Right now, the vast majority of smart contract platforms fall under the ‘EVM Chain’ umbrella. This simply means that they are built around the Ethereum Virtual Machine (or EVM), the computational engine used to process operations on the Ethereum blockchain.
In most cases, EVM chains are simply forks of the original Ethereum blockchain, whereas a number of EVM chains also include an array of unique or distinguishing features, which see them deviate from the original Ethereum codebase. The vast majority of these blockchains can be considered competitors to Ethereum and act as independent layer-1 blockchains, whereas a small number are designed to supplement Ethereum as a layer-2 solution — helping to increase its throughput, reduce fees, and augment its capabilities using an application-specific second layer.
Being smart contract platforms, these EVM chains are capable of supporting decentralized applications (DApps), which are essentially applications that are hosted by a decentralized node network that form a single blockchain-based computer.
Why Do People Build EVM Chains?
Although there are now well over one hundred EVM chains, not all smart contract platforms are EVM compatible. These platforms instead have their own virtual machine implementations which can be either very similar to the EVM or differ considerably.
The Ethereum Virtual Machine uses a series of instructions (known as opcodes) to carry out specific tasks. As of writing, there are 140 opcodes. Other virtual machines might use the same set of opcodes, or have fewer/more to change their capabilities. Beyond this, alternate virtual machine implementations might have a wildly different runtime environment and support code written in different languages — with Rust and Java being among the most popular options.
Nonetheless, due to the difficulties of building a completely novel decentralized virtual machine, and thanks to the sheer size of the Solidity and Ethereum community, the vast majority of blockchain developers opt to build an EVM chain, since it can be simply forked from Ethereum or another open-source protocol and then modified.
Other platforms that feature a novel virtual machine tend to take years to build and require specialist engineers — hence why platforms like Cardano, Terra, and Solana took so long to launch their mainnet and faced a number of delays along the way.
Building an EVM chain generally means a much faster time to deployment, as well as immediate access to the broader Ethereum and EVM-chain landscape. Since each of these chains is very similar on a macro-scale, they all generally work with the same set of Web3 wallets (e.g. MetaMask and Trust Wallet) and can be easily integrated within other applications.
Thanks to a recent update, many popular EVM-compatible chains also support the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) — helping to make human-readable addresses more accessible, hence reducing barriers to entry.
In many cases, the developers behind EVM chains aim to provide a smart contract platform that exceeds the capabilities of Ethereum. And depending on their monetization model (e.g. crowdfunding, emission rewards, transaction fee sharing, etc), it can be a lucrative endeavor for developers.
Nonetheless not all EVM chains have honest ambitions, and some are purely designed to extract as much value from investors/users before simply collapsing.
As we briefly touched on, the EVM blockchain landscape is as diverse as it is wide, and there are now a huge number of EVM chains vying for adoption and doing what they can to distinguish themself from the competition.
Broadly speaking, these blockchains typically compete on one or more of the following fronts:
Over the last few years, several major players have emerged in the EVM space, each of which has garnered a sizeable community of users and developers and has seen explosive growth in their DApp ecosystem in recent months/years.
Some of the most prominent include:
- BNB Chain (formerly Binance Smart Chain): Launched by the centralized exchange behemoth Binance in August 2020, BNB Chain saw meteoric adoption among users and a dramatic surge in its project ecosystem — owed to its low fees, speed, and accessibility. There are now well over 500 projects building on BSC with a DeFi TVL of $13.1 billion.
- Avalanche: Designed to be fully decentralized, Avalanche allows anybody to join its network and participate in transaction validation. It supports up to 4,500 transactions per second and achieves transaction finality in under 2 seconds. It is currently the third most popular EVM chain by DeFi TVL.
- Fantom: Leveraging a unique aBFT consensus protocol, Fantom is designed to be highly scalable and ready for enterprise applications. The platform has recently seen a significant uptick in its userbase thanks to an array of powerful DApps and DeFi products.
- Polygon: The fifth most popular EVM chain, Polygon is designed to operate as a scaling solution for Ethereum, helping to reduce fees, increase speeds, and provide developers with the throughput needed for their mass-market applications. The platform now hosts to over 7,000 DApps and has a TVL of $4.9 billion.
- Ethereum Classic: Forked from Ethereum in July 2016, Ethereum Classic is almost identical to Ethereum in its operation, but differs slightly in its ideology. The platform has seen its popularity dwindle in recent years, owing to a lack of developer adoption and a weak DeFi ecosystem.
Beyond this, there are dozens of other popular EVM chains, including Harmony, Telos, Gnosis Chain, TomoChain, Velas (EVM Chain), Huobi Eco Chain, Theta, PulseChain, Wanchain, Clover, ParaState, Moonbeam, IoTeX, Celo, and Aurora.
It should be noted that forking a blockchain is a relatively simple task that can be accomplished by anybody with even limited technical savvy. As a result, there are now literally hundreds of Ethereum forks in current operation, but only a handful of these are truly secure and actively developed. Because of this, it would be wise to avoid obscure forks with few nodes behind them, since these can be susceptible to 51% of attacks.
Likewise, the vast majority of EVM chains are extremely similar in their capabilities and instead differ only in their leadership, DApp ecosystems, and community. Because of this, some believe that non-EVM chains stand the best chance of bringing something truly disruptive to the table despite being in an earlier stage of development and adoption.
EVM Chain: Predictors of Success
With so many EVM chains now operating, and many of these competing for the same resources and pool of users, it can be difficult to determine which have staying power and which are failures just waiting to happen.
EVM Chains by TVL. (Image courtesy: DeFi Llama)
Fortunately, there are a number of key metrics that can be used to gauge the potential of an EVM chain and put a spotlight on some of the more promising options. These metrics include:
- TVL growth rate: A measure of the percentage growth in its DApp ecosystem in terms of value locked in DeFi protocols.
- Value proposition: Many EVM chains can be considered a copy+paste of Ethereum or other similar platforms, albeit with minor alterations. The future will most likely favor platforms that provide a genuine value add to users and developers that cannot be easily duplicated by a competitor.
- On-chain transaction activity: The number of transactions processed by the blockchain each day/week can be used to demonstrate its genuine activity and potential utility.
- Developer activity: The number of Github commits, the general growth in its DApp ecosystem, and adoption by major brands/prominent firms can be a strong indicator of long-term growth potential.
- Leadership: If the platform is backed by a heavily experienced team with the right strategy and support (financial, technical, and marketing), it generally stands a better chance of long-term success.
In line with these predictors, several EVM chains currently stand out as strong candidates for exponential growth, some of which include:
NEAR is widely considered to be one of the most capable non-EVM chains and has seen its TVL multiply by 20-fold in the last six months. As an EVM-compatible virtual machine for NEAR, Aurora could be poised to massively expand the scope of the NEAR blockchain and its attractiveness to both developers and users.
Currently one of the most dominant layer-2 solutions for Ethereum, and leverages the capabilities of optimistic rollups to dramatically reduce transaction fees and increase the throughput of Ethereum by operating as an interoperable Ethereum sidechain. Arbitrum now accounts for more than half the TVL of all Ethereum layer-2 projects and has over 100 active DApps — impressive figures, considering it launched less than a year ago.
Polkadot is arguably the most-groundbreaking blockchain platform since Ethereum, given that it might eventually act as the ultimate hub for cross-blockchain communication. ParaState will allow these projects to deploy their EVM applications on Substrate based chains, helping to reduce the barrier to entry when building in the Polkadot ecosystem.
About Master Ventures
Master Ventures is a blockchain-focused venture studio helping to build the next generation of blockchain-based Web 3.0 system innovations within the crypto industry. Launched in 2018 by Founder and CEO Kyle Chassé, the company’s ethos can best be summarized in the acronym #BeBOLD: Benevolent, Open, Love, Decentralized.
Master Ventures co-creates with entrepreneurs and businesses worldwide to turn the best ideas into innovative and disruptive products. They do this by investing as strategic partners through offering advisory services to the projects they believe in. To date, Master Ventures has invested in over 40 crypto projects, including the likes of Kraken, Coinbase, Bitfinex, Reef, DAO Maker, Mantra DAO, Thorchain, and Elrond.
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