Gaming heavyweights raise $17M for new esports network

Gaming heavyweights raise $17M for new esports network
NEW YORK— A new venture backed by many of video gaming’s biggest publishers is unveiling a network that hopes to be to esports what ESPN has been to traditional sports.

VENN is set to launch in 2020 and aims to give the fragmented esports scene a home base for content with higher production value than gamers are used to with online streaming. The network was co-founded by four-time Emmy-winning producer Ariel Horn and entrepreneur Ben Kusin and has raised $17 million (U.S.) from investors including co-founders from Twitch, Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment.

VENN, short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network, will debut with live studios in New York and Los Angeles. There is expected to be 55 hours of original programming per week, including gamer streams, talk shows, documentaries and live esport events. It already has deals in place to broadcast on Twitch and YouTube and expects to be available on mediums like Roku or Sling.

VENN hopes to solve that with content built around the culture of gaming.

“I think we’re more of a hybridized ESPN and what MTV TRL (Total Request Live) was when it launched decades ago,” Kusin said. “That crossover that it brought music in that generation in the culture.”

“We could go to these luminaries in the industry and say, ‘Hey, we want to come together, be swift, work with a bunch of different titles, a bunch of different publishers and move the industry forward in terms of its recognition and prominence, will you help us?’” Kusin said. “The answer was a resounding yes.”

Horn’s presence is a big part of that. Formerly a sports producer at NBC, he has become a pioneering figure in esports. His achievements included a sports Emmy in 2017 for his role in landing an augmented reality dragon inside a stadium during the 2017 League of Legends World Championships opening ceremony and a successful New Year’s Eve stream by Ninja from Times Square last year.

“Taking what’s already there on a platform that (gamers) understand, and taking that into a network environment, that’s what we’re looking to do,” Horn said.
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