Ethereum in 2020: the View from the Block Explorer

Harith Kamarul
Jan 7 · 11 min read

2020 was a challenging year for the whole world. At the same time, it proved to be a positive one for Ethereum — the ecosystem grew unabated on many fronts, making strides into earning our market cap. In this article, we look at some trends seen on the Ethereum blockchain including:

  • Base Layer
  • DeFi
  • Eth2 & L2
  • BTC on Ethereum
  • NFT

Base Layer

The most important metric for many! ETH’s price rallied across 2020, ending the year up 4.8x from $129 to $753. At the time of writing, it is already tearing new heights into 2021! To use a popular benchmark, the cost of an Eth2 validator (32 ETH) in January was $4,128. By the end of December, it had ballooned up to $24,064.

In spite of this rally, ETH at year-end is still only 52% of its All Time High (ATH) prices of $1,448.

Click here for a dynamic view of the chart.

ETH outperformed major assets including BTC, gold and the S&P 500. It ended the year at +483%, beating BTC’s +303% and dwarfing the +24% and +15% returns of gold and S&P respectively.

Side note: while crypto is widely said to be an uncorrelated asset, a drastic drop in March was highly correlated across all 4 assets. Towards the end of the year, both ETH and BTC moved up along with S&P while gold (keeping to its own uncorrelated reputation) remained sideways.

24% and 15% are typically considered good returns!

2020 saw a jump in the number of transfers, up 38% from the previous high of 250 million (in 2018) to 345 million. While ERC20 tokens only made up 35% of transfers back then, it now makes up 54% of all transfers. Ethereum is powering a deeper and wider economy!

Explore more of the chart here.

Zooming into 2020, we see that the monthly figures were also trending up. A curious exception is a drop in September in the midst of ‘yield farming’ season.

Could it have been a drop in the actual number of ‘farmers’?

Taking a look at the 20 most transferred ERC20 tokens, we see that:

  • USDT was top again with 28% of transfers done using it
  • Stablecoins as a whole made up more than 35% of the total and comprised 4 of the top 6 tokens (USDT, USDC, DAI, PAX)
  • 6 tokens without updated information made it to the top 20, totaling 2.8%
  • A rung below stablecoins in usage were DEX tokens, with 4 tokens in the top 20 making up 1.3% of the total (UNI, BNT, KNC, ZRX)

New addresses grew from 84 million in 2019 to 131 million in 2020, an increase of 56%.

Source: Etherscan.io

Active addresses trended up over 2020, loosely tracking ETH prices. One exception was the major drop in March, when many people were fleeing financial assets as a whole while others came in to buy the ETH dip.

In August-September, it suffered a drop similar to the one in the monthly transfers chart above.

2020 saw Ethereum consistently incur the highest total fees in crypto due to its high usage.

Average daily gas price shot up to an ATH of 710 Gwei in June as users (myself included) scrambled to claim our UNI airdrops. In USD terms, however, the rate was eclipsed in September as ETH doubled in price. The fee for a standard (21,000 gas limit) ETH transfer at the time equaled $4.80.

As farming season slowed down towards the end of the year, gas prices have hovered around the 100 Gwei mark. At the same time, in USD terms it has been creeping up due to the rise in ETH price. In early 2021 the USD fees has since broken a new ATH again as ETH price rocketed up.

A better look at the chart.

2020 saw a large number of contracts created. At 10.7 million, it was up 55% from 6.9 million in 2019.

New verified contracts on Etherscan were stable through H1 2020. In Q3 it grew significantly, along with the growth in DeFi and yield farming. It peaked in November before dropping down towards the end of the year as ETH price (and hence gas fees) went up.

Source: Etherscan.io.

DeFi

2020 was a breakthrough year for DeFi. TVL in these dApps shot up 24x from $600 million at the start of 2020 to $15 billion by year-end.

Source: DeFiPulse.com

The market cap of the top 100 DeFi tokens responded accordingly, going up 11x from $1.6 billion to $19.8 billion. It peaked at 40% of ETH’s market cap during farming season and gradually lowered towards year-end as ETH started shooting up.

DeFi market cap values sourced from CoinGecko’s Top 100 DeFi Coins page.

Back in our 2019 roundup and DEX article early last year, we highlighted the growth of the DEX market as a whole and Uniswap specifically. Even we could not imagine the monstrous growth both of these would experience in 2020.

At the end of 2019, DEXs had a total of $166 million in monthly volume. By the end of 2020, they were raking in $19.2 billion, an increase of 115x!

It grew so much, it messed up my y-axis!

Our February article showed how three DEXs: Uniswap, IDEX and Kyber made up more than 80% of total transactions. 10 months on, the DEX market makeup is vastly different. While Uniswap cemented its position at the top, the other two fell down the pecking order. Out of the top 10 listed, Sushiswap, Curve and Mooniswap didn’t even exist before 2020!

Data from Dune Analytics’ awesome DEX metrics dashboard.

To put the DEX market and Uniswap’s extreme growth into perspective, we went from the entire market reporting $166 million in monthly volume to Uniswap alone beating the daily trading volume of Coinbase — in just 8 months!

‘Crazy’ is something we’ve learnt to expect from 2020.

Earlier, we saw how stablecoins made up 35% of total transfers on Ethereum. Their volumes transacted is even more impressive. USDT alone had value transacted on the Ethereum blockchain exceeding ETH. In total, more than $1.2 trillion of stablecoins were transacted in 2020.

The $1.2 trillion amounted to a 7x increase over the 2019 value of $170 billion.

Etherscan accommodated user requests for a Yield Farms list at the beginning of August. Since then, almost 500 tokens have been listed on the page. Tracking these tokens’ transfers shows a huge spike in September. This occurred in spite of overall transfers and active addresses dropping in the same month, providing some credence to the notion that sustained yield farming was carried out by a smaller subset of Ethereum users.

Eth2 & L2

2020 was a year where Ethereum users truly felt the need for scaling with record-high gas fees. While not in their final form, we do see the earliest fruits of scaling efforts showing up on chain.

Last month, we wrote on Eth2 deposits barely reaching its target before the deadline. Since then, deposits have gone from strength to strength. 905,000 ETH had been deposited as at Dec 1, equivalent to $554 million or 0.76% of all ETH supply. By Jan 1, those numbers had risen up to 2.17 million ETH, $1.6 billion and 1.9% respectively! Expect this number to rise even further in coming months.

One of the key goals of Eth2 is to ensure decentralization of its validators. How well is it faring so far? Based on internal labeling of addresses, we estimate that currently 51% of deposited ETH is controlled by 20 entities. This is a 9% increase in concentration from last month. This percentage will be useful to monitor going forward. For those looking to stake into Eth2, keep in mind the overall community’s need for more individual validators!

More details here.

After starting the Eth2 Beacon Chain with 27,500 validators, the number quickly multiplied to 67,000 within a month. That’s almost 4x the minimum number of validators originally targeted (16,284)!

Source: BeaconScan.com

How many of these validators are actually attesting? The Medalla testnet was plagued with low participation rates as the network faced the ‘nothing-at-stake’ problem. Community members staunchly insisted that the live network would face no such issues — they’ve been proven right so far with 96+% participation rate since the Beacon Chain went live.

Source: BeaconScan.com

Note: Check out other charts tracking Eth2 at beaconscan.com/statistics!

Layer 2 scaling was primarily in testing phase throughout 2020. Some projects that went live did so as beta releases while others went through multiple iterations. Of those that are live, Loopring and Tornado Cash have gotten the most number of deposits into their system.

More diverse colors towards the end of the year!

It’s still early days for L2 though. This particular battleground will become more hotly contested over the course of 2021, and we look forward to see the composition of chains, rollups, dApps and users.

As always, a timely Vitalik post on the topic at hand.

BTC on Ethereum

Another trend growing over the course of 2020 has been tokenizing of Bitcoin on the Ethereum blockchain. When we covered this topic on June 1, we predicted a surge coming from the then 5,000 BTC tokenized. Fast forward 6 months — that number is up 27x to 140,000 BTC!

Source: BTC on Ethereum

Just as Uniswap remains the king of DEXs, wBTC remains the king of BTC tokens. The vast majority of BTC transacted on Ethereum throughout 2020 was done with wBTC, with renBTC a considerable distance behind. Volumes peaked in September with 1.4 million BTC of transfers.

As at Dec 31, wBTC made up 81% of all tokenized BTC. Even in terms of token holders, it remains far ahead of the others with ~20,000. The next highest, imBTC had ~2,800.

A trend started in Q4 is tokenized BTC farming. Three tokens added to the list (oBTC, vBTC, anyBTC) require users to lock BTC on the Bitcoin chain to be rewarded farm tokens. So far they hold only $25 million in value and make up less than 1% of the total, but it will be interesting to see how these and other experiments fare in pulling BTC volume into Ethereum.

Non Fungible Tokens (NFT)

The NFT space also made large strides forward in 2020. While some projects have moved to Layer 2 or other blockchains, there were still close to 5 million ERC721 transfers done on the Ethereum main chain.

71% of these were made by the 10 largest tokens. These mainly comprised of gaming tokens (Cryptokitties, Gods Unchained, Axie Infinity, Sorare & Dozer making up ~42%) and domain names (ENS & Unstoppable Domains, ~19%). Collectibles provenance and (of course) yield farming round off the top 10.

Not showing up above but wildly popular this year was digital art, with Beeple raising $3.5 million from a weekend auction of his NFT-linked art and projects providing an inflow from DeFi into NFTs such as Rarible adding liquidity mining for their governance token RARI.

Beeple’s 2020 collection presented in Somnium Space VR.

Honorable Mentions

Other trends seen in 2020 include:

  • Governance/DAOs: perhaps not in the way many people predicted, DAOs and governance came back in vogue with liquidity mining of governance tokens playing a huge part in the DeFi bull run. Examples: Maker, Yearn, Compound.
  • Grants: public goods funding on Ethereum received major strides, due in large part to the quadratic funding rounds held by Gitcoin. Others contributing include the Ethereum Foundation, clr.fund and Open Grants.
  • Private/Miner Extractable Value (MEV) transactions: thrown into a wider discussion following the Dark Forest article on frontrunning, projects have since started implementing these on mainnet. Examples: SparkPool, 1inch, Flashbots.
  • Prediction markets: these dApps received a boost in usership especially in the run up to the US presidential election, for which one market had to be resolved through an on-chain vote. Examples: Catnip, Omen.
  • Algorithmic stable assets: new iterations were explored throughout the year, boosted by the extra liquidity and capital from yield farming. Examples include rebasement by YAM Finance, seigniorage shares by Mithril Cash and reflex bonds by Reflexer Labs.
  • Virtual events: with COVID making conferences and in-person meetups impossible, the community responded by hosting a plethora of virtual events. Highlights include ETHGlobal’s Hack Money and ETHOnline. Etherscan tracked more than 200 of these.
  • Adoption: too many to cover as industries worldwide continued picking up Ethereum. Highlights include PayPal, Visa, SAP, the Baseline Protocol, CME, and Reddit. Even Google Trends is showing record-high interest in Ethereum!

Predictions

An annual roundup is no fun without some predictions to go with it! Without further ado, some of ours:

  • Both EIP1559 and Eth2 Phase 1 will go live by Q3
  • More than 50 dApps will migrate to L2 and coalesce to 3 rollups/chains by year-end
  • The NFT market will see a 10x growth in value
  • We will see more than $100 million in volume transacted via MEV
  • Yield farming algorithmic stablecoins will burn hot but sizzle out by Q1

2020 flew by so quickly! With Ethereum blasting off at the start of 2021, we expect all these trends to continue upward for the foreseeable future.

What are your predictions for 2021? Let us know.

Etherscan Blog

Etherscan is the leading Ethereum Blockchain Explorer.

Etherscan Blog

Etherscan is the leading Ethereum Blockchain Explorer. The core of Etherscan involves extracting data from the Ethereum distributed ledger, indexing and displaying the processed data in a concise and readable manner for the masses and layperson.

Harith Kamarul

Written by

Community @etherscan

Etherscan Blog

Etherscan is the leading Ethereum Blockchain Explorer. The core of Etherscan involves extracting data from the Ethereum distributed ledger, indexing and displaying the processed data in a concise and readable manner for the masses and layperson.