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State of Avalanche Q3 2022

Oct 10, 2022 ⋅  24 min read

Key Insights

  • Q3 lacked the quantitative excitement found in bull markets, but it was a quarter focused on building Avalanche's infrastructure and execution of strategy.
  • Integrations with Core, THORChain, Boba Network, and other protocols enhanced user access and experience.
  • The ecosystem expanded beyond DeFi, and ushered in renewed NFT activity, real-world assets (RWAs), GameFi, and unique use cases like Film Finance Offerings (FFOs).
  • With advancements in network functionality, such as those with configurable fees and Elastic Subnets, the value proposition of subnets continued to advance.
  • Subnets on the Fuji Testnet will begin transitioning onto the Avalanche mainnet. The expansion of the P-Chain validator set and ecosystem should accompany this migration.
  • Significant technological advancements like Banff are on the horizon and are expected to catalyze growth.

Primer on Avalanche

The Avalanche network is a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) smart contract platform for decentralized applications. Avalanche differentiates itself by creating and implementing a new consensus family known as "Avalanche consensus." Following years of research, the Avalanche mainnet was launched in September 2020 and featured the release of a multichain framework utilizing three chains: the P, X, and C chains. Each chain plays a critical and unique role within the Avalanche ecosystem while providing the same capabilities of a single network, often called the Primary Network. Avalanche consensus and the Primary Network are designed to support sovereign, interconnected blockchains known as subnets. Subnets are subclasses of Primary Network validators that run the same Virtual Machines (VMs) with their own rules. Subnets enable different properties of reliability, efficiency, and data sovereignty. They provide the ability to create custom blockchains for different use cases while isolating high-traffic applications from congesting activity on the Primary Network.

The Third Quarter Narrative

Despite the widespread market decline during Q2, Avalanche focused on its vision to digitize all assets, enhance the network’s capabilities, and scale horizontally through architectural design and subnets. It improved user access with Core, a Web3 operating system. The ecosystem also continued to expand into DeFi and beyond with the rollout of NFT marketplaces like Trader Joe’s Joepegs and GameFi developments. Ultimately, it was a continuation of development for the Avalanche ecosystem, with the network maintaining its focus on the long term.

Q3 lacked the quantitative excitement witnessed during last year’s bull market, but the bear has surfaced the network’s fundamental user base and ability to push forward with its go-to-market strategy. As a follow-up to the State of Avalanche Q2 2022 report, this report will dive into the quantitative performance over the quarter and the qualitative evidence that Avalanche is continuing to execute its vision. To that end, Avalanche’s mission toward adoption remains intact after a tumultuous Q2, with further integrations, expansions beyond DeFi, and advancements in network functionality.

Performance Analysis

Network and Financial Overview

The data used to evaluate the quantitative aspects of the Avalanche network are taken from the Primary Network and, more specifically, the Avalanche C-Chain.

Subnet activity is also considered along with the C-Chain but not presented in data tables, seeing as each subnet has its own sovereign security, native tokens, and value accrual mechanisms. In contrast, the C-Chain is currently the primary value driver of AVAX.

Similar to Q2, Avalanche C-Chain experienced declines in network usage and financial performance except for slight growth in circulating market cap (i.e., network value).

While network value increased slightly (3.3%), usage and revenue generation dramatically declined. Average daily transactions declined by 65.5%, and with a welcomed 76.2% decline in transaction fees. Total revenue declined by 94.1%. From a valuation perspective, the relationship between network value and revenue (price-to-sales (P/S) ratio) continued to reverse course, moving from 379x to 665x.

Daily active addresses also continued to reverse course, with address activity averaging 38,000 per day, down from an average of 63,000 in Q2. Outside of the C-Chain, daily active addresses on the DeFi Kingdoms (DFK) and Crabada (Swimmer) subnets experienced an uptrend.

The address activity on the DFK and Swimmer subnets reflects usage that would have been previously captured on the C-Chain. Nonetheless, the amount of address activity on the C-Chain is still four times greater than a year prior. The growth in activity on the subnets indicates healthy subnet functionality.

Transaction activity on the C-Chain dropped more significantly than daily active address activity. Avalanche's average daily transactions declined from 540,000 last quarter to 186,000 in Q3. Daily transactions continued declining as transaction activity shifted from the C-Chain to subnets, especially DFK.

Previously, DFK and Crabada were the C-Chain's top transaction and revenue drivers. The subnets are now generating an average of 1.5 million daily transactions on their sovereign networks. In total, more than ~1.7 million daily transactions on average were occurring on Avalanche infrastructure during Q3. An all-time-high of 45 million total transactions was reached in August. However, the shift in transactions from the C-Chain to the individual subnets has continued to put downward pressure on Avalanche transaction fees (as designed) and material downward pressure on revenue.

Since its inception, managing the relationship between security, transaction fees, revenue, and network value has been a balancing act for Avalanche.

Throughout 2021 and into Q1 2022, the network experienced volatility in average daily transaction fees as the network grew in usage and financial metrics. Several Apricot Phase 5 releases and Avalanche Go (Apricot Phase 6) were implemented in Q3, collectively facilitating lower average transaction fees.

The Primary Network experienced an even greater decline in transaction fees, as subnets generate traffic on their own networks. This intention has been and is part of Avalanche's ability to scale horizontally.

As a result, total revenue has declined along with transaction fees.

Revenue is still a focus for many participants in the ecosystem since Avalanche burns 100% of revenue (transaction fees) from the network's circulating supply. In theory, by increasing scarcity, value is created for all AVAX tokenholders.

As a result of the burning mechanism, the growth or decline of C-Chain revenue influences AVAX's market value upwards or downwards. As evidenced throughout the last year, spikes and declines in daily revenue have been accompanied by spikes and declines in fully diluted valuation (FDV). As the relationship between revenue and network value persists, network usage and revenue on the C-Chain will continue to impact network value.

Subnets have clearly put downward pressure on revenue and, to some extent, network value over the short term. The relationship between revenue and value continues to beg the question of whether subnets negatively impact the utility of the AVAX token and the Avalanche Primary Network (C-Chain) value.

The Value Accrual Case for Subnets

Source: Avalanche Documentation

Subnets are not only an approach to scaling the entire network — they are a value proposition for developers. Subnets allow decentralized applications to leverage Avalanche consensus and infrastructure. They allow devs to easily spin up uniquely tailored blockchain environments. When evaluating quantitative metrics of the Primary Network, there is an opportunity cost that cannot be easily quantified. Would DeFi Kingdoms and Crabada have ever built on Avalanche and generated activity on the C-Chain in the first place without subnets as their end-game solution? Perhaps they would have otherwise found a different solution.

Suppose that subnets were determined to be the ideal solution for DFK and Crabada and the hundreds of others under development on the Fuji Testnet. Suppose the reasons to build on a subnet as described by game developers like Pulsar were valid. In that case, the value accrual is that of growing the validator set, as each subnet stakes 2,000 AVAX and validates on the Primary Network.

In other words, it's possible that the infrastructure of the Primary Network would not have built-in incentives for growth if it weren't for the attractiveness of subnets. It would follow that there would be fewer validators staking 2,000 AVAX as well. The value accrual from expanding the validator set is, therefore, much different and on a different time horizon than what comes from revenue and burning transaction fees on the C-Chain.

Other value accrual mechanisms include the AVAX fee for creating new subnets and blockchains. This fee allows AVAX to capture value indirectly through its burning mechanism.

Other value may come from the need for AVAX liquidity on subnets and utilizing AVAX as gas for eventual cross-subnet communication. Finally, subnets could choose to use AVAX as their native tokens.

Several strategies to grow the C-Chain's adoption are still intact. Many applications may choose to build on the C-Chain exclusively because it's a better fit. They could also build on the C-Chain first and then migrate to their own subnet, like DFK and Crabada. Ultimately, each option has its trade-offs, providing developers the flexibility to implement their product or business solution as needed.

The launch of subnets may have created a short-term impact on C-Chain network activity and value. Still, the Primary Network's value in scale, flexibility, and robust infrastructure should accrue over the long term as more subnets come online.

Ecosystem & Development Overview

DeFi

As Avalanche’s DeFi incentive program Avalanche Rush wound down in Q3, TVL fell roughly 27% in both USD and AVAX quarter over quarter (QoQ). However, over the 12 months of the Avalanche Rush program, the average amount of TVL denominated in AVAX was 126 million, which was roughly the average during Q3. From this perspective, TVL in AVAX is stable. As TVL reverts back to its mean, it reflects a sustainable utility instead of a value catalyzed purely by incentives.

During Q3, Avalanche's two most prominent lending protocols, Aave and Benqi, saw their TVLs move in opposite directions. Aave dipped roughly in line with the Avalanche DeFi ecosystem as a whole (-30%), while Benqi increased by 13%. However, Benqi's growth can be attributed to its recent liquid staking offering, as the TVL in its lending platform was flat QoQ.

As overall TVL declined, dominance didn't shift much between the top protocols. The broader DeFi ecosystem was able to stabilize thanks to the growth in TVL of other relatively new projects to the Avalanche ecosystem: Synapse (139%), Stargate (14%), and GMX (6%).

Beyond existing DeFi, Avalanche made a clear effort to bring on real-world assets (RWA) during Q3.

Centrifuge, an on-chain ecosystem for RWA-structured credit, announced the integration of its Centrifuge Connectors with Avalanche. Centrifuge Connectors is a hybrid cross-chain solution to bring real-world assets from Centrifuge directly to Avalanche.

Further, Intain (currently ~$5 billion in assets on Hyperledger), announced it is building an Avalanche subnet to tokenize asset-backed securities (ABS). Intain cited that Avalanche was selected because of its subnet architecture and how it supports permissioned spaces that restrict access to financial institutions.

Finally, KKR & Co, a leading global investment firm, announced partnering with digital-assets specialist Securitize. Together, they plan to tokenize part of KKR's Health Care Strategic Growth Fund and make it available on Avalanche's public blockchain.

NFTs

The downturn in TVL wasn't isolated to DeFi. Avalanche's nascent NFT market experienced declines in secondary sales volume (-88.8%) and unique buyers (-34.5%) while unique sellers increased by 25.1%. Notably, however, NFT sales rebounded at the beginning of Q3. Average daily sales were $25,000 in June, followed by an average of $70,000 in July. This rebound represents a 180% increase off the lows at the end of Q2. Much of the rebound can be attributed to the launch of the Joepegs NFT marketplace in Q2, and the subsequent sale of Conscious Lines, which sold out in 30 seconds and gathered the interest of buyers such as Paris Hilton.

Gaming

While DeFi incentives may have slowed, Blizzard, Avalanches's $200+ million ecosystem fund, is still in motion and attracting creatives and GameFi. Along with RWAs, GameFi is clearly starting to find its place in Avalanche’s ecosystem.

Heading into Q3, Razor, a gaming company with a robust gamer-focused ecosystem of hardware, software, and services partnered with SHRAPNEL. SHRAPNEL is a AAA first-person shooter built on Avalanche by a team with backgrounds including Halo, Call of Duty, and HBO.

Steve Harvey, celebrity host of "Family Feud," announced his entry into the world of play-to-earn gaming on Avalanche, allowing players to receive rewards in the form of NFTs.

Beyond Razor, SHRAPNEL, and Steve Harvey, a slew of games, including Cosmic Universe (migrating from Harmony), OpenBlox, and Domi Online, are some of the other notable GameFi players entering the Avalanche ecosystem.

Ultimately, RWA and GameFi will likely drive activity on the C-Chain and expand the Primary Network validator set through subnets in the coming months.

Development

Development engagement measured by unique smart contract verifications has yet to catch up to the progress seen in RWA and GameFi. Smart contract verification is triggered by the developer to translate the code into a higher-level language. This measure followed a similar pattern to most other quantifiable metrics QoQ, with quarterly total down 20%. Furthermore, similar to address and transaction activity, smart contract verifications have been rising across the DFK and Swimmer networks.

In previous reports, core developer involvement was measured by data sources tracking the events in the Ava Labs’ GitHub repository. Data has indicated core development growth over the last several quarters, growing 33% during Q2 and 34% during Q3. With this measure, the network's core contributors appear to be finding success in the infrastructure buildout.

However, current data sources on developer data as they exist today are imperfect. Not all commits are created equal. Data sources employ imperfect methodology for gathering a clear picture of core developer activity as they work by primitively measuring GitHub events across different repos.

While there is evidence that core developers are contributing to the buildout of the Avalanche infrastructure, future reports will aim to evaluate activity with more reliable data sources and methodology to surface an accurate measure.

Staking and Decentralization Overview


Staking and decentralization of the network remain strong despite coming off a volatile Q2.

While average daily stake amounts and engaged stake were relatively flat QoQ, the total amount staked grew from 243 million AVAX to over 260 million. The validator stake remained ~6.50 times greater than the amount of delegated stake, and the unresponsive validator stake was also flat, which signals continued engagement, reliability, and network health.

Unlike average stake amounts, there was a significant shift in the average number of validators and delegators. The average validator count shrank from 1,465 to 1,273 (-192 validators). representing a ~13% decline in network security participants. Given the incoming subnets over the near term, the average number of validators should increase in tandem with the amount of AVAX staked.

While the average delegator stake was flat QoQ, the average number of delegators grew significantly. The average number of delegators moved in the opposite direction of validators and expanded from 17,179 to 20,218 (+3,039), representing a ~12% increase. Delegators consistently outnumbered validators.

The unresponsive validator count was technically down QoQ, but as a percentage of the average validator count, it increased. — most noticeably spiking in mid-September. Avalanche Go V1.8.0 (Apricot Phase 6) was a mandatory security upgrade released during this time. Node operators were instructed to upgrade by September 6 or else their nodes could potentially experience a loss of uptime. While not a serious concern, the upgrade appears to have been delayed by some validators.

In the end, the continuation of low volatility in stake, validator, and delegator counts signals a healthy network and progress toward greater decentralization.

Avalanche's Nakamoto coefficient continues to hover around 30 but is slowly improving over the long term. Again, this measure should continue improving as more subnets come online and validate on the Primary Network. The improvement continues to put Avalanche above the industry average compared to other Layer-1 networks.

Competitive Analysis

Technical advancements, developer activity, and ecosystem growth strategies separate L1s from each other. Here, we evaluate Avalanche's key metrics versus the top five EVM-compatible chains (including Avalanche) by TVL and the largest number of DeFi protocols. This peer group consists of the EVM chains with the largest TVL and greatest number of protocols, seeing as DeFi is still the sector driving the majority of each network's economic activity.

Avalanche valuation was up and down throughout the quarter but finished relatively flat (+3%) in market cap. Ethereum, BNB Chain, and Polygon regained market cap dominance over the quarter and experienced double-digit percentage point increases. Fantom continues to experience woes in terms of price action.

With the decrease in average transaction fees and daily transactions, Avalanche's daily revenue significantly trended downward. The peer group (minus Ethereum) experienced a similar trend in revenue as a result of lower average transaction fees and daily transactions. Interestingly, Ethereum transactions were up on average, but post-Merge, they experienced a dramatic transaction fee decline, pushing the protocol's revenue down by ~80%.

Over the quarter, Avalanche's P/S ratio increased more dramatically compared to the peer group. The change in P/S gauges a protocol's revenue and gives a sense of the number and price of transactions processed by the protocol. Ethereum's increase in P/S was not due to fewer transactions but instead from lower transaction fees, which is generally accepted as a good thing. On the other hand, Avalanche experienced declines in transaction fees and daily transactions, making its increase much more dramatic. Dividing valuation (price) by revenue (sales) then gives a further sense of how much a unit of the native token is worth per unit of revenue. On a relative basis, AVAX is now more expensive per unit of revenue compared to the peer group.


Avalanche (C-Chain) reached similar levels of daily transactions compared to Ethereum throughout Q1 and the earlier part of Q2. With the launch of the DFK and Swimmer subnets, daily transactions on the C-Chain experienced a sharp decline and have since held relatively steady. Ethereum has held steady at ~1.15 million transactions per day, with Avalanche reaching as much as ~74% of Ethereum's volume earlier this year, but it now hovers closer to 20%. With that in mind, the network is processing a daily transaction average greater than Ethereum, considering Avalanche’s infrastructure and consensus in its totality. Collectively, Avalanche’s infrastructure in its entirety is currently processing ~2.3 million transactions per day.

Q3 was flat for the crypto DeFi market, with aggregate TVL beginning and ending with ~$54 billion in USD terms. Avalanche's TVL declined at the second-greatest rate (-75%) among the top EVM chains, with Fantom shedding even more. Because declines in TVL are generally evaluated in USD, the asset's decline in value represents the price shift in TVL versus the actual utilization of DeFi. While TVL in USD was down, the amount locked denominated in AVAX was relatively stable.

Avalanche was on a path to establishing a strong position relative to a peer group of the top L1s by all-time secondary NFT sales volume. Avalanche quickly surpassed Ronin, Flow, and Polygon during Q1 and the early part of Q2. However, secondary sales dropped in May, around the time of the Swimmer subnet launch. Nonetheless, Avalanche NFT activity rebounded in Q3 and secured a spot as one of the top 10 in terms of all-time sales volume over the last year. With the launch of Joepegs, Lost Worlds, and other NFT launches on the way, NFT sales volume should continue an upward trajectory from the lows seen in Q2.


Though Ethereum still dominates roughly 80% of the secondary NFT market, Avalanche managed to break into the top 10 by all-time sales volume in early 2022.

Qualitative Analysis

Key Events, Catalysts, and Strategies for Ecosystem Growth

The quantitative narrative of Q3 was relatively unexciting, as it was for many networks in the bear market. However, Q3’s qualitative narrative was filled with building the Avalanche ecosystem and remaining laser-focused on executing its growth strategy. As mentioned earlier, the protocol made significant strides by deploying Blizzard and other efforts to usher in real-world assets (RWA) and GameFi. The Avalanche strategy also featured several (albeit indirect) core elements which can be generalized into the following areas:

  • Technical integrations
  • Core technical enhancements
  • Improved user experience (includes user access)
  • Advancement into unique sectors and use cases

July 2022

In July, technical integrations enhancing user experience included THORChain's integration of the Avalanche C-Chain. This integration will allow C-Chain users to swap in and out of the ecosystem without using bridges. Further, Infura, a widely used toolkit for blockchain developers, announced its support for the C-Chain. This integration will enable developers with easy-to-use tools to leverage the C-Chain.

There was also an influx of enhanced user experience through institutional liquid staking solutions. Alluvial Finance and Rome Blockchain Labs bring a liquid staking standard to Avalanche. The platform will be governed in a decentralized manner, and offer a standard for Know your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements for institutions with regulatory obligations.

Core technical enhancements also rolled out when configurable fees for subnets were introduced. Since the launch of the Subnet-EVM, one of the most highly requested features has been to enable the flexibility to reconfigure fees without network upgrades. Configurable fees became a reality in Q3, enhancing user experience and the subnet value proposition.

Finally, unique use cases began to surface in July. The Landslide Network, a subnet aimed at decreasing the finality of Tendermint consensus, announced it will be opening an incentivized testnet in Q4 2022. In addition to reducing Tendermint finality, it will enable the Cosmos and Terra ecosystems to run any Tendermint-based application natively within the Avalanche ecosystem.

August 2022

Technical integrations continued in August. Core, the non-custodial Web3 browser extension, rolled out support for all blockchains that run the EVM and custom subnets. This integration allows seamless switching across all major blockchains, including Ethereum and Bitcoin. As demonstrated at the Avalanche House Brooklyn, QuickNode made it possible for builders to launch a node within seconds using their global network of RPC endpoints.

Liquid staking solutions brought more user access. GoGoPool is a new staking protocol that raised $5 million in a seed round to bring liquid staking to Avalanche. In particular, it aims to reduce the costs and friction of launching subnets. In addition to more liquid staking, a handful of financial partnerships with Shapeshift, Robinhood, and Wisdom Tree were formed to drive more access to AVAX.

More unique use cases also continued to surface. CurateDAO launched an Avalanche-based “curate-to-earn” Pinterest-like database platform where participants can earn by contributing to databases. Further, August brought Republic and the first tokenized Film Finance Offerings (FFO) to Avalanche. The FFO began accepting investment commitments in August, ushering in a unique way to access and participate in film financing.

September 2022

The quarter rounded out with more integrations to improve user access and experience. In early September, wallet provider Bitcoin.com announced its support for AVAX.

Another notable integration aimed at user experience was the integration with Boba Network. Boba Network is a Layer-2 scaling solution and is the Avalanche C-Chain’s first L2. The integration gives Avalanche developers another means to low fees, speed, and scaling.

Probably the most notable event of September came with the introduction of Banff, an AvalancheGo upgrade that will bring Elastic Subnets to the ecosystem. Banff will enable subnet creators to activate Proof-of-Stake validation and uptime-based rewards. The upgrade will allow anyone to become a validator of a subnet by simply staking its native token on the P-Chain. The setup will give builders more options when designing their subnets.

Ecosystem Challenges

Q3 did not present any material adverse outcomes stemming from technical challenges. However, the rollout of Apricot 6 did require some attention. The mandatory security upgrade caused an uptick in unresponsive validators but did not put the network at risk.

The Avalanche bridge also experienced instability with bridge nodes, and transfers were not processed until the issue was resolved. The Avalanche bridge nodes ran maintenance and were quickly updated to the latest AvalancheGo release.

Beyond the impact of upgrade maintenance, a vulnerability was found and addressed during the quarter. The Native Asset Call precompile, a unique feature exclusively on the C-Chain used to interact with Avalanche Native Tokens, was at risk of being exploited. The vulnerability was quickly addressed as all Avalanche contracts open to the potential exploit were disabled. AvalancheGo V1.9.0 will entirely deprecate the precompile and introduce a safer replacement to restore full functionality for Avalanche Native Tokens on the C-Chain.

The Road Ahead

As of now, Avalanche does not provide a roadmap for its development that is publicly accessible. However, announcements are regularly communicated regarding future plans.

Over the coming months, many of the subnets on the Fuji Testnet will begin transitioning onto the Avalanche mainnet. Expect an expansion of the P-Chain validator set to accompany this migration.

After Avalanche's Apricot upgrade phase is complete, the Banff upgrade cycle will ramp up. Banff will unlock value across the Avalanche ecosystem in terms of interoperability, similar to the completion of IBC on Cosmos. It will allow cross-subnet asset transfers, permissionless subnets, and subnet validator rewards in their native tokens.

While Avalanche incentive programs may continue to catalyze ecosystem growth, significant technological advancements like Banff are expected to catalyze growth soon.

Closing Summary

Overall, Q3 was a quarter of the building and executing of Avalanche’s strategy and vision. While the quarter lacked the quantitative excitement witnessed during the last year’s bull market, the network’s fundamental user base and ability to push forward with its go-to-market strategy have surfaced.

Integrations, such as those with Core, increased user access and enhanced user experience. Further, the ecosystem expanded beyond DeFi and ushered in NFT activity, real-world assets (RWA), GameFi, and unique use cases like FFOs. With advancements in network functionality, such as those with elastic subnets, the case for subnets continued to grow, and Avalanche’s mission toward adoption moved forward.

While Avalanche incentive programs may continue to catalyze ecosystem growth, many of the subnets on the Fuji Testnet will begin transitioning onto the Avalanche mainnet. The expansion of the validator set and ecosystem should accompany this migration. Finally, significant technological advancements like Banff are on the horizon and are also expected to catalyze growth.




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James believes that the future of finance and economics will be algorithmic, decentralized, and distributed efficiently on a global scale. He is a Research Analyst with Messari focusing on Layer-1 protocols and previously held traditional finance positions at Northwestern Mutual and U.S. Bank. James also has experience as an analyst at research firms like Morningstar.

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James believes that the future of finance and economics will be algorithmic, decentralized, and distributed efficiently on a global scale. He is a Research Analyst with Messari focusing on Layer-1 protocols and previously held traditional finance positions at Northwestern Mutual and U.S. Bank. James also has experience as an analyst at research firms like Morningstar.

Mentioned in this report