay reference kits. In those you’ll find artworks and screenshots from different angles of characters and their props. The most recent ones even include detailed colors and patterns guides. Those things that are usually not made public are a true blessing for any cosplayers trying to accurately recreate these costumes. By sharing this knowledge, Blizzard teams not only make cosplayers’ lives easier, but they’re also encouraging them to produce better content.

Tracer reference kit

Not only is Blizzard helping cosplayers, the company is now hiring them to promote its products. When the Warcraft movie was released last year, cosplayers were hired to liven up the red carpets. For example, we got to see world renowned cosplayer Jessica Nigri rocking her Deathwing costume at the premiere, signing autographs and being interviewed, just like she was an actress in the actual movie. She and a bunch of other cosplayers posed for the public and the photographers, before being joined by the official cast. In France as well, we saw cosplayers on the red carpet during the movie’s premiere. By hiring cosplayers to help promote its movie, Blizzard combines the best of its transmedia strategy — costumes from the game can be used to promote the movie — and of its community management strategy — dedicated fans are rewarded by being a part of this big event.

Jessica Nigri (on the left) and other cosplayers with the cast of Warcraft during the movie premiere

Moreover, the presence of cosplayers wearing impressive and beautiful costumes adds an extra layer to the very-coded ‘red carpet thing’, and allows fans and journalists alike to get immersed in the Warcraft universe, by making it more close and tangible. They are also more capable of talking to the press about this universe than random hosts or hostesses hired via a model agency.

Blizzard has recently been a step further, and is now co-creating content with the cosplayers to ensure high-quality costumes of their characters are made even before the release of a game. During the long build-up period before launching their new franchise Overwatch, a few cosplayers were hired to make costumes from the game. For example, famous German cosplayer — and huge Blizzard fan — Kamui made a Symmetra cosplay that gathered thousands of likes when she released the first picture of her photo shoot. More recently, for the release of a brand new playable character named Sombra, Blizzard teamed up with cosplayer Soni Aralynn and props creators Henchmen Props to produce a heavily detailed costume of Sombra.

Soni Aralynn as Sombra from Overwatch, picture by Martin Wong

Soni then cosplayed as her for the first time during the press conference, revealing the character look and personality to the world. A great way to show the players what the character is like and to create a sense of proximity in order to encourage them to play as Sombra.

But these are not the only ways Blizzard is using cosplayers to promote its games. We know the Blizzard French subsidiary is currently producing a music video about Overwatch staring famous French youtubers dressed in costumes commissioned to various local cosplayers, such as Kiilys.

Kiilys’s post introducing the Mercy costume she made for renowned French youtuber Natoo

Kiilys is not unknown from the Overwatch community, she indeed won an award during last year official Blizzard cosplay contest at Gamescom, showing that the company is making the best of its relationships with the cosplay community.

Blizzard may be one of the leaders when working with cosplayers, but other entertainment companies also collaborate with their most visible fans. From Bandai Namco to Ubisoft or Lucasfilm, many marketing teams are looking to collaborate with their respective cosplay community. Today, being able to understand cosplayers, to make them feel welcome among your regular fans and to build trust so they’ll continue to happily embody the characters from your games, movies or TV shows seems to be an important component of any marketing and community management plan. As a cosplayer and brand manager, I can’t wait to see how those complex but potentially very satisfying relationships between brands and fans will evolve.

This article is based on my academic research about cosplayers and my experience as a fan and cosplayer. Feel free to ask me any question :)



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