Everything you missed at ETH Denver 2023
ETH Denver is basically Christmas.
Nothing gets me more excited than ETH Denver week. If you've been following Bankless, you know ETH Denver holds a special place in my heart. Attending the event in 2018 was the moment I decided I had to jettison all previous life plans, and full-ape into crypto.
My, what a 5 years it has been.
ETH Denver has grown a ton. In 2018, it was a 5k-person event, with plastic folding table “booths” with branded tablecloths. Around 95% of the projects attending and sponsoring the 2018 ETH Denver event are gone, and the remaining 5% are now the core infrastructure of our industry, and their associated builders are insanely wealthy (and deservedly so!)
$ETH was ~$700 at ETH Denver 2018, up about 100x in a year. A year later, $ETH was $100, down 95% from its ATH.
Nonetheless, ETH Denver 2019 was a 2x in excitement, optimism, and signal. And so on, and so forth. Every single year, ETH Denver grows in size and strength, regardless of market conditions.
In the span of 5 short years, ETH Denver has grown from a 5k-person, 3-day hackathon, to a multi-week 16k-person conference, with 4k more coming for just the side-events.
It’s the largest and longest-running Ethereum conference, and its simply the best fucking time of the year.
I’ll stop gushing, and let’s get into the content. Like always, I go to conferences so you don’t have to! (even though you should!). For this conference, I brought my team in tow, and we were able to record over 20 interviews, spanning three hours of content. Some of it is already released; the rest will be out 🔜™.
Read on, and you’ll feel like you didn’t miss a thing!
ETH Denver has become so large, it has overflowed into an additional series of side events that were themselves larger than most conferences. It was impossible to experience all of ETH Denver; it was too large! ETH Denver was very much a choose-your-own-adventure, so below I’ll walk you through the adventure I found for myself.
For those who prioritize different things than I did, ETH Denver had plenty else to offer. Aptos, Sui, Cosmos, Holochain, DAODenver, Filecoin, Mina Protocol and Polkadot all had their respective events, and what I just listed were a fraction of everything that went down.
Monday and Tuesday - Axelar Interoperability Summit
The Interop Summit was a who’s who of chains, bridges, and abstraction infrastructure. I’ve recorded eight interviews with folks like Steven Goldfeder from Arbitrum, Sreeram from EigenLayer, Jordi from Polygon, and Ledger from UpOnly / Flip.xyz!
The focus of the Interop Summit was interesting. It was hosted by Axelar, a newer L1 that I’ve known about for a while, but hadn’t yet passed my (very high) bar for investigation. The Summit was all about connecting the worlds of Cosmos, all Ethereum L2s and L3s, and all the other chains too. Simply put, the subject matter was everything but the Ethereum L1 (and Bitcoin).
Tuesday - ZK Day
ZK Day was an entire day-long event centered around Zero-Knowledge tech. At ETH Denver 2018, there were maybe 3 talks about ZK tech. In 2023, there was an entire day-long event solely dedicated to it, one that was about as big as ETH Denver 2018 was as a whole.
Nerds rise! 🚀
Interestingly, this event was dominated by representatives from Asia. I had never seen such a concentration of projects, teams, and community members from China, Japan, and Korea.
Also Tuesday - PoolyCon
A stones-throw away from ZK Day was PoolyCon. PoolyCon a day of celebration for the PoolTogether and Pooly NFT community, which attracted some of the deepest crypto OGs that Leighton and I have come to know ever since our mutual time in Ethereum.
The Pooly movement has become the spearhead of defending DeFi against external attack after PoolTogether received a class-action lawsuit after someone claimed they “lost money” by paying the gas fee needed to use PoolTogether.
Wednesday - WalletCon
Wallets! They store your crypto. But really, they’re so much more. The long-term role that wallets will play in this world is that they represent you. Eventually, the lines between you and your wallet will blur.
WalletCon was a one-day event focused on that future state, and what all we need to do to get there.
WalletCon probably had the best website of all the ETH Denver side events. Wallets are a big subject of course, and the programming of WalletCon didn’t hold back. Identity, messaging, cross-chain UX, and account abstraction were all huge topics here, and WalletCon hosted one of the biggest announcements of the week: ERC4337 deployed to the Ethereum L1.
Smart Contract Wallets can now be built on the Ethereum L1!
Thur, Fri, and Sat - ETH Denver, Schelling Point, and ✨ Parties✨
By the time Thursday arrived, it felt like an entire conference had already passed, but we were just getting started!
It was time for ETH Denver to begin 🚀
The week of ETH Denver was too big for any one person to experience. But, the same thing could be said of ETH Denver itself.
ETH Denver’s size is size.
There were a number of different strategies that you could take, in order to experience what ETH Denver had to offer. Some people played the swag game, trying to collect it all. Others mapped out all of the talks across all three days, and tried to absorb as much as possible. My preferred strategy was to mindlessly roam and see where the wind took me 😅
There were plenty of side events at ETH Denver, and there were also events inside of events! Schelling Point was a one-day event hosted inside the ETH Denver conference.
Schelling Point is where I gave my talk: How Permissionless Protocol impacts Psychology! This talk will eventually become a full-production video on the Bankless YouTube 🔜™
The Bankless Production Team was in full force at Schelling Point; 1.5 hrs of video content coming to YouTube soon!
Games, games, games
Gaming had a huge presence at ETH Denver. There were so many gaming PCs around the conference, all loaded up with high-quality games ready to demo. The sophistication of the games was high.
Walking by, a game caught my eye because of how similar it looked to the Dark Souls games (aka, the world’s best gaming series. \o/ Praise the Sun!)
I played it for a good 10 minutes, and while the movement is still kinda clunky, the game itself is gorgeous, and on par with AAA game graphics and immersion. I asked about what crypto elements are found in the game, and the founder said there is a Diablo or Borderlands-styled loot system, in which every item dropped in-game is an NFT, along with an in-game ERC20 currency.
I had no idea we were this far along.
The Bankless Nation had its first-ever IRL meetup!
150 people came out to a secret meetup, shared only among Citizens of the Bankless Nation (out of fear of being overwhelmed), and we had a blast.
As a known crybaby, it was hard to not get choked up from the appreciation, love, and energy found at the Bankless meetup.
In 2018, I left the very known and safe path of graduate school, to venture off alone into an unknown frontier. In 2023, I was surrounded by 150 people who all cared enough about the Bankless movement to show up and share stories with other frontiersmen and frontierswomen.
Perhaps the free beer helped too 🍻
Swag & Drip
Swag is kinda a big deal. Swag is a competition. Which teams can get you to wear their swag over someone else’s?
Every team wants your attention, and every team wants you to wear their brand. So, they bring swag! They want to attract you to their booth and get you to wear their banner!
There were two clear standout winners here.
Lens and Boys Club.
While Lens takes the #1 spot of people wearing their swag, I think Boys Club takes the overall winner, because people were actually paying money to strut Boys Club attire.
I’m personally guilty of selling some ETH for some Boys Club swag.
Okay, swag is cool. But what about Drip?
Just cause crypto-people are nerds doesn’t mean we have bad fashion. In fact, I’d say crypto-fashion has found its own frontier.
I may be biased here, but I declare the MetaFactory x Bankless jacket I was rocking all week was perhaps the drippiest thing at ETH Denver. A total of 60 of these are currently in production 🔜™
Once again, just because crypto nerds are nerds doesn’t mean we don’t party. Parties are a core feature of all conferences, and ETH Denver was no exception😁
1inch parties are known to be pretty degen. ETH Denver’s was relatively tame 😅
Boys Club & Aave teamed up to throw a party that had 1,600 people on the waitlist. Lo-fi vibes, house party energy, and the highest of fashion.
Cooper Turley threw a Music NFT party that had the entire building shaking.
Conferences - A Conclusion
I’ve never been to a conference in any other industry outside of crypto, so I can’t really speak to those experiences. But, I’ll claim without counter-evidence that there’s really nothing like a crypto-conference.
The combination of community, culture, knowledge sharing and investment alpha can’t be found anywhere else in this world.
I personally notice myself becoming ‘spiritually alive’ during conference weeks, and the afterglow lasts for weeks afterward. Conferences are when the magical optimism and enthusiasm that people have for crypto erupts IRL, in a grand festival of all the things that make crypto fun and make life good.
My only hope is that this culture and feeling can be scaled out globally to the entire world, as soon as we can learn to scale our protocols to get there.