VeeCon Review: Is It Real or Is It …?

The virtual world of NFTs makes for a real-world get-together
VeeCon mural at US Bank Stadium
A mural at VeeCon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Photo by Amy Nelson

Serial entrepreneur and force of digital nature Gary Vaynerchuk is famously excitable and prone to bouts of verbal enthusiasm, a fact that has spawned a number of impersonators. Gary Vee, as he’s perhaps better known with his nearly 10 million followers on Instagram, is such a fan of his over-the-top imitators that had had two of them take the stage before him in the kick-off to VeeCon at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday.

It was an appropriately meta (with apologies to Mark Zuckerberg) way to start a weekend based around NFTs, a cornerstone of what’s called Web 3.0 and a recently minted outlet for creators and investors. These Non-Fungible Tokens exist as unique digital artifacts rendered one-of-a-kind through blockchain technology, so a couple of ersatz Gary Vees made for a knowing comment on the concept of authentication.

A panel at VeeCon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Quinton Skinner

VeeCon itself is a curious hybrid. Many people in attendance seemed to be combining personal and professional interests, in some cases networking with people for the first time in real life who they’ve long known online. The energy of the speaker panels was a mix of business insight, self-help, and a brand of sunny futurism.

The allure of celebrity was doled out in no small measure, too. Cultural luminaries such as Snoop Dogg, Spike Lee, Deepak Chopra, and Logan Paul all made appearances—answering the question of what sort of event would draw that crew together. And many of the panels were small-scale explorations of niche subjects such as the intersection between NFTs and music and fashion.

There was, of course, a major and serious undertone to the proceedings, a sense of skepticism from those not in the inner circle. According to the Wall Street Journal, sales of NFTs are down about 90% since last September, a fact that along with the current crypto crash has seen a major loss in a real value of virtual things. It’s great fun to make something out of nothing, after all, but less fun to go broke.

Gary Vee at the kick-off of VeeCon
Gary Vee welcomes VeeCon guests on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Quinton Skinner

According to Vee, the timing of VeeCon couldn’t be better. “This correction is the best thing to happen to us,” he said from the stage during that kick-off talk, asserting that the market will end up in a better place in the long run.

That could be. While that crash in value felt at times like a pachyderm in the Vikings’ anvil-like home, there was a definite sense that the assembled weren’t going to let recent realities put a damper on things. Vee, who pointed out that this community tends to be “naturally introverted,” encouraged his charges to mingle, meet, and network, and that seemed to be the prevailing ethos. An observer expecting some sort of tech bro abrasion would have been disavowed of the notion in favor of a generally relaxed and friendly vibe, as well as a decent degree of gender balance.

At times VeeCon had the feel of people who spend a great deal of time interacting with digital devices discovering how much they enjoy socializing. At others, it had the feel of a national convention of aficionados brought together by their shared belief in the next big thing. The price of admission, after all, is one of Vee’s VeeFriends shares, which is valued today at $3,122 each.

While NFT world is often portrayed as a sort of technologically impenetrable Ponzi scheme, the truth seems to be much more interesting. While the price points for investing in NFTs can be forbidding, or not make sense to outsiders, some creators are working toward making the concept more inclusive. I spoke to Jarrod Tafoya, who works with an app called Huddln that enables users to create free NFTs from Instagram and TikTok, then sell them to admirers—a counter to the go-big-or-go-home ethos that often seems to permeate the field.

VeeCon attendees edit a video interview with Gary Vee at VeeCon.

Photo by Amy Nelson

Others are starting to create NFTs that are more than the familiar cartoon images most of us have become familiar with, like apes, birds, and martians. There are NFTs that “battle” and “die,” and other machinations to make NFTs deliver something approaching … dare we say it, real-world entertainment value. This is also much of what the VeeFriends concept offers, according to fans: a community, a sense of fun and risk, and the perception of being part of something bigger than oneself.

If you don’t understand NFTs, that seems to be pretty much OK with people who are very much into NFTs (I’ve learned enough to know what I don’t know). It’s a formidable culture, and it’s a movement with its own language, customs, and assumptions. It’s shifting in definition, meaning, and application—and while it’s grabbed headlines for its investment aspects, the reshuffling that Vee alluded to is most certainly happening in one form or another. There’s something bubbling up, still pushing the definition of reality and value, which tends to be the fun part of the job for new generations.

Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.