14 December 2015

In celebration of Lara Croft GO's launch, four cosplayers from the UK were recruited to promote the game in a new and interesting way. Each of the ladies were given three iPad Minis, a travel card and a route on the London Underground. Instructions on how to win a tablet from one of the Laras was hidden in copies of the Metro, a free newspaper offered to commuters at various stations. Inside the paper, it was revealed that you could win a tablet if you tell the password "Lara Croft GO" to a Lara on their travels across the city.

Being from London, I had an immediate interest in the promotional event. I also had some questions about their experiences and their thoughts on the day. For this article, I had the pleasure of talking to Rachel (Athora), Helen and Laura. A huge thank you to them for taking time out of their busy life to talk about this.
Photo from the Official Tomb Raider Blog.

One thing which stands out immediately from their interviews was how the project came about. There wasn't one email that was sent around, and each Lara was contacted at different times; a clear sign that this event spent a long time in a developmental stage, probably because this wasn't a stand-alone TR cosplay event.

The Cosplayers

For Helen, her invitation came during a cosplayer gathering over the Summer. "I attended the Tomb Raider meet up at Gamescom and Meagan [Senior Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics] came up to me to offer the role. I was taken by surprise but of course I said yes." Helen's motivation for taking part in the event came from following the series at an early age. " I grew up with the Tomb Raider models, wishing I could be like one of those" Each year, until 2009, Eidos employed a spokesperson to promote the brand as an official Lara Croft model. The lady chosen would portray Lara at various press events and conventions, taking part in photoshoots and interviews. After the release of Tomb Raider Underworld in 2008, the decade-long tradition ended with gymnast, Alison Carroll. In recent years, the tradition returned as something new, with a larger focus on cosplayers and the community promoting the series.

Rachel, also known online as Athora, has been involved in the cosplaying community for several years now. While she's accurately crafted outfits inspired by Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) and Wonder Woman, she's perhaps most know for her portrayal of Lara Croft. In her interview, she recalls getting the initial invite, "I was approached by [Meagan] to become involved with helping to promote the game and the Tomb Raider Cosplay community, as their official UK representative at Eurogamer Expo, which was held in Birmingham in September. As their Official Lara Croft cosplayer I was also offered to help promote Lara Croft GO for an agency."

Lisa's Photo by Justice Pictures UK / Helen's Photo by Darren Rowley Photography / Rachel's Photo by Darren Rowley Photography / Laura's Photo by Darren Rowley Photography

Laura's involvement in the Lara Croft GO event started with a surprise email asking if she would interested in taking part; "Lynn Daniel from 'Brown Betty' contacted me, Lisa and Helen via e-mail, after Rachel forwarded our details, asking if we'd be interested in the PR stunt for Square Enix." Laura's journey in cosplay began gradually; at first she put together a Lara Croft outfit for a school graduation fancy dress party at the age of fifteen. "A few years later, for a bit of fun, I wore that costume at a local beach and put the pictures on Facebook, where Sara [Croft] of Lara Croft Cosplay found me. I made the Doppelgänger outfit from Tomb Raider Underworld that Halloween and then Sara really helped me get into cosplay properly; my first full cosplay was Lara Croft from the 2013 rebooted Tomb Raider."


For some of the Laras, this was the first time that they would be officially promoting a Tomb Raider/Lara Croft title at an event. Most of the costume preparation would have to wait until the big day, but there were a few things that could be done in the lead up to it.

As the event was going to be photographed, each Lara had to look similar which meant that Square Enix would supply the vest and shorts, ensuring that the colour matched. Helen recalls:"Myself, Laura, Rachel and Lisa just needed to provide a backpack, boots, holster and gloves. I made myself a backpack a couple of days before I travelled down to London with the help of Laura."

"I first made my costume extra durable so there was less chance of anything breaking if I happened to accidentally brush past somebody on the cramped tubes!" Rachel describes, "luckily my costume held up. I also ensured that my costume was safe so nothing could snag on anyone; that's one thing I often try to be weary of, even at conventions. I spoke to other Official Lara Croft Cosplayers and asked for their advice. Never be afraid to ask for advice, especially from those who have been doing it for many years! The best advice I received was 'Smile like you're a Disney Princess'"
Photo from the Official Tomb Raider Blog

Another important element of the event was punctuality. Many of the Laras lived outside of London and needed to travel into town to promote the game. The tour across London would begin just after the large morning rush hour, but before then each Lara had to get to reach the office. As Helen describes "I do sometimes get panic attacks and made sure my trip down was nice and calm as possible, just in case! Luckily all was okay! I stayed with some relatives for the weekend and that was it really apart from the night before; I was sat finishing edges on my bag while using a Korean sheet face mask!"

For Laura, she had quite a ways to travel, something which would have been impossible on the day. To take part in the event, she had to find an alternative solution, "As I was travelling from the North East and the journey was eight and a half hours, I stayed with some relatives, so I went down a couple of days early. I had to get a train in to the offices at 5.42am, so I made sure I got plenty of rest the night before and had a coffee when I got there! "

The Event

Before the day could begin, the cosplayers had a meet up point in London where they would get their Lara Croft gear on and would be walked through the schedule. Recalling the morning, Laura commented on how the team prioritized the cosplayers. "The Brown Betty team were very friendly and welcoming, they made sure we had everything we needed and that we all felt comfortable. They got each of us hot drinks and a copy of the 'Metro' newspaper with the Lara Croft GO feature while we were getting our makeup done in the morning. I've never had my makeup done professionally before so that was lovely! "
Photo from the Official Tomb Raider Blog.

Once in Lara Croft gear, the team began their journey, pausing momentarily at Farringdon Station for promotional photographs. As a group they travelled from the station to Kings Cross where they split up and went on different underground lines."We all departed from the same station and went off on separate tube lines during the event, there were four of us dressed as Lara, each with our own escort." Rachel begins, "We were then instructed to meet back at the office once we'd handed out all of our iPads. The team had our travel cards ready for the day, before we left, and they ensured we were all comfortable and happy and that we knew what we were doing so the day ran smoothly."

Each cosplayer had three iPad Minis to give away, a total of twelve overall, but with the Laras travelling in different directions, the devices were soon in the hands of the public. "As I stepped off the train [at King's Cross] I had my first winner. Rounding the corner the second, and as I got pictures with him, the third and final winner approached. So the prize-giving was over rather rapidly for me! People were still running up to me to say 'Lara Croft GO' and I had to tell them that I had no more prizes but most people just seemed happy enough to 'meet Lara Croft', it was a great feeling."
Photo from the official Tomb Raider Blog.

Helen faced a similar situation. "I think I had around 7 people approach me within 25 minutes, obviously only the first three won the iPads. Some of the people had a real nostalgia trip and were just as happy to get a picture with Lara Croft! Many of the passengers looked on and knew who I was cosplaying as even if they didn’t approach me to whisper the password ‘Lara Croft GO’."

For the cosplayers, the event ended pretty soon after setting out, and they made their way back to the studios where they reconvened with the others in the group. Reflecting on the morning, Helen describes the adventure as a "fantastic event that really worked for what the game represented. Lara Croft GO harks back to the classic aesthetics and is all about experiencing Tomb Raider on the go. So by having a Lara on the tube travelling around London, it is a visual representation. All the iPads were snapped up pretty quickly, so it is nice to know that the advertisement in the Metro had an impact and that people were actively on the look out. Also we avoided a potential tube strike which was pure luck!"

Photography by Metro / Image via Athora Cosplay.

The day seemed to be a success with a smooth journey, and was relatively stress free. Commenting on how the event felt, Rachel describes her experiences and her thoughts.. "I was first apprehensive as I didn't know how we would be received by the public, as you're travelling through the tube stations during peak times you could bump into a variety of people, both nice and not so nice! But once we were down in the tubes and adrenaline kicked in I was really enjoying myself. I think it rubbed off on other people too as many looked up and smiled, I was even called beautiful! I think the day went superbly. The lucky winners were ecstatic with their prizes and I'm so glad I helped to make people's day. One guy even said it was his last day at work, on top of winning an iPad! The smile on peoples faces as they walked away with their prizes was so satisfying, it made me feel great"


The Topic of Safety

When I contacted the group, I told them about that I would be discussing the topic of safety during the article, to make sure they were okay with it. The London Underground is safe but it doesn't always feel welcoming, and sometimes when I've travelled on it, there's been a guy testing boundaries or just general creepiness. When I first heard of the event, I was slightly concerned about safety. I didn't think that anything was going to happen, but I didn't want the Laras to be in that position of promoting the brand and feeling as though, because they were in that role, that they had to be nice to intimidating characters.
Promotional advert for the event.

The first person I talked to was Meagan Marie (Senior Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics). I messaged her to make sure that I could write about the Lara Croft GO event and conduct interviews with the cosplayers, and that there was no contract or paperwork which prevented that. I also mentioned that I had wanted to ask about safety in the interviews. Along with a green light, she also illuminated how safety was a primary focus that remained throughout the planning and the event. The cosplayers were accompanied by a guide who would make sure that the event went smoothly, and that they would be the ones with the iPad Minis, not the Laras.

Admittedly as soon as I heard that Meagan was part of the preparation, the situation changed in my mind. She has led several cosplay gatherings and appeared as a special guest in costume at numerous events. A couple of years ago she spoke about treatment of women in the gaming industry in a blog post entitled "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid" which also covered cosplay. Her passion for the hobby is matched by her knowledge of the scene, and her experiences gives her a insight into how cosplay events can be improved to ensure everyone has fun and feels safe.

In addition to Meagan, I also talked to the Laras about any concerns they had during the event and if they felt safe. Talking to Helen, she describes "I had a minder with me at all times, as did all the other Laras. I knew if I felt panicky or uncomfortable then we could stop for a bit; but I felt very safe throughout and it was just like travelling to a convention in all honesty. I was made aware of all the safety procedures before I agreed to the event so I knew everything would be in hand and I wasn’t going to be left alone. "
Photo by Metro via Athora's Cosplay FB page.

Helen also spoke about the possibly of changed plans or anything that would disrupt getting to the offices or the Underground on the day, as well as the role of their guides. "There was also emails before the event checking that we were all okay costume wise and what would happen if the tube strike went ahead, so that we wouldn’t travel to London and find that plans had changed. Our minders also made sure we were okay while we were travelling around and kept an eye out just in case anyone decided to be a little creepy or was harassed. Thankfully, plan A worked out perfectly and we all had a great time and lots of laughs."

Future Projects

Of course I couldn't have a cosplay feature without asking them about their upcoming projects! Speaking to the three ladies, it was nice to see some overlap with the project, and how they continue to pursue Tomb Raider inspired cosplays.

For Rachel, her next project will be about refining some of her older projects, and improving upon them; "I'm planning on reworking my Rise of the Tomb Raider costume, I'm also thinking of doing a classic Lara costume in the near future too!"

(You can follow Rachel's adventures on Facebook and Instagram.)

Rachel and Laura share a similar goal, with a new cosplay inspired by Lara's latest adventure. "I'm currently working on Lara Croft from the upcoming 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' and my next planned cosplay is Xiuying Hong from Shenmue II. "

(To keep up to date on Laura's future cosplays, follow her on Facebook, Twitter and deviantArt)

With Helen, she recently celebrated the completion of her new TR outfit, which you can see photos of from EGX (Eurogamer Expo) in Birmingham. "The next on my list is Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn and I am redoing my GLaDOS for competition next year. I’ll finally get around to doing a Rise cosplay next summer."

(Check out Helen's previous and upcoming adventures on Twitter and Facebook.)

A huge thank you to Rachel, Laura and Helen for taking the time to do the interviews. It was great hearing about your experiences from the event.


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