Game streaming and esports are poised to become a dominant force in entertainment; viewership is rising rapidly, and prizes for professional tournaments already regularly make millionaires of winners. That rapid growth saw streaming platform Twitch gobbled up by Amazon for $585m, and led to the launch of the dedicated YouTube Gaming portal in August.
Azubu isn’t yet uttered in the same breath as those site — at least not by British gamers. But the company is already a growing streaming power in other territories though, with a huge presence in Brazil, Germany, and Korea. It now aims to replicate that success globally, with a €55m (£39.8m) round of investment to expand into the UK and Europe.
“For us, it’s all about international growth, expanding into new and emerging markets, building new arenas and new tournaments in these new territories, and promoting and cultivating existing broadcasters and new broadcasters,” Azubu CEO Ian Sharpe tells WIRED. “We look to provide esports content to a global audience, not just one or two specific regions.”
The funding coincides with the recent launch of Azubu 3.0, which brings an improved video player promising guaranteed uptime and introduces “modules” — movable, scalable panels for showing information such as a news feed or links to social accounts, intended to offer users more freedom in how they present and consume their streams.
Azubu 3.0 also opens the platform up to the wisdom of crowds; previously, streams were curated, and often spotlighted esports professionals with whom Azubu had partnered, but now anyone can stream their gaming sessions.
“Being an open platform, and enabling everyone the right to stream, was the natural next step in our platform evolution,” says Sharpe. “People not only want to stream, they want to stream alongside some of their favourite esports stars that exclusively stream on Azubu. So by going open platform we provide that experience.”
Despite opening up to all aspiring streamers, with its competitors already entrenched in the broader game streaming field thanks to close console integration, Azubu is hoping to stand apart from the crowd by homing in on the competitive side. “We’re focused on esports, providing the best platform for fans and players,” Sharpe says, “as opposed to most live streaming platforms that have a broad range of gaming and don’t have a focus on esports.”
“We provide a customisable user experience for the broadcasters so they can display a page that uniquely represents them and their interests,” Sharpe adds. “We also have dedicated esports managers, 24/7 live customer service, and we are developing new ways [for players] to monetise.”
Most of Azubu’s growth to date has come from emerging markets, ones “where our competitors do not have a strong foothold,” according to Sharpe. “Brazil is a good example of how we’ve managed to get fans and players to move over to Azubu from our competitors. We hope to emulate that across other regions.”
As Azubu expands into the UK, expect to see more homegrown content from domestic pro-gamers join the platform. In fact, building local partnerships is a priority, with Sharpe telling us, “we have hired a new esports manager for the UK, based in the UK and focusing on partnerships, broadcasters, and other opportunities that help build our footprint in the UK.”
“Also, we have key operational staff located in the region to ensure our platform is the best it can be in that region,” Sharpe continues. “We’ll be adding more resources in the New Year, and announcing more local partnerships shortly.”
One thing Azubu won’t be doing, at least for a while, is hosting its own tournaments, although Sharpe says the company is “in the process of building partnerships with a wide array of European event providers” and will work with them “to host the very best tournaments at Azubu”.
The Azubu site is now live for account sign up, while the company plans further announcements on its expansion into the UK for the new year. There’s clear demand for more coverage of competitive gaming from the local community — PC gaming festival Insomnia moved to the NEC, largely to make use of a much larger arena, and BBC Three streamed this year’s League of Legends championships. If Azubu can establish a strong presence, it could help grow the British game streaming scene as a whole.