So, if most people who show up for an individual competition are losers and show up anyway, what's the point?
At least the guys who win are satisfied, right?
In my experience?
For the people who are interested in growing and developing their skills, winning at a certain level just means one thing: it's time to go to the next level.
Everyone climbing the mountain is looking up at the guy at the top of the mountain, but he's not looking down the mountain at the people behind him. He's looking at the next higher mountain that he can see now that he reached the mountaintop.
The strange thing is, when I do this, when I win a local match and look forward to the state match. Or I do well at the state match and look forward to the national championship, I know there is no end. There is no destination, no final achievement I'm working towards.
Mastery is a path, not a destination.
This makes whether I actually ever win Nationals mostly irrelevant. The goal of what I do is to myself, to expend effort in the framework of a fair ruleset to measure my skill as an objective quantity. It's the pursuit that gives meaning, not the destination.
The actual win is a mirage. We put it out as a carrot to strive for, but it is noble to strive even if we fall short, as everyone except the individual winner will.
Sure, some people might luck or cheat their way to a win at a small scale and feel some sense of satisfaction about it, and maybe even rub it in with poor sportsmanship.
Some people might try and take short cuts to winning locally or getting into a higher skill class.
Why do they do this? Because of the social status that comes along with having achieved something difficult. But only people outside the sport are fooled. A fake black belt can't impress people who know how a real black belt acts.
To the people who see the game as a mastery exercise, as a self-development exercise, winning at certain level gives a brief reprieve. It's a chance to catch your breath at the landing between a set of stairs, before turning around start to climb the next set of stairs.
And the staircase never ends. It keeps going as long as you keep climbing it. There is no destination. Only the path.
(My apologies to Mr. Leonard.)