ETHDenver Crypto Conference Headed to Denver's National Western Center | Westword

Super Bowl of Crypto World Taking Over National Western Center

The Super Bowl of the crypto world returns in March.
Governor Jared Polis got to link up with Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin at ETHDenver 2022.
Governor Jared Polis got to link up with Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin at ETHDenver 2022. Governor Jared Polis
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Although February is the month for the actual Super Bowl, March features the Super Bowl of the crypto world: ETHDenver.

"Coming to ETHDenver is like nothing you’ll ever experience," says John Paller, a founder of the crypto conference that will overtake the National Western Center in early March, with events in venues in nearby RiNo from late February into March.

Considering that ETHDenver gets its name from Ethereum, a popular blockchain platform, it's no surprise that many of the attendees of the conference, which is now in its sixth iteration, are proponents of this particular Web3 technology.

"You’re not going to hear people talk about crypto prices or investing or exchanges. We don’t talk about any of that stuff. We’re building decentralized applications and technology that can fundamentally reshape society and how we organize ourselves. Not just commercially, but socially and politically," says Paller, who describes ETHDenver as part Burning Man and part software-builder crowd with heavy elements of creativity.

The annual ETHDenver series features a hackathon, which the conference refers to as a BUIDLaton, with an emphasis on misspelling "build," since that's part of the crypto world's meme culture.

There will also be workshops, Crypto 101 lessons, panel discussions, speeches and NFT art exhibits at the National Western from March 2 to March 5.

The fact that the crypto Super Bowl takes place year after year in Denver is no accident. About a decade ago, crypto enthusiasts in the Mile High City began hosting meetups where they could network and talk blockchain, which is essentially a virtual record-keeping system that can execute contracts without the need for a third party. When it comes to cryptocurrencies, the idea is to have the blockchain, rather than a bank, confirm and execute contracts. In 2017, these meetups were transformed into the ETHDenver conference, which is now world-renowned.

And it's had staying power in Colorado. Paller expects 25,000 to 35,000 people to show up this year, which would be a major increase from the 13,000 who came to Denver for the conference last year.

That's part of why ETHDenver has shifted its main exhibition space from the Sports Castle on Broadway to the National Western Center, a much larger space.

And beyond the legacy that ETHDenver has been building in Denver, Paller feels that this type of community and the ethos of Colorado mesh well.

"On the one hand, we’re very progressive and technology-driven, blue state-y on some things. But then we’re very libertarian and Wild West-ish on some other parts. We’re kind of purple state-ish. That reminds me of Web3," Paller says, using the term that refers to the new generation of the web that is based around blockchain.

ETHDenver, whose mascot is a bufficorn — a combination buffalo and unicorn — is free for attendees. Instead of charging an entry fee, the conference makes money through sponsorships. But Paller, who wants everyone from newbs to crypto experts to show up, doesn't even like to call ETHDenver a conference.

"Conferences are typically trade shows with lots of thought leaders and big speakers and corporate rollouts and all this kind of stuff. Suits. It has a very distinct sort of vibe to it. It’s not uncommon that you see tickets that are $1,000 to $2,500," he notes. "ETHDenver is very different. It’s bottom-up, community-driven."

There still will be some big speakers at the conference. Caitlin Long, a blockchain consultant based in Wyoming, a crypto-friendly state, will speak, as will Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, albeit virtually. And Governor Jared Polis, a crypto supporter and speaker at last year's conference, will also deliver a speech.

"Governor Polis has spoken about some of this stuff over the last couple years. He’s made a gubernatorial proclamation that Colorado intends to be the first digital state. His office has been very keen on us supporting the use of Colorado cooperative frameworks," Paller says.

At the 2022 ETHDenver, Polis announced that Colorado would begin accepting cryptocurrency for tax and fee payments. However, that program has not really taken off, as just six of the 1.37 million payments of state taxes that Coloradans between the program's launch, on September 1, and December 12 of 2022 were done using cryptocurrency.

Part of the lack of hype for the crypto tax-filing system may have to do with the fact that cryptocurrencies hit a rough patch over the last year. The prices of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether have dropped significantly.

Those price drops contributed to the November collapse of cryptocurrency exchange and hedge fund FTX, whose founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, is now facing fraud and conspiracy charges.

But Paller believes that within a bear market, "the cream rises to the top. ... You’ll see some of the best projects that we’ve seen over the years."

And regarding the founder of FTX, who contributed millions of dollars to political causes in Colorado, Paller says, "Sam Bankman-Fried is a scammer. He’s a complete shmuck. He’s Bernie Madoff in an Afro and flip-flops."
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