RIYADH: Marvel superhero War Machine stole the show on Monday night during the cosplay competition at the RUSH Gaming Festival in Riyadh. Ibrahim Al-Yafii’s homemade version of the high-tech hero’s armor took top prize in the solo contest.
“I’m extremely happy, after slaving away for months, to find myself victorious today,” said the 27-year-old Saudi professional cosplayer. “It took me two months to make this costume.”
Al-Yafii beat out 22 other hopeful contestants to take home a prize of SR10,000 ($2,666) on the penultimate day of the five-day gaming festival at Riyadh Front Exhibition Center, billed as the biggest event of its kind in the region.
He said that just two days before he took to the stage, his War Machine helmet sustained some damage that put him under great pressure to fix properly in time for the competition. Fortunately he was able to patch it up and his efforts were rewarded with the top prize.
Soumaya Awadh, from the UAE, was one of the judges of Monday’s competition, along with 25-year-old Makusha Yelyzaveta from Ukraine. They are professional cosplayers, better known by their respective nicknames Sumi and Makmaku.”
“I’m a gamer and have been playing video games since Atari,” said Awadh. “I was so excited to see cosplay happening here. The prizes are so big for the cosplayers — if I’m not mistaken, Saudi is giving the highest prize in the world, so this means a lot.”
She has more than 10 years of cosplay experience, and has portrayed more than 40 characters.
“Cosplay started 10 years ago in the Arab countries,” she said. “Before that it wasn’t something really well known. The first Comic-Con in Dubai was in 2010.”
Japan held the what is considered the first cosplay competition in the world in 2003, during the World Cosplay Summit. Awadh described this as the “Olympics” of cosplay competitions, with contestants from more than 30 countries participating.
In Riyadh on Monday, the judges spent nearly an hour deliberating before announcing eight prize winners.
Yelyzaveta, who judged a previous cosplay competition in Riyadh two years ago, said that among the main things she looks for as a judge are the makeup, wigs and the costumes.
“You don’t necessarily have to be great at sewing but if the whole look is good, I can live with it,” she said. “A good stage presence is also important. If you can’t portray your character well on stage it will be hard for the jury to understand why you chose the character.”
Two Saudi sisters, who chose not to share their real names but go by the stage names Hesakura and Sei, appeared on stage as Ryoma and Xander from the role-playing video game “Fire Emblem Fates” to take home the Best Cosplay Group prize, worth SR15,000 ($3,999), ahead of seven other entrants.
“Winning was really unexpected; I’m still in shock,” said Hesakura, 31, who has been cosplaying since 2016. “I was so nervous and I lost a couple of (costume) pieces on stage … I’m still absorbing the whole feeling; it feels awesome.
“When me and my sister choose characters, we have to have a mutual love for (them). We play this game together and we love ‘Fire Emblem’ so much.”
She added that the costumes and their stage performance took them about four months to prepare.
When asked how she plans to spend the prize money, Hesakura said: “Me and my sister are going to split it. I couldn’t have done it without her. Of course (we will share it) with my mom and dad; they are our biggest supporters … And the rest, of course, I will put it toward buying new materials for the next cosplay (contest).”
Other highlights during the competition included Saudi friends Mustafa Al-Jamal and Ibrahim Al-Saadoon, who were first runners-up in the Best Group category with their Genji and Hanzo costumes inspired by the popular multiplayer video game “Overwatch.”
“This is an amazing feeling,” said 24-year-old Al-Saadoon. “The audience are fantastic and finally, after the coronavirus pandemic, we are witnessing an outstanding exhibition of this magnitude where we get to do what we love most.”
In order to qualify for the cosplay competition, the contestants have to make every part of their costumes themselves, Al-Jamal explained. He added that he and Al-Saadoon are preparing to represent Saudi Arabia at the World Cosplay Summit in Japan next year.
A total prize pool of SR64,000 ($17,062) was split between the top three contestants in each of the solo and group categories. In the solo contest, the prize for first place was SR10,000 ($2,666), followed by SR7,000 ($1,866) for second and SR5,000 for third. In the group competition, first prize was SR15,000 ($3,999), second was SR10,000 ($2,666) and third SR7,000 ($1,866). Two other prizes, worth 5,000 ($1,333) each, were awarded for best-crafted cosplay and best stage show.