The biggest winners and losers of the crypto industry in 2021


The cryptocurrency and blockchain trade skilled explosive development in 2021, significantly in its decentralized finance (DeFi) and nonfungible token (NFT) sectors. 

The yr was additionally marked by continued worth volatility, baffling habits from China, a grand experiment in Central America, escalating institutional curiosity, and the rise of some quicker smart-contract networks — all of which is mirrored on this yr’s record of trade “winners and losers.”

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Winners in 2021


When China successfully banned Bitcoin (BTC) mining operations in Might 2021, Kazakhstan rushed in to fill the vacuum, pitching displaced miners and others on its low cost and plentiful coal provide. Many arrange operations within the Central Asian nation, together with a top-five crypto mining pool operated by BIT Mining.

By July 2021, Kazakhstan’s common month-to-month hash fee share stood at 18.1% — that’s, it accounted for practically a fifth of the world’s Bitcoin mining output, second solely to america (42.7%), and a shocking improve from only one.4% in September 2019, according to the Cambridge Centre for Different Finance.

Whether or not Kazakhstan will preserve its international share of BTC mining in 2022, given reviews of widespread energy shortages within the nation as winter approaches stays to be seen.


Coinbase International, the biggest cryptocurrency alternate within the U.S., turned the primary crypto firm to record on a U.S. inventory alternate when it debuted on April 14 on Nasdaq. It closed that day at $328.28 with a market capitalization of $86 billion, a shocking launch that invited comparisons with Fb’s and Airbnb’s preliminary public choices. Its share worth got here again to earth by yr’s finish, nonetheless, standing at $243.35 on Dec. 18, with a still-strong market cap of $52.37 billion.

Coinbase’s itemizing was extensively considered as one other signal that crypto had gone mainstream, with extra public choices to return. “Coinbase would be the torchbearer for the entire blockchain group within the public market,” Kavita Gupta, founding managing companion at Delta Progress Fund, instructed Cointelegraph.


A tide of recent good contract-enabled networks emerged on the scene in 2021. The biggest and fastest-growing amongst them was Solana, an excellent fast proof-of-stake community that claims to have clocked 50,000 transactions per second (TPS). By comparability, Ethereum does about 30 TPS.

“No venture — possibly in crypto’s historical past — has gotten hotter, quicker than Solana in 2021,” wrote Messari’s Ryan Selkis. The open-source blockchain hosts a rising variety of NFT and DeFi initiatives, though it was topic to a number of distributed denial-of-service assaults by means of 2021. Solona’s (SOL) native cryptocurrency comfortably ranks fifth amongst all cash as of Dec. 20, in response to Cointelegraph Markets Pro, trailing solely BTC, Ether (ETH), Binance Coin (BNB) and Tether (USDT).

Nayib Bukele/El Salvador

El Salvador made historical past in 2021 — changing into the primary nation to declare Bitcoin (BTC) authorized tender. The nation’s dynamic president, Nayib Bukele, captivated the crypto world along with his doings: harnessing power from a volcano to energy his nation’s BTC mining operations, air-dropping $30 of BTC to each grownup within the nation, and, in late November, saying the launch of Bitcoin Metropolis, a totally useful metropolis constructed round Bitcoin, funded initially by $1 billion Bitcoin bonds.

Solely time will inform whether or not all this quantities to a transparent financial “win” for El Salvador’s individuals, however Bukele arguably, through buying the dips, introduced some Twenty first-century innovation and luster to a poor Central American land whose economic system is closely depending on remittances — i.e., cash despatched residence by overseas employees.

Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple

When artwork home Christie’s put up for public sale in February a digital collage — the primary main public sale home to supply a purely digital work with a singular NFT — it didn’t even connect a worth. Nobody knew methods to worth it. The work “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” by Mike Winkelmann (aka Beeple) offered for $69.3 million, and the artwork trade might by no means be the identical.

Associated: NFT ‘art revolution’: Beeple on his 5,040-day labor of love, Cointelegraph Magazine

To place this into context: The work fetched extra at public sale than items by Georges Seurat, Paul Gaugain or Salvador Dalí, and catapulted the comparatively obscure Beeple into the corporate of the world’s highest-earning modern artists, akin to David Hockney and Jeff Koons. It additionally despatched discover to these exterior the cryptoverse that nonfungible tokens can be a drive with which to be reckoned. Gross sales of NFTs skyrocketed by means of 2021, and in late November, “NFT” was declared “word of the year” by dictionary writer Collins.


Avalanche was one other speedy good contract community that shot into the highest 10 in 2021. “Solana and Avalanche are the brand new stars” amongst DeFi multichains, declared CoinGecko, with 6% and a couple of% complete worth locked (TVL), respectively, within the third quarter. (Avalanche hosts the Aave DeFi protocol.) These TVL good points got here on the expense of Ethereum, which held nearly all DeFi TVL on the yr’s starting (99%). Its share was 76% on the finish of the third quarter by comparability.

Avalanche’s native forex, AVAX, is ranked tenth in market worth in late December at $27.3 billion, which is buoyed arguably by its take care of Deloitte to help the consulting agency’s work with the U.S.’s Federal Emergency Administration Company.

Sam Bankman-Fried/FTX

In 2021, Sam Bankman-Fried was declared “the richest person in crypto” largely on the power of his possession stake in FTX, the cryptocurrency derivatives alternate, which he based in 2019.

By the tip of 2021, FTX had turn into the second-largest crypto derivatives alternate, according to CoinGecko, trailing solely Binance (Futures). Messari referred to as FTX “the fastest-growing firm of all time,” noting that Bankman-Fried had constructed a $25-billion enterprise in lower than three years with fewer than 100 workers.

FTX closed a $900-million funding round in July that valued the alternate at $18 billion, up from $1.2 billion earlier, with participation from SoftBank, Sequoia Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Multicoin, VanEck and the Paul Tudor Jones household, amongst others. In June, FTX acquired the long-term naming rights to the Miami Heat’s NBA basketball enviornment.


The NFT phenomenon has been a boon for digital artists who can promote their works with out brokers and bodily artwork galleries, however they nonetheless want digital marketplaces. OpenSea, a primary mover within the NFT artwork sector and the main market, emerged as one of many yr’s greatest winners.

OpenSea takes a comparatively modest 2.5% fee for every sale on its platform, however this yielded a considerable $79 million in income in August, its peak month in 2021, according to Cointelegraph consulting. By a part of November, revenues exceeded $235 million YTD. Come December, not a lot had modified: “The world’s dominant NFT market is raking in money hand over fist,” said Messari.

ProShares ETF

A barrier of kinds was surmounted in mid-October with the launch of the primary Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) sanctioned by america Securities and Change Fee. The ProShares Bitcoin Technique ETF (BITO) made a dramatic debut on the New York Inventory Change because the second-most closely traded opening-day fund on file, with some calling it “a watershed second for the crypto trade.”

Its launch ended eight years of futility on the a part of U.S. fund issuers — a Winkelvoss ETF was the primary to be rejected by the SEC again in 2013 — however some had been nonetheless upset that the breakthrough fund was a futures-based ETF and didn’t monitor the value of Bitcoin (BTC) instantly. The SEC apparently most popular to have two layers of regulatory safety — i.e., supervision by each the Commodity Futures Buying and selling Fee and the SEC — and this was additional confirmed a number of weeks later when the SEC rejected VanEck’s utility for a spot-market ETF.

Losers in 2021


China managed two-thirds (67%) of the world’s crypto mining manufacturing as not too long ago as September 2020, however in Might, it banned mining operations for causes nobody actually is aware of, however it maybe was associated to a necessity to guard its personal central financial institution digital forex (CBDC), which seems near its full roll-out.

In any occasion, Bitcoin’s hash fee instantly dropped 50%, which roiled markets for a bit. Different nations shortly picked up the mining slack, nonetheless, together with the U.S., Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada. Looking back, many considered China’s motion as a present to the West. “In the present day the [Bitcoin] community is extra decentralized than ever and worth has risen 50%,” said analyst Willy Woo.

Meta (Diem)

Fb’s Libra stablecoin enterprise (now Diem) was introduced in 2019 with nice fanfare and a blue-chip roster of companions, however the venture was repeatedly delayed and its scope lowered. In the present day, one doesn’t hear an excessive amount of about Diem besides maybe with regard to departures — e.g., Dante Disparte left for Circle, whereas extra not too long ago, David Marcus, head of cryptocurrency actions, mentioned he would go away the corporate by yr’s finish.

Fb, rebranded as Meta, has been beneath fireplace from U.S. lawmakers for the “affect” it exerts over social media usually, and its stablecoin venture, as soon as slated to debut in early 2021, might have been collateral injury. There isn’t a lot readability in any occasion. As The New York Occasions commented, “The Libra cryptocurrency was finally rebranded Diem, whereas the corporate’s efforts at a crypto pockets had been referred to as Novi. The mishmash of names typically has been complicated, even for firm insiders.”

Central Financial institution of Nigeria

In February, the Central Financial institution of Nigeria ordered all its native banks to close down the accounts of consumers utilizing cryptocurrencies. The CBN’s governor mentioned most crypto accounts had been getting used to fund “illegitimate” actions akin to cash laundering and financing terrorism.

Nigeria is anticipated to quickly launch a central financial institution digital forex, like China, so maybe the CBN was following China’s playbook of clearing away all competing crypto operations in anticipation of its CBDC roll-out. In that case, its effort failed dismally.

Not solely did crypto survive, however by August, Nigeria had the world’s second-largest market for peer-to-peer Bitcoin buying and selling.

Virgil Griffth

There was a time when Virgil Griffith was one thing of a trigger celebre within the crypto world. The previous Ethereum developer and U.S. citizen traveled to North Korea in early 2019 to attend a cryptocurrency conference. In November of that yr, he was arrested in Los Angelos for violating U.S. sanctions legislation.

“I don’t suppose what Virgil did gave DRPK any form of actual assist in doing something dangerous. He delivered a presentation based mostly on publicly obtainable information about open-source software program,” declared Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin round that point.

In September 2021, simply earlier than his felony trial was to start, Griffith “pleaded responsible to conspiring to violate U.S. legislation by touring to North Korea to offer a presentation on methods to use blockchain know-how to launder cash and evade sanctions,” the Wall Road Journal reported. He may face up to six-and-a-half years in prison as a part of the plea deal. It was unclear what precipitated him to alter his plea.

Iron Finance (TITAN)

Perhaps it’s not such a good suggestion collateralizing a stablecoin — e.g., IRON — with one other stablecoin in USD Coin (USDC) and an obscure governance token (TITAN). On this case, the outcome was what was described as “the world’s first large-scale crypto financial institution run” — particularly, a run on the Iron Finance protocol. The outcome: TITAN plummeted from a worth of greater than $60 to some thousandths of a cent inside a couple of hours in late June.

CipherTrace later mentioned the incident was the results of a design flaw: “Iron.Finance lacked a correct stabilizing mechanism.” However within the meantime, a lot of buyers had been burned, amongst them Dallas Mavericks proprietor Mark Cuban, who called for regulation to find out “what a stablecoin is and what collateralization is appropriate.” Iron Finance (ICE) was buying and selling at round $0.002 on Dec. 20.