Interview with Azubu Director of Content Matt Gunnin on eSports

Author: MMOsite Writer Alexander Hinkley

Competitive gaming has been gaining more and more recognition in North America as a legitimate sport in recent years. In fact, news came out just last year that the League of Legends Championship Series is recognized by the United States government as an official sport, making foreign players eligible to be granted visas in order to compete in tournaments just like pro athletes in other major sports do. Azubu has quickly become one of the industry leaders in streaming eSports gameplay on azubu ranging from League of Legends to Counter Strike: Global Offensive. I recently sat down with Azubu’s Director of Content and Statistics Matt Gunnin to talk League of Legends and the bright future of eSports.

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For those who might not have heard about Azubu, can you tell me a little bit about the organization and its services?

We’re a company of gamers, developing and programming content that caters to gamers. Specifically, we are a premium video game streaming platform with a focus on competitive gaming. We’re building an integrated experience for the users, both broadcasters and viewers, which encompass all the different aspects of a video game that aren’t typically available. This includes real-time overlay data feeds, an electronic programming guide, news, infographics, historical statistics as well as a full featured partnership with eSportspedia.

Azubu recently announced a list of several new high profile hires in a press release. What will this mean for the future of Azubu coverage?

In a nutshell, it means the experience we’re developing for our broadcasters to better engage their fans are going to improve and grow as we grow. We’re all aware that Azubu suffered some initial growing pains that left the gaming community questioning the integrity of the company, and it’s our focus to change that perception. We want people to know that this is a company of gamers, just like the people who stream on and watch Azubu.

We’re hiring people from gaming, digital and IT tech landscapes, to help elevate Azubu to the next level. We had a solid team before and we’re excited to continue to add to that experienced core group. I look forward to building out the team even more in the coming year, so we can put those growing pains behind us and stand stronger in the gaming community. I’m excited about our growth in 2015. It’s going to be a big year for us.

I'm personally familiar with Azubu from the Azubu Crystal Cup Dominion tournaments on LoL. Are there any plans for future Crystal Cup tournaments and do you guys host/sponsor any other LoL tournaments?

Absolutely! The three Crystal Cup tournaments that we ran were all very successful and we plan to start them back up next year, bigger and better than before. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that we do have a few additional big name events that we will be announcing soon, as part of our continuing growth strategy. If you’re familiar with any of the events that I’ve been involved with in the past, then you will be excited to hear about what’s to come!

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Who are some of the League of Legends pro players affiliated with or broadcasting on Azubu?

Azubu is partnered with some of the best players and teams from all over the streaming world. Fnatic, Roccat, Enemy eSports and Team Coast all stream on Azubu. We also recently joined forces with the Korean eSports Players Association, also known as KeSPA, who has been the home of the past two League of Legends World Champions (SKT T1K & Samsung White).

Players like Faker, Bengi, MadLife, Cpt Jack, YellowStar, Soaz, VandeR, Impaler, DontMashMe, Cris and many more also stream regularly at Azubu and we continue to partner with new broadcasters every day!

So what are the benefits of a pro player broadcasting on Azubu compared to streaming elsewhere?

We have a broadcaster first mentality when it comes to streaming. Every team and player we partner with has their own Account Manager, a person specifically responsible for ensuring that their needs are met. We want our partners to have a seamless and enjoyable experience when they decide to start streaming with Azubu, which is why we have a team of developers focused on constantly improving our broadcaster tools. We work closely with our broadcasters to determine what features they want, as well as what issues they may be experiencing. We also provide our broadcasters with ongoing production and technical support. Whether they’re having an issue finding their broadcaster key, or need help optimizing the performance of their stream, our team is always available to them.

The Content Department is another way we separate ourselves from other streaming services. Our focus is devoted to bridging the gap between the player and the fan, making the experience even more interactive, and that comes in the form of stream overlays, video highlights, and historical and real-time statistics. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we’re developing to enhance the overall experience.

We also have a marketing team on hand to help our broadcasters with promotional needs they may have. We want our partners to be successful and thrive in this industry. Their brand’s growth is as much a priority to us as it is to them.

I won’t sit here and say that we have all the answers, because we don’t. Azubu is still in its infancy, learning and growing daily. We’ve assembled great minds from within the industry and are working tirelessly to build a new and unique viewing and engaging experience. While there have been some challenges, we’ve undoubtedly come out stronger because of them. We are dedicated to each and every one of our partners and viewers and want to work with them to create a better Azubu, one that they can have confidence in and a lot of fun with.

Does Azubu sponsor any pro teams?

We choose to partner with pro teams as opposed to sponsor them. Our goal is to work closely with each partner to build long lasting partnerships that are beneficial for Azubu, the team and our users. Often when a company sponsors a team, they tend to be hands off. We want to be both involved and supportive and we believe having partnerships better facilitates this kind of relationship.

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You personally founded Leaguepedia so clearly you’re passionate about League of Legends yourself. Who would you say is your personal favorite champ to play?

I’m a bit old school here and would have to go with my first real “main” which would be Cassiopeia or even Karthus. I’ve always been either an AP Mid, although honestly I’m pretty bad at the Mids, or AD Carry, so I really love to play almost any of the champs that fall in that category. Most recently that would be either Xerath or Vayne.

Being how involved you've been with eSports, what advice would you give to a LoL player interested in "going pro?" What are some good first steps someone can take to get into the competitive gaming scene?

Just like any sport it takes hard-work, dedication, and a personal commitment to never quit. If competitive gaming is truly what you’re most passionate about then you have to make the promise to yourself that you will one day be a competitive gamer.

When I originally started Leaguepedia I knew early on that this is what I wanted to do with my life. From the moment I went to bed to the minute I would wake up, it was all I would think about. I knew the risk going in and how unsettling it could be to leave a career in engineering but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.

That’s what I tell people when they ask me how they can get into eSports. There isn’t any sort of golden rule, or golden ticket for that matter, that will lead to a successful career in this industry. It really comes down to this - do you want it bad enough and are you willing to stop at nothing to get there?

There’s something Mark Cuban once said that’s given me a lot of inspiration over the years and I still remind myself of it every day; “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you.” There aren’t any shortcuts in this industry. If you truly want to have a career in eSports, then you’re going to have to work harder than everyone else, never be complacent and never quit. Period.

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