On the evening of Saturday, October 19th, Wizard World in Columbus, OH had a cosplay costume contest with the top prize being $10,000. That is a lot of money! Even the Crown Championship of Cosplay, one of the largest cosplay competitions in the world, splits a $10,000 prize pot between the top three.
That definitely got the interest of more than a few people, which was Wizard World‘s intention. I believe they were hoping to beef up attendance at a few of their weaker events by encouraging cosplayers to come out.
Unfortunately, the contest advertising did not work like Wizard World expected. In fact, as it got closer to the event, many in the cosplay community were upset by how the contest was being judged.
It’s Impossible to Know it All
Costume contests are always filled with controversy. There are numerous complaints about favoritism, lack of knowledge by judges, or just people complaining about bad calls by the judges. There is no one-size-fits-all way to judge a costume contest in the cosplay community. Cosplay is just too diverse for there to be an easy solution.
Just starting with character genres, there is anime, cartoon, movie, TV, comics, fan art, and video games. Then when you look at the characters within those genres, you have realistic characters, armored characters, fancy dress characters, and fantasy characters. All of these genres span decades of different design styles. Then when you get further in, there are different skill sets that involve different materials – sewing intricate detail, modeling massive pieces, programming printers, applying makeup, etc…. In all honesty, I’ve barely broken the envelope in the possible divisions and skills in cosplay costuming.
There is no way anybody could be familiar with every possible connotation of cosplay. This is why judges for cosplay contests don’t always make sense. Some judges will be chosen because of their knowledge of cosplay in general, others for their own proven skills, some are chosen for their popularity, others are simply there as fans of a particular genre.
There truly is no ‘best way’ to select a judge. My personal opinion would be to pick a variety of judges with varying skills and knowledge. Wizard World selected from among their cosplay guests, after all they have some of the most intimate knowledge of the skills required in cosplay. To most people, Wizard World Columbus did well selecting judges. This was not the problem.
The problems arose when the public discovered that the $10,000 prize winner would be selected by audience vote. This turned it into a popularity contest, not a skill contest. When it was discovered that the contest would be open for Internet voting, more objections were raised. This huge prize now looked like it would be awarded to whomever had the most votes.
Over the years, many people have discovered that popular vote costume contests don’t work. The prize is rarely awarded to whomever has the best costume. It frequently goes to the one who brought the most friends, the sexiest costume, or the one who can ham it up the best onstage. This is what the cosplay community was afraid of.
I did some digging around and found the contest rules. They were apparently the same at Columbus as what they have for the upcoming Madison event. I’ve grabbed a few key points:
“Costumes must be of at least 75% original construction, or show significant modification of pre-existing materials. No costumes are allowed that are purchased or otherwise obtained from a commercial source. A costume that has previously won Best In Show or Best In Master Class or First Place at another convention is not eligible. “
“Entrants will be divided into groups for pre-screening Preview Showcases and must be present at their assigned time at Wizard World Madison’ Entertainment Stage on Saturday, October 26, 2019 in order to compete in Contest…Judging criteria will be up to judges but will take into account originality, overall appeal, creativity and craftsmanship. Judging panel will choose winners in the Best Hero, Best Villain, Best Anime Character, Best Video Game Character and Best Group or Duo. Best in Show winner will be selected from among those five winners via audience voting mechanism. Winners will be announced at end of Contest.”
So general judging was performed by the cosplay judges, NOT the audience. Then after the judges have selected the winners in each category, the audience had the opportunity to choose from among those five who would received the $10,000 prize.
By having the judges choose the best for each category, they have eliminated a large portion of the popularity contest. Now, it was narrowed down to five categories – Best Hero, Best Villain, Best Anime Character, Best Video Game Character, and Best Group or Duo.
The audience would choose their favorite from among the five category winners. This way, Wizard World eliminated a portion of the Negative Nancies who would have claimed the grand prize was awarded by biased judges. Once again, it is a popularity contest, but it’s a controlled popularity contest because it’s not necessarily who has the most friends. It could be what character is more popular, or who represents the audience’s favorite genre. The popularity portion is going to be split, on top of that you will have the portion of the audience who will genuinely vote for the one they think deserves it.
Cosplay guest Galaxy Amethyst & @Kato_Kaelin getting ready for their 8th Wizard World show! #WizardWorldColumbus— Wizard World (@WizardWorld) October 19, 2019
"The kids costume contest is one of my FAVORITE parts of the weekend. He has great energy! " – Galaxy Amethyst pic.twitter.com/TkJycSVbFg
What was Wrong
This was a first-time contest, so mistakes are bound to happen. We certainly hope they have learned from the mistakes.
In my opinion, the first mistake was their advertising for the contest. I think that the voting process was not properly conveyed to the public. Most people thought it was going to be entirely a popularity contest.
The second mistake is the prize pool distribution. The winners of the five categories each got $500, and the grand prize winner got $10,000. That is a huge disparity. Even though $500 is nice, it would almost be an insult compared to the $10,000 you almost won. It would have been better to make it $1,000, for each category winner and $5,000, for the grand prize. Then it’s an $11,000 total prize pool, actually saving WW $1,500.
With that savings of $1,500, Wizard World could correct their biggest mistake and use it towards hiring a good video crew to record and stream the costume contest. The coverage was horribly amateurish and did not give anyone a chance to really view the contestants or make an informed vote.
Next week is the Madison cosplay costume contest. Let’s see how that one goes.
About Wizard Entertainment, Inc. (OTCBB: WIZD)
Wizard Entertainment, Inc. (www.wizardworld.com) produces comic, gaming and pop culture conventions across North America that celebrate the best in pop culture: movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, tech, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, collectibles, contests and more. A first-class lineup of topical programming and entertainment takes place at each event, with celebrity Q&A’s, comics-themed sessions, costume contests, movie screenings, evening parties and more. Wizard Entertainment has also teamed with Sony Pictures Entertainment to find the next generation of movies as well as to engage in a number of strategic initiatives. Additional initiatives may include an augmented touring schedule of Wizard World shows, fixed-site installations, curated e-commerce, and the production and distribution of content both in the U.S. and internationally. Fans can interact with Wizard Entertainment at www.wizardworld.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.