RuPaul’s Drag Race star Jinkx Monsoon shines as fashion meets esports.
What do you get when you cross esports, video game culture, a global pandemic, and fashion?
The Overwatch League’s Mei Gala is a virtual celebration of cosplay as an expression of love and fandom, and proof that although COVID-19 continues to keep us physically apart for now, creativity within our community is shining brighter than ever.
Just like the world-famous Met Gala, the Mei Gala of 2021 has a theme: Our Best Is Us. What drives an esports league, and a video game itself, are the communities that surround them: the players inspired by their Overwatch League heroes, the players who fall in love with the game’s characters and lore, and the players who express that love through the art of their choice.
RuPaul’s Drag Race star (and, importantly, Moira player in Overwatch) Jinkx Monsoon shined in a casual Moira-esque look herself while commentating alongside Blizzard’s Paul Warzecha, a principal character artist for Overwatch, and Jessica Andrews, deputy fashion editor at Bustle magazine and Met Gala specialist.
Together with the Overwatch League’s own Soe Gschwind, the commentary team spoke to nine incredible cosplay artists, discussed each costume’s inspiration and construction, and broke down the fashion elements that formed each unique look. Read on to take a look at the incredible participants.
A local to Houston, Texas, Angela is a huge fan of Mei and of her home Overwatch League team. Mix those two passions together and you have a beautiful cosplay based on Mei’s Houston Outlaws’ in-game skin. Jinkx Monsoon was additionally impressed with the matching Snowball, programmed to show different emotions when tapped on its precious head. “With the kind of witchcraft you’re pulling off creating your own pieces, I give you another couple of months and you’ll probably have the frost gun made where it actually shoots out ice!” said Jinkx.
“He’s an edge lord, all pizza cutter: all edge, no point” said Johnny of Soldier 24, his cosplay for the Mei Gala. As an earlier incarnation of the Overwatch character known as Reaper in the game, Soldier 24 shares many similarities with another character, Soldier 76, aesthetically, only more dark and brooding. “One thing I really love about monochromatic [looks] is mixing different materials and textures to add some dimension to your look,” Jessica Andrews said, and Johnny certainly achieved that with his old-school (in the cosplay world, at least) use of Sintra—a kind of PVC foam—instead of 3-D printing. His heat molding, sanding, and painting techniques certainly displayed the dimension Jessica was looking for. The panel was also a fan of his hair, which will come up again in this recap. You can’t avoid amazing hair—not in the real word, and certainly not in the cosplay world.
Hailing from Russia, Jul entered the Mei Gala as her all-time favorite character, in terms of personality, aesthetic, and playstyle. Paul Warzecha was particularly impressed with her use of lights on her costume, which Jul can operate from a handheld battery pack. Jinkx loved the hair and make-up, and the cherry-on-top violet contact lenses. “I always feel like when I’m doing a costume and I put in the lenses last, that’s when I look in the mirror and suddenly, I’ve fully transformed into a new person,” said Jinkx.
A lot of pressure comes with embodying an icon like Tracer. Gustavo took this pressure and ran with it, determined to be one of the first cosplayers to showcase an Overwatch 2 skin on a global stage. “Most of this costume is made from PVA foam, which makes it lightweight and easy to wear,” he said, echoing Paul and Jessica’s thoughts that the costume needed to be made for speed. The addition of the rainbow Overwatch cape—“I am so happy that my community and myself are being celebrated in the Overwatch world,” Gus said, “Representation does matter.” After the cosplay analysis, Jinkx and Gus talked a bit of shop about what hairspray works best, which . . . if you want to find out, you’ll have to watch the VOD!
Italian cosplayer Maria chose Ashe for her Mei Gala look because Ashe is a strong character and also because Maria loves her hairstyle—and really, who doesn’t? Paul was impressed particularly with the vest construction and the detail of the large Deadlock patch on the back. Noted Jessica: “I really love the Western-inspired accessories, the hat is spot on. I love the details she put into the boots—I think there was a lot of care and effort put into it and it really brought the outfit alive.”
I think we can all agree that it’s hard to cosplay a robot, but Ylan pulled it off in style. “I really wanted to challenge myself, so this is the very first armor cosplay I’ve ever done,” Ylan said. “I thought what could be better than a full-blown robot?” She explained to Jessica that her favorite part of her outfit was how she constructed the parts to stick to her using magnets, making the overall look relatively lightweight. The balancing of Bastion’s gun on the back was a feat achieved by iteration—magnets were not strong enough to hold it while Ylan walked, so she instead built a screw-on base, which allows for easy transportation and a much more solid fit.
Greeting the panel all the way from Chile with a cup of tea in true Ana fashion, Sara explained that she loves Ana and loves birds, and that when this skin was revealed, she had to make it as a cosplay for herself. She is most proud of the gun—it took her a whole month to build, with “a lot of love.” Paul explained that the owl fit with Ana as a concept for the skin due to the bird’s association with age and wisdom, which are two key attributes of Ana. “There are not many 60-year-old heroes in the world of video games these days,” he said. Jessica was very impressed with the meticulous construction, particularly with the feather detail.
Jessica explained that music and fashion work in tandem, and this was certainly on display with Monty’s Mei Gala entry as Lucio’s Jazzy skin. And by “tandem,” we mean literally and to the extreme: Monty’s cosplay features five speakers overall, with a 7-inch subwoofer and two mid-bass speakers in the gun alone, which Jinkx adored. Taking over 300 hours to complete, the costume also features LEDs that flash to the music being played, which is achieved through an amazing set of different technologies working together in the gun, the backpack, and Monty’s own phone, which is set to play an Overwatch music playlist.
Jonas, from Denmark, based this cosplay from early Mercy concept art he saw in the Art of Overwatch book. Paul appreciated this, explaining that it was so cool to see early work that ends up on the cutting-room floor out in the world. Out of the gate, the most impressive parts of Jonas’s costume are the mechanical elements in Mercy’s halo and wings. The halo (which Jinkx would like to order) appears to be floating, and when asked about this, Jonas explained he designed what he calls an “invisible mount,” a small steel contraption that operates like a tripod. Jonas learned how to weld specifically for the wings in his look, which required a lot of engineering work to get right.
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When it was all over, the panel reflected on the events of the evening. “We slave over trying to make sure everything is as perfect as possible, and we want to make sure every shape is just so,” Paul said. “And to see people come in who have such a love for this stuff, and bring it into the real world, you’re like ‘I remember spending the time on that little bit of the armor there, that angle’—they’ve come in and lovingly crafted this stuff and made sure that it did all the right things.”
Jinkx explained that she was just so happy to spend some time nerding out about her favorite game. “I got to spend the whole day with people who love Overwatch as much as I do,” Jinkx said. “I don’t have a lot of gamers in my life. To spend the whole day talking about our favorite skins and little Easter eggs we all love, it was a lot of fun!”
As for Jessica, she cheekily commented that the Mei Gala was a lot more interesting than her regular beat at the Met Gala! “There was so much time and effort and creativity put into each of these looks and it was really exciting to see how they interpreted a character’s look and made it come alive,” she said. “Mercy’s wings, Lucio’s turntable—we don’t see that kind of stuff on the red carpet! Celebrities could learn some things from these cosplayers!”