Last night, Sexpo Australia handed a staggering $2000 cash prize to the winner of their first ever cosplay competition. The crowd whooped and cheered — in fact, the crowd helped to pick the winner by whooping and cheering. This isn't a cosplay competition like any you've seen before, but it may be just what the community needs.
All photos via What A Big Camera
Warning: Some of the images in this story may be NSFW
Maybe it's not surprising, but there were plenty of concerns raised about the Sexpo cosplay comp since it was announced in February. Cosplayers are constantly in the awkward position of having to correct the people who think that their hobby is a sex thing — so what does it mean for the fine, upstanding cosplay community when it suddenly finds itself being celebrated at Sexpo?
The thing to remember here is that cosplay is anything but homogeneous. If you can cosplay Naruto, you can cosplay hentai. If you can cosplay Star Wars, you can cosplay... sexy Star Wars.
The community runs the full gamut from head-to-toe plate armour to Witchblade cosplays that literally have to be glued to a cosplayer's body. While the former is celebrated at conventions far and wide, the latter tends to be looked down upon at any of the more family-friendly events. This is where Sexpo comes in. Cosplayer Eve Beauregard says it best:
The Sexpo cosplay comp gives a valid and significant part of the community a place to celebrate their hobbby @BradBlake_Photo
— ally mclean (@allymcleangames) May 13, 2016
Conservative cosplayers should be the loudest supporters of this event @BradBlake_Photo
— ally mclean (@allymcleangames) May 13, 2016
There's more to cosplay at Sexpo than just... sexy cosplay, though. At least the kind of sexy cosplay that may come up if you just typed 'sexy cosplay' into Google. We spoke to Australian cosplayer, geeky porn star and host of Sexpo cosplay Lucie Bee about the competition, and what it means for cosplay.
"We had so many entrants representing their own concept of Sexy," Lucie explained. "The sheer diversity of the competition was spectacular and I don't think that's some we get a lot of at standard Cosplay competitions."
The cosplay competition at Sexpo was run across three days, with two heats on each of the first two days, and the finals with the four heat winners on the final day. Among the four grand finalists were four very different types of sexy — one, a sexy Cubone who might be more what you'd expect from aforementioned Google search, the second a Lollipop Chainsaw cosplay with props and all, the third a very scantily dressed man cosplaying another sexy Pokemon, and the fourth a curvy cosplayer and burlesque performer with a burlesque-style Harley Quinn.
That individual concept of sexy was an important concept for this competition. Just as cosplayers at other conventions may be asked how they made their costumes, the entrants on stage at Sexpo were asked why this particular costume made them feel sexy. Of course, with so many different versions of 'sexy' on the stage, the judges were faced with just as difficult a decision as they would have been at a regular cosplay competition.
At Sexpo, however, the audience also has a say. In the finals, the audience cheered for their favourites to narrow four down to two, from which a winner was then picked by the judges — which ended up being Vandolly Cosplay's burlesque Harley Quinn.
"I think audience participation at Sexpo is very important and I think the fact that our audience helped us pick a diverse winner who speaks for a part of the community that might not feel like they can, you know, get on stage at Sexpo, is really beautiful," said Lucie. "I think she won because she'd come up with a cool concept to start with. It was a Sexy Cosplay competion. There were plenty of Sexy Cosplays, but it was also about what made you feel sexy and confident about your cosplay. The crowd was behind her, which was fantastic and her interaction with us, with the audience was a big factor. Not just how much skin she might have been showing."
Of course, being the first cosplay competition run by Sexpo — an event more used to seeing the likes of the infamous Amateur Strip — there were a few teething issues, but everyone involved hopes to see the cosplay competition continue at other Sexpo events so that it can continue to grow. With that tempting $2000 prize (assuming they offer it again, of course) it may just be enough to encourage more cosplayers to get their sexy on.
"I think we'll definitely look at how we arrange each heat and how best to include the audience in judging, but streamline the judging process a bit more as well," Lucie said, looking forward to future competitions. "It'd be great to get even more Cosplay guests to help with that as well."
Still, even though there were a few definite kinks (pun intended) to work out, the atmosphere backstage was buzzing and excited when I lined up to enter my heat. Everyone was a little nervous. We didn't really know what to expect once we got on stage, but most of us were just excited that we all had a chance to win.
"I jumped at the chance to enter a cosplay competition where I didn't have to make my own costume," a muscled Superman beside me confided, keen to enter his first ever competition. On the other side of me a nurse Super Sonico cosplayer looked a little more apprehensive, though in her eyes we had already won. "The prize just for entering this competition was already better than the prize for winning some normal cosplay competitions," she pointed out, referring to her goody-bag packed with $250 worth of toys and vouchers that could be spent right there after the competition ended.
"I'm hoping that people will see that, no, it's not your average cosplay competition, but it's a lot of fun, has a lot to offer and that anyone has a chance to get up, have a go and win." Lucie said. "Everyone walked away with something, one of the major prizes or a gift bag - we massively appreciated the effort that was put in by everyone who entered."
Outside of the competition, there were a few cosplayers wandering the event floor across the weekend — even those who hadn't entered the comp at all. It's something I can see becoming more common in years to come, considering how appreciative most Sexpo patrons were of the exotic costumes.
Some people in the cosplay community raised concerns about the safety of cosplayers attending an event like Sexpo — but that worry was completely negligible. Security at Sexpo is tighter than I've ever experienced at any other con — but it was also entirely unnecessary.
Not only were the attendees polite and friendly, there was also a total lack of the shocked stares and mumbled judgements that can sometimes be experienced on other convention floors, for cosplayers who dare to show a little too much skin. Sexpo is all about celebrating sexuality — and even for cosplayers, this was no different.
"I think it's actually much the same as normal cons," Lucie said about wandering through Sexpo in costume. "As in, you know when you're walking around Supanova and suddenly the person next to you is purple? It's not necessarily unexpected, but you're still like 'Oh, hello!' There's always been dressing up at Sexpo and sometimes that's a little flesh, sometimes it's a lot and then there's, you know, a giant walking penis....so I don't think people were shocked. I think they definitely thought it was cool though."
"One cosplayer commented that she'd been stopped for photos more than at any other convention, but everyone had been so enthusiastic and had expressed how cool they thought she looked. I was really pleased to hear that. I think so many patrons thought it was great."
Sexpo has the potential to be a new and different destination for the cosplay community, and with support from said community it can only continue to grow. "This was the first, we were very much finding our feet and introducing the Sexpo audience to Cosplay," Lucie said.
"I'm hoping by Melbourne we'll have bigger heats, a bigger final and more Cosplayers both in the competition and just visiting Sexpo. There were so many people who'd dressed up and weren't even in the comp, which was amazing. I think it's been really educational for Sexpo attendees and for Cosplayers, both. I'm hoping to see WAY more first time cosplayers at Sexpo and other cons from this. People were genuinely interested in what it was all about and how much fun we were all having."
"My co-host Jimmy said it best, 'At the end of the day, Cosplay won.'"