SPLIT, Croatia — The smoke machine seemed redundant.
This was the Cigar Smoking World Championship. There was already a lot of smoke.
But there it was, next to the laser lights and the rattling sound system, pluming white fog around a subterranean hotel ballroom in which people in tuxedos and evening gowns representing more than 40 countries had gathered to find out who among them could smoke a cigar the slowest.
The noise, the pageantry, the glittery prizes valued at tens of thousands of dollars — for Marko Bilic, a garrulous local cigar lounge owner, it was a far cry from the genesis of the event 10 years ago, when 17 people came by to try a game he had just made up.
When the most recent edition was held, in the last week of August, there were close to 250 attendees, many of whom had competed in one of the 34 qualification events held around the world this year.