A Look into the Future: The Asian Metaverse Summit and Awards

Technology is continuing to transform at a breakneck pace, with new innovations being ushered in seemingly every day. And in the digital realm, there are several developments that are shaping the future of how we interact online. One of them is the metaverse, a space that enables users to join virtual worlds, where they can interact and engage with each other, using digital alter egos. Meanwhile, Web3 is a movement towards the next stage in the development of the internet that harnesses principles that include decentralization and blockchain technologies. Together, these are driving developments that foster creativity, self-expression, and technological innovation. 

With an aim to share insights and recognize achievements by Asian companies and individuals, the 1st Annual Asian Metaverse Summit and Awards were held on April 25. The event was first hosted in Europe in 2022, followed by the Americas in 2023, and now was time to offer it in Asia. 

Thom Barnhardt explained that the first European Metaverse Awards were held in response to the boom in the industry, and he and his business partner quickly realized there was an opportunity to do the same thing in other regions. “We were inspired by the idea that this was a new thing going on in this sector, and there was a lot of buzz about it at the time. And then we thought to quickly do the same thing in the US in Miami. And I and my business partner, Hideki [Ninomiya], whom I met years ago, thought that it made sense to have three events—in Europe, America, and Asia—because it creates an opportunity for people to cross-fertilize ideas across continents.”

The inaugural event drew about 75 attendees over the course of the day, but as Barnhardt explained, there is room for growth. “These things are a bit like fine wines—it takes time to develop an awards event. We never expect the first year or even the second to be financially strong, because they’re not. And even the number of people that come in the first couple of years is also usually quite low. But then people start to see what the concept is, and it builds and grows. The point is to get some companies that come and build relationships around it and do deals and the year later, they come back because they got deals done from being in the sector.”

Barnhardt explained that they carefully research the industry to determine the most appropriate categories in the sector, and change the categories yearly, based on popularity and market trends. Their research allows the awards team to then reach out to companies that could be successful applicants, who then put in their nominations. 

He added that large Japanese businesses would be advised to watch this space. “I think lots of big Japanese companies—well-established brands, consumer brands, and manufacturing automotive brands—are trying to further extend their brand into a younger demographic. And if they want to do that, the gaming sector has been one way to do it. But this emerging metaverse and immersive computing space is a way to reach those people.”

Generating Great Ideas

Co-organizer of the event Hideki Ninomiya said that his experience working in the United States was part of the reason that he began playing an instrumental role in bringing events such as the Metaverse Summit and Awards and the Japan – Central Eastern Europe Investment Awards and Summit to Japan. “I learned so much about the importance of how we need to collaborate with non-Japanese people to learn different aspects of not only technology, but also cultural things like how people think. That’s what actually generates great ideas, innovation, and collaboration.”

And an event like this gives domestic companies the opportunity to address a key issue when it comes to innovating in the digital space here, he said. “Even at Japanese companies right now, when they’re talking about the internet—even advanced topics like the metaverse, cybersecurity, or digital transformation—they’re only talking to other Japanese people. So, because of my experience, I thought it was essential to hear from people from different regions or countries. It’s cool to get more insight about what’s going on in the world.” 

And ultimately, Ninomiya explained, the event was meant to go beyond just the financial potential that the industry holds. “It’s not just about business, or what you can take out of this—it’s more important to provide an opportunity for people to study or learn other things.”

Thom Barnhardt announces the winners of the Asian Metaverse Awards

Virtual Worlds and Digital Identities

The event fielded a number of key industry leaders, ranging from executives involved in metaverse business partnerships to the minds behind digital avatars, who delivered keynote addresses and talks at the summit.

These included Ben Watanabe, the CEO and founder of 555 Comic, which runs the world’s largest anime TikTok account. Watanabe has a long history in social media, having run the accounts of top skateboarders and the rapper 50 Cent before launching his company, which is responsible for the TikTok account of Luna Gardner, who has more than 3.1 million followers. 555 Comic allows users to interact with the characters that appear on their accounts and create their own characters, who can then become part of the stories themselves. The popularity of the platform has led brands to reach out to the 555 Comic for collaborations, and the company now has the luxury to evaluate them from the perspective of how well they would mesh with their created universe. 

Watanabe explained that the platform gives its users an outlet to flex their creative muscle and play their own role in a virtual world. “We’ve created a pipeline for fans to be able to build out their own characters and get their own IDs. Usually with fanfic, everybody is writing around Harry Potter and they’re all writing a Harry Potter story. But ours is like we make Iron Man and then all the fans can try to create the Black Panther of the world or their character that expresses their identity. So that’s where it blossomed and really took on another life.”

About being in the first Metaverse Awards and Summit, Watanabe said: “It was great to have the invitation from Hideki and to hear that they’d heard about the silly, weird thing that we’re doing and it’s nice to get to be around a bunch of weirdos like us.” 

Also delivering a talk was Hinza Asif, the founder of NFT Studio24.com and president of the Asia Web3 Alliance Japan, who spoke about the importance of intellectual property and digital identity in the Web3 world. She said that she sees one of her primary roles in the industry is as an educator—she explains that the Asia Web3 Alliance Japan had conducted a survey within Tokyo of 100 members of the tech industry, and only 25 percent of those surveyed understood the blockchain, Bitcoin, and Web3. Asif was at the event on behalf of Sandy Carter, a leading female figure in the Web3 space and a board member of the Asia Web3 Alliance Japan.

Hinza Asif

About the Summit and Awards, Asif said that she was excited that the organizers were able to bring in a diverse range of speakers and international attendees. “They did a great job. They invited many insightful people for the event, and I hope next time they make it even better. You know, the Tokyo market is very small, and hard to penetrate—especially as a foreigner … So, I really appreciate their effort and I think that next year will be even bigger and more impressive.” 

Award Winners

Following the Summit, a gala awards dinner was held, and the winners of the various awards categories were announced, capping off a memorable day held in honor of innovation and sharing ideas. 

Most Exciting Scale Up Company: Mitoworld

Most Impactful Marketing or Advertising Campaign: Animoca Brands Japan collaborates with HashPalette

Most Innovative NFT Project: Continuum.Social

Most-exciting Hardware for Metaverse/Web3: Sony

Most-promising Investment of the Year: Daesung’s venture capital subsidiary

Most-promising Haptics initiative: Veyond Metaverse Inc

Top 3D Design Firm: Metaverse Creators Inc.

Top Avatar Design Company: Pocket RD Inc.

Top Blockchain Developer Services Provider: Klaytn

Top Cloud, Enterprise or Technology Partner: Naver Z (Zepeto)

Top Consumer Experience & Entertainment: Advokate / MetaGaia

Top Corporate Partnership Initiative: Journee Technologies & Chab Agency for Shiseido

Top Digital-Twin Initiative (Consumer): AMIZA Inc.

Top Digital-Twin Initiative (Enterprise/Industrial): Pocket RD Inc.

Top Enterprise/Industrial Productivity Initiatives: Cluster, Inc.

Top Fashion Brand Initiative: ALTAVA Group

Top Legal Firm: Allen & Overy

Top Metaverse Platform & Virtual World: Nusameta (Indonesia)

Top Partner for establishing early-stage presence in Metaverse: HIKKY Co., Ltd

Top XR AR VR Firm: CinemaLeap Inc.

Learn more about the awards at the official site.

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