As much as this was a competition, it was clear that it was also a community. I’d see arch-competitors challenging each other during a contest, then later that day, I’d see them at a table together talking about the experience and sharing knowledge.
As important as the cash prizes were to the competitors, it was clear that they were competing as much for social status as they were for money (some of the prizes were as much as $20,000). Social status and identity in the community were very strongly evident. The morning after the competition, I saw many competitors proudly carting around the 36” foamcore signs with their competition “handle” with names like “[FLEX-Me]” on it as they waited in the lobby before departing to Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, China or wherever (I wish them luck trying to get those signs on the plane).