In brief

  • Organizers are cancelling and postponing conferences in Asia and Europe in response to the Coronavirus
  • Major US conferences such as SXSW and Consensus are currently unaffected
  • Smaller, more local events, online conferences and virtual reality could fill the gap until large gatherings are deemed safe

Hundreds of crypto delegates were converging on Paris today for the start of the third annual Ethereum Community Conference (EthCC)—one of the biggest events in the blockchain platform’s calendar. In response to the threat of the coronavirus, attendees were putting on a brave face.

On Saturday, the French authorities announced a ban on large indoor gatherings; Paris has closed the Louvre, its eminent museum, and the Paris Half Marathon has been cancelled. Crypto events have followed suit, with the French capital’s flagship blockchain event, Paris Blockchain Week, postponed until December 9, organisers today told Decrypt. (The bans don’t apply to EthCC, as the event is for less than 5000 people.) 

As the coronavirus—and fear of infection—spreads across the globe, could this be the end of crypto events as we know them? And what would that mean for an industry that's heavily weighted towards meet-ups and conference extravaganzas to woo investors and spread the word? 

Global crypto conferences cancelled

Conference organisers throughout the world have been cancelling, postponing or planning to livestream events as the impact of the coronavirus spreads beyond China.

Many crypto events in Asia, including NiTROn2020 in Seoul, Hong Kong Blockchain Week 2020 and Token2049 were postponed last month. 

Andrew Asmakov, CEO and Founder of Crypto Events, told Decrypt that many events had been postponed until midsummer or later, but decisions were largely being made on a case by case basis. To date, there was no news on Japan’s top industry event, TEAMZ Blockchain Summit, which is due to place on April 22 and 23 in Tokyo, he said. 

“It’s more quiet in the rest of the world so far,” he added, but that could soon change. “Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom—many countries in Europe are at risk, with authorities either banning large scale events or restricting the number of visitors.” 

Today, the risk of coronavirus in the European Union was raised by the EU commission to moderate-high, the second highest level, leading to the cancellation of Paris Blockchain Week. Also cancelled was Vienna’s Ethereum development conference, EDCON, which was scheduled to take place at the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, in the US, the organisers of South by Southwest (SXSW), the huge Austin, Texas tech conference which includes a substantial crypto track, said they planned to continue with the event on March 13 to 22. The move came as an online petition calling for the event to be postponed reached 15,000 signatures. But later organizers were forced to cancel, after the city declared a local emergency, in response to SXSW, despite currently not having a single case of coronavirus. 

There was opposition to the initial decision not to cancel SXSW. (Image: Shutterstock)

San Francisco's premier Bitcoin conference Bitcoin 2020 has also been affected. Organizer Brandon Green, initially told Decrypt that the event would not be cancelled unless directed to by the government. A state of emergency was declared in California on March 6, and Bitcoin 2020 has been postponed until fall.  

In New York City (which confirmed its first case of coronavirus today), New York Blockchain Week was still going ahead as planned in May, according to a tweet posted by its organisers on Friday. The week will still kick off with the Ethereum-focused Ethereal Summit (organized by venture production studio ConsenSys, which funds an editorially-independent Decrypt). But Blockchain Week organisers later tweeted that they didn’t know whether Consensus 2020, the flagship NYC event, would go ahead. Coindesk later confirmed that the event will go ahead

The situation is changing on an hourly basis 

In the UK (which currently has 36 coronavirus cases), the organisers of London Blockchain Week (March 4-11) today informed sponsors, speakers and attendees that the city’s top industry events, Blockchain Summit Global and Crypto Compare Digital Asset Summit 2020, will go ahead.  

They said that extra contingencies such as ensuring that surfaces were wiped with disinfectant regularly and promoting regular and thorough hand-washing would be introduced. Those who are unwell will be discouraged from attending, and sessions would also be live streamed. 

Adam Rizvi, organizer and host of Coinfest, a crypto event in the UK city of Manchester, today confirmed to Decrypt that his event would also go ahead on April 3, 4 and 5. 

Rizvi said that he spent the morning fielding calls from sponsors, speakers and visitors. One exhibitor was forced to withdraw because equipment due to be showcased at the event was coming from Northern Italy, which is suffering a major coronavirus outbreak. But most people confirmed their attendance, he said, adding: “If we onboard [or] further educate just one person at the event, then that’s our job done.”

However, the coronavirus situation is changing on an hourly basis, with new outbreaks cropping up. If the UK government is minded to cancel large gatherings (as it has threatened to do), Rizvi and others will have little choice but to toe the line.

Events are going virtual as coronavirus spreads

With many events in danger of being cancelled or postponed, a way must be found for the industry to continue networking and collaborating.

Event-heavy industries such as sports and entertainment are already taking action to minimize the fallout. In sport, some events, such as racing, are already taking place behind closed doors. 

In crypto-land, influencers are laying down their own ground rules:

An obvious direction to take is to move events online. Major tech companies including Salesforce and Facebook have already cancelled their huge annual conferences in favour of an online-only offering. Facebook said its F8 conference will be replaced by “locally hosted events, videos and live streamed content,” while Salesforce is planning an online event. 

One forward-looking option could be to use virtual reality. Bitcoin influencer, developer and consultant Udi Wertheimer claimed that his VR event on privacy could be the first of its kind, and saw an impressive turnout

For those intent on face-to-face networking, one option is to make like Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and don’t shake hands. Alternatively, you could adopt the latest coronavirus prevention craze: shaking feet

This article was updated on March 7 to reflect the new status of SFSX and Bitcoin 2020, and confirmation that Consensus will go ahead.