Nansen’s State of The Crypto Industry Report 2021

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2021 was a huge year for crypto, both in terms of price action and adoption. There were multiple trending narratives throughout the year. Each sector had their own time to shine, bringing more interest, more capital and more people into the space. Many of us thought that DeFi would be the use case that brings millions of people into crypto, especially after the year DeFi had in 2020. While TVL did hit new highs, JPEGs of cartoon animals stole the show and brought in mainstream attention. Blockchain games like Axie Infinity introduced a new paradigm of gaming and showed strong product market fit with their high number of daily active users.

Let's take a look at some of the key highlights of 2021:

A multi-chain world

Over the past year, we saw the rise of many L1s and L2s. While Ethereum still remains the king, the spike in gas fees allowed many alternative chains to gain traction, most notably Binance Smart Chain (BSC) and Polygon. The promise of low fees and incentive programs propelled these chains to levels of activity that surpasses Ethereum. BSC and Polygon peaked at 1,345% and 760% the number of transactions on Ethereum respectively. The number of daily transactions have come down since their peaks and is currently at ~335% for Polygon and 550% for BSC. BSC is the most active L1 by daily active addresses.

Number of transactions on BSC vs ETH

Source: as of Dec 2021

Number of transactions on Polygon vs ETH

Source: as of Dec 2021

DeFi continues marching on

After a strong 2020, DeFi continued to ride on that momentum and showed no signs of slowing down in 2021. TVL grew by about 1,120% and stablecoins saw increased adoption, adding a total of $74B to their market caps during the year. Despite getting overshadowed by newer chains in terms of number of transactions, Ethereum continues to dominate the DeFi space in TVL. Ethereum has a higher TVL than all of the other chains combined, having roughly 70% of the total market share.

TVL on blockchains and dominant stablecoins

Source:, DefiLlama as of 1 Nov 2021

Uniswap and Aave both saw activity peaking during the first half of the year before cooling as the year progressed. Lido, a liquid staking protocol, had a massive year. Starting the year with just 16.9k ETH deposited, Lido would see the pool grow to 1.57m ETH by the end of the year, a whopping ~93x increase. While there are 23.1k unique depositors, the top 37 depositors are responsible for 50% of all ETH staked. This suggests that a few large whales are extremely bullish on Lido. 

ETH staked in Lido

Source: as of Dec 2021

Smart money was actively trading on DEXes, with most trades being between WETH-Stable coins and WBTC-WETH. There was an interesting outlier amongst the trading pairs. Memecoin Shib ranked 9th in terms of smart money volume. One of them made an incredible 7,500x in 271 days!

Top 10 DEX pairs traded by Smart Money in 2021 (based on volume)

Source: as of 24 November 2021

Top 3 SHIB earners tracked by Nansen

Source: as of 24 November 2021

USDT faced increased regulatory scrutiny in 2021. While it’s still the largest stablecoin by market cap, USDC is closing the gap fast. USDT mcap grew by 2.9x while USDC grew by 8.3x.

Stablecoin Market Capitalization

Source: as of December 2021

NFTs took the world by storm

CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club were the two key break-out projects. Famous celebrities such as Stephen Curry and Jay-Z started using NFTs as their Twitter profile pictures. Nansen became the first analytics platform to comprehensively track NFTs, building out dashboards for tracking high profile wallets, mints and bluechips.

The market saw 2 peaks during the year, one in May and one in late August. The single highest trading day by volume was on 29 August, with an unprecedented high of 132k ETH ($422M) in sales volume. The market ended the year off with over 4.6M ETH ($17B) in total sales volume.

Daily NFT trading volume

Source: as of December 2021

The rise of NFTs also gave rise to a new batch of smart money. Nansen tracks wallets making the most returns in the NFT space. The top 10 NFT traders made a total of 46,221 ETH ($185M) in profits, with one wallet topping the charts at a staggering 9,515% return on investment.

NFT traders profit leaderboard

Source: as of December 2021

Play to Earn: A new paradigm in gaming

Beyond being used for art and JPEGs, gaming offers a compelling use case for NFTs. Gamers are able to own their assets and extract monetary value from the hours they’ve spent in the game. The flow of value is more fluid and potentially more multi-dimensional if the in-game economy is crafted well.

Flow of value in traditional games vs blockchain games

Axie Infinity led the charge, bringing in $1.3B in annual revenue. The growth was made possible by the introduction of their own blockchain, Ronin. At its peak, the chain had 1.1M daily active addresses.

Axie Infinity cumulative revenue

Source: as of December 2021

Daily Active Addresses on Ronin

Source: as of December 2021


Crypto experienced tremendous growth in 2021. DeFi brought in the money and NFTs brought in the people. We will likely see similar themes continue to grow and develop in 2022. As user experience improves and blockchains become more scalable, high quality dApps will capitalize and take charge of those improvements. 

Decentralized stablecoins such as UST may start to take center stage as users move away from centralized options that might fall under heavy regulatory scrutiny. Institutional adoption is expected to increase once regulations start to get worked out and companies follow in the footsteps of Tesla and Microstrategy. The NFT markets thrive on innovation that is unpredictable as it is fun and the best projects will start to emerge as clear winners.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our full report here!

Download full report


The authors of this content and members of Nansen may be participating or invested in some of the protocols or tokens mentioned herein. The foregoing statement acts as a disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and is not a recommendation to purchase or invest in any token or participate in any protocol. Nansen does not recommend any particular course of action in relation to any token or protocol. The content herein is meant purely for educational and informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as financial, investment, legal, tax or any other professional or other advice. None of the content and information herein is presented to induce or to attempt to induce any reader or other person to buy, sell or hold any token or participate in any protocol or enter into, or offer to enter into, any agreement for or with a view to buying or selling any token or participating in any protocol. Statements made herein (including statements of opinion, if any) are wholly generic and not tailored to take into account the personal needs and unique circumstances of any reader or any other person. Readers are strongly urged to exercise caution and have regard to their own personal needs and circumstances before making any decision to buy or sell any token or participate in any protocol. Observations and views expressed herein may be changed by Nansen at any time without notice. Nansen accepts no liability whatsoever for any losses or liabilities arising from the use of or reliance on any of this content.

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