**The following article is a direct translation from the interview conducted by Ms. Jeein Huh of KeSPA student reporters. All credit and thanks goes to her for allowing me to translate this article. I did all the translation and am responsible for any mistranslation**
Exploring the Cosplay culture in e-sport. Meet the spearhead of video game cosplaying in Korea; Spiral Cats!
The people who brings the video game characters to life and promote the video game culture of e-sports, South Korea’s first professional cosplay team; Spiral Cats Team!
We had the pleasure of interviewing the renowned professional cosplay team “Spiral Cats”! To those who are avid e-sports or cosplay fans should be very familiar with their high quality cosplays. They can be seen at various tournaments, events and other e-sports activities showcasing their awesome cosplay. We sat down with the team leader Tasha (right) and vice-leader Doremi (left) to talk about their work.
Hello! Thank you for speaking with us today! Can you give a brief introduction to the readers?
Tasha: Hello, I am the leader of the South Korea cosplay team, Spiral Cats, Oh Goh Eun. I started cosplaying back in 2000 and this year marks my 15th anniversary. I am still actively cosplaying to this day.
Doremi: Hello, I’m Doremi of Spiral Cats. My cosplay experience is similar to Tasha and I’m 23 years old (smiles)
Is it true that your team is South Korea’s very first professional cosplay team?
T&D: Truth be told, there were other cosplay teams that were active before Spiral Cats. However, since we have been doing this the longest in the eyes of the public, everyone seems to think we are the representative cosplay team of South Korea. We have been active as Spiral Cats since 2009.
I heard Spiral Cats was not a professional team to begin with. As the team became a professional team with sponsorship obligation and restrictions, has there been any differences in your work compared to before?
T&D: Back when we started the team in 2009, it was more of a cosplay club with friends rather than a professional team. back then it was for fun and a hobby for us. We would cosplay as characters that did not necessarily fit our styles. For example, Doremi is tall and stylish, but she still cosplayed as a small, cute characters like Lulu back in the day. However, after we became a professional team with sponsors, we started to carefully consider who we cosplayed as. Tall people would cosplay as tall characters and people who had the mature sister vibe would cosplay accordingly. Simply put, instead of cosplaying as characters we personally liked, we had to cosplay as characters who we resembled physically and visually. Some fans liked the idea of us cosplaying to match our appearance and characteristics which brought on many changes to our cosplaying philosophy.
Because of your popularity, I can guess you had your fair share of false rumors going around from anti-fans. Any particular rumor you want to debunk for good?
Tasha: No one in our team had plastic surgery. Maybe I’ll get one within 3 years (laughs) but at the moment, no one had plastic surgery. People said Tasha and I had our plastic surgery performed on our nose, but we assure you that this is the face we were born with.
Doremi: If we did have plastic surgery, we would have only done double fold eyelids! (Double fold eyelids is a popular Asian eye style). I have inner double fold eyelids so it is hard to see my eyeliners.
Tasha: Our photos are the result of make-up, lighting and Photoshop! (Laughs) Not plastic surgery!
As Korea’s first professional cosplay team, your team’s costume, acting and directing skills are superb. Can you walk us through how your team works on a project?
T&D: First things first, we discuss who will be the cosplayer for the project. When we decide the cosplayer, we go through the research phase of choosing the fabric and other outfit materials based on the cosplayer’s skin tone. Afterwards, we obtain the color swatches for the materials we need. When we have finished our research on the types of material we need, we discuss on the costume design and begin to plan out the production schedule of the project. We then split off into groups and work on the costume and props needed for the project. In our case, we have a designated prop team who makes the props for us. Once the outfit is done, we go through first and second fitting, making any changes along the way. We strive hard to make an outfit that is just the right fit for the cosplayer to represent the character. After the costume is finalized, we work on the background stage. Our Kerrigan (SC2) project, the background stage took just over three days of production.
When we are short on time, we resort to printing a background picture that suits the character. For example, Doremi’s cosplay of Million Arthur (a mobile card game) was based on the character’s actual trading card. We took the background from the in-game card, edited it in Photoshop and printed it to use it as our background.
After we finish the photo shoot, our CEO takes over 12 hours to review the photos. This process includes the all-important Photoshop work (smiles). When we get the OK from the chief, we distribute the images on social media and the masses.
Your work on Kerrigan from Starcraft 2 as well as Grommash Hellscream is on par with the quality of a Hollywood movie costume. Does Spiral Cats Team have their own production specialist?
T&D: We do have a specialist on our team and her name is Chae Kyung Im. We became acquainted with her during the Kerrigan project and after that, she became an integral part of the team incorporating the special effects and techniques which Hollywood use for their props. The projects you mentioned; Kerrigan and Hellscream, was done with her help. We still work together on various projects every now and then. Our staff give our inputs and help out with the visual appearance of the outfit while Ms. Im gives her professional input on the outfit’s material/texture and durability.
Cosplaying has become an essential element in the e-sports culture. I believe that Spiral Cats made a huge contribution to the popularity we see today. How does it feel being such a huge influence in the cosplay scene in e-sports?
T&D: Thank you for the kind words. To be honest, we did not have the greatest reception when we debuted back in 2012. People thought we were strange or saw us in a negative image. However, we carried on with the mindset that our cosplay will be a great marketing tool to relate to the gamers in the video game market. If you look at the cosplay scene today, people have accepted cosplaying as a marketing tool and are enjoying our cosplay; which is a big change from before. I am happy that people are starting to accept and enjoy our work. We hope that more people will open their minds about cosplaying in the future.
Until recently, the idea of cosplaying was more reserved as a hobby and nothing beyond that. Was there any difficulties trying to incorporate cosplaying as a profession? In a way, your team is the pioneer of professional cosplay.
T&D: There were difficulties for sure. In a lot of ways, we were very lucky to be where we are today. I can’t explain every little detail, but simply put, we had momentum on our side. When Riot launched the Korean servers, we started to cosplay as League of Legends champions which garnered a lot of attention on the internet. People became curious of the characters we were cosplaying as which led them to the game. This all happened during the League of Legend boom in Korea. After the game became a phenomenon, our cosplay started to get noticed and we became an internet sensation. I think it was not necessarily our skills that was the reason for our success, but rather we chose the right time and game to show our work.
There has been other cosplay teams starting to form in Korea. Could this be an effect of your team’s work? How do you feel about this rise?
T&D: We feel positive about it. The fact that there are other teams surfacing in the cosplay scene means that the marketability is increasing which is always a good news. This is actually the result we were hoping for. We want to continue to be the number one cosplay team and we want to become the role model and inspiration for prospective cosplayers and cosplay teams around the world.
What is Spiral Cats Team’s secret to success in raising aware of the team and building a successful network of connections with the e-sports and video game companies?
T&D: Everyone in the team absolutely loves gaming. Tasha’s was previously a game designer and Doremi loved gaming from a young age. She’s very good too.
Are you one of those “gifted gamers” people say on the internet? (TN: the word used here is a slang which I cannot seem to find the meaning to…QQ)
T&D: Haha, to be honest, I think people think we are more like normal gamers if anything. We were absolutely outraged when the gaming addiction law was floating around in Korea just like other Korean gamers out there. Because we are all gamers, we share this common bond and knowledge with each other. For instance, we would not spin Nidalee’s spear around when we would cosplay as her. It makes more sense to hold the spear like how Nidalee does in-game and that’s how people identify it. Ahri’s qualities is not only limited to her sexiness and because we know that as gamers, we can bring out the character’s qualities in its entirety through our cosplay to which the gamers can identify and relate to. To answer your original question, I think it is because the fans know that we are passionate gamers is why people love us so much.
Care to share any memorable moments during a video game or E-sports event?
Tasha: For me, visiting Blizzard was very memorable. If you are an aspiring game designer, working at Blizzard has crossed your mind at least once. There are a lot of Korean game designers that are working at Blizzard today. Truth be told, I was one of those aspiring game designers that wanted to work at blizzard. I would have never imagined that I would visit Blizzard after I gave up on my dream to be a game designer and started my career in cosplaying, but when they invited me to their office, I couldn’t decline. I met with the designers who made Diablo and StarCraft who I respected growing up. I event had the chance to visit the Hearthstone developers! It was a very new and emotional experience for me visiting Blizzard studios.
Doremi: The League of Legends World Championship in Seoul for me. There was a cosplay event during the World championship as a side venue. It was an event where a mixture of professional and amateur cosplayers were present. Tasha was the judge for the event which made it memorable. The fact that there were so many amateur cosplayers cosplaying League of Legends characters left a positive impression on me. This was the point where I knew the level of cosplaying was risings in the video gaming scene.
Is there any hardships or disappointments during gaming and e-sports events?
T&D: I have been wanting to mention this before and this is directed towards any cosplay event or any event organizers that are looking to hire cosplayers for their event; please provide a dressing room. Every cosplayer needs a dressing room where they can prepare their outfit to look their best. People think that cosplayers can look the way they do at the snap of a finger, but this is not the case. We need ample time to prepare and the area to do it in. In our case, we get private dressing rooms during events but this isn’t the case for amateur cosplayers. Even if they are amateurs, they were hired to entertain and liven up the event for the crowd and it saddens me that they do not have access to the facilities they need. Sometimes we offer to share our dressing rooms with them after seeing cosplayers changing in the bathrooms of all places. Because bathrooms are a public area, it bothers the public and I’m pretty sure the cosplayers themselves do not want to change in bathrooms as well. Blizzard is a good example of a company offering adequate facilities for cosplayers. Because there are no dressing room style facilities at hotels where the press conferences are held, Blizzard provides us with VIP rooms to prepare our outfits. However, in most cases, the event organizers do not know this fact and it does cause some difficulties for cosplayers. I hope in the future, equal treatment for all cosplayers in terms of facilities will be provided.
In the past, companies hire celebrities and models who did not have any interest in the games they were hired to promote. Nowadays, cosplay teams like Spiral Cats Team is hired instead of the famous celebrities and models. How do you feel about this movement?
T&D: To tell you the truth, when we do interviews with foreign journalists and tell them we are a professional Korean cosplay team, they tend to make fun of us for what we do. This is why I think the Korean gaming community is so amazing. They love to see us cosplay their favorite characters and that’s why event organizers hire us to promote their game. Add to this that we at Spiral Cats Team love to play the games we are promoting which adds to our enthusiasm and passion to promoting the game. I think hiring people that cares about the content you want to promote is an important factor.
Last year your team was invited to riot Games and Blizzard. This does not seem to be something that happens very often. As co-players, isn’t this an exceptional milestone? Any memorable moments you want to share?
Tasha: Absolutely. When we were invited to the different companies, one day we went to Blizzard and Riot Games the next. I cosplayed as Nidalee to Riot Games and actually met with the artist who designed Nidalee. After we had our commemorative photo shoots, they even showed us the unreleased character arts of Nidalee. I thought to myself, “It is because of my work at Spiral Cats Team that got me here to experience all this” which made me really, really happy.
Doremi: I’ll share my experience with Blizzard. When we went to Blizzard studios, they gave us so many gifts to a point we couldn’t even carry them all. We received gifts from the Starcraft, Diablo and Hearthstone team and next thing you know it, we were carrying big bags full of swag touring the Blizzard office. When we came back to our hotel and laid all the stuff out onto the bed, the bed was covered completely.
Tasha: One of the Blizzard guys told us that no one has ever received this many gifts before that came to visit their studio. Oh! Here’s a fun story. There is a developer in the Diablo 3 team named Jay Wilson. We met him briefly in Korea during an event and we bumped into him during our tour. I called out to him saying “Oh! Jay Wilson!” and he answered saying “Oh! Tahsa!” and recognized me right away. I was moved that a popular developer remembered who I was. I am also thankful to Jay Wilson because he praised Spiral Cats Team during the launch of Diablo 3. We are planning to head to LA next year and I hope to meet with him again during Blizzcon or during another tour of Blizzard studios!
Currently you are running Spcats TV (Spiral Cats TV) and recently started doing a game broadcast show ex-pro gamer RingTroll. It seems like you are crossing over from a cosplayer to an entertainer…Is there a reason you are participating in these different activities? Do you have something planned in the future for Spiral Cats ?
T&D: As you have mentioned before, the cosplay team market is becoming saturated with new talent. Because of this, we wanted to branch out to other venues to see what else we can do as a cosplay team to give us the edge over the competition. We were trying to find ways we can interact with our fans on a more personal level and market our team. This is when we caught onto the idea of multimedia and streaming as our new mediums. We went through many tests and different iterations of the types of content we wanted to provide to our audiences. It was a rough ride but I don’t think we could have reached out to the community as effectively if we solely relied on cosplaying alone. We want to expand beyond cosplaying to reach out to other communities to share our work with many people as possible. This is why we started Spcats TV; it is a means of reaching out to our audiences and expanding our user base. We can entertain the audience by streaming content we all enjoy; gaming. We also help out with promotions of different games during our stream by acting as models.
Spiral Cats Team has a deep history with E-sports. You guys acted as Najin e-mfire’s mascot and participated in the CJ Entus cosplay event. Do you guys have a favorite E-sports team?
Tasha: hmm…can we talk about each region separately?
Tahsa: I like MadLife from CJ Entus! When I heard about the job with MadLife for the CJ Entus Cosplaying event, I begged my boss to let me take the job even though I was on the verge of death from other jobs. When I was designing MadLife’s costume, I designed it out of pure affection for the player. MadLife’s costume was “Definitely not Blitzcrank” and when I was putting the costume on him, I was really happy. Doremi was working with Flame and his Ezreal costume when I was working with MadLife. When everything was finished, we were so happy with the results. Even to this day, MadLife is still my favorite player.
For China, I would say Gogoing caught my attention during the World Championship in Korea. I saw the quarterfinal match in person and his Irelia play was just phenomenal. I still watch it again from time to time. In North America, I like Hai from Cloud9. Even though he is more popular than us, he reached out to us first asking for a photo request. We asked him why he asked us for a photo and he replied that in America, Spiral Cats Team is really popular and he knew who we were and wanted a commemorative photo. From this point, we became friends and we would go on dates to Myungdong together whenever they visit Korea. We still keep in touch to this day.
Doremi: I personally cheer for Flame from CJ Entus even though he changed teams… Still, we cheer for CJ Entus because of the event they held together with us. For China, I liked Gogoing from OMG as well. North America, I like to cheer for TSM! I interviewed them during the quarter-finals and like them personally. Ever since Lustboy transferred to TSM, I’ve been watching their games more closely.
Which E-sports do you enjoy watching?
Tasha: League of Legends for sure. I also like Hearthstone.
Doremi: I watch Starcraft 2 from time to time.
Tasha: We’ve been watching LPL a lot recently. Watching the Korean players play in China is a unique sight to behold. It is interesting to see the rapid growth of the Chinese League of Legend scene.
Since you play the games you cosplay as, mind if I ask how good are you at those games?
Tasha: Yes, we do play the games we cosplay as. We’re especially happy when jobs involving the games we play comes in. As for my skill level…I don’t have the greatest mechanics or dexterity…I’m the type of gamer that tries hard and put in the effort to make up for the lack of talent. I like Hearthstone though! I made it to rank 5 before. Hearthstone gave me the hope that I don’t need mechanical skills or super dexterity in order to enjoy a game. I can’t wait for the new adventure mode coming out on March 19th.
Doremi: I enjoy a variety of games. If I’m interested in any of the newly release games, I try to play it at least once. I also enjoy mobile games. I can’t really tell how good I am at video games, but I can say that I do play a lot of them.
There are some pro players that became professional cosplayers after watching Spiral Cats. Any recommendations for those prospective cosplayers?
Tasha: There will be hardships; I can guarantee that. Even though you are entering the field of cosplaying, take a moment to reflect to see if this is what you want to do for the rest of your life. Doing something for work and doing something as a hobby are two different things. There will be many obstacles in your way and it is a decision you should not take lightly. If you are ready to take on the challenge, you will find success.
Doremi: Being a cosplayer is like being a designer in a way. The job will fit those who are good at putting on different hats at the workplace. Cosplaying is a mixture of different artistic skills. Of course, you need a strong mentality to deal with everything.
What do you think we need for the cosplay culture to expand in the e-sports scene?
T&D: Back when e-sports was still young, people thought cosplaying was something that only a few group of people did. As the scene got bigger and people began to accept e-sports, the idea of cosplaying was accepted by the public and piqued their interest of trying out cosplaying for themselves. Of course, we will continue our efforts to promote cosplaying to the world, but I hope that the e-sport organizers help out as well. I think we need to change the public’s mind that cosplaying is part of the celebration of gamers that is e-sports and not a separate entity. We want people to enjoy the cosplay with us and open up to the culture rather than thinking that we are just doing “our thing”. We are not worried because the acceptance of the cosplay culture is growing every day.
Any parting words to your fans of Spiral Cats, E-sports and video games?
Tasha: It was awkward at first, but when people think cosplay, they think Spiral Cats Team. When people think Spiral Cats Team, they think of cosplay. We have been doing this for 3 years now. Even a married couple’s love will slowly die down after 3 years, but we will continue to come up with new and refreshing cosplays for all of our fans and we will live up to the name of the South Korea’s best cosplay team. Thank you for your continued support and be excited for our future projects!
Doremi: Wherever we go; E-sports event or live broadcasts, we will try to show you our very best. Thank you for the love and support for us!
The team with the passion for cosplay and the mindset of professionals; Spiral Cats Team. Their contribution to the e-sports scene made the scene more colorful and entertaining for everybody. We cheer for the team who are not afraid to face any challenges ahead of them, Spiral Cats Team, best wishes for the future to come.
Once again, I would like to thank Ms. Jeein Huh for giving me the permission to translate her work. If you want to read her original article in Korean, visit http://bit.ly/1OAACdm
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-Andy “LastBlues” Shin