For most people involved, cosplay is a hobby, but for some it can be more. As the scene grows in popularity, so too do commercial opportunities for those involved. Especially if you like dressing up as characters from video games.
There are plenty of ways to get paid for cosplay. Craftsmen and women have long been selling replica weapons and armour to fans. And the organisers of conventions, attracting tens of thousands (or sometimes hundreds of thousands) have been quick to capitalise on the popularity of individual cosplayers by helping promote (and pay for) their appearance at a show.
One of the newest career paths for cosplayers, though, is also one of the most interesting: sponsored cosplay.
This is where companies who are promoting an entertainment product pay a cosplayer to dress as a character from one of their properties. They may also pay that cosplayer to appear live at conventions and product launches.
For the cosplayer involved, it’s no doubt an amazing situation to find yourself in. Here you are, doing something you love (that requires great sacrifices of time, effort and money), and you suddenly get the offer to keep doing what you love, only now you can get paid for it. It’s essentially turning their passion into a job, something most of us can only dream of.
For the companies involved it’s an elegant marketing approach. A cosplayer who is super into your game will likely be far more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than a traditional “booth companion”, and their presence—all kitted out in professional gear like a video game character come to life—no doubt helps boost the atmosphere and hype of any event they’re attending.
This professional scene is a brave new world inhabited by some of the world’s best cosplayers, who I spoke with to learn about their experiences being flown around the world and transformed into some of their favourite video game characters.
Chiro, from Italy, has been working with video game companies for years, beginning with small collaborations with companies like Capcom and 2K before graduating in more recent years to extensive sponsorship roles with Sony and Ubisoft.
His jobs have been many. Sometimes he works a launch event, and walks around acting like a video game character, while other times he attends big conventions and works multiple, full days. “I’ll do things like taking pictures with everybody, for around 8 hours per day, while cosplaying, smiling, acting and posing”, Chiro says. “It may seem ‘easy’ from the outside but I can guarantee that sometimes it can be very stressful, especially during 5-day events like Gamescom in Germany.”
“For example, I’m like a living scenario for all the people going to a Ubisoft booth to try the new Assassin’s Creed. While people are waiting for their turn, they can take pictures with me, an official Assassin, or do things like make videos.”
“Of course the social media element of this is extremely important because, for my job it’s not only about the quality of the service but also about all the people the cosplayer can reach.”
While previously his work was quite casual, these days he generally signs a contract that guarantees him a rate of pay for the work he performs, along with all the costs required to attend a convention, from flights to hotels. He bills his sponsors for the cost of his costume, which he still makes himself.
“This is a very tough market, I have to admit it”, Chiro acknowledges. “Mainly because a lot of people would pay themselves to do the work I do. But when somebody does a job, they have to be paid in money, not just visibility. When I go to the supermarket, I can’t just say ‘It’s me, Leon Chiro!’ and pay with my reputation. To get money, you have to make your job respected and valuable, so I always try to make a real difference; I’m not just a cosplayer when I work, I AM that character, and I put all my passion into the job.”
Like Chiro, Boer—made famous for his Assassin’s Creed and Metal Gear cosplay—has begun to increase the amount of sponsored work he does, to the point where he’s formed a company specifically to promote his services as a sponsored cosplayer.
“Because it takes hundreds of hours to deliver the quality I strive for, full costumes can be very expensive and thus it’s mostly work for companies I do now”, he tells me.
Most of these jobs involve attending gaming events, or shooting videos for marketing campaigns. “Event work means hanging around at the booth where the game was being promoted and taking pictures with people, ala Mickey Mouse in Disneyland, or standing in the background of interviews with staff and crew at the event”, Boer says.
Given that this is now a job, as bizarre as that may seem, it’s something that both Boer and his employers take very seriously. “When somebody hires me I make a quotation that if both parties agree upon can be invoiced later on. It all depends on the work that is required and the duration.”
Because he’s been hired by companies like Ubisoft to work alongside the launch of big games like Assassin’s Creed, Boer enjoys some perks that hobbyist cosplayers can only dream of, like access to pre-launch 3D game assets to help him get his costumes 100% correct.
Which sounds amazing, but can also bring with it its own set of challenges. “Of course the people that hire you have something to say about how you make a certain piece. I remember getting a color change through of a certain character right after I had already completed it. This meant going back and changing it.” He also has to meet strict and often short deadlines for his cosplay work, something that runs contrary to any cosplayer’s first instinct of working on something until they feel it’s perfect, regardless of the time involved.
Echoing Chiro’s experience, Boer says that some of the hardest work for sponsored cosplay comes from attending events. “When you are at an event for a company you have to stay in one place for hours and hours ‘being’ the character”, he says. “You don’t actually get to experience or see much of the event or convention because you are working for the people who hired you. You’re a moving poster, helping the company to make their booth more entertaining. It’s work and it’s a lot of hard work.”
“Events are usually on the weekends, which you could have used as a break from regular work and spending time with the kids. Event work takes away from that and is physically exhausting, so you turn up at work the day after an event very tired. Of course you get to go to places you would otherwise never have gone to and you meet tons of amazing people along the way, so it’s intense and awesome at the same time! It’s a lot of fun to but it takes planning and endurance.”
Graziano made headlines in 2011 when she signed what was then an extraordinary deal with the publishers of the video game Firefall, whereby she’d be sponsored by them for an entire year. Not for specific events, or an ad or two, but for the entire year. In the years since she’s continued to do sponsored work, most recently for Clash of Kings and the Master of Orion reboot.