Guess the title got your attention
Count me as a skeptic on this whole process. What's the point of it, and if there is a point with a measurable endpoint, are these things really getting us any closer to it?
As I understand it, the reasons for doing these competitions are to (1) Elevate the level of specialty coffee as it pertains to espresso, by creating a rising tide lifting all boats; (2) Improve the standing of the "profession" of Barista, giving these folks recognition and hence increasing the numbers of such talented individuals and improving the talent base within those who are baristas.
We can perfunctorily dispense with #2. No one in their right mind is going to consider the job of "barista" as leading to some sort of career that will produce acceptable financial rewards and will lead to retirement with a gold watch 25 or 30 years later. There is no way that this job is going to produce a large enough paycheck over time that will enable the employee barista to support a family and own a home in a desireable place to live. The reason why most barista championship competitors (as noted by Nick in an earlier thread) have only a few months or year's experience is that ultimately people grow up and have other responsibilities that can't be supported on any employee barista's wages.
OK, so then what about the cafe owners who also work as baristas, who compete? They can make enough money to live on. TRUE, but then why should they compete? If they win, what they get are bragging rights and something to note in advertisements. Is this worth the interest of the "espresso enthusiast community" to support? Not in my opinion.
Moving back to #1, what is the evidence that barista competitions have had any impact, whatsoever, on the quality of espresso beverages being offered for sale across the country, the continent, or the world? I travel more than most who will read this and I have seen no evidence, either from what I have experienced or from what I have read, that the likelihood of getting a decent espresso beverage from a randomly selected cafe is noticeably better than before these competitions began. I see no reason to believe that these competitions will have more impact than they have had five years from now, either, because we are dealing with a small clique of cafes that participate in these competitions. Being interested in these events means that your cafe is not representative of the huge installed base of cafes in the country and in the world. So, whatever you do will impact only the Intellys and the Stumptowns and a (relative) handful of other like minded places.
Is it supposed to be news to anyone that if you go to Intelligentsia you are likely to get a decent drink? Did we need last year's USBC to establish that fact? Who cares if some barista in a cafe you will never visit has a "signature drink" composed of espresso and aloe vera lotion on ice, garnished with Brylecream?
I don't see any evidence personally of any improvement in the broader espresso experience from this process. Maybe instead of glorifying the "craft" of being a barista, coming from people who will almost certainly not be working as baristas a few years hence, we should put the same amount of effort into improving the quality of espresso one might randomly find in a randomly selected independent cafe? It isn't like the most obvious things that could be improved haven't been known for years; they have.