E-sports network aims to connect community


Thu, Sep 19, 2019 - Page 16

A venture backed by many of video gaming’s biggest publishers is unveiling a network that hopes to be to e-sports what ESPN has been to traditional sports.

The Video Game Entertainment and News Network (VENN) is set to launch next year and aims to give the fragmented e-sports scene a home base for content with higher production value than gamers are used to with online streaming.

The network was cofounded by four-time Emmy-winning producer Ariel Horn and entrepreneur Ben Kusin, and has raised US$17 million from investors, including cofounders from Twitch, Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment.

VENN is to 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 e-sport events.

It already has deals in place to broadcast on Twitch and YouTube, and expects to be available on mediums such as Roku or Sling.

E-sports revenues are expected to top US$1 billion this year, and global viewership numbers are rivaling those of traditional sports — nearly 100 million viewers watched last year’s League of Legends World Championship, about on par with TV viewership for the Super Bowl.

However, the industry remains disjointed. Just like not all football fans also watch hockey, Fortnite players are not necessarily keeping tabs on League of Legends or Overwatch.

Creating a common space for gamers has proven difficult. Perhaps the closest thing is the online streaming platform Twitch, but gamers there tend to find streams specific to their interests.

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.”

It is a lofty pitch, but one that has proven credible to many of gaming’s most influential names.

The group’s initial investors include Riot Games cofounder Marc Merrill, Blizzard Entertainment cofounder Mike Morhaime, Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin and aXiomatic Gaming, an investment group behind Team Liquid and Epic Games.

That gives VENN financial connections to e-sports’ biggest titles, as well as some of its biggest teams.

Horn’s presence is a big part of the project. Formerly a sports producer at NBC, he has become a pioneering figure in e-sports.

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.