You probably know Briana DeCoster better as Ashe, Shigure Kosaka, and Kida. You probably know her as Utahime Cosplay.
Originally from Chicago, DeCoster moved to Los Angles to focus on acting and dance. The anime and convention scene in Southern California made her realize that she could utilize acting and dancing in a way she never thought possible before — cosplaying. Basically, being in LA got DeCoster involved in "fun, nerdy stuff."
Her first convention was Anime EXPO in 2014. Little did she realize at the time that this was one of the biggest anime conventions in the entire country. She came dressed up as Shigure Kosaka from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, an older anime you might have never heard of. But with her passion for anime and her martial arts skills, DeCoster was able to grab the attention of people who never watched the show.
DeCoster also made friends. She met really cool people. She made one-of-a-kind memories. So that was it for DeCoster — she knew she had to do more. Luckily, that convention was just the beginning.
How do you choose which characters you want to portray?
Utahime Cosplay: For me, it’s always characters that I love. That I connect with, even villains. It's characters from shows, comic books, and anime that I'm passionate about. I want to challenge myself to bring them to life in a fun way. I won’t cosplay if I don’t feel a connection to them. I have to love them and do them justice.
One cosplay that stood out to me was Ashe. What did you like about that Overwatch character?
It was something about the short film… She’s the kind of character who is basically like a female boss. She’s the one running the gang. I found that so interesting. I love strong female characters, too. I lean towards strong female characters a lot. I found her fierce and I loved the western style.
She and McCree had this interesting relationship. They had something going on… He knew her softer side that she doesn't want people to know about. I really like multi-faceted characters like that. In anime it's known as "tsundere." They appear tough but there's more to it. They might have an interesting past that changed them, made them good or bad.
Plus she was just a cool new character for Overwatch.
Are you an Overwatch fan?
I actually play Overwatch. I main Orisa.
How was the Overwatch and gaming community's reaction to your cosplay?
I was actually really overwhelmed. I got so much love, even from the Overwatch League. They shared it. Some of the people who worked on creating her character started following me, too. They said I did an amazing job bringing her to life. That meant a lot ot me.
It was a collaborative effort. I worked with some dear friends of mine to bring the look together. I have a really talented friend, Timothy Martin, who did most of the armor, the robotic arm pieces, and her gun. Once Upon an Elephant did a lot of the leather pieces. I also worked with a hairstylist, Alisha Nichole Hair Design. It all came together to bring Ashe to life.
The game company and the creators appreciating what you did — that means a lot as a cosplayer. A lot of work went into that, to make it happen, so it was awesome to see it come full circle.
That's amazing to hear how inviting and positive the esports community was.
There were a few people who wrote negative things. Because I am a person of color. You have some people who say that Ashe is not black. You will always get those people who want to bring you down when they see that you're getting that type of love. They don't want to see it happen. They don’t want to see POC in the cosplay community do well.
But it just pushes us to want to do characters that aren’t just African American, Asian, Latino… You can cosplay anybody. If you’re being respectful, you can cosplay anything no matter your color or size.
That’s something I strive to kind of do and show people. I want more people to join the community and know they’re welcome.
I am saddened to say that I'm not surprised. But I'm glad that cosplay in general is becoming more accepted and embraced by the esports community.
If you go to a gaming convention, you come to expect a lot of cosplay. A lot of gaming companies work with cosplayers now to create that hype and get people excited for the games. It’s a natural thing — both go hand in hand. Especially now that cosplay has become so global and more seen by the public eye.
There was a time when people didn’t know what cosplay was. I remember my family asking what it is. But now they are asking me what conventions I’m going to and telling me ones they heard about! Cosplay has become something people look forward to at these events.
Why do you think cosplay is so important to esports? Why is it important for you to show your love for the game in this way?
It really is an artistic expression. It’s our way of showing we love the fandom. When you go to Disney and you see your favorite princess — even if you’re older — you get hype. You get excited. It’s seeing people put that type of effort in, seeing other cosplayers — it’s so inspiring. It gets you more excited to be there. It adds to the environment and vibe of the event. You’re excited to see someone as a character you’re really excited about.
Younger kids that have just been introduced to games... They light up when they see cosplay. They think you are the character. You make their day. That’s the beauty of that art that is cosplay. You add to those memories.
How long does it take to create a cosplay look?
With Ashe, because so many pieces that had to come together, that was almost a year. It depends on the type of cosplay. For Gamora, it was the makeup. I challenged myself with the makeup. My first time took five hours.
For Chun Li, I worked with a company that designed the cosplay. That didn’t take me any time. They put a lot effort into making it look like an exact replica from Street Fighter 5. My hairstylist worked with me to give me the perfect little buns.
What I did to bring her to life. I remember her growing up — one of the first female gaming characters I saw. I was more into Mortal Kombat at the time, but when I played Street Fighter I always picked her. She was fun because she could kick butt but she was cute, too. She beats you down and then is just like “Yay!” I had a lot of fun with that.
I used a lot of my martial arts training to bring her to life with the kicks and stances. I studied Kung Fu so I incorporate those elements into it. When I hit certain poses, groups would form around me. People were going nuts. You had all these people of different ages coming up to us. People get really excited. They say, “You actually know the moves! It’s cool!” That was a fun one. I got to do a lot of stretching. I could feel it the next day, though!
It sounds like most of your time is spent really embodying a character and bringing them to life. What goes into doing something like that?
For me, it goes back to the fact that I ‘ve always loved acting and performing and dance. I love those forms of expression. When I think of a character that means a lot to me, I want to focus on their nuances, like how they walk. Or even if they’re a fighter. Even if it’s something I’m not good at, I learn to hold a bow correctly or hold a gun — I want to get those little details down.
Then there are their signature poses. Like for Silk, aka Cindy Moon, I had to think of how she shoots her web differently than Peter Parker. Then coming up with poses that were from reading the comics — those were signature to her. Little things like that.
For Ashe I even practiced some of her voice lines. I practiced with friends. I try to add it if I can. When i go to a convention, it allows you to naturally just embody them. You ARE them. It’s like second nature.
What's your advice for other people who want to get into cosplay?
It sounds cheesy, but just do it. Even if it’s something simple, like getting the cosplay at a store or commissioned. I’m not a costume designer or seamstress — it’s just great to know you don’t have to. Buy, thrift, closet cosplay, you can always make it happen.
And have fun with it. That’s what it’s all about — having fun with it. If you want to rock their swag, go to a convention with your friends. Just do it. It’s always such a fun time.
Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just have fun with it. It’s one of those things that are life-changing. I made friends and memories that will always be with me. Just from taking that step and going and cosplaying. If you get past that fear of not looking like them or that you can’t do this… Get it out of your head and go for it. I guarantee you… You won’t regret it.