Saga of the 1–1–1: solving the mystery of 2019’s most expensive NFT

In May of 2019, Animoca Brands made history by selling a non-fungible token (NFT) called the 1–1–1, the first digital car for the officially licensed blockchain game F1® Delta Time. The winning bid of well over US$100,000 made the 1–1–1 the most expensive NFT sold in 2019, one of the highest priced game-based virtual assets, the priciest virtual car in history, and the highest sum ever paid for a branded game NFT. As the developers of this glittering and record-breaking gem, however, we at Animoca Brands were left with an unanswered question: who was the buyer of the 1–1–1?

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Hi. I’m the one who conceived the 1–1–1 and who led its design, production, and promotion. If you’re wondering whose fevered imagination gave the world this vision of menacing jewelry on wheels, then look no further. Let’s get started on the Saga of the 1–1–1, a tale of drama, mystery, and eerie numerology.

NOTE: this is an unabridged chronicle of the 1–1–1’s auction and the search for its owner. It’s a hefty read. If you are interested in how this blockchain story unfolded from the developer’s point of view, this chronicle is for you. If you just want to know who bought the car, then skip to the last two sections or read the (really short) formal announcement. You can also listen to the Blockchain Gaming World podcast on which the buyer was revealed.

A milestone in motorsport

Produced thanks to our partnership with Formula 1®, the 1–1–1 was the opening salvo in the barrage of developments that culminated in the launch of the REVV Token, the Animoca Brands crypto token for branded blockchain motorsports.

The 1–1–1 NFT is a sleek speed demon of back carbon composite, rose gold plating, and glittering diamond crust. The story of how this unique-looking digital car was made is a tale for another day, but for now suffice it to explain that the name refers to its status as the very first official Formula 1 NFT, the very first F1® Delta Time car auction, and the only one of its kind.

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The First. The One. The Only.

The stats of the 1–1–1 are off the chart — literally, since we assigned it speed, acceleration, and grip values that exceed the maximum values. The 1–1–1 would look like no other race car and would tear through any track.

We worked on the 3D models and animations, fine-tuned the design and model, and wrote the smart contract. We secured F1 approval and produced the finals. When we were finished, we knew that we had created something special: a luxurious digital milestone in motorsport.

The next step was to attempt to sell it.

Setting the scene (on fire)

The 1–1–1 was our first high-profile branded NFT. We had abundant experience with brands and games, and we had some experience with blockchain — primarily from our work on The Sandbox, the user-generated content metaverse developed by one of our subsidiaries — but we were entering uncharted waters with the first-ever F1-licensed NFT. We didn’t know what to expect, particularly because the F1® Delta Time game was still in an early stage of development.

The auction of the 1–1–1 began on 24 May and ended on 27 May 2019. It was one of the wildest rides we’ve had in the many years that we’ve been in tech.

We sat glued to our screens for days, tracking the progress of the auction and gnawing our fingers — suspending the methodical wrecking of our nail-beds only to dab nervously at the perspiration on our foreheads.

When auction titans clash

The auction was conducted in Wrapped Ether (WETH), which has the same value as Ether (ETH), so for convenience I’ll simply refer to the latter. After a warm-up period during which various users made relatively modest bids for the 1–1–1, the heavyweights began to make their presence felt. In particular, the bidders ‘robertwhite’ and ‘DWM’ engaged in a fierce battle for ownership of the 1–1–1, which ended with ‘Robertwhite’ vanquishing ‘DWM’ by taking the price up to 180 ETH.

We were very surprised and extremely pleased. Despite our initial trepidation, this was a successful debut for F1® Delta Time. And that’s when the action really heated up.

A bidder with the handle ‘Steve 321’ entered the fray to challenge ‘robertwhite’, and the two fought bitterly, slinging powerful bids back and forth. Wallets were maxed as the auction price shot up to a stunning 396 ETH. ‘Steve321’ was going to be the owner of the world’s most prestigious virtual car.

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Promotional material for the 1–1–1 auction

ut suddenly, with only minutes left until the auction’s end, a newcomer named ‘09E282’ burst into the scene to make an eye-watering — and oddly specific — bid of 415.9 ETH, worth somewhere between $106,000 and $115,000 depending on the source and exchange rate. The auction concluded. We had just sold our first F1® Delta Time NFT for more than a hundred thousand dollars. But to whom?

We had absolutely no idea. All we were able to find out was what the blockchain community had also determined: the winning wallet ‘09E282’ was created just hours before the end of the auction and was funded via Bitfinex. Unfortunately, this information provided no clues about the identity of the buyer. Our contacts at OpenSea, the NFT marketplace on which the 1–1–1 auction was conducted, didn’t know either.

Decoding the secret meaning behind 415.9

As I was working on the announcement for the auction result, the specificity of the winning bid nagged at me. 415.9 ETH: what a strangely precise amount. Was there some significance behind it?

We announced a sale dollar value for the 1–1–1 based on the exchange rate given on the EtherScan transaction entry, figuring that this was a fair and open approach. EtherScan told us that 1 ETH was equal to $271.83. Multiplying by 415.9 gives a dollar value for the auction of $113,054.097. We therefore wrote that the sale price of 415.9 ETH was worth “approximately US$113,000”.

ith the announcement prepared, I turned once again to ponder the mysterious number. Oh 415.9, wherefore art thou 415.9? As the shadows deepened, as the darkness gathered ominously beyond the flicker-free illumination cast by my ultrawide, I uncovered something unsettling. Below, I reproduce the notes I made on that night.

1–1–1 Auction end: 02:49:12 May 28 with bid of 415.9 ether
Snapshot CoinMarketCap at 02:49:01 May 28: 1 ether = $268.12
268.12 x 415.9 = $111,511.108
Rounding off to nearest cent: $111,511.11

The price paid for the 1–1–1 was… $111k? Could it be? Even more incredibly, the full price consisted of no fewer than seven ones and a single errant five: $111,511.11. A chill crept up my spine as I realized that I was looking at the sort of coincidence so monumental that it transgressed natural law and entered the realm of the mystical. Numerology: the supernatural relationship between numbers and coinciding events. Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

$111,511.11 was indeed an astonishingly appropriate price for an NFT called the 1–1–1. Perhaps too appropriate. There is a scene in Spider-Man 2 in which Jonah J. Jameson declares about the villain Doctor Octopus: “Guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs. What are the odds?”

We’re not in a comic book or film. The dollar value of the winning bid was unlikely to be coincidental, and must have been intentional. It was even possible that the buyer had entered a bid that consisted entirely of ones (in dollar value), and that the price that I had reconstructed — with its single errant five — was slightly inaccurate. Either way, that’s a lot of ones.

I informed our chairman and co-founder Yat Siu that we now knew at least one thing about our mystery buyer: he or she was endowed with flair.

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Controversy

At that point, the investigation stalled. The auction result generated considerable discussion in the blockchain community — and outside of it as well. A few suggested that the high sale price of the car was a PR stunt or marketing ploy.

This was a frustrating state of affairs because there wasn’t much we could do if all we had to go on was a wallet name — but anonymity is not unusual in the world of blockchain.

No one ever commented on the fact that the 1–1–1 had sold for the equivalent of $111,511.11. I worried that a nay-sayer would stumble upon this coincidence and cite it as (ludicrously circumstantial) evidence of duplicity. But no one did.

We hoped that our mystery buyer would step forward, as various media articles were requesting. We didn’t have to wait long, because almost immediately someone claiming to be the buyer of the 1–1–1 emerged in our F1® Delta Time Discord channel.

A lead?

Shortly after the auction, a user in our Discord channel with the handle of Pranked claimed to be the buyer of the 1–1–1 and delivered this bombshell: “I saw robertwhite, DWM, and steve bidding and I thought they were all honest individual people so I fomoed in but now I’m getting worried”.

We were rather concerned by the possibility that we had sold this milestone in motorsport due to an anxiety impulse buy (see “FOMO”).

Not so fast! The buyer of the 1–1–1 must have been aware of the conspicuous $111k sum paid for the car, and yet Pranked said he did not remember the exact value of the final bid in dollars — something that seemed unlikely and made us doubt his claim of ownership. Once again, we refrained from comment.

Pranked — who in the wider world goes by Pranksy (Twitter: @PranksyNFT) and is a well-known NFT trader — later revealed that he was not the buyer of the 1–1–1. The mystery of who owned this exclusive digital car would endure for nearly a year and a half — but Pranksy still had an important role to play.

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Pranked (a.k.a. Pranksy) pranking us in the F1® Delta Time Discord channel

The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older

The months passed, and we turned our focus away from the 1–1–1 and to other matters, such as the creation and expansion of the REVV Token ecosystem, the development of various F1® Delta Time game features, and the myriad initiatives, acquisitions, and partnerships that are routine at Animoca Brands.

The seasons turned. Every now and then we would dedicate a little time to search for the elusive owner of the 1–1–1. Nothing ever turned up. With the new year came the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of concerns that demanded our full attention.

In March 2020 we launched the F1® Delta Time Time Trial game mode, which offers rewards that include both REVV and Ether. Being the fastest car in the game, the 1–1–1 can rip through every race track in the hands of a skilled player, so we watched for activity on the 1–1–1’s smart contract

The 1–1–1 did not participate in the Time Trial or associated events. There was no evidence of activity in the 1–1–1’s smart contract. We sighed in resignation.

In September 2020 we launched the Staking feature in F1® Delta Time and we also launched and listed the REVV Token. Staking enables owners of our car NFTs to passively generate REVV by staking their NFTs. The amount of REVV earned — which can be significant — depends on the length of time staked as well as the rarity of the NFTs that are staked. Because REVV was now being traded on exchanges, this meant that earning REVV could translate to earning money (i.e., we had added more play-to-earn functions to our game).

The 1–1–1 is an Apex tier car, the rarest and most valuable tier in F1® Delta Time; there are currently only seven Apex cars, and the 1–1–1 is supreme. Apex cars have a very high earning potential when staked. We thought that this time, surely, the 1–1–1 would display some activity.

But the 1–1–1 remained dormant. Once again, we could see no activity on the NFT’s smart contract. We engaged in a great deal more resigned sighing.

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Promotional material for the 1–1–1 auction

OVID-19 had long devastated the lands, and it was possible that the owner of the 1–1–1 was among the victims of the pandemic. Or, perhaps, he or she had misplaced their wallet. Was the 1–1–1 forever lost? Would posterity be forced to endure a stultifying existence devoid of this glittering speed demon?

Interlude: healthy scepticism

Even a year after the sale of the 1–1–1, after our numerous successful NFT sales, crate sales, and token sales and launches, and after positive reception and reviews of our efforts, some members of the blockchain community occasionally express doubts about the sale of the 1–1–1. After all, we came out of nowhere and sold a single NFT for one of the highest prices ever.

But… is that narrative even accurate?

Don’t call it “coming out of nowhere” — we’ve been here for years. Earlier this week, our co-founder and chairman Yat Siu noted that Animoca Brands is “one of the very first mainstream game companies that identified and acted upon two important opportunities in gaming presented by blockchain technology: true digital ownership and play-to-earn” (I have added the relevant emphasis).

As for the price of the 1–1–1? Although it remains unquestionably impressive, with p2p prices of NFTs surging and NFTs recently selling for high prices such as $101,000, $131,250, and even ~$200,000, our 1–1–1 auction may seem a little less remarkable today than it did in early 2019.

inally, one important factor contributing to its value is that the 1–1–1 (unlike the vast majority of game NFTs currently available) draws upon many different domains to form a sum that is greater than its individual parts: brand power, utility, art, scarcity, exclusivity, status, motorsports, luxury, history (the first!), collectibility, and so on.

Scepticism is a normal and healthy response to surprising results like the 1–1–1 auction, and we do not resent it. Particularly because it was the free expression of such doubts that ultimately led us to the owner of the 1–1–1.

Cyberpunk nomenclature heralds ownership of the 1–1–1

In October 2020, about one year and five months after the 1–1–1 auction, a popular podcast once again aired doubts about the auction of the 1–1–1 and other premium NFTs. This particular podcast happened to feature Pranksy, one of the early F1® Delta Time users.

The podcast was heard by TokenAngels, a friend and business contact who is deeply involved in blockchain tech, crypto assets investment, and is a patron of crypto-art. Prompted by the podcast, TokenAngels asked us if we were ready to meet the owner of the 1–1–1.

One surprise-induced mandibular dislocation later, we responded heck, yes!

TokenAngels explained that he had learned the identity of the 1–1–1’s owner at NFT NYC 2020, after many beers and a solemn vow of secrecy. He said that inaccurate rumours might affect our pioneering work as well as the interests of the car’s owner. We responded that, if it was possible, we would certainly love to get to know the 1–1–1's owner.

TokenAngels then approached the 1–1–1 owner, saying, “I will respect your privacy but I think you should consider disclosing your investment in the 1–1–1. It would be good for all parties — you as the owner, Animoca Brands, the entire NFT ecosystem, and the world of digital collectibles.”

The mystery owner agreed, and TokenAngels introduced us by email on 20 October 2020. Soon we were communicating with Twobadour, steward of Metapurse, which is a crypto-exclusive fund that owns a collection of premium NFTs. Metapurse is financed entirely by Metakovan, who is described as an entrepreneur, coder, and angel investor in blockchain technology since 2013, Y-Combinator alumnus, DeFi OG, blockchain native, and digital nomad.

okenAngels had mentioned to Metakovan and Twobadour that doubts about the 1–1–1 auction still surfaced from time to time. In his first email message, Twobadour assured us that “doubts will be very short-lived, because we’re in the process of showcasing Metakovan’s unique collection of digital assets, of which the F1® Delta Time 1–1–1 is a gem.”

It was immensely gratifying to hear these words, and Twobadour — demonstrating a charming volubility appropriate for his name — had more for us: “The 1–1–1 is indeed a unique creation and reflects Metakovan’s convictions about this space, and about the quality and undeniable appeal of Animoca Brands’ work.”

This is the kind of feedback that really warms a developer’s heart, and — almost as importantly — our long search was finally over. We went on to learn that Metakovan had seen an ad for the 1–1–1 auction at a conference in 2019 and immediately recognized it as a noteworthy NFT. He moved swiftly to snap up the 1–1–1 at auction for the Metapurse collection of premium tokens.

And the winning bid of 415.9 ETH? “I think it’s best you hear it from Metakovan during the podcast chat,” Twobadour said, adding: “You might have got the dollar value very slightly wrong, though.”

(I knew that five didn’t belong in there!)

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The 1–1–1 showcased on the Metapurse website

Coda

We were indescribably overjoyed at having found the 1–1–1’s owner (which we verified when Metakovan registered the 1–1–1 wallet in F1® Delta Time). After toasting to the doubters’ health, to Metakovan and Twobadour’s prosperity, and to TokenAngels’ enduring good fortune, we set about organizing a reveal of this news. The eleventh of November (11.11) was coming up and Jon Jordan, editor-at-large of BlockchainGamer.biz, who had analyzed the 1–1–1’s auction back in the day (see here and here), kindly agreed to host a special podcast to reveal the news.

And so our long search finally came to an end. For more insights and discussion about the saga of the 1–1–1, check out the Blockchain Gaming World podcast hosted and moderated by Jon Jordan and featuring Yat Siu (co-founder and chairman of Animoca Brands), Metakovan (buyer of the 1–1–1), and Alex Atallah (founder and CTO of OpenSea, where the 1–1–1 was auctioned).

That brings us to the end of this long tale of blockchain mystery. If it captured your attention for the statistically unlikely period of time that it took to read this entire piece, you have my deepest appreciation. If you’re one of those who skipped ahead, I get it — this is a long chronicle. That’s why we call it “The Saga of the 1–1–1”.

Either way, thank you for reading, and may you have the opportunity to eat the diamond dust of the 1–1–1 on your next race!

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A wild ride

Written by

Literature and science aficionado. Science fiction expert. Founding member, Outblaze. Director of communications and producer-at-large, Animoca Brands.

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