The Crypto Crowd Holds a Glittery Awards Night, Despite Fiascoes
MIAMI — It was not the ideal time for a celebration of the cryptocurrency industry. But the hall was booked, the guests had arrived, and so the show went on.
On Wednesday, shortly after Sam Bankman-Fried gave a livestreamed interview to The New York Times seeking to dispel the notion that he was the Bernie Madoff of the blockchain, a few hundred people piled into the Faena Forum in South Beach, Miami, for the Crypties, an awards ceremony billing itself as the Oscars for Web 3.0.
By night’s end, they would learn the winners in 10 categories, including NFT Project of the Year and Metaverse Project of the Year. The event was organized by Decrypt Studios, a film and production company financed by Joseph Lubin, a co-founder of the cryptocurrency platform Ethereum.
In June, when the Crypties were announced, Bitcoin and Ethereum had lost about half their peak value in an industrywide crash that caused nearly $1 trillion to go up in a puff of virtual smoke. That was followed by the recent crumbling of Alameda Research and FTX, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s trading platforms, a multibillion dollar implosion that has further shaken the industry.
The financial fiascos weren’t enough to cancel the Crypties. The Forum, an arts and culture space designed by Rem Koolhaas, had been reserved months earlier. Invited guests had flown in from around the country.
The red carpet outside the venue wasn’t exactly teeming with photographers, but what were the organizers going to do if not try to make the best of things?
“In the financial markets, there’s always risk,” said Alanna Roazzi-Laforet, the founder of Decrypt Studios, who stood in the corner of a large cocktail area on the Forum’s second floor, sipping a hurricane.
The dress code was Black Tie Optional. But in an industry where anything other than sweatpants is considered formal, and the person hired as the gala’s M.C. was Josh Ostrovsky, the comedian known as The Fat Jewish, the emphasis fell squarely on optional.
At around 7 p.m., a D.J. played Avicii’s remix of Coldplay’s “A Sky Full Of Stars,” accompanied by a violinist who goes by the name Tamara. Waiters served miniature lobster rolls. The guests’ cocktail chatter alternated between gallows humor and proselytizing about the inevitable transformation of humankind through next-gen tech.
Josh Thompson, who runs two companies that use the blockchain to spur community activism, Gotham Labs and Civics Unplugged, was among the attendees. One minute, he was introducing himself to a reporter as none other than Mr. Bankman-Fried. The next, he was saying that, despite a disastrous year for cryptocurrency, the industry’s future looked bright indeed.
What to Know About NFTs
What is an NFT? A nonfungible token, or NFT, is a digital asset that establishes authenticity and ownership and can be verified on a blockchain network. It is a way to claim ownership of a digital file and is comparable to a certificate of authenticity you might get if you buy a sculpture.
How did NFTs become so popular? The technology for NFTs has been around since the mid-2010s but became mainstream in late 2017 with CryptoKitties, a site that allowed people to buy and “breed” limited-edition digital cats with cryptocurrency.
Why do artists care about NFTs? NFTs make digital artworks unique and, therefore, sellable. Artists, musicians, influencers and sports franchises can use them to monetize digital goods that were previously cheap or free. The technology also responds to the art world’s need for authentication in an increasingly digital world, permanently linking a digital file to its creator.
How lucrative can NFTs be? NFTs generated more than $25 billion in sales in 2021, but the benefits were not equally felt by people in the market. An NFT of a cat with a Pop-Tart body sold for nearly $600,000; an artwork by the Beeple, a digital artist, was bought as an NFT for $69.3 million. Even The Times turned one of its columns into an NFT, auctioning it off for $560,000.
That was the basic opinion held by Izzy Howell, a 29-year-old entrepreneur with magenta-colored hair who is attempting to bring together fashion and NFTs with a limited edition pair of women’s panties emblazoned with the phrase “highly liquid.”
Ms. Howell, who wore a sheer teal dress to the Crypties, described the phrase as a play on something she heard when she was working with derivatives-trading crypto bros who were “constantly hopped up on Adderall, screaming about ‘liquidity.’”
“It’s my anticrypto crypto project,” she said. “The technology is here. It’s not going away, but a lot of the gambling-addicted degenerates are. I think that’s a good thing.”
Moments later, guests headed upstairs to a white domed space that looked like an art-deco planetarium. On the stage, a trio of massive LCD screens displayed volcanolike images meant to conjure an idea about the disruptive metaverse. EDM was still blaring when a voice boomed from the speakers.
“Good evening, Miami,” it said. “Where is Sam Bankman-Fried?”
People in the audience chuckled.
Moments later, The Fat Jewish walked onto the stage and launched into a searing monologue. “This event is in Florida, the home of the natural disaster,” he said. “And tonight, we’re going to celebrate a man-made one: cryptocurrency.”
The audience roared.
“Your skeptical friends and your out-of-touch parents have told you that cryptocurrency was a passing fad and that all of these coins one day would be totally worthless,” he continued. “Right? But tonight, here at the Faena Forum, we defiantly say, ‘Only some of them!’ Right? Am I right?”
“So tonight, we’re going to honor the mavericks, we’re going to honor the innovators, the Redditors, the frog Twitter accounts, the freshly ruined e-com leaders who thought they were going to be able to retire before graduation.”
But first, The Fat Jewish said, he was going to take a page from the Oscars playbook and start with an in memoriam tribute to all the celebrities whose entries into the crypto space over the last year seemed to augur its decline.
“They might not be dead,” he said. “But their dreams of striking it rich in crypto definitely are.”
The screens at his back showed the football player Odell Beckham Jr., who announced in November 2021 that he would take his salary in Bitcoin, shortly before its value began to plummet. Then came the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the rapper and music producer DJ Khaled, who in 2018 were fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission for promoting digital tokens without disclosing that they had been paid to do so.
Then flashed an image of Kim Kardashian, who in October agreed to a $1.26 million settlement with the S.E.C. for failing to comply with the agency’s rules on the promotion of investment opportunities.
The pictures kept coming. One showed the August-September 2022 issue of Fortune magazine, with Mr. Bankman-Fried on its cover, with the headline “The Next Warren Buffett?” The Fat Jewish predicted that Mr. Bankman-Fried’s “trading habit” would soon involve swapping “cigarettes for toilet paper in prison.”
Also featured on the screens was the YouTube star turned media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. His NFT start-up, Candy Digital, was once valued at $1.5 billion. Earlier this week, the company laid off “a large portion of its staff,” according to Decrypt, the crypto industry news site owned by Decrypt Media, the parent company of Decrypt Studios, the Crypties’ organizer.
As it turned out, the person who presented the first Cryptie award was Avery Akkineni, the president of another one of Mr. Vaynerchuk’s companies, Vayner3. In what was definitely not the evening’s warmest exchange, Ms. Akkineni strode onto the stage, gave a terse acknowledgment to The Fat Jewish and defended her boss, Mr. Vaynerchuk, calling him a “complete pleasure” to work for.
After reading the list of nominees for Game of the Year, Ms. Akkineni opened an envelope and revealed the winner: Crypto Unicorns, a pet and farming game created on the Polygon blockchain, backed by a digital token called MATIC. Katrina Wolfe, the product director at Laguna Games, accepted the award, but a number of the other winners did not show up.
Among those absent was Scott Martin, a digital artist known as Burnt Toast, who received an award for an NFT project done in collaboration with Shopify. Another person who did not make the event was Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase. His investment arm, Coinbase Ventures, won for Investor of the Year, despite having plowed $15 million into FTX and having gone in on other ventures with Alameda Research. Accepting the award was Shan Aggarwal, Coinbase’s head of corporate development, who gave a quick shout-out to his boss and then exited the stage.
Several awards were given out to people who are doing things on the blockchain that run in contrast to the much publicized get-rich-quick schemes.
Celo Labs, an “open platform” devoted to making the world carbon negative, won the social impact award. MyBFF, an “open access community” devoted to bringing women and nonbinary people into the historically male-dominated industry, was honored for promoting diversity. And an innovator of the year award went to Erick Calderon, who until 2020 was a ceramic tile designer and is now one of the NFT market’s biggest success stories.
In his remarks from the stage, Mr. Calderon professed hope that people would not chase overnight successes but would play “the long game” and “walk a straight line.”
It was hard to know what to make of such utopian talk when, moments later, The Fat Jewish returned to the stage and implored people in the audience to scream out the stupidest things they had bought, back when crypto was going “straight to the moon.” Someone at the back of the room yelled out: “A zebra!”
Around 10 p.m., guests moved next door to a lofty banquet hall where a tropical vibe prevailed. Waiters served mesclun salad, braised short ribs with roasted prawns and a chocolate hazelnut dome dessert.
At each place setting was a small black jewel box containing an unusual party favor: a tiny diamond stud. There was also an authenticity card, complete with a QR code. With a click of a phone camera, guests landed on a webpage thanking them for having “stuck around for the bear,” meaning the bear market, and for having attended the first Cryptie Awards, which aims to be an annual gala. The message further promised that each diamond had been “tested, measured, weighed, labeled and packaged for shipment.”
At a table in the back, someone asked the venture capitalist Shawn Cheng, who works at ConsenSys Mesh, another of Mr. Lubin’s companies, what the gift might be worth.
“Nothing,” Mr. Cheng said, laughing. “Same as your crypto!”