Last week at Consensus, Yat Siu nearly missed his talk on the Main Stage because he was swamped by a throng of adoring fans, desperate to steal a minute with the metaverse mogul. Siu’s fellow panelist, Maya Zehavi, and I, his moderator, were getting mic’d up backstage, watching as the production crew got more nervous with each passing minute. When someone finally found him and relayed back what had happened, I thought it was brilliant. Brilliant, because not even three years ago, Web3 and NFTs weren’t a thing. Blockchain gaming wasn’t a thing, and Yat Siu wasn’t getting mobbed by groupies. Early Web3 believers like Yat were more likely found at the fringes of major conferences, hosting meetups between themselves.
Leah Callon-Butler is the director of Emfarsis, an advisory and investment firm focused on Web3 and open Metaverse. With a special interest in the way that crypto is advancing emerging economies, Leah is a Coindesk opinion columnist and writer/narrator of the award-winning mini documentary, "Play-to-Earn: NFT Gaming in the Philippines.”
I know this because I got involved before Web3 went gangbusters. I wrote the first-ever article about Axie Infinity on CoinDesk in August 2020, which many people think was early – and it was early – given Axie had less than 500 daily users at the time, before peaking at nearly three million a year later. But from my perspective, I was late. Because in hindsight, I can see that Web3 was taking shape as early as 2018. That was the year that Axie launched; Animoca Brands was seeding future Web3 juggernauts like DapperLabs and OpenSea; and the Blockchain Game Alliance (BGA) was formed. All this is remarkable, considering the rest of the blockchain industry still viewed blockchain gaming as more of an oxymoron than a legitimate use case. It wasn’t until later, when we got proof points such as the Beeple Everydays NFT that sold for $69.3 million in March 2021, that “NFT” was suddenly everyone’s favorite acronym.
And now in 2023, I’ve never been more confident that Web3 is here to stay. CoinDesk’s decision to dedicate an entire stage to the topics of metaverse and gaming at Consensus this year was a huge contributor to my bullishness, given the event is a prestigious annual check on the state of our industry, providing a snapshot of the characters, and sometimes, the chaos that has become the lore of our industry. For metaverse and gaming, it provides legitimacy to something that’s been a long time in the making. However, this in itself should remind us that conferences are a lagging indicator. And, as someone who is looking to identify the next trend before it goes mainstream, I’m inclined to think it’s already late-stage for the projects we see on stage.
It’s easy to be critical, that is, until you find yourself actually programming one of these stages – as I did, for the Metaverse and Gaming Stage at Consensus 2023. These big events need to draw a crowd, and without much traction or a substantial following, I can understand how risky it is to give up precious air time to some fledgling use case that might still be NGMI. So, in curating this three-day conversation, I aimed to strike a balance between the big-name draw cards like Jeffrey ‘Jihoz’ Zirlin of Sky Mavis, Sebastien Borget of The Sandbox, Spencer Tucker of Yuga Labs, and of course, Yat, while also giving space to lesser-known but equally impactful and inspiring people and projects that I’ve encountered over the last few years.
Like Cloudwhite, the second-largest holder of virtual land in Axie’s metaverse, Lunacia. This guy recognized the value of digital ownership and verifiable scarcity way before big brands like Atari, Warner Music and Gucci aped in on the trend – not because he had a fancy college degree or millions of dollars to deploy, but because he was an obsessive collector as a kid, hoarding Pokémon cards and selling Beanie Babies out the trunk of his mom’s car.
Or Anand Venkateswaran, formerly known as Twobadour, a pseudonym owned by his previous employer, the Metapurse fund. While most know Metapurse as the fund behind that fabled $69.3 million Beeple buy, they don’t know that Metapurse also bought the most expensive NFT of 2019; its $100,000 price tag is pittance compared to what people pay for NFTs today, but given the immaturity of the market at that time, in my eyes, that was an even crazier move, requiring even higher conviction, when almost nobody was watching.
Their scrappy beginnings make romantic fodder for a fireside chat, but nostalgia is no advantage if you’re looking to catch a trend before it hits the headlines. For each of the men I mentioned here, this was their first year speaking at Consensus – which means it was years before they made it to the big leagues. Which is why I hope you listened to the speakers at Consensus 2023 that didn’t make it onto any official stage. That random who pitched you in the coffee queue or that degen ranting at the after party could’ve been the next Yat, the next Cloudwhite, or quite literally, the next Twobadour. The vuvuzelas honking in the stadium are certainly hard to ignore, but you should also try to listen for the squeaking of mice beneath the grandstand. Because a murmur heard amid the winter could be the next bull run’s roar.
UPDATE (5/18/23, 16:52): Corrects the owner of the $69.3 million Beeple buy.