We’re spotlighting talent in the cosplay community!
Every month, The Variant showcases cosplayers who display talent, creativity, and a positive voice within the cosplay community.
This month we welcome back Mikomi Chan!
If you remember Mikomi was our Cosplay Spotlight last September where she brought us two incendiary cosplays of DC’s Bombshell StarGirl as well as Marvel’s Invisible Woman. We had the chance to sit down with Mikomi and see what she’s been up to for the past year.
So it’s been a year since your last Cosplay Spotlight. Tell us what you’ve been up to.
I’ve still been cosplaying, but I haven’t been cosplaying as much unfortunately. I’ve had some health issues in the past year, and it kept me from doing a lot of cosplay and costuming. What I’ve been focusing the majority of my efforts and energy in has been Esports. I retired earlier this year as a professional Overwatch player, and in less than 6 months after retiring, I was hired as the Director of Marketing Programs for American Esports.
So you’ve taken a small step back from cosplay for a little bit. Do you have anything scheduled that’s cosplay related or are you just mainly focusing on esports for the foreseeable future?
Being the Director of Marketing Programs I have a say in what we use for marketing tactics, and one of the things I want to utilize in our company is cosplay. There’s no one more effective in guerrilla marketing at gaming events than a cosplayer who’s on point; I’ve watched it be successful for nearly a decade. Cosplay has become a very normal form of marketing. I plan on cosplaying at certain events that I attend as a Director. Cosplay has become so deeply ingrained within the geek culture, and it’s something that we can use. Also a lot of cosplayers play video games so they’re a part of our target demographic as well.
You’ve been involved in esports since before we met you. Can you tell us a little bit about this new adventure with American Esports?
American Esports is an Esports company that is focused on infrastructure and education at a community level. Our main focus isn’t the pro gamer; it’s the high schooler that has aspirations of going pro someday or the college student who wants to break into Esports at his local college. We also have a very extensive product line. If you saw my Twitter feed yesterday, during a board meeting, I had my entire car filled up with boxes from our gaming peripheral line for testing. We also have computers and do custom builds for companies. We have some extremely talented and well-established individuals in the company; far more established than I am. We offer different services based off of our different employees’ specializations. For example, we have someone who used to work for NRG. He does a lot of the building-up of college programs for Esports, so there can be more access to getting a business degree in Esports. He also helps consult with colleges on how to go about building collegiate Esports teams.
As the Director of Marketing Programs, what I do is mainly make gaming and Esports accessible to multiple different focus groups. We’re focusing on the gamers, obviously, because we are a gaming company, but we also try to focus on colleges. We have also started to focus on the parents of these gamers. Parents play such a pivotal role in the development of their children, and we believe that gaining the parents’ support in gaming is going to be a huge boost in the Esports industry. If we can prove to parents, with data and resources, that gaming is a viable career or an educational venture for some, we think we can make gaming much more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Because realistically, how else are these aspiring gamer children going to get to our Esports centers or events if their parents aren’t going to drive them?
We’re also trying to target businesses because there’s still that cultural thought process about how gaming is just this “thing to kill time” how gaming makes gamers anti-social, or that gaming doesn’t require any real critical thinking. Now with esports becoming more and more mainstream, and getting more funding from game developers and backing from companies like ESPN, T-Mobile and Geico, it’s becoming a viable job. We’re trying to change that mentality on a local and community level, while the bigger companies like ESPN and Forbes change it on a national level.
Another people group that American Esports is targeting is women in gaming. As a woman in Esports, I know firsthand that there is a distinct lack of opportunities for women in the industry right now. Most women get bullied out of becoming a pro gamer, and many companies don’t put any effort into making product lines and designs with women in mind. Contrary to popular belief, there are women who work in Esports, and we’re trying to create a platform for them to be seen and heard in the industry.
So how are you finding it in the gaming world from the other side of the controller?
So my company is really unique. A lot of the people in the company are older, and they didn’t grow up with video games, but we also have several people that have been involved in the gaming industry. We have one of the developers of the original Elder Scrolls on our executive team, so he obviously knows a lot about gaming. We have a few other people who never really played video games, but gaming is something that their children are involved in. The parents see holes in the industry, and they want to make the industry better for the next generation. As a parent, that really speaks to me. By the time I decided to retire as a gamer from Overwatch, my son would say things like “I would love to play video games like you do mommy” but at the time the community was really toxic. The online ranked community is extremely vulgar with a lot of derogatory words towards women and people of color; it is not a community that I want my small child to become involved in. I was actually planning on completely quitting Esports and going back to doing costuming full time. American Esports genuinely cares about people, and they just want to make the world a better place for the next generation. They see that they can do that through what we’re doing right now. If everything with institutional development goes through the way we want it to, we’re going to have created a completely new avenue for people to go to college. You won’t have to be a great athlete; you can be really good at video games and earn scholarships for that. Some people who are really good at video games may have certain medical conditions and can’t do physical activities like sports, so Esports can be a way for them to get the team experience. Students could have a learning disability that makes doing well in school really hard for them, even though they have the intellect, and video games can be an alternative way for them to show their mental aptitude to colleges. Finding new ways to help children succeed in life is something that I and the other people in the company are all really passionate about.
As a female in gaming, how are you finding the business atmosphere in esports? I know there was some toxic stigma against “gamer girls” for a while.
Oh there still is. (Laughs)
A lot of the people that work in the company are business people first and foremost; a lot of them have worked for Fortune 500 companies. They’ve been working on the business side of gaming for several decades, in some cases. They’re used to being in office environments where some of the negative behavior seen in the past in Esports just doesn’t fly. I’ve had a very positive work environment, and I actually haven’t had to deal with any of the misogyny I had to deal with as a pro-gamer. It was a very pleasant surprise. I’m not going to lie, I came into it kind of jaded when I didn’t need to be, and it was really incredible. As far as the whole industry is concerned, there is still definitely misogyny. The majority of misogyny that I’ve seen though tends to be in the players. A few weeks ago at Super Smash Con, I was there on behalf of American Esports, and the tournament brought me in to help run their costume contest. I was there for work in 2 different capacities, and over the course of the weekend, I talked to more than a few of the gamers. Some of them asked me how I got my job with American Esports. When I told them I had just retired as a pro-gamer, and that AE wanted to bring me in for my Esports knowledge as well as the fact that I am a former pro-gamer, the gamers asked if I was just a streamer for an org. I was like “No, I went to tournaments and I won…a lot. And then I got picked up by an org and continued to win tournaments.” And they just looked at me like What!?? I told them I was a team captain for an org, and I’m one of the top ranked support players in the world in Overwatch. They were looking at me like this couldn’t be true. I told them they could check my stats and tournament wins online. I told them to check out my videos on Youtube and Twitch. Some of them were surprised to hear that yes, I actually have quite a few accomplishments under my belt.
What do you feel is a good avenue for people to start down the esports road?
When it comes to the business side of esports, I think LinkedIn is the best place to find actual work. LinkedIn is the only social media that I put genuine thought into nowadays honestly. If you make a LinkedIn you might not get paid jobs right off the bat but there are a lot of people up there who have the opportunity to give you a paid job versus other social media like Twitter or Instagram. There are a lot of good articles on LinkedIn specifically about esports, from actual esports professionals. People that own internet café chains in Asia, people who own esports arenas, people who own orgs, people who are in charge of sponsorship programs for companies are all out there and it’s a really good chance for you to not only increase your own knowledge but for some amazing networking and exposure.
If there’s one thing you want to say to the cosplay or gaming communities or both what would it be?
Something I’ve seen a lot is that people are searching for instant gratification with cosplay. Cosplay has created all of these opportunities for me. It’s created the ability to provide an income for my family through costume designing and costume commissions. It’s provided an outlet for me to teach the next generation of costumers through lecturing at different colleges, leading panels at conventions on craftsmanship, and judging craftsmanship competitions. I have judged competitions to the point where I’ve been able to change some of the negative stigma around certain cosplay competitions on the East Coast and earn them a better reputation. I’ve been able to change these contests and make them fairer, more fun, and a competitive environment for everybody. I’ve been able to be published in every form of media through cosplay. I’ve been cosplaying for almost a decade at this point. The first 2 or 3 years I was cosplaying, I was able to go to a lot of events for free. That was one of the instant gratifications I got from cosplay. The real things that I consider to have truly made me a professional in the cosplay industry didn’t happen immediately. It happened at the 5 year mark, or it happened at almost the 10 year mark. These things don’t happen overnight, and I think a lot of people in the cosplay community are looking for that instant gratification because a handful of cosplayers can make a living at Patreon or by going to conventions as a guest. They think if those people can do it, they can do it too. They see social media as the outlet they need to be successful and to monetize their hobbies.
I have almost no internet following. The most successful cosplayers that I know, outside of Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri or the high-tier old guards like Riddle, are internet nobodies, but they’ve worked in Hollywood. They’ve worked for production companies. They’ve been published. They have art galleries dedicated to their costumes. They’ve worked on amazing sets at major companies like Marvel or Lucasfilm. That’s what’s going pay the bills at the end of the day. I think a lot of these people need to have a serious reality check and re-evaluate and how they deem the term success when it comes to cosplay. If people judged my success based off my internet fans, I’m nobody, but here I am on the board of directors for a multi-million dollar company. I was the first female Overwatch player in the US to get signed to an Esports org. I have success. I’m able to put food on the table for my family through my artistic expressions and hobbies. I deem my success on the fact that I’m now able to live my life comfortably and provide the best life that I can for my child. I think a lot of these cosplayers need to start looking at it from a more realistic and mature perspective.
What I want to say to everybody aspiring to be in Esports, whether they’re a player or a team manager or in the marketing or business side.
Don’t let society stop you. My whole life I have been bullied for playing video games, and now I’m literally paying my bills by playing video games… and doing some business stuff… but primarily I’m playing video games. Women are not “naturally worse than men at video games.” I’ve beaten more than enough men in tournaments for that to be disproven. Don’t let the bullies get to you. Don’t go to team chat. Stay in your party chat. If people are being toxic to you don’t engage them. They’re just being toxic because they honestly can’t think of an actual legit reason to criticize your game play because you’re not a bad gamer… they’re just attacking the cheap easy thing about you, which is your gender. They don’t actually have anything that they can use to bully you with gameplay-wise, so they’re going to attack you based of off something that you can’t change. It’s the same thing that a lot of people of color need to deal with in gaming. Racism and bigotry is real in gaming. So is misogyny. It’s extremely real. If you see bigotry happening around you in gaming, if you have the courage, tell the person it’s not cool. I’ve been coms banned before from sticking up to bigots in team chat. Yes, it’s annoying being banned from game chat, but I’ll gladly take being banned for a week over my friends feeling hurt by a stranger any day of the week. We can’t change the minds of others by being silent; we need to stand up for what’s right as a community.
If you wanna be a pro-gamer someday, you do the grind, and you do everything that you can to make it happen. If you show up to these tournaments, kick down the door, and you’re like “Hey fam I’m here and I’m not going anywhere”, orgs are gonna notice. They’ll see you. They have reps and scouts at so many different tournaments around the country. You’ll get noticed. The internet will notice. You’ll have a shot. You’ll need to beat your way through pools and top 8’s but if you place high enough or win enough tournaments eventually these orgs are gonna see dollar signs. They want the best players in their org, and it won’t matter if you’re a woman or a minority. Don’t give up.
Mikomi brought us some gorgeous Mythical Creatures this month!
We shot both her Lamia Mermaid and her Water Lily Nymph at the Eno River in Durham, NC. Both sets of photos are from Tomisina Lynn & Victoria Greenfield, our amazingly talented Photography Director and Staff Photographer. Mikomi’s hair and makeup was done by our super-gifted Cosplay Stylist, Awkward Turtle. You can check them all out as well as Mikomi’s Previous Spotlights at the links below.
WAIT!!…why are you still reading this??
GO CHECK OUT THE PICS!!!!