As she ran through the crowd, taking pictures with life-size versions of her favorite fictional characters, wide-eyed, 12-year-old Dali Morales knew she had found a home within the cosplay community.
“It was something my older siblings introduced me to,” advertising senior Morales said. “But the biggest reason I started doing it was that it was something I could bond over with other nerds and people in the fandom and community.”
Since then, Morales said she has traveled all over Texas and visited over 30 conventions.
In light of COVID-19, many cosplay conventions have been canceled, postponed or moved to a virtual setting. These conventions typically last three days, and attract people from around the world. Still, avid fans are finding ways to keep the UT cosplay community alive.
Erik Ballesteros, an award-winning cosplayer and UT alumnus, said cosplay is a celebration of characters and media that is expressed by creating and wearing costumes.
“When you play a game or watch a show, you sit there and ponder, ‘Man, it’d be really cool to see that in real life,’” Ballesteros said. “But a lot of us cosplayers are dreamers. We like to see a lot of this stuff that's just very crazy and zany, and these films actually come out into reality.”
Even though she’s new to the cosplay community, chemistry sophomore Jazmin Canton said she has stayed connected by watching other cosplayers on TikTok and YouTube to keep her spirits high.
“Sometimes people will post tutorials and stuff on how they make their own (costumes) even though there’s not really conventions still going on,” Canton said. “People still do it because that’s what they love to do.”
Canton said cosplay has given her and others a space to be themselves. When it’s safe, she said she hopes to go to more in-person conventions and add her own flare to her cosplays.
“People cosplay the same character, but sometimes they’ll put their own twist on it,” Canton said. “Sometimes they’ll give them longer hair or even change the gender of the character completely, so it’s just really cool to see what everyone does.”
Unsure of when the next in-person convention will be, Ballesteros said the community is struggling because of a lack of motivation, time and money to create cosplay costumes.
“A lot of people in the cosplay community have jobs all over the place,” Ballesteros said. “You have some engineers, waiters and waitresses … and since the pandemic is affecting pretty much everybody, you have a much tighter financial restriction. Cosplay, especially nowadays, is not a cheap hobby to get into."
For pre-made costumes, Morales said the average price range is from $100-$200. However, some conventions have started adding a contest category called “closet cosplay,” encouraging people to modify things from their closets.
“Giving people a space to feel cute and feel pretty like cartoon characters … I think is a really important part of it,” Morales said.
In the future, Morales said she’ll be ready with new costumes and a lot of hope.
“I’ve had so many ideas and plans (for costumes) that I want to make,” Morales said. “Hopefully (the pandemic) will end soon so we can wear our silly costumes again.”