Edited by Meaghan O’Brien.
Jillian Mirenzi is 27 years old. She placed second out of 15 in the Dota 2 International 2016 Cosplay Contest, winning $2,500 out of a total prize pool of $15,000.
“When I left the hotel, I had my sunglasses and my shoulder-pieces in my bag. It was really bright and sunny that day. I get dressed up and I was about to go on stage, and all of the sudden I hear what sounds like worbla popping.” Considering worbla (a thermoplastic material) was a big part of her cosplay, it panicked her. Mirenzi couldn’t find what the problem was, and looked around for the damage, but it was nowhere to be found, so she continues on the stage. As soon as they get off stage for the cosplay contest, she takes her shoulder-pieces off and the sunglasses fell to the floor. Another cosplayer picks up them and says “I thought you meant to have them there.” They’d been in her shoulder-pieces the entire time, sunglasses noticeably stuck into a corner of her cosplay. She was a little mortified when she started to tell me this story, but she’s laughing throughout it.
This is a glimpse into Mirenzi’s life, a cosplayer from Pennsylvania who won $2,500 for her cosplay a few weeks ago at the International 2016 Championships in Seattle.
“I’m a very visual person,” Mirenzi explains. The unique character designs are what drew her to playing Dota 2, and then to cosplay from it.
“I’m still a 1k scrub, but I gained like 400 MMR recently,” she’s talking about her Matchmaking Rating, the skill level number that determines a player’s rank in comparison to other players.To put it in perspective, 1-2k is considered base average, 3-4k is more experienced, but most professional Dota 2 players play at a 6k-8k MMR.
Mirenzi typically plays a support player “because nobody else does it.” Her favorite characters are Crystal Maiden (who she cosplayed, shown in the pictures above), Shadow Shaman, Rubik, and Windranger.
Mirenzi started playing Dota to help with the difficult adjustment to life after college. “My boyfriend has been playing Dota for 10 years,” her face lights up as she talks about her boyfriend, which is how she got interested in Dota. They’ve been dating for 3 years. He suggested the game to her because of how she needed something else to challenge her after college.
“It was a bad time in my life,” she admits, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. “I felt like … I hadn’t had anything to learn? I felt really shitty.” She took up Dota because “there’s no way to learn everything.” Her boyfriend describes Dota as a combination between a chess match and a football game. It’s a constant challenge. Even people who put over 2,000 hours into the game aren’t perfect. It takes a lot of time, effort, and pure luck to be good at it.
It took Mirenzi 5-6 months to make her Crystal Maiden cosplay – and she’s been someone who’s only been cosplaying for 2 and a half years, but making costumes her entire life. The cosplay seems simple, but there’s a lot of small details.
In some way shape or form, cosplay has always been in her life. From the very beginning, Mirenzi and her mom made costumes together, starting from fun Halloween costumes. Mirenzi continued on and graduated college with a B.A. in theater.
“There’s a lot of worbla in the base of Crystal Maiden – it makes a good foundation. I like thinking of creative uses for worbla.” Worbla is a thermoplastic sheet and it’s typically used as a base for armor, props, and accessories in the cosplay community.
“All my gems are resin-cast, there’s a lot of hand painting and hidden worbla in the cosplay. I cosplay who I’m passionate about, and take a lot of time with details.” It shows. There’s a reason she won close to $3,000.
It does more than just look good. Mirenzi’s cosplay is very functional, which is drawn from her theater background. It’s less of a costume piece. It’s something that can be worn, that takes sturdiness into account.
I ask her what she plans on doing with the money and she laughs, says she’s going to sound lame. “Honestly? I’m going to put some of it towards cosplay, but the most I’m going to save like a real adult.”
“My goal was to get in the top 15, so this is amazing.”
I ask her if she has any last words for the cosplaying community.
“It’s very frustrating when someone goes ‘You’re so great, my cosplay isn’t as nice as yours’ I hate that. I don’t want people looking at these high profile cosplayers and feeling they can never be like them. You should take out of it what you can learn from them. Don’t let yourself allow them to knock you down. Don’t get discouraged because they’ve done a million years of a million different things. You have to start somewhere.”
Jillian Mirenzi can be contacted on twitter @jilliancosplays.