'A Metric for Fun': The FTX Leaderboard
Benchmarking, credibility, bragging rights. It's all at stake on the industry's most-watched profit-reckoner. This story is part of Trading Week.
Woebegone-Fiery-Recovery. Clumsy-Empty-Headroom. Finicky-Muslim-Buyer. As of this writing, these are the top three crypto traders on the FTX Leaderboard – a profit scoreboard that has been used for benchmarking, credibility and bragging rights.
“Wow guys look im #1 on the FTX PNL leaderboard,” one trader tweeted in September, adding that “paid group coming soon.” The trader Alex Wice includes the line “Formerly FTX #2 PNL” in his Twitter bio. When the pseudonymous trader High Stakes Capital reached the top in 2020, he tweeted, “I’m the king now.”
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High Stakes Capital, 40, is based in Dubai and he used to play professional poker. He began trading in 2015 with $20,000 in capital, and says his account swelled to $300 million at the peak of the bull run. He sees the FTX Leaderboard as a bit of objective scorekeeping. “It’s about credibility,” says High Stakes Capital. “A lot of traders on Twitter like to just share a chart and tweet whenever they’re right.”
Let’s say, for example, you book $10 million profit on a juicy trade. You tweet a screenshot and people call you a Trade God. But what you decline to mention is that you took five other trades, they were all dogs and they lost you a combined $20 million. The leaderboard is a more honest accounting. “I’m not obsessed with this,” says High Stakes Capital, “but there’s something nice about credibility.”
Other traders use it for motivation. “I might not have been as driven about improving my process if it [the Leaderboard] didn’t exist,” says the trader “ChadCloutman,” over Telegram. “Getting on there was a big motivating factor.” After any large profit and loss (P&L) swings in his account, he’ll check the leaderboard to see if he’s jumped up or tumbled down.
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The Leaderboard can offer clues of traders’ positions. “You can look at traders on the leaderboard and see who is long and who is short,” says High Stakes Trader. This takes a bit of inference and triangulation. The Leaderboard does not explicitly provide that information, but if Trader X is #10 on the Leaderboard, then the price of bitcoin crashes and Trader X suddenly jumps up to #1, there’s a good Trader X is shorting the market.
Except they wouldn’t use the name “Trader X”; they’d more likely have a goofy alias like “Finicky-Muslim-Buyer.” Part of the Leaderboard’s charm is the wackiness of the trader names -- the current leaders include “Fussy-Stirling-Lubricant,” “Nastiest-Awry-Blubber,” and “Irregular-Blissful-Kitten.” They almost look like random words strung together … and that’s exactly what they are. “By default, the name is randomized,” explains Nishad Singh, the head of engineering at crypto exchange FTX, and who helped launch the Leaderboard in 2019. “We just take some adjectives and nouns from some bag of words and we assign you a random name.”
In the early heyday of the Leaderboard, Singh remembers that traders would reach out to customer service and beg them for a different combination of words, or to let them use another custom name. (FTX sometimes granted those requests, which is why you also see names that are not gibberish.)
The Leaderboard is often in flux, but the trader GCR, or “GiganticRebirth,” is always near the top. “I’ve been on it for pretty much the entirety of the exchange’s existence,” says GCR, who made a killing shorting the crypto market at the top of the bull run (as reported by CoinDesk’s Tracy Wang), as well as making prescient bets in the prediction markets. (Early in the 2020 primaries, the prediction markets gave Joe Biden just a 4% chance of winning the U.S. presidency after he flopped in New Hampshire and Iowa – implying 25-to-1 odds. GCR bet on Biden and he bet big.)
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Because you can slingshot to the top of the Leaderboard with a highly leveraged trade, says GCR, a snapshot in time doesn’t tell the whole story. “If you track the history of the Leaderboard, it’s always new people. It’s a rotating cast of characters.” He notes that one exception, ironically, was hedge fund Three Arrows Capital – a reminder that not all the “leading” traders should be emulated.
GCR trades across multiple exchanges – FTX, Binance and decentralized protocols. And that brings us to the big limitation of the FTX Leaderboard: It only covers the P&L of FTX. It ignores the trading across other exchanges. This is a limitation that FTX itself happily acknowledges. “Suppose you got long on FTX and short on Bitmex,” says Singh. If the price of bitcoin moons or tanks, your overall profit would remain the same – but on one exchange you could be a star. Because of this limitation, says Singh, “it can’t possibly be a good holistic measurement of success.” He views it as a “metric for fun,” and clarifies that “we don’t endorse it as a super-serious thing.”
Another asterisk: Many of the “leaders” are not individual traders, but sub-accounts of massive trading firms. “If you look at the top 20, it’s mostly market makers and funds,” says GCR. ChadCloutman agrees, guessing that the “overwhelming majority” of the leaders are “subaccounts of multi-billion-dollar crypto trading firms” such as Jump, Tower, HRT and Alameda. ChadCloutman also notes that the Leaderboard excludes profits from spot trading, only showing the P&L from derivatives.
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One final asterisk: There are plenty of traders who don’t give the FTX Leaderboard much thought. “Honestly, I never use it,” says Adrian Zdunczyk (who recently shared his day-in-the-life with CoinDesk). Another prominent crypto trader told me, “I haven’t paid any attention to it.” Even High Stakes Capital, who once checked the Leaderboard frequently, now only looks at it “maybe once a month.”
Even FTX seems to have moved on from the Leaderboard. “This doesn’t come up that much anymore,” says FTX’s Singh. “The traffic on this page is basically zero.” He suspects that the waning attention of the page, in a sense, might signify some of the shifts in the industry. “Traders have become more sophisticated and more buttoned up,” says Singh.
The more professional traders care less about flaunting their stats, flexing and proclaiming to be “the king.” The Leaderboard now is more about nostalgia, or an emotional connection to an earlier era of trading. Ultimately, says Singh, “the crypto world has changed,” and that “the days of leaderboards like this are somewhat behind us.”
Just don’t tell that to Clumsy-Empty-Headroom or Finicky-Muslim-Buyer.
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