Bears be damned – the bulls geared up as thousands of participants in the crypto world descended upon Toronto this week for ETHToronto and the Blockchain Futurist Conference.
Billed as Canada’s largest blockchain conference, the three-day event was held at two of Toronto’s most prominent nightclubs – Rebel and Cabana – which are known to be frequented by many A-list celebrities.
The conference had a hackathon, panels, several fun activities, afterparties and a keynote by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, who poked fun at monkey JPEGs. To top it all off, Cosmos co-founder Ethan Buchman rapped about interoperability and use cases for the ecosystem.
Maybe it was the party atmosphere or the beautiful summer days of Toronto but, judging by the mood of the participants, it seemed like the audience felt that the crypto rout has bottomed out.
Of course, it also helped that, during the conference, Ethereum network native token ether (ETH) hit its highest price since June, ahead of the network overhaul known as the Merge, which looks likely to happen next month.
“For the first time in a long time, people were inspired again,” said attendee Greg Gopman, chief marketing officer of crypto infrastructure provider Ankr. “Maybe it was Vitalik showing up. Maybe it's news of the Merge nearing reality. Or maybe it was just the beautiful indoor-outdoor venue during two perfect Toronto summer days – but for the first time in a while, things felt bullish again.”
The main focus of the conference, aside from the obvious discussions on the Merge and decentralized finance (DeFi), included privacy and regulations, real-world applications of blockchain, interest in crypto from traditional finance (TradFi) and new technologies as well as a rare feat in crypto – female empowerment.
The Merge and beyond
Between the many bars at the conference and plenty of schmoozing at side events, the conference was buzzing with the excitement of the upcoming Merge, which will see Ethereum move from its proof-of-work protocol to proof-of-stake, as well as the improvements to the network that will be made beyond the upgrade to a more energy-efficient system.
While Vitalik Buterin was upbeat about the Merge, Anthony Di Iorio, another co-founder of Ethereum, told the audience about the white-list opening of Andiami, a global tech project designed to add value to leading decentralized networks, which will be launched on Nov. 3 of this year, about 10 years to the day after the first Bitcoin meeting he hosted in Toronto.
(Fun fact: Vitalik Buterin is Canadian and many people consider Canada the birthplace of Ethereum.)
Di Lorio excitedly left the audience – not because of his new project but rather because he was in a rush to the hospital to welcome his newborn.
Aside from talks about Ethereum, other layer-2 representation also made its way around the conference.
“There was a very optimistic crowd present in Toronto with layer 2 and the Merge at the forefront of discussion. It was great to see the level of collaboration between the variety of ecosystems and projects that were present, said Zack Gall, VP of communications at EOS Foundation.
Metis, an Ethereum layer-2 rollup platform, also shared that participants in the conference seemed enthusiastic about layer-2 products, especially in a post-Merge world.
Kevin Liu, a co-founder of Metis, mentioned that there was “a lot of hype over Ethereum. We spoke about so many projects and we were excited to speak with everyone about Reputation Power on Matrix [Metis’ Web3 identity system], which will help drive mass adoptions of Web2 to Web3.”
Meanwhile, interoperability among the blockchains was a big topic of discussion. In fact, after his keynote speech, Cosmos co-founder Ethan Buchman rapped about “interoperability and sovereignty.” Cosmos – described as the "internet of blockchains,” a network of blockchains able to communicate with one another in a decentralized way – was pitched by him as one interoperability solution.
“An interoperable, multichain ecosystem will be crucial to unlock growth for the crypto and blockchain industry,” said Viveik Vivekananthan, CEO of Swing, a Web3 liquidity infrastructure provider company.
What’s a blockchain conference without debate on privacy? There were plenty of discussions on the topic.
During a panel discussion on privacy, Warren Paul Anderson of Discreet Labs, a blockchain research and development company building out Findora and other privacy protocols, said that there’s been a real push in the industry to put everything on the chain, because it protects “the ethos of decentralization.” But what is missing in the privacy space is trust, he said.
Anderson believes that zero-knowledge (ZK) proofs, which ensure that data can be shared without releasing personal information, will be able to solve this problem. This will be the next phase of innovation around privacy issues in blockchain, he said.
Read more: The Sudden Rise of EVM-Compatible ZK Rollups
Anderson’s comment came right before the sanctioning of Tornado Cash, which made the need for privacy and regulations a much-debated topic. “Given the recent sanctioning of Tornado Cash, privacy seemed to be a hot topic of conversation at the Blockchain Futurist Conference this year,” he told CoinDesk.
Crypto and everyday uses
On the more educational side, the opportunities to interact with blockchain and crypto in real life were endless at the conference.
By competing in dead hangs to win $1,000 in bitcoin, using cryptos via Flexa (a crypto-payments app to pay for food) and arriving by helicopter at the venue using payments in crypto, participants had ample opportunity to use crypto for “mainstream" activities.
Tracy Leparulo, the main organizer of ETHToronto and the Blockchain Futurist Conference, spoke to CoinDesk about the conference’s launch of a real-life engagement token “to bring people close to real life and drive actions on site.”
‘Won’t be caught dead’
Meanwhile, TradFi interest in crypto was very prominent at the conference.
Leparulo said that she has been running the conference since 2013, and before, the TradFi crowd wouldn’t even “be caught dead” coming to a crypto conference – the complete opposite of this year’s conference turnout.
“The largest audience of this event this year is [made up of] people within traditional capital markets,” she said, adding that there were people from investment groups and stock exchanges at the conference, showing a shift in mindset about the crypto industry.
It's not surprising to see the intersection of TradFi and crypto, as recently there has been a continued push from the institutional investors to expand into the industry. Most recently, BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager, has formed a partnership with publicly traded crypto-exchange Coinbase (COIN) to make crypto directly available to institutional investors.
In a more surprising twist, the conference had a strong female representation, not just crypto bros.
Maybe it's because the organizers were led by some prominent women in crypto.
“The most inspiring part is that we had the largest submission to CryptoChicks bounty for the hackathon. A total of 13 projects led by women were submitted,” Metis and Cryptochicks CEO Elena Sinelnikova told CoinDesk.
“We at Metis are so grateful that we were able to help organize this conference with Untraceable and CryptoChicks,” she added.
Leparulo also mentioned that there was a big female turnout in Canada. She said, “[If] you're a female in this [blockchain] space, come to Futurist. It's a great inclusive area. I’m about to be eight months pregnant – I can do this. So if you're female in space, get on board and get into crypto. Anyone can do it.”
Perhaps it's a sign that not just the sentiment was turning at this conference but also the social scene.
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