Recently, GBR’s Senior Tech and Tools editor, Rita Turkowski sat down with Ian Sharpe, CEO of Azubu, an eSports platform, to discuss what Azubu’s been up to. We spoke to Ian about what drives Azubu as the daily destination for eSports fans, people who love eSports, and the eSports lifestyle. For background, Azubu was founded in 2012 in Sherman Oaks, CA (with offices in Vancouver and Seoul) and has grown to about 50 employees.

Azubu

Ian is hugely passionate about the convergence of online video, eSports, and mobile technology, having moved through his career with each of those industries maturing and accelerating around him, which has certainly helped him in his latest endeavor. Each of these sectors is booming in their own right, and to quote Ian, “surfing all three waves at the same time takes dexterity, grace and poise. And an inordinate capacity to drink sea water.” Indeed.

IanSharpe_headshotGBR: How would you best explain what you do?

IS: My role is to build the best team possible to deliver the best results possible. It’s not a dissimilar role to any eSports coach – we focus on a playbook, we nurture star performers, we drill, and we practice until we get it right. Right now, I am overseeing the development of the next phase of Azubu. I make sure our yet-to-be announced project will redefine Azubu’s position as the definitive streaming service for fans and broadcasters of professional eSports and that Azubu continues to cater to the very specific wants and needs of the eSports community. Overall, I keep Azubu focused on its eSports path so the company continues to serve that community first and foremost. Azubu is building the definitive global platform for the global phenomenon that is eSports. We’ve listened to the top international players, the top grossing brands, and the most visionary publishers to deliver something really innovative in the live streaming space.

GBR: What products/services do you provide?

IS: We provide premium live and on-demand eSports programming, news, and analysis. Our streaming technology offers professional players a high-definition platform to create and share content as well as interact with their fans. We also provide in-depth editorial content and insight about the world of eSports to improve the user and streamer experience.

GBR: Why do customers come to you? How do they find you?

IS: We are one of the only three broadcasters with the right to broadcast Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK), and League of Legends Pro League (LPL) professional league tournaments. We are embedded on lolesports.com or viewers can come to azubu.tv directly to see the very best eSports players in the world stream solo or with their teammates. Our editorial content further adds to the eSports experience and gives users a practically endless stream of eSports coverage to take in.

GBR: Why would teams and players engage with you? What are your strengths?

IS: Professional teams and partners engage with us for our domain expertise, industry experience and sheer unrelenting dedication. We mix the Wisdom of the (industry) Ancients with the Immortality of the Millennial. These organizations want a company that puts their industry and livelihood as a first priority, and there is currently nobody else but Azubu who can provide that level of focus and dedication.

GBR: What makes you stand out from the competition?

IS: Beyond our passion for eSports, we also provide a refined streaming product, so pro players know they are getting the highest-quality technology to reach their fans.

RT: What are the opportunities you see in the market for what you are doing?

The eSports market is growing so fast that the demand for content has far outstripped the supply. While other streaming and video platforms have created open markets for content, their lack of focus may inhibit their ability to serve a committed and knowledgeable audience like eSports fans. By focusing solely on professional gaming, we will capitalize on the ravenous demand of an expanding audience, and hopefully serve them better than our competition.

GBR: What are the risks and challenges in your field?

IS: There is a perception that there isn’t any more room for another streaming platform with Twitch reaching critical mass and Google attempting to break in and disrupt video like they did with YouTube. Of course, that’s what ABC and CBS said about Fox. The orthodoxy is never challenged…until it is. Also, eSports only became the phenomenon it is now in recent years and like all newer industries, is susceptible to volatile and unexpected changes.

GBR: Let’s discuss the technology behind Azubu a bit.  What can you tell us about your product’s tech and how it works?

IS: The Azubu platform has been built in partnership with Brightcove and Akamai. Seamlessly integrating their industry-leading encoding and streaming technology, we provide HD quality streams. Building from there, we have weaponized those core components—refined our tech to surpass the industry standard– to make the most engaging and user-focused approach to streaming.

GBR: What makes it unique from other products in the space?

IS: Azubu exclusively serves the eSports world. There isn’t currently another streaming platform that does that. Through close collaboration with our community, partnerships with top technology providers and engagement with top teams, we deliver a service for viewers around the world that surpasses industry standards. We also reach underserved eSports stream markets in the world that our competitors don’t cater to, e.g. Brazil and South Korea.

GBR: What additional services/products do you provide?

IS: Presently, Azubu offers a broadcast platform for the eSports community. In the coming months, we will have more to share on additional features and services that we believe will profoundly impact the eSports industry in a positive way.

GBR: Why would people want to use your product? More importantly, how do they find you?

IS: Azubu provides gamers with top-quality streaming content from hand-picked professional gamers on professional grade software. Our interface is also intuitive for our streaming partners to be easily discovered by viewers, who can easily navigate the different streams and editorial content that Azubu offers. But as stated earlier, we’re looking forward to unveiling new, innovative and exciting features to our platform, which we hope resonates well with the community, since it has been built specifically with community feedback in mind.

GBR: Let’s talk a bit about market positioning. Why will our readers be interested in your product?

IS: The phenomenon of eSports and video game streaming grows exponentially each day. Let’s look at this graph from Newzoo:

Esports-Newzoo

With several companies vying for a spot in the space, Azubu has already carved a path for the eSports-specific audience with a user-friendly experience and made in-roads with major international eSports markets such as Brazil and South Korea. There is plenty of room for alternatives to the current Twitch/Amazon monopoly.

GBR: What are the opportunities you see in the market where you currently positioned?

IS: Despite early traction on behalf of some of our competitors, the eSports community is looking for a focused eSports streaming platform that provides both seamless service and professional content that other platforms cannot deliver. We see great opportunity in providing the best service and experience specifically for the eSports community.

GBR: What are the risks and challenges you think you face, and what qualifies you to overcome them?

IS: The perception that Twitch has reached critical mass and that there isn’t room for a smaller, more focused company like Azubu is an obstacle we must remain mindful of. We can break the monopoly, however, by focusing on our mission: serving the eSports community, listening to what the community wants, and designing the best platform to address their needs.

GBR: You state that Twitch is your primary competitor. Let’s talk about that a bit more. Anyone else a formidable competitor? What is it that makes you better than what your rivals offer?

IS: Amazon: they own Twitch, the biggest name in video game streaming. However, Twitch does not have the focus on eSports that Azubu does, nor do they have the same foothold in major eSports regions like South Korea and Brazil.

Google: they recently announced YouTube Live, an upcoming streaming platform that will give a special nod to eSports and video games. Previous misfires in the space have set Google’s new offerings behind the competition—user perception may already be running against them.

Regardless, we believe our value proposition resonates very well with the eSports community and we’re eager to see how the competitive landscape shapes up this year. Moreover, with all of the exciting things we have coming up, we can’t wait to truly be set apart from the rest.

GBR: What platforms does your product run on?

IS: Azubu runs on any Internet browser, as well as iOS and Android via our official Azubu TV app. We actually recently unveiled a whole new look and feel for our iOS and Android apps, and the user feedback has been great.

GBR: What genres do you think are specifically well-suited to eSports tournaments?

IS: Having a game declared an “eSport” is recognition by the community of a game’s competitiveness and “watchability.” This is ultimately what has made games like League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft II successful in the eSports market. Genres that are fundamentally competitive in a binary way i.e. one team wins by eliminating the other team with no middle ground, are well suited for eSports tournaments: MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena), First-Person Shooters, and Fighting Games in particular.

GBR: Which popular multiplayer games of that genre do you think would be exciting to fans, but are not featured on Azubu today?

IS: I’m personally a big fan of the Total War games (from The Creative Assembly), which haven’t made the leap into eSports, although they are always prevalent in the Steam concurrent users numbers.

GBR: Any last words for our readers?

IS: Legitimacy in eSports is something that can only be granted by the community; it isn’t something you can buy or manufacture. At Azubu, we hope to earn that legitimacy through our unwavering commitment to eSports. Actions always speak louder than words, so we’ll let the new platform launch do the talking.

Ian concludes by expressing his passion for what he and his team are doing for eSports:

“I have the great pleasure to bear witness to the convergence of my three greatest passions: video games, sports, and technology. I am working to be the catalyst that will unite the three and transform competitive gaming into a global spectator sport. We have such a skilled team with a true passion for the space, and I can’t wait to see how we will continue to work together to develop our platform and become a strong choice for eSports fans.”

azubu-crowd-allstars

GBR Analyst’s Viewpoint

While we have seen an enormous growth in the interest in eSports this year alone, it remains to be seen just how big this market will grow in the next two years. Recent, and somewhat conflicting reports, have put the worldwide revenue for eSports at $465M by 2017 according to NewZoo, but Superdata puts revenue at $612M for 2015, a fairly large disparity, which leads us to believe this is an exploding, but hard to tie down, potential market. GBR is closely watching this space now, and we hope to have our own analysis of the eSports market before the end of the year.

According to GBR’s Contributing Editor John Gaudiosi, who also writes for Fortune Magazine, noted Twitch currently owns approximately 30 percent of the global eSports audience. It appears there is still plenty of room for new companies to establish themselves. Companies getting into this market now that are well-funded, have solid technology, and top-notch industry content contracts will do well either on their own this decade, or be acquired quickly and profitably.

Perhaps one unanticipated benefit to the explosion of eSports is the interest colleges and universities are taking in the market. An earlier GBR article from February highlights how the eSports phenomenon has affected the higher education system. eSports is now a viable sport worthy of scholarships the same way many universities traditionally offer, say, football scholarships, a sport bolstered by highly profitable professional leagues.  It probably did not hurt that ESPN streamed pro eSports championships in the summer of 2014, but anything that helps get students into colleges they possibly couldn’t afford on their own (or even attend at all) is valuable, not to mention the higher sense of self-worth team sports provide these young people.

AzubuCompany Background:

Investment from Sapinda Holding B.V.  USD $34.5M

Mission:

Azubu was established to become the premier streaming platform for the global eSports community.

Partners:

Brightcove, Riot, Akamai, KeSPA

Additional Information:

Please feel free to contact Erin Fan, Triple Point PR: efan@triplepointpr.com

15303 Ventura Blvd, Suite 220

Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Contact Information:

Website: www.azubu.tv