Consensus 2022 Was the Crypto Bull Market's Goodbye Party

Attendees basked in the scorching Texas heat as crypto winter descended on the industry.

AccessTimeIconJun 14, 2022 at 10:49 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:18 p.m. UTC
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The first flurries of crypto winter fell before Consensus 2022.

Just a few weeks before 20,000 people descended on Austin, Texas, for CoinDesk’s annual festival, the terraUSD (UST) stablecoin collapsed, wiping over $80 billion from the total crypto market cap and triggering a wave of sell-offs. Coinbase slammed the brakes on hiring and announced it would be rescinding already-accepted job offers – despite earlier promises the Nasdaq-listed exchange would do no such thing.

Despite the growing chill in the markets – or perhaps because of them – Consensus was a blowout.

For four days, conference-goers ate, drank and were merry. They traversed the city on scooters in the Texas heat, bouncing between networking sessions and hackathons in various hotels to sessions in the Austin Convention Center (ACC), featuring some of the biggest names in crypto and culture including whistleblower Edward Snowden, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and rapper 2 Chainz.

Attendees eagerly collected DESK, CoinDesk’s social token, and used it to pay for tacos and barbecue from food trucks or Consensus-branded merchandise. At night, they swapped DESK for drink tokens at Consensus-affiliated after-parties, like the one headlined by electronic music duo Disclosure.

Consensus-adjacent events including the Helium House ATX, sponsored by the rapidly-expanding Helium protocol, also thrived. Catered dinners and parties sponsored by companies such as Binance drew large crowds, and industry insiders rubbed elbows with regulators and investors at invite-only events, like lobbying group Coin Center’s annual dinner.

In hindsight, Coin Center’s (seed oil-free, naturally) dinner seems more akin to a Last Supper, and its theme – inspired by the “This is Fine” meme, in which a dog in a tiny hat sips coffee in a burning room – feels prescient.

On Sunday morning, Consensus 2022 wrapped up with a well-attended interview between CoinDesk’s Emily Parker and Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. Zhao’s proclamations of having a “healthy war chest” to weather the coming crypto winter were met with cheers from the audience.

Later that evening, crypto lending service Celsius halted its withdrawals and other products, sending the markets into a panic. On Monday, the price of bitcoin (BTC) plummeted, going as low as $20,834 in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Later on Tuesday, Coinbase announced mass layoffs, slashing nearly 20% of its workforce and leaving approximately 1,100 people without jobs.

As the flurries of crypto winter turned into a blizzard, Consensus offered attendees a brief shelter from the storm, a warm hearth to gather around and meet friends, tell stories and plan for the future.

The WAGMI (“we’re all going to make it”) optimism of the bull market is fading fast, but, hey – at least we had fun in Austin.

The DESK Piranhas return

CoinDesk’s social token, DESK, made its debut as a full-fledged blockchain token at this year’s Consensus.

The beta version used at last year’s virtual Consensus – which could be obtained by visiting various sessions and exchanged for CoinDesk merch and non-fungible tokens (NFT) – was enormously popular, and developed a fanbase that named themselves “Piranhas” for their insatiable hunger for DESK.

To appease the Piranhas in Austin, CoinDesk made DESK bigger than ever, bringing it from the experimental environment of Ethereum’s testnet to Polygon, a live blockchain, and offering in-person events to teach attendees how to redeem and use their DESK.

DESK could be obtained by scanning QR codes posted around the conference, or completing quests given on the DESK Discord server, such as taking selfies in various places or shooting hoops at the Sport Court.

Over 20% of Consensus attendees used DESK during the festival, collectively spending approximately 200,000 tokens on food, drinks and merch. Dozens of helpful volunteers in bright yellow DESK T-shirts swarmed the convention center, offering help to confused attendees.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though: Some would-be DESK Piranhas got greedy, tearing down QR code stickers from signs in an attempt to redeem more than their share and prevent others from getting DESK. Scammers printed fake “DESK multiplier” QR codes and stuck them to DESK posters, hoping to scam DESK users out of the contents of their wallets.

Turns out that even if it’s just DESK, the old crypto adage of “Do Your Own Research” still applies.

Spectacles abound

Consensus has always been an occasion for gimmicky spectacle – the 2018 event, which attracted roughly 8,000 attendees, famously featured several Lamborghinis that were parked out front of the conference.

In Austin, however, the Lambos were absent, replaced with even more expensive McLarens. One, wrapped in a pattern of hundreds of overlapping DOGE Shiba inu faces, attracted a large crowd when its owner, crypto influencer Julia Love, parked it in front of the Hilton.

The demo of “Crypto: the Musical” on June 10 was also a spectacle. The brainchild of Amanda Cassatt, CEO of crypto marketing firm Serotonin, the would-be Broadway show aims to tell the story of “one woman’s journey fleeing the corporate world to join a crypto startup.”

Bar at the closing night party for Consensus 2022. (Joey Martinez/CoinDesk)
Bar at the closing night party for Consensus 2022. (Joey Martinez/CoinDesk)

The aspiring theatrical project’s creative team (who also produced “Ratatouille: the TikTok Musical”) and performers serenaded the audience with two songs from the show, including one about the Howey Test – a framework created by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether transactions qualify as securities.

Consensus 2022 also featured the first MetaGala, a black-tie event where crypto investors, influencers and artists came together to drink (cocktails had themed names, such as the Metarita, the Meta Mule and the Meta Spritz), dance and raise money for several charities.

Crypto will keep Austin weird

Though this year’s Consensus was the first held in Austin after years in New York or virtually because of COVID-19, the Texas capital turned out to be a perfect fit for the festival.

The spirit of Austin meshed well with crypto, and Consensus attendees embraced the entertainment and culture the city had to offer.

When they weren’t buying food with DESK, attendees ate at famous local restaurants including the Texas Chili Parlor and Franklin’s Barbecue, they went to drag queen brunches on 4th Street, and they cooled off at Barton Springs – a spring-fed pool in Zilker Park beloved by locals for its notoriously cold water.

On the final day of the conference, Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined CoinDesk Chief Content Officer Michael Casey to announce that Consensus will return to his city next year, although, to beat the 100-degree heat, it will be moved from June to late April.

Though Austin was sweltering, Consensus-goers may miss the Texas heat after returning home to headlines about layoffs, price slumps and a once-highflying lender’s potential insolvency.

Consensus was a respite from the cold – and, hopefully for many, a fortification. Now it’s over. Crypto winter is here. Bundle up.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.