In an era where live streaming as a content form is ubiquitous, standing out in these crowded seas is no easy feet. Streaming platform Azarus, however, has not only managed to stand out but also change the very nature of how we interact with streams. It has attracted well known investors including Kleiner Perkins, Galaxy Digital and Animoca Brands.
Azarus is a Web3 streaming platform. It has been embraced for its Web3 Wallet feature that layers over their video player and allows streamers and viewers to more directly interact with each other.
At the helm of Azarus, dubbed the ‘Web3 Layer for Streams’, Casassovici is pushing the boundaries of entertainment, blockchain, and community. Azarus, under his leadership, has carved out a new frontier where every stream is a game, and every viewer, a player.
Casassovici is no stranger to innovation, with a track record of successful ventures and a keen eye for future trends. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the mind of a man who believes that the future of streaming is not just to be watched, but to be played and lived.
1. Alex, can you walk us through your journey in founding Azarus and its evolution to where it stands today?
Launching Azarus in 2018 was a venture born out of a fascination with the evolving landscape of entertainment. My co-founder, Andrew Lacy, and I observed a significant shift in how people consumed media; traditional TV was rapidly giving way to streamed content. However, we noticed a gap — the streaming experience, although based on modern internet technology, remained fundamentally passive, echoing its airwave-based origins.
We envisioned a future where interactivity was ingrained in this medium. Our core thesis revolved around the belief that streamed content would evolve beyond passive viewership, integrating layers of interaction grounded in identity and true ownership.
To test our hypothesis, we joined forces with Ubisoft’s accelerator in Paris, which proved to be a pivotal move. Leveraging streams of their hit title, Rainbow Six: Siege, we conducted experiments focused on attention and prediction, rewarding viewers for their active participation. The success of these tests not only validated our thesis but also propelled us to secure our first round of funding with notable investors like Galaxy Digital, Kleiner Perkins, and Animoca Brands.
Over the years, Azarus has continued to evolve. We’ve refined our concept, applying it to large-scale live events such as the Streamer Awards and the reveal stream of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. We’ve also collaborated with leading gaming and consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands to forge authentic interactions with audiences.
The journey from our inception to where we stand today has been one of constant innovation and learning. We remain committed to our vision of transforming the viewing experience into something dynamic and interactive, continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of streamed entertainment.
2. What aspect of the Azarus journey are you most proud of?
The journey of Azarus has been marked by numerous milestones, but the aspect that fills me with the most pride is undoubtedly the incredible people who have joined and supported us along the way. From our talented team members who bring our vision to life every day, to our forward-thinking investors who believed in our mission from the start, and the visionary customers who chose to partner with us—it’s the collective human spirit that has propelled Azarus forward.
We’ve been fortunate enough to attract some of the brightest minds who share our passion for revolutionizing the future of TV. Their trust and contribution have been instrumental in shaping Azarus. Together, we’ve been able to make a significant impact, exposing tens of millions of viewers to a new way of experiencing streamed content.
Our collaborations with some of the largest brands and channels have not only amplified our reach but also validated our belief in interactive streaming as the future of entertainment. The collective effort of our team, partners, and supporters has been the cornerstone of our success, and it’s this collaborative spirit that I hold in the highest regard.
3. Azarus is termed the "Web3 Layer for Streams". Can you elaborate on what this means and the significance of transitioning from Web2 to Web3?
The term ‘Web3 Layer for Streams’ encapsulates the essence of Azarus’ mission—to weave the principles of Web3 into the fabric of streaming experiences. However, I wouldn’t characterize our approach as a ‘transition’ from Web2 to Web3. For me, and for Azarus, Web3 has been an integral part of our DNA since our inception in 2018. The concept of digital ownership, a cornerstone of Web3, has always been central to our vision.
At Azarus, we recognize the importance of digital ownership for the future of the web. That said, we also understand that the journey into Web3 needs to be inclusive. While we offer rewards like tokens or NFTs that are emblematic of Web3, we also accommodate traditional rewards like redeemable codes. Regardless of the reward type, all are seamlessly integrated into user wallets, which we help set up when they join Azarus.
We’ve streamlined the onboarding process, making it incredibly user-friendly, yet without compromising on the capabilities that Web3 offers. This allows advanced users to exercise full ownership of their assets. Looking ahead, we have an ambitious roadmap that includes making the Azarus platform open source, decentralized, and permissionless.
Our vision is expansive; we aim to see Azarus-enabled games and experiences proliferate across every network, from live gaming to live sports and shows. We’re committed to fostering an open standard to achieve this goal, believing firmly in the transformative potential of an interactive, ownership-centric Web3 layer for streams.
4. As someone who’s spoken at numerous events, what’s a key message or takeaway you wish more people understood about gaming, blockchain, or digital entertainment?
Having spoken at numerous events on topics ranging from gaming to blockchain, one key message that I emphasize is the immense potential that blockchain technology holds for the gaming and digital entertainment industries. It’s crucial to understand that this sector is still in its nascent stages; every new experiment, be it CryptoKitties, The Sandbox, Axie Infinity, or emerging projects like Wreck League, Phantom Galaxy, Life Beyond, and the Mocaverse, serves to captivate imaginations and propel the industry forward. Each of these ventures represents a step towards innovation and further experimentation.
I often describe tokens as the social currency and NFTs as truly owned digital assets. Intriguingly, these elements are also foundational components of any successful online game. They enhance the gaming experience by providing a sense of ownership and investment in the game’s universe.
The overarching message I want to impart is one of optimism and excitement for the future. The intersection of gaming, blockchain, and digital entertainment is fertile ground for innovation. I’m bullish about the prospects of this convergence, firmly believing that the initiatives currently underway are paving the way for the future of the industry.
__5. On a similar note, I always feel that elements of Web3 UI lag behind Web2. Things like the necessity to acquire crypto, signing transactions etc. What can crypto do to bridge this gap and onboard more Web2 users? __
Absolutely, the user interface and experience (UI/UX) challenges in Web3 are significant barriers to widespread adoption. The complexity of acquiring cryptocurrency, understanding wallet security, and navigating transaction signing are hurdles that can deter the uninitiated. It’s unrealistic to expect someone new to the space to grasp concepts like asymmetric keys or transaction finality in a short span of time.
At Azarus, we’ve consciously taken a different path, one that diverges from the norm of catering exclusively to the ‘educated’ users within the crypto space. Our aim has always been to make our Overlay Games as accessible as possible. Given that our games run for just 1.5 minutes, it’s imperative to eliminate any friction that could impede user engagement.
To achieve this, we provide a custodial wallet to our users and operate our Overlay Games on a Proof of Authority (PoA) Layer 2 solution, with assets bridged from Layer 1s. This approach has allowed us to streamline the user experience by removing the complex layers typically associated with blockchain interactions. While we maintain the ethos of blockchain, which champions full ownership, our primary objective is to engage as many viewers as possible.
I believe that this staged onboarding process is crucial for bridging the gap between Web2 and Web3. It’s encouraging to see more projects, particularly in gaming, adopting a similar approach—gradually acquainting users with asset ownership and its functionalities. This incremental introduction to the world of crypto is, in my view, the key to onboarding a broader Web2 audience into the Web3 ecosystem.
6. Congratulations on the acquisition of Azarus by Animoca Brands. How do you see this acquisition shaping the future of Azarus?
The acquisition of Azarus by Animoca Brands is a significant milestone in our journey. Since day one, Animoca Brands has been an ardent supporter, and being a part of their portfolio has allowed us to witness and benefit from their remarkable construction of the most extensive Web3 ecosystem to date. The network effects of this ecosystem are unparalleled, and we’ve been fortunate to receive Animoca Brands’ support in various capacities, from fundraising to business development and beyond.
Transitioning from a portfolio company to a subsidiary under Animoca Brands’ majority ownership marks a new chapter for Azarus. This change elevates our relationship, providing us with the robust backing of the entire group. It also enhances the trust that partners place in us. No longer are we viewed as a startup; we’re now recognized as an integral part of a formidable group. This shift has already made a tangible difference, significantly advancing several of our conversations within just a few weeks.
We follow in the footsteps of successful entities like The Sandbox, TinyTap, or Darewise, as independent majority-owned subsidiaries. This blend of independence and strong support from Animoca Brands is a potent combination, poised to shape a bright future for Azarus.
7. With over $2 million in rewards distributed through Azarus, how do you ensure the sustainability and scalability of the rewards model?
The rewards model at Azarus is not only sustainable and scalable, but it also represents a significant innovation in business models for streaming platforms. Our approach allows brands to shift from paying for views to paying for performance, a first in the streaming industry. When a brand launches an activation on Azarus, they allocate a budget based on a Cost Per Unique Interaction (CPUI) model. This budget is partly staked on their selected game via our native token, the $AZA, which funds the rewards.
This model is revolutionary because it forges a direct connection between brands and users, transforming streams from mere branding platforms into powerful top-of-funnel acquisition tools. Previously, despite their scale, streams were predominantly branding tools, and it was challenging to incentivize viewers to take action. Now, with Azarus, brands can engage audiences interactively, rewarding participation and ensuring that every dollar spent directly correlates to user engagement.
Users can then redeem their rewards from an extensive store with over 35,000 items, ensuring that the prizes distributed are always sponsored by our partners. This innovative model benefits all parties involved: brands optimize their spending on genuine interactions, viewers are rewarded for their engagement, and Azarus facilitates this new paradigm of performance-based streaming interactions.
8. What emerging trends do you predict for the intersection of blockchain, gaming, and streaming?
Indeed, Azarus sits at the forefront of the emerging trends in the intersection of blockchain, gaming, and streaming. But to expand on that notion, I believe the future of TV, propelled by the synergies of blockchain and gaming, will resemble a digital stadium. This digital arena will allow viewers to not only watch content but also interact with it—and each other—on a regular basis.
Imagine the traditional experience of attending a live game, where fans participate in activities like t-shirt tosses. Now, envision that at the scale of the internet, powered by blockchain technology. Overlay Games will play a pivotal role in this vision, providing viewers with opportunities to earn, play, cheer, and support as a cohesive community. This ‘digital t-shirt toss’ is a metaphor for the myriad ways viewers will engage with content beyond passive consumption.
Blockchain’s capacity for digital ownership and gaming’s interactive nature will transform streaming into an immersive, collective experience. Viewers won’t just be spectators; they’ll be active participants in a global digital stadium, where every stream has the potential to be as engaging and interactive as a live event. That’s the emerging trend I foresee — an all-encompassing, interactive experience that blurs the lines between viewer and participant.
9. Trail running, scuba diving, solving puzzles — how do these personal passions influence your professional decisions or leadership style at Azarus?
The common threads that run through my personal passions—be it trail running, scuba diving, or solving puzzles—are curiosity, adventure, and perseverance. These elements deeply influence my professional ethos and leadership style at Azarus.
Curiosity drives us to explore uncharted territories, much like the unknown paths in trail running or the depths of the ocean in scuba diving. It’s this curiosity that propels us to delve into the intricacies of user psychology and to innovate in the way we engage with our audience.
The spirit of adventure is about embracing the unknown and taking calculated risks, akin to solving a complex puzzle. This adventurous mindset is crucial in the ever-evolving landscape of blockchain and gaming, where each day presents new challenges and opportunities.
And then there’s the grind—the relentless pursuit of a goal, the resilience to keep moving forward even when the path gets tough. It’s this quality that enables us and our team to tackle hard challenges and build experiences that not only scale but also leave a significant impact on millions.
Lastly, the trust and camaraderie that are inherent in diving—where you’re never alone—reflect the collaborative culture we’ve cultivated at Azarus. We rely on each other, trust each other, and work together to navigate the depths of our industry. It’s this blend of curiosity, adventure, grind, and trust that defines our approach to problem-solving and leadership at Azarus.