The Odyssey of NBA Top Shot Series 2
by Christian Hardy
Top Shot Series 2 is over. I know it’s not just me who thinks it felt like a lifetime since we started, right? Not in the, “Oh, that took forever!” way. But more of a, “All of that happened in under a year?” kind of way. When you’re neck deep in NBA Top Shot day in and day out, the enormous strides the Dapper Labs team makes on the product are quite easy to overlook.
But now, as every Series 2 Moment is turned to Limited Edition and we wait for what’s next, we can take a deep breath, step back and look at how Top Shot has evolved through Series 2 in the midst of exponential growth.
If we’ve learned anything in Series 2, it’s that Top Shot has already a built an NFT product that is far ahead of any other project so far. And it’ll be here to stay for a very long time.
NBA Top Shot’s Series 2 Odyssey, from my perspective
Follow me for a second. I want you to think back to your earliest frustrations with Top Shot. The support tickets you filed in February then waited weeks for a response to. Having no idea when you’d receive identification verification to withdraw. Incomplete pack orders. Pack drops being pushed back because traffic broke the site before it ever even started.
Think back to the original dropdown menu to purchase a Moment, listed by lowest serial number and unsortable without a Chrome extension (shoutout to Top Shot Helper — ahead of its time). Think about the days without Collector Score and Quests.
Top Shot was a very imperfect product when we all got here. Now, I want you to think of what brought you great joy in these months using Top Shot.
The euphoria when every Moment was limited to 15,000 on February 19. The rush of dopamine you got when you scored a pack in literally any queue, then the high you got when you opened that pack and got that pack music bumping. Tuning in for office Office Hours, where we got tidbits on what the Top Shot team was building behind the scenes. Watching a primetime NBA game, waiting to see an #NBATopShotThis Moment in live action and your internet friends talking about it on Twitter.
Think about the meaningful interactions and connections on Twitter or Discord with complete strangers in the middle of a pandemic — when many of us have become more isolated than ever.
My favorite Series 2 moment was watching Harrison Barnes’ improbable game-winning 3-pointer on March 27 — which later became a Top Shot Moment. Seeing rookie Tyrese Haliburton shouting, “Put that on Top Shot!” in the post-game celebration made everything so real. We saw two NBA players tie their team’s accomplishment to the product in real-time, which really put the potential of Top Shot in perspective.
In six months, NBA Top Shot has gone from a virtually unknown digital collectible to creating an entire new digital frontier for NFTs. Sure, Bored Apes are cool, Punks are already historic, generative art and metaverses are quite literally transforming lives — and it’s just beginning.
But despite the rapid ascent of other NFTs in these last months, no project has come close to building a better product on the blockchain than Dapper Labs has built with NBA Top Shot. It’s easy to forget that in a volatile market.
Top Shot has completely shifted my idea of fan engagement, how to treat customers, and what it means to connect with a product.
Don’t understand why? That’s OK. I’m going to remind you of a few the massive improvements Top Shot has made in the last six months that have blown me away. Let’s take another step back.
Solving the Top Shot Withdrawal Woes
When a majority of accounts were opened with NBA Top Shot — from January to March — whether you deposited with credit card or cryptocurrency, you really had no idea when you would have the opportunity to withdraw your Dapper Balance.
This was because of “Know Your Customer” — or identification verification — requirements to withdraw, a must for Dapper Labs to operate legally around the globe.
As late as May, major media companies berated Top Shot for its inability to allow customers to withdraw money and then process withdrawals. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) spread like wildfire in the community, with loud critics who had frustrations that their funds couldn’t be reached.
Top Shot made withdrawals and support — two items that were intertwined — their top priority after their parabolical February and March in response. Keep in mind, in early February, less than 5,000 collectors had access to withdraw from the site. In April, Top Shot halted new sign ups to preserve the product and get withdrawal access to existing customers.
Slowly but surely, collectors were able to withdraw their funds. As more support staff was added to the Dapper Labs team, support tickets were resolved. Today, only five months since the rush of new users, collectors who have KYC are able withdraw funds at any time and receive them within a few business days — almost always under a week.
Plus, collectors can submit their information for KYC as soon as creating their account, and are usually approved to withdraw within a week. It’s worth remembering that this KYC process is essential in cracking down on Top Shot bots and multi-accouters, who took advantage of Top Shot early in Series 2.
Introducing Collector Score: Bringing Utility and Access to Every Moment
Dapper Labs’ vision and quick move to reward collecting has been the core of the product for the second half of Series 2. The idea of rewarding collecting by bringing people closer to the NBA is the number one thing that makes it so easy to believe in the product.
On March 23, Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou hopped into the Top Shot Discord, as he sometimes would in the late hours of the night. “Being a great collector should give more access and utility, 100%,” he said, repeating a sentiment hat had so often been echoed by Dapper Labs employees.
In its nascent stage, rewarding collecting came via Moment requirements for pack drops (i.e. you must own one MGLE Moment to enter the Premium Pack queue) and Showcase Quests (i.e. the Ben Simmons Cool Cats Quest).
This was all just child’s play compared to what Top Shot was cooking up behind the scenes.
Enter Collector Score, a live score that represents the Moments collectors currently own, adjusted when Moments are added or sold from a collection. Collector Score, undoubtedly, is the best thing to come out of Series 2 for the long-term product.
As much as I love tracking Top Shot account valuations — I mean, I work here, so it’s actually in my contract that I have to — Collector Score added a more dynamic element to Top Shot that an account value simply can’t.
It incentivized Top Shot collectors to buy and hold the things they actually like. While pack flippers who crashed the site in March were growing bored and leaving as opportunity for quick profits dried up, Top Shot was building a product for genuine NBA fans, or anyone who actually loves collecting.
At the end of Series 2, Collector Score has already been used to give collectors a chance to attend Game 5 of the Finals in the Top Shot Suite based on their Suns collection. It’s given collectors a better chance to score exclusive (and also very profitable) packs — like Holo Icon or the Finals Legendary Pack — via tiered pack drop queues.
With score bonuses and the near-certain but unconfirmed future in-arena benefits, Collector Score has given people a real reason to collect their favorite (or local) team.
It’s becoming easier and easier to connect the dots between Collector Score becoming the currency of NBA fandom in the very near future. Surely, Top Shot already has a vision for this that will be executed even by the end of this year. So far, no other NFT has incentivized collecting and holding in the same way.
Because blockchain technology unlocks infinite possibilities in both the virtual and real world with provable ownership, it’s likely that the behemoth that is Dapper Labs is just getting started in this department. If you’re a basketball fan, it might be a good time to hop on board — soon those full team sets will be out of reach.
Drastic Improvements to the Pack Drop System
When I joined Top Shot in January, packs were still a complete free-for-all. I’d fall asleep listening for a Top Shot Discord alert or a tweet from The First Mint that a pack had gone live.
I needed that dopamine, man. I lived in the Discord.
The scramble that would follow those Base pack drop announcements was extremely anxiety-ridden and tense, as I tried to navigate to the page and checkout before they were sold out. I’m pretty sure I lost years of my life, but was worth it; I pulled my first LeBron from one of those packs.
But even with zero gas fees on the Flow Blockchain in the midst traffic that would devastate the Ethereum network, tens of thousands of users trying to hit a buy now button and check out all at once was never a realistic long-term system. It was often very buggy and wasn’t extremely welcoming for new collectors.
To Dapper Labs’ credit, they quickly realized this as more and more users joined the platform. They began to make drastic improvements by rolling out “stress tests,” or limited, scheduled pack drops, where the Dapper Labs team could test new features in a lower-risk setting.
The Beauty of Top Shot Pack Drop Queues
The first improvement up to bat: randomized pack drop queues — a miracle for Top Shot.
What Top Shot wanted to create was simply a way to give every collector a fair shot at packs and manage the load of pack transactions from overwhelming the system. But Top Shot did something even more genius with pack drop queues: they created an inherently-social community experience that no one ever wanted to miss.
Now every collector was in it together — like, literally, they were all in the queue at the same time waiting for their randomized queue number to pop up. It’s like the same feeling you get when you’re watching the Super Bowl, and everyone in real life and on Twitter is watching the game, and you’re like, “Wow, cool, that’s awesome that we’re all talking about this together!”
The Top Shot community was spoiled by that feeling once or twice a week.
Discussion of pack expected value on Twitter and Discord was never-ending. Cold brew photos and videos poured in like clockwork. Then, drop time. Tweeting your queue number as soon as it popped on your screen became a pack day ritual, and pack opening afterward. Top Shot even livestreamed with NBA stars to keep collectors entertained during some drops.
The pack queue system launched quick, too; the queue was fully tested and in place in February. By the time the NBA was ready to announce the Rising Stars rosters via NBA Top Shot, the queues were already in use — a massive Moment in Top Shot history. While the site was still overwhelmed at times during All-Star weekend, every collector got an equal chance to score a pack when the queue finally went off.
We’ve seen pre-order and reservation packs come and go. But nothing caught attention quite like a pack queue; Dapper knocked it out of the park. What they did next was the bat flip after hitting a no-doubter.
With Collector Score in place, tiered queues based on Collector Score came in the middle of summer. This meant that the Moments you own could give you better odds to purchase a pack in the randomized queue for exclusive pack drops via Collector Score thresholds.
Top Shot again was telling collectors: “You will be rewarded for collecting.” There’s probably still room to improve with the queue system, like giving collectors more “luck” for missing out on previous queues, which has been discussed. But Top Shot has created an experience with distributing their supply that is not only completely gasless, but it’s head and shoulders above any other NFT project.
Top Shot’s Roadmap and the Future ahead
While Top Shot didn’t have a clear roadmap for Series 2, we have to keep in mind they were in Beta. And what we got was a Beta roadmap, communicated periodically through Discord messages from the CEO at 1 a.m., insightful tidbits from Office Hours chats with community lead Jacob Eisenberg, or details in a blog.
Did this mean the most plugged-in collectors who listened closely gained a bit of an edge? Undoubtedly, yes. Anyone who followed closely knew that rare and legendary pack drops would be gated in some way soon — then Top Shot exceeded expectations with Collector Score. They also knew that Cool Cats collectors would be rewarded in a big way — then again they exceeded expectations.
With a baseline Series 3 roadmap set to come out before the start of next NBA season, and Dapper Labs greatly improving their public communication overall, more people will get the opportunity to understand and go deep on this generation product. That’s a very good sign for NBA fans.
tl;dr — Top Shot Series 2, in summary
It’s taken a long time for Top Shot to shake the public sentiment that their platform is all about profiting and flipping, which is exactly what plagued the marketplace following the February run up. Of course, that’s at no fault to them, but simply an effect of being part of the NFT and crypto ecosystem. It was that notion that ultimately punished the wallets or several collectors with genuine passion for the NBA.
Well, Top Shot, I’m here to tell you, you’ve built a product that any NBA fan should love — not because they are making money, but because it brings them closer to the sport they enjoy. What we are seeing now, as the market runs up on the heels of Nine Lives Lounge beginning, is a direct result of Top Shot saying, “Hey NBA fans and people who genuinely love this product: we see you, and we’re building for you.”
It’s amazing to think how quickly Top Shot has went from buggy pack drops, two hour cooldowns, and unsorted listing drop downs to where we are today. Later today, I’ll be able to buy a Moment in-person at an NBA event and feel confident my collecting will somehow be rewarded. This wasn’t supposed to happen until “years down the road.”
I’ve never been more confident that Top Shot as a product will continue far exceeding any expectations we have. With that said, hats off to the entire Dapper Labs and Flow team for going above and beyond time and time again to this point.
But it’s time to bid you farewell, Series 2. For most of us, you were our first. You have brought me and hundreds of thousands of Top Shot collectors others so much joy, opportunity, and pure fun.
I can say I will never forget these days and nights where you devoured my attention. No matter where Top Shot goes from here — whether the common mint count goes up or down or stays the same — this series will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Well, alright then, I guess it’s time. Bring on Series 2 Summer.