On October 21-22, Moscow hosted the 5th international forum Blockchain Life. With 4,000 participants and 50 speakers, it became one of the largest live crypto events of 2020. I had the opportunity to be there and interviewed speakers, organizers, and guests to find out what it felt like to take part in an offline conference during a pandemic.
Blockchain community members gather in Moscow
Crypto wasn't hit as hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as many other industries, but we did lose one very important thing: live blockchain events. Almost all conferences scheduled for 2020 either went virtual, were postponed or were cancelled. This was a real blow for the community, which heavily relies on networking as a way to pitch projects and find new ideas.
It's this reason that Blockchain Life in Moscow holds a special place on this year's crypto calendar. It was a real, in-person event, hosted in the lovely Music Media Dome. Of course, the atmosphere was very different from the previous editions. The event made sure to adhere to reduced capacity, universal mask-wearing, temperature checks, ubiquitous bottles with hand sanitizer, and so forth. But the main elements of the conference remained unchanged: top speakers, panel discussions, active networking, and, of course, the afterparty.
The forum's main focus was DeFi, this year's hottest crypto trend. Apart from that, the experts discussed new and upcoming legislation, mining trends, fundraising, and, of course, the effects of Covid-19. The presentations took place both live on stage and some were also held via Skype. Keynote speakers for the event included the founder of Bitcoin.com Roger Ver, venture capitalist Tim Draper, and Binance Labs director Ella Zhang.
How did the pandemic change the forum? Organizers and guests share comments
Hosting a large-scale crypto event in the middle of the 'second wave' is an achievement in itself. Attending it as a visitor or speaker must have been an unusual experience, too. What was it like? Here's what some of the participants told me...
Alexander Belov – speaker, co-founder of Coinstelegram Media and Coinstelegram Fund
Alexander, how did the general mood compare to that of previous years? What dominated – enthusiasm, fear, or optimism? Has the tone of the discussion or the questions changed?
Of course, Covid-19 changed things, and this edition of Blockchain Life was on a smaller scale than last year. But the fact that it was held at all is worth a lot of respect, and I'm grateful to the organizers for inviting me to speak. In spite of all the difficulties, both the speakers and the projects were top-notch.
At first, the guests were apprehensive about the new crypto legislation in Russia, which may seriously limit the circulation of cryptocurrencies. But while we were there, Bitcoin started growing in leaps and bounds, and the audience became more enthusiastic.
I participated in a panel discussion about mining. It's a complex topic, because mining can yield big profits, but only if you enter the market at the right moment. A lot of the questions were skeptical in tone, but we did manage to show that mining can be cost-efficient. For example, in August, when the DeFi hype was at its peak, it was really profitable to mine Ethereum. It's still profitable now, with the price around $400 and high network fees.
Sergey Khitrov, founder of Blockchain Life and of the crypto listing agency Listing.Help
Sergey, it seems almost incredible that such an event should take place at such a time. How difficult was it to organize, considering the health measures in place? Did the speakers have doubts or visa issues?
International restrictions were the main problem. Usually we get huge numbers of guests from the US, Europe, and Asia, but this time even people from Ukraine and the Commonwealth of Independent States had trouble coming. To be honest, we were afraid that Russian guests and speakers wouldn't be able to attend, either. The number of infections kept growing and there was a real risk that the Moscow government could ban large events. Luckily, we did it, and the guests could see that we followed all the protocols of the Health Ministry: masks, gloves, social distancing, and so on.
I'm proud of the forum's scale: in spite of the pandemic, we managed to gather over 3,000 people, while during a normal year, Blockchain Life gets around 5,000 visitors. The halls were always filled to capacity, and the Russian-language speakers were all experts of the highest grade. Those international speakers who couldn't come in person gave presentations via Skype.
We even got a visit from the Russian MP Aksakov, who is responsible for the new Law on digital financial assets. Thanks to him, we held a round table for the crypto community and government representatives, discussing the digital ruble, among other things. By the way, Bitcoin's price started growing rapidly during the event.
Evgeny Romanenko, aka Crypto Emcee, economist of the Austrian School, YouTube blogger, 4-times Blockchain Life host
Evgeny, what were the networking sessions like? Did the guests manage to talk to each other and establish useful contacts?
Everyone stayed socially distanced and wore masks, but these measures didn't spoil the experience. You could see that people were hungry for some live blockchain action. On both days, everybody stayed until the end. I liked that me and my co-host, Sergey Sevantsian, could finally share the stage properly, because someone had to interview the speakers at the press center. I took a couple dozen interviews; they provide great content and help build a relationship with the speakers.
It was my 4th Blockchain Life as a host. The key difference from years past is there's much less hype. There wasn't a single ICO project, Rather, Blockchain Life brought together the survivors – those who attended our first forum back in 2017. These are respectable, serious, non-hype-y projects. I should also mention that English-language speakers all participated via Skype.
Another difference was I saw more new faces during the networking sessions than people I knew. Guests would come up to me and explain how they knew about me. I met with some old friends for the first time in a year. You could communicate in a proper way – without shouting, without pushing around and hype, just like it should be at the biggest crypto event of the Covid era. The absence of crowds helped – something that can't be said about 2019 when you could hardly move around. The best networking happened at the afterparty – as always.
Georgy Galoyan, founder of the venture studio DAO.VC
Georgy, you presented the panel 'DAO as the driver of startups' and also ran your venture studio's stand. How interested are venture investors in the blockchain, considering the uncertainty? Are there fewer worthy projects at this time?
There are much fewer projects, but there's also a clear border between a real project and a scam that pretends to be a project. Most have to do with network technology or infrastructure. As crypto crowdfunding is still essentially in a coma, we don't get such a flow of projects as before. But the market is picking up in spite of the pandemic.
As for venture investors, they are still interested in owning equity in crypto projects. They want a share in your company, not your tokens. That's why dao.vc investors receive a share in the fund itself. A token is just a digital identifier of your stake in the venture studio, while the studio owns equity in all the startups that join our accelerator program.
Valeria Zimareva, co-founder and COO of the business development agency Yafo.io
Valeria, what's your opinion of the health safety measures during the forum? Did masks, etc. have a negative effect on the experience?
Absolutely not. To be honest, I had my doubts about going, since it's been a few months since I've attended any public event. But the organizers did a great job, and the guests behaved responsibly too. Virtually everyone wore a mask, disinfected their hands often, and the social distance was respected, too. I felt safe, so I could relax and focus on the speakers and discussions. Besides, the forum was really helpful from the business development point of view. I got over 10 good leads. The fact that it wasn't crowded helped because it was easy to talk, exchange contacts, and so on.
Of course, it's a pity that international speakers couldn't come and we saw them only on the screen. But it was still a precious opportunity to meet fellow blockchain professionals offline and to talk about crypto - and not the virus.
Tatyana Maximenko, chief editor of CoinFox, co-founder of IdolMe PR Agency
Tatyana, you've been to Blockchain Life a few times in the past. What stopped you from coming this year? Was it concerns about the virus, transport issues, or something else? What should change for you to return next time?
Indeed, it's the first Blockchain Life I've missed. The decision didn't come easy. For several years, I was an active partner of the forum and always recommended it to my clients as the best live space to get involved in the crypto industry.
What stopped me was the second wave of the pandemic. The number of infections in Moscow was quite high, so I decided it was safer to stay away from public places.
My colleagues and friends tell me that the forum was a great success (as always) and that all the necessary safety measures were followed. They were happy to meet in person and learn about the industry trends. I do regret not coming a little bit, and I'm already looking forward to the next Blockchain Life.
As you see, moany of the guests and hosts had a great time at the forum. Of course, it looked and felt different, but the important thing is that it happened. I just hope that in 2021 the virus will be defeated, and there will be more offline events just like there was prior to the pandemic.