Azubu is a global broadcast network that focuses on streaming eSports action, programming, news and analysis. The network was founded in 2012 to capitalize on the rapid growth of eSports, and earlier this year Azubu announced a $34.5 million funding round from Sapinda Group, an international investment firm. Azubu has embarked on a total transformation of the site, its technology and the company with that investment, and the [a]list daily caught up with Azubu CEO Ian Sharpe to discuss Azubu’s progress. The new version of Azubu’s web site is relaunching soon with a new interface, new technology and new talent, and Sharpe gives us some insight into Azubu’s vision for eSports.

Azubu CEO Ian Sharpe

Azubu’s transformation results from a recognition of eSports’ potential by investors outside of the gaming market. “The starting point is Sapinda Investment Group,” said Sharpe. “They’re involved in agriculture, mining, they’re involved anywhere they think there is investment to be placed in something that has a huge potential to change people’s lives. There is a keen belief and a generational commitment to the future of eSports. The reason I was excited to helm this project is that they recognize that eSports has reached a tipping point.”

That tipping point has been fueled by many things, Sharpe believes. The technology for streaming, the trail blazed by Twitch and others, the changing attitudes of publishers towards eSports, and of course it was all “accelerated by the fantastic success of Riot Games,” Sharpe notes. “Much more than any other publisher they have willed this space into existence.”

Azubu is headquartered in Los Angeles, and has established offices in Vancouver, Seoul, and Berlin. Sharpe feels that Azubu needs a worldwide presence to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of eSports as it transitions into a huge industry. The pattern is akin to the way professional sports became huge on the strength of broadcast TV starting in the 1960’s, according to Sharpe. “We all think we’re about to see that in eSports,” said Sharpe. “eSports has been middling along for 10 years now. The technology, the attitude of publishers, the catapulting to stardom enhanced by Riot, all of those things have set up eSports for pre-eminence of the world stage. We now have an opportunity with Azubu 2.0 to create a premium eSports platform, a network that broadcasts the very best talent, leagues, competitive gaming activity to a global audience.”

Azubu plans to set itself apart from other ways to stream eSports with technology and premium content. On the technology side, Azubu has teamed up with a leading company experienced with providing content. “We have a strategic alliance with Brightcove,” Sharpe said. “They power all sorts of solutions like ESPN’s mobile solution, Rogers, Time-Warner, Macys and provision of video around those big brands. They really are a global powerhouse with 400 engineers devoted to making the best possible video experience that there is. They see as well that there is a phenomenon here, and they have a strategic alliance with us to build out a technology road map and a feature set that is custom designed to our broadcast.”

The talent side is just as important as the technology. “We are a premium network that is talent first,” said Sharpe. “We have designed our road map hand-in-hand with the broadcasters and the eSports talent that are going to be using it and watching it. We know what Riot Games wants for their perfect player for their fans and the huge fan base that they have.” Sharpe also notes the global reach of their streaming. “We don’t lag outside of North America,” Sharpe said. “We can broadcast effectively into Australia, Brazil, China and more places. In effect, we can create the modern version of the medieval Silk Road where the cross-fertilization and trade between East and West was lucrative, we can recreate that on a global eSports basis.”

Azubu plans to work with brands. “It’s important to recognize we want to create an experience with our brand partners,” said Sharpe. “If you think about the life journey of the young Tiger Woods, his upward trajectory from a young age was such that ‘if I attach my brand to this guy I’m attaching my brand to his triumph, his emotional highs.’ That’s a great thing for brands to be associated with. If you want to attach yourself to a role model who is winning, who is showing what good competition looks like, Azubu can help with that and deliver a window to that world. We can broadcast that triumph and associate your brand with it.”

The comprehensive offering by Azubu provides a great value to brands, in Sharpe’s view. “If you get an endorsement by a talented member of the community, that endorsement resonates with the captive audience that we have,” Sharpe noted. “If you think about Azubu providing the streaming platform, when you go to an ad break the very same guys who are winning the trophies are endorsing your particular product straight to an audience that is lapping up all of this activity. Not only that, the way our technology works there’s all manner of calls to action within the video player, you can not only capitalize on awareness but deliver more than intent to purchase, deliver actual purchase. All of those things come together very well within Azubu. We can deliver a unique combination of talent, brand and platform that will really help our brand partners have effective campaigns.”

The future looks like a broad landscape to Azubu, not only in terms of its global reach but in the breadth of platforms for streaming eSports. Sharpe wants to make eSports accessible to everyone. “We talk about leaving no screen behind,” said Sharpe. “People watch things at all times and places, and it’s very important that we can deliver whatever they are passionate about straight to their eyeballs.”

“One of the things we’re seeing universally is people playing on a variety of different devices,” Sharpe said. “We hear huge amounts of buzz on Blizzard’s Hearthstone game coming out on PC and coming to iPad soon. That’s an exciting thing. There’s an explosion of MOBAs and related games with everyone attempting to capitalize on the success of League of Legends, there are a range of games and IPs that are coming into this space.”

“Not all of those will succeed,” Sharpe continued. “Some of them will be classics, some of them will last for a long time, and some of them will fizzle without an audience. Some of them will be undiscovered games. I’d like to find some of those undiscovered gems, shine a spotlight on them and help give them the plaudits that they deserve. There’s a lot of great potential here, there’s a lot of people are interested in the scene. Talent is helping make or break new games with their endorsement or with their pure enthusiasm. If you can get the right talent, the right broadcaster, the right format of content and get that working in favor of your game, then you can build an audience on the back of that advocacy.”