The last time ETH Denver was held in person, ETH’s market cap stood at $30B, DeFi hadn’t had its breakout summer, and few people outside of the 6,000 attendees knew what an NFT was. Fast forward to 2022 and a 10x in ETH’s market cap, the rise of NFTs, a DAO resurgence, and a year where Ethereum did more transactional volume than Visa, a record crowd of 12,000 in Colorado were met with an entirely different energy.
What had historically been an event for hackers and coders received an infusion of artists and creatives, as well as a governor, a former presidential candidate, and a heavy dose of EDM — a reflection of Ethereum and crypto’s growing awareness within the mainstream.
Despite the new faces, ETH Denver retained its authentic quirky disposition, complete with bright neon colors and Vitalik dressed as a “Bufficorn”. Beyond a lone Doge Lambo, the main event was mostly free of flash and still felt authentically Ethereum.
Even amidst a 50% market drawdown from late November highs and multi-hour long check-ins in the frigid cold, builder energy was sky high. Where Ethereum was still finding its footing during last ETH Denver, this year’s event featured heavy discussion across all of the new verticals thriving today: DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, gaming, and more.
It was also apparent just how much private capital is still flowing into crypto, undeterred by macro market headwinds: with seed stage deals raising at a minimum $50M and seed token rounds going for $100M+ (no shipped code needed), one might argue too much. In either case, it’s clearly a builders market.
In addition to investor and builder excitement, there was also a noticeable presence from mainstream politicians: most notably, Colorado Governor Jared Polis and the Forward Party’s Andrew Yang. With crypto and Web3’s growing popularity, it seems many in government are seeing the upside to embracing this emerging constituency.
In addition to posing with Vitalik, Gov. Polis announced during the conference that Colorado will accept crypto as payment for taxes in addition to making Colorado, “the first digital state” with favorable regulations for the crypto economy. This mirrors the positions of other crypto-forward governors like Miami’s Francis Suarez and New York’s Eric Adams.
In a surprise appearance, Andrew Yang took the stage with Bankless’s David Hoffman, sharing his thoughts on why Web3 represents “the biggest anti-povery opportunity of our time.” His appearance came on the heels of his Lobby3 initiative, which will advocate for thoughtful regulation in Washington to support crypto innovation.
All of the while, Biden’s executive order on crypto regulation loomed large (however if you bumped into CoinCenter’s Neeraj he would have told you that the EO is nothing to panic over). Either way, it’s clear that crypto has entered the fore of the American political discussion.
Beyond the bullish builder sentiment, private investor froth, and political participation, NFTs were everywhere in Denver. NFT art installations, musicians performing with their NFTs on display, and some events even requiring NFTs to gain entry (shoutout ecodao).
POAP (Proof of Attendance Protocol) NFTs, which give people digital mementos commemorating attendance of a particular event by scanning a QR code, were particularly pervasive. The inventive ways different projects found to engage via POAPs suggests that they may be the next mainstream crypto community use case.
If you were mingling at any of the NFT centric events, odds are you bumped into a former FAANG employee newly entering the NFT space. A sign that despite the macro market downturn, NFT mania is still in full swing and the brain drain from Web2 to Web3 continues.
Signs of DAObt
Following a year that saw ConstitutionDAO capture global attention, DAOs have regained much of the crypto limelight. Conference booths were packed with projects building DAO infrastructure and discussions on how decentralized autonomous can rewire the world were prevalent.
While DAO enthusiasm was evident, many noted that DAO participants were starting to show signs of fatigue with many DAOs struggling to retain contributors. Joseph Delong, former CTO of SushiSwap who notably left the decentralized project, gave a memorable talk on why DAOs simply need more structure to be effective (also discussed in our recent podcast with Orca Protocol’s Julia Rosenberg).
With over 1B in startup equity for DAO tooling and under 200 DAOs, it begs the question: is there enough DAO to go around?
The long term outlook of DAOs seems to be bright, but the industry is still grappling with how exactly DAOs should function. Given that there’s no standardization around DAO operation, it’s hard to know what tools they actually need. As such, the DAO infrastructure sector will likely see a lot of turbulence over the near to medium term.
After years in the making, experts stated that Ethereum’s transition to proof-of-stake is expected to happen in Q2 or Q3 this year. As a quick refresh, Ethereum’s PoS chain (the beacon chain) has been operational since December 2020, however all applications still live on the proof of work chain. The merge basically consists of migrating these applications to the PoS chain.
As such, the merge was a major point of discussion for devs this year. If all goes well, ETH holders won’t have to do anything, but developers and infrastructure providers are in preparation mode. This includes running testnets and conducting dry runs in anticipation for the real thing.
The Ethereum ecosystem is making a big bet on PoS in conjunction with layer 2 scaling solutions (rollups). In a post-merge world, Ethereum will transition to become a settlement layer for large transactions while most user activity is pushed to layer 2. This will create an environment where all EVM compatible layer 1s compete with ETH L2s for users and developer mindshare.
Also prepping for the merge, is Coinbase Cloud, which powers a portion of Coinbase’s ETH staking product as well as node infrastructure for many players in the space. Cloud developers showed up in force hosting a hackathon, a variety of panels, workshops, and a party for over 500 attendees. Learn more about how Coinbase Cloud is thinking about client diversity ahead of the merge here.
A builders market
In the days since ETH Denver wrapped, the market drawdown intensified as Russia escalated the situation in Ukraine. While crypto has rebounded, markets will likely remain shaky given the uncertainty of the current geopolitical situation. Regardless, teams building the next generation of Ethereum and Web3 remain well funded and the building will continue.
As evident by the increased diversity of both projects and participants at this year’s conference, what gets built on Ethereum will keep venturing out in a myriad of new exciting directions.