The growing phenomenon of cosplay has also impacted fans of League of Legends, prompting many homemade costumes and props in an attempt to emulate their favorite champions. To some, this hobby is more than just fun.
Many fans in Madison Square Garden have most likely seen the doppelgangers of Arcade Ahri and Arcade Riven in various parts of the arena and the Rift Walk experience. They are the South Korean professional cosplay team Spiral Cats, invited by Riot Games to help promote the event and entice fans. Slingshot’s Andrew Kim was able to conduct an interview with team leader Oh “Tasha” Go-Eun and team member Lee “Doremi” Hye-Min in hopes to hear the stories beyond their costumes.
The Spiral Cats have actually worked with Riot before, namely during the 2014 world championships held in Korea, but their invitation to America was still exciting.
“We’ve been working closely with Riot since the 2014 world championships in Korea, including various smaller events, but this is the first time we’ve been invited to such a large stage,” Tasha told Slingshot. “We have a lot planned for this event, so I hope the fans look forward to it!”
This visit also marks their third time in America, the first two being at one of America’s largest anime conventions, Anime Expo. Although they were well known enough to warrant an invitation, the popularity they experienced has come as a surprise.
“Before we got invited to Anime Expo, we were just known as the group that cosplayed champions from LoL,” Doremi told Slingshot. “But when we got to AX, a lot of foreign people recognized us so it was like ‘ when did we get so well known?’ The second time around, even more people knew us, so it felt like we were growing as a team.”
With the popularity and the scale of recognition the Spiral Cats get from various gaming companies, one would assume that the process would involve many moving parts. The answer, laughably to the Cats, is a no.
“We do everything,” Tasha said. “The Spiral Cats have not had a new member in three years, since when you get accepted, you need to make the costume, model for it, make the props, and at times work on basic martial arts movements when necessary for on-stage performance. With all of this responsibility on a single person, the new teammate usually leave in one or two months, unable to take on all the work. Honestly, when you put that much work in what you do, there needs to be a sense of accomplishment, but when all the work goes to Doremi or Tasha, while the new member has to work for about 6 months before getting work, many just choose to leave.”
With the individual members being responsible for every part of the costume, it would be reasonable for the process from design to modeling to take some time. For pros like the Spiral Cats, it takes four weeks and in some cases even less.
With work being piled onto the two star members of the Spiral Cats with no new members being able to stick it through, there have some predictable issues and some unexpected ones. Tasha pointed out that Doremi is probably the one who was the “most desperate” about the lack of a new member, relegating her as the team’s youngest for four years.
“She’s right, when we don’t have a new member, I will forever be the youngest of the team,” Doremi said with a pained smile. “That means I need to run errands for the older members forever! So I really hope we get a new member soon, but above all we don’t have someone that can be a cute character. I hope a very cute, tenacious younger member joins us soon.”
When asked if they would consider any foreign applicants, they took it very seriously, saying that the Cats will “take anyone who’s willing to move” closer to their company in Korea, although priority would go to more local talent.
At its base, cosplay is a hobby for fans to enjoy, and this is no different for the two current professionals, with Tasha having 16 years of experience, and Doremi with 10, starting in small increments.
“Before this I was working as a game developer, so I thought I would keep working in the field, but when I looked up, I was a professional cosplayer,” Tasha joked.
Doremi added: “In my case I wasn’t cosplaying at all after I became an adult. After graduating college, I was wondering what kind of work I should do, and while I was watching TV, I saw Tasha on broadcast television. I was like ‘she’s still cosplaying? She must be doing it professionally,’ and quietly called Tasha.”
Their shared hobby gave them a prior relationship before they reunited as teammates. When Tasha delved into the industry first, she actually asked Doremi to join the Spiral Cats before, but to no avail.
“When we were still doing cosplay as a hobby, I asked her to join the team, but she declined,” Tasha said to Doremi’s laughter. “After she declined and as we started getting more noticed with a breakthrough to pros about to happen, she joined us and helped us a lot.”
Enjoying a hobby and submitting work on a professional scale are two separate things, and like all jobs this was no exception. For Tasha, who had a burning love for her craft, it seems that the characters she likes and the characters she’s asked to do are never lined up.
“When you’re doing it as a hobby you get to cosplay whoever you want to, characters that you want to portray,” she said. “Even if I’m not cute, if I really like Lulu. I can cosplay her. But when you’re doing it as a pro, you’re not cosplaying for your own satisfaction, but for the satisfaction of others, so there is a gap of satisfaction. Doing cosplays that ‘fit my style’ is a double edged sword since I have to give up cosplays I want to do in favor of those that are more fitting.”
The nature of cosplay is that the cosplayer must present themselves in front of a crowd, or have their picture taken to be shared all over the internet. Even with a love for the hobby, there are some legitimate concerns about having one’s literal body of work in the hands of potential millions.
“Before the team started to take off, my parents really didn’t like me cosplaying,” she said. “Once I got famous, they had more pride in what I did. Old friends of mine have also gotten into touch with me after seeing my pictures, so I think the concerns went away once we got known.”
However no manner of fame could really help them cosplay all the characters they wanted to during their professional careers, and Doremi admitted that Lulu is one that she always wanted to but probably won’t get to do while Tasha said that Ahri was a champion she got to do for the first time.
“I wanted to do Lulu a lot,” Doremi said. “But my image is more of a mature look, so even though want to, I felt like it just wasn’t going to work out and folded my dreams of Lulu.”
“I really wanted to do Ahri, but I was told that I couldn’t because of my darker complexion and that I fir Nidalee or Miss Fortune more, not some sexy Korean beauty like Ahri. I was really upset about that and always let Doremi cosplay. When the new Arcade skin came out, I was given a chance since the new skin feels a little different and Doremi did Riven.”
During the conversation, the Spiral Cats said that the large project in mind was making team specific fan cosplay for the finals. But just like the dreams of North American League of Legends fans, their aspirations were dashed by Korean dominance.
“For example, we were getting ready to make TSM or Cloud9 costumes because we wanted to see a matchup between NA and Korea,” Tasha said. “So we were hoping C9 would make it, but after the quarterfinals we gave up on it. It feels good to have so many Korean teams advance, but it was a little disappointing because it would have been nice to have a final that a lot of people can enjoy.”
With rising popularity overseas, it would be impressive to see an overseas branch of the Spiral Cats in perhaps North America or other regions, but for now it seems like they have much to still work on before they consider an international team.
“I think that’ll have to come up after we handle our business in Korea,” Tasha said. “I also think we still have a lot of work to do in order to have our name more widely known and create a positive image.”
Photos by @snekoko