I don't compete, but my brother does. It's like anything else someone decides to do "whole hog" (right now, for me, it's my motorcycles
). It costs more to do than you could ever expect to recoup.
For my brother it's several things.
1. He only does local contests (less than 100 miles from home). This keeps some of the headaches of "traveling the circuit" like motels, keeping meat cool, taking extra time off work, etc.
2. He makes it a big party--cooks extra food for people to come by and sample and invites all the friends and neighbors.
3. He "competes" against others from here in town. Most never place in the top five. But, "bragging rights" are all too important when they are sitting around the table at happy hour.
4. It's a new, interesting venue. He used to race motocross, then it was golf, bass fishing came next, and now it's smoking meats.
I enjoy smoking, but, I don't think I'm passionate enough to get up at 2 a.m. to cook anything for a ribbon or trophy and maybe a little cash. My preference is to set back some funds until I can afford to cook for a small group and have a nice party.