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Azubu goes after Twitch by focusing on eSports and customer service

"We won't be showing music concerts. We won't be showing cooking shows. We won't be putting on terrestrial TV programs."

This proclamation comes from Ian Sharpe, the CEO of Azubu, an up-and-coming streaming service. Sharpe is speaking to us from his hotel room in Germany, where he's attending Gamescom. The company has chosen this busy week to replace its old site with a new beta layout that it's calling "Azubu 3.0."

And while many have yet to hear of Azubu and others consider it an also-ran to more popular efforts like Twitch and the soon-to-launch YouTube Gaming, Sharpe is clear about what separates his company from the competitors.

"We think that both Twitch and YouTube being more generic gaming are diluting the interest of the core audience who are fascinated by the players, the stars, the competitors," he says. "They tune in for that. They don't tune in for generic gaming."

"They don't tune in for generic gaming"

Azubu, as Sharpe tells it, is not just a game streaming platform. It is specifically an eSports platform. The company is fine with streamers showing off non-competitive games from time to time, but they're expected to return to eSports.

"Maybe they're playing The Witcher 3, and they want to stream that for a while," Sharpe says. "Perhaps they're playing a mobile game and want to show that. We're happy to allow people to showcase what they want, as long as it's within the eSports lifestyle. It means having a passion for competitive gaming and a passion for entertainment."

For an example, Sharpe points to Azubu's star streamer, the Korean wunderkind known as Faker. This 19-year-old Korean League of Legends player was the focus of an ESPN feature earlier this summer. He's widely considered to be the best League of Legends player in the world. And Azubu is his home for streaming.

Sharpe believes that big get for Azubu is not a fluke, but a sign that his company is appealing to what the eSports community cares about, and also that it's doing so in a way that captures what he calls "a truly global platform."

"Twitch has done an amazing job in having all kinds of people around the world stream on their platform," Sharpe says. "It works well in most of North America and Europe. But there are all kinds of people talking to us about their regions, because Twitch isn't great there. And just like soccer, eSports is a global phenomenon. There's a huge, passionate audience all around the world. We've been able to tap into some of that."

With sizable viewership in Korea, Azubu cut a deal with KeSPA, the Korean Sports Association. A growing Brazilian audience led to a deal with Pain Gaming, a popular League of Legends team from that region, led by Azubu-signed streamer BRTT.

But Azubu isn't just looking to win people over by targeting under-served audiences in smaller regions. Sharpe says the company is also laser-focused on customer support in a way that bigger competitors like Twitch and YouTube can't manage.

"Some things are difficult to stream," he says. "Or there are problems, there are occasional outages. You know, when you get annoyed with your bank, when your bank card doesn't work, you need a human to talk to. We provide that for streaming. We have a group of people who provide support to anyone who is having trouble viewing or casting."

"Everyone who streams is a small business in their own right"

While random users can sign up for Azubu accounts and stream at will, the company also seeks out specific eSports celebrities like Faker and provide them with account managers — basically streaming experts who are dedicated to helping the streamers grow their audience and their business. And in Sharpe's eyes, this definitely is business.

"Everyone who streams is a small business in their own right," he says. "Azubu is what we call a network effect platform, where by empowering the community, I think we'll see phenomenal growth and be excited by what the community creates from what we put in their hands."

"Empowering the community" for Azubu includes the website's use of "modules." Where Twitch pages and YouTube channels are largely static and difficult to personalize, Azubu modules allow streamers to quickly and easily rearrange the placement of items on their page. They can put in a Twitter feed or a bunch of funny GIFs. In the near future, Sharpe says they'll be able to put in special modules for selling merchandise or conducting microtransactions.

While Azubu is still growing — and, in particular, just beginning to target North American and European viewers — Sharpe believes the company has a strong base to build from. He brags that the service is now one of only three official partners with League of Legends developer Riot Games.

"On their hub, you can see an Azubu stream as well as a Twitch and a YouTube stream," says Sharpe. "That's something of a feather in a cap. When we sit alongside some of the big boys there, that speaks to our innovation and the kinds of things that we're doing."

Azubu 3.0 is currently in beta, but as of today it has fully replaced the older 2.0 version of the site.

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