Azubu, a video game streaming website, has gotten themselves embroiled in a recent DMCA scandal. The streaming company out of Los Angeles California has used exclusivity contracts as a competitive tool against its more well known streaming competitor Twitch.
A recent well publicized incident involved Azubu sending a DMCA to Twitch user “SpectateFaker” for using a tool in League of Legends to stream games from famous Azubu-contracted player “Faker”. The DMCA is contentious for the fact that user “SpectateFaker” was using a tool in the game League of Legends and not content originating from Azubu.
Azubu has had a few controversies over it’s founding in 2012. The company managed to get big contracts with CLG, Riot, Kespa and other big game organizations within it’s first year of operation. Azubu had a suspicious 34.5 million dollar fusion from Sapinda, an investment firm managed by Lars Windhost, who was hit with 35 charges of fraud in Berlin in 2010 but managed to plea it down with a heavy multi-million dollar fee and a lesser charge of Breach of Trust.
Azubu even had their sponsored team “Frost” in 2012 be involved in a situation where a suspicious ping happened that would indicate they had an unfair advantage. This wasn’t prosecuted by Riot but it’s clear Azubu has had a harsh beginning as a company.
Azubu has risen to be a behemoth of a streaming service just behind the Jupiter sized Twitch. This could dwindle, however, through the egregious use of false DMCAs for shutting down “competitors” like SpectateFaker. SpectateFaker used the API of League of Legends to spectate Korean pro-gamer Faker. Azubu had no right to the actual content from the League of Legends. The tools SpectateFaker used are 100% legal and he’s not even profiting from the Stream. The situation got so bad between SpectateFaker and Azubu, that Marc Merill President and Co-Founder of Riot Games commented on the issue.
These tweets, while anti consumer, show that Marc has a delicate issue to balance. Azubu is one of the streaming platforms that is allowed to broadcast LCS games. Azubu does make Riot money while SpectateFaker doesn’t. He framed the issue as it being purely of Faker’s volition when in reality Azubu signed the contract with KESPA, which is world renowned as a strict e-sports regulatory commission for South Korea. Faker is rightfully worried about this ordeal since Kespa has a long list of disqualifications and bans for the most minute reasons (here’s the Starcraft list of Kespa punishments for not typing good game ”GG” or Pause Please ”PP” in game).
Marc Merill crossed the line between the business axis and the pro consumer axis to insinuate that this was e-stalking. The public reaction of those tweets on the other hand was met with more derision than the Azubu tweets.
The game he created, League of Legends, is a 5 vs 5 team game. When Faker solo-ques on League while using the Azubu streaming service, the other 9 players haven’t been verified to sign streaming contracts. If you are going by Marc Merilll’s logic and not the logic of letting a game be streamed by all, does this mean that Riot is supporting e-stalking?
Those players on Faker’s team aren’t guaranteed to be under contract to stream, yet Faker is streaming them. The other four players on his team never signed up to be broadcasted worldwide.
As for the SpectateFaker account, he didn’t take too well from the founder of Riot calling him an e-stalker. He posted up on Reddit that he will continue to let his automation tool stream Faker’s game. Here is a quote from a piece of writing he did on the scandal.
I will be continuing the stream as of February 21st 2015. And if anyone from Azubu ends up reading this, if you’re thinking about filing another illegal DMCA claim, I’d recommend you read the possible legal ramifications of doing so first here. Filing a false DMCA claim is illegal and an abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Any DMCA take-down requests sent to the stream that are not sent by Riot Games will be counter challenged immediately through Twitch. I will continue to promote the official Azubu stream as I have before for Faker’s sake.
Azubu and Riot are put between a rock and a hard place. They both want to make profit but their exclusivity contracts contradict the meaning of Moba games. The moba genre spanning from Dota to modern titles is about sharing the experience. Other Moba games have no problems with players watching their games. Azubu even had an exclusivity contract with Fnatic’s Dota 2 Team until the dissolution in November 2014.
Azubu never tried to pressure the makers of DotaTV (dota’s in-client streaming service) to stop allowing users to watch their favorite Fnatic player with the in-game client, instead of Azubu. Valve doesn’t tolerate that nonsense as a company and if Riot wants to last as long as Valve, they should follow Valve’s philosophy and not kowtow your morals to every company that throws you money.
If Riot really wants to rally behind a company like Azubu that is their choice. Azubu has taken money from a convicted criminal and whose confusing mysterious paper-trail of ownership is appears to be structured more like a money laundering front than an actual reputable business. Azubu sent the DMCA but Riot has put themselves in a quagmire by conflating watching public games as e-stalking.