Ethereum’s Old Guard Meets the Newbies at ETHDenver and There Are So, So Many of Them

ETHDenver has morphed into far more than a hackathon, and that makes some a bit queasy.

By: Brady Dale Loading...

Ethereum’s Old Guard Meets the Newbies at ETHDenver and There Are So, So Many of Them

DENVER — CryptoPunks are relatively old, as far as Ethereum history goes, but the notion of punks as a community is newer. Tegan Kline, co-founder ofEdge and Node, a blockchain data company, told The Defiant about a 50-plus punk breakfast that took place Sunday morning toward the end of ETHDenver 2022.

“Many said that it was one of the first punk events they’ve been to in person. Was great to foster a community that mainly started online and bring everyone together IRL,” Kline said.

CryptoPunks breakfast on Sunday, Feb. 20. Photo courtesy of Tegan Kline.

That was just one of many, many IRL gatherings that took place in the Mile High City over the last week. Introductions between people who had never met in person was a big theme through the former straight hackathon that has become a full on cryptocon with its latest iteration.

With time, the larger Ethereum community may view last week’s Colorado gathering as a milestone.

All the big blockchain communities have their conferences, but — in normal times — Ethereum denizens have them all the time. So ETHDenver 2022 was one of the first all Ethereum gatherings that the community has had since COVID-19 kicked in shortly after the prior ETHDenver, in 2020. Most estimates we heard put this year’s event at 5X bigger than the prior gathering. 8500 people checked in in-person at the Art Hotel, according to the organizers.

Geeky to Artsy

The event forced longtime Ethereans to confront the fact that their community has changed. It’s bigger, first of all, but it’s also made a cultural shift from the geeky to the artsy, from coding to raging.

The Defiant caught up with many members of Ethereum’s old guard over the last few days of the event and got their reaction to this new phase.

“It feels like we are no longer niche but not yet mainstream, so somewhere in this weird middle phase,” Kline said over Telegram. “There are many different tribes in the crypto space, the newest being the NFT tribe and the DAO tribe.”

“ETHDenver successfully recaptured the rigor and irreverence of the Ethereum community, combining deep technical work with silly events and hardcore parties,” Jehan Chu, Managing Partner at Kenetic, a proprietary trading and venture firm, told The Defiant via text message.

The hackathon floor at the Sports Castle. Photo by Brady Dale.

Carolyn Reckhow of the blockchain development firm Thesis, which built the decentralized Bitcoin derivative tBTC and is now developing the open source Ethereum wallet, Tally, also chimed in. “The new cohort seems primarily to be builders & operators,” she said over text message. “It’s not teeming with opportunistic investor-types, which is so on-brand for ETHDenver.”

Historically, ETHDenver has really been a hackathon oriented event. Coders would show up with an idea and they’d spend the whole time pounding away on keyboards to pull it all together. That was still going on at this iteration, but several people The Defiant connected with felt like there was a mood shift. Walking through the main venue, the Sports Castle on Broadway, there were clearly lots of people promoting their companies at booths or walking around networking, whether that was in search of jobs, investors, partners or customers.

The Bufficorn, the event mascot, hangs out with future Etheans. Photo by Alexandra Masihy / ETHDenver.

“Way too many people, “ My Ethereum Wallet CEO Kosala Hemachandra told The Defiant as we caught up at a coffee shop. “ETHDenver changed from being a hackathon to being more of a commercial thing.”

While people used to come just to build stuff that might test Ethereum’s usefulness or make using it easier for others, Hemachandra said he saw a lot more shilling, which is usually the case in crypto when the vibe is more bullish than bearish.

The founder of PoolTogether, Ethereum, Avalanche and Polygon’s lossless lottery, was frank in a text message. “It definitely feels more event / party oriented than hacker / building oriented. Even just walking around the main venue there is much less physical space devoted to the hacking and a lot more space devoted to sponsors,” he said.

Blockchain Association Executive Director Kristin Smith gives an upbeat political update on Saturday. Photo by Brady Dale.

“There’s a lot of new people. It’s starting to become more mainstream,” Facu, from the core team of the robo-adviser for yield, Yearn, told The Defiant in an interview. “It’s starting to feel less cozy.”

ETHDenver turned out to be Yearn’s first experiment with sponsoring an event, hosting a booth and engaging current and potential users.

Vitalik Buterin speaks on Friday night. Photo by Jesse Morgan/ETHDenver.

MacLane Wilkison is the CEO of NuCypher, the proxy re-encryption company that just merged its protocol with Keep, which was built by the Thesis team, making the new protocol Threshold. NuCypher has sponsored every ETHDenver so far, Wilkson said. “The size increase is sort of overwhelming,” he said.

Wilkison was disappointed to find the gathering populated with many “projects that don’t really understand the ethos of the space or care, or are in it for financial reasons.”

To Wilkison, that ethos comes down to the unique power of blockchains to free individuals. “I started out in Bitcoin, so I’m drawn to censorship resistance and decentralization for its own sake.”

Weekend Hack

Doug Petkanics of the video-transcoding project Livepeer told The Defiant that his first ETHDenver was in 2018, when it was just a few hundred people, shortly after MakerDAO launched the decentalized stablecoin DAI. At that time, Petkanics said over Telegram, they were “all learning their way around what was possible and how to start building on Ethereum.”

Many of this year’s new faces weren’t looking for something to be a part of. This year’s attendees were already in. “Very few people are in town to do a weekend hack or to learn through their first crypto experience,” Petkanics said. “Instead, they’re here because of the real enthusiasm through an experience that they’ve had by actually participating in a DAO or project.”

Metaverse aesthetics were of course a big mood all over the event. Photo by Alexandra Masihy/ETHDenver.