New esports network VENN to launch in 2020


A new venture backed by several of gaming's most successful founders is launching a new post-cable network in 2020, with aspirations to compete with the likes of ESL and Cheddar.

VENN -- short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network -- announced Tuesday it has raised $17 million in seed funding and will be led by co-founders Ariel Horn, a four-time Emmy-winning producer, and entrepreneur Ben Kusin.

Horn previously served as the global head of esports content at Riot Games and won an Emmy for his work on the 2017 League of Legends World Championship in China.

VENN will provide 24/7 linear programming and will produce content out of studios in both Los Angeles and New York. The coverage, which is expected to include 55 hours of original programming per week, will include gaming streams, talk shows, documentaries and live esports events. The company has broadcasting deals with Twitch and YouTube and expects to be available on mediums like Roku and Sling, according to the Associated Press.

"We've been polishing our craft on global stages for years while dreaming up new ways to create memorable esports broadcast experiences," co-CEO Horn said in a press release. "VENN will bring together the best and brightest talent to apply the same creativity and big-picture thinking to greater gaming and entertainment content, building a bridge from our industry into the world that surrounds it."

The seed round was co-led by BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, a fund led by G2 Esports chairman and former ESL CEO Jens Hilgers, and included individuals like Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill, Blizzard Entertainment co-founder Mike Morhaime and YuChiang Cheng, the president of Topgolf Media. Institutions in the round include BDMI, family office Lifeline Financial Group, Reimagined Ventures and aXiomatic, the parent company of Team Liquid and investors in Fortnite creators Epic Games and Pokémon GO developer Niantic. Disney, the parent company of ESPN, is an investor in aXiomatic.

Competitors in the 24/7 esports broadcasting space are sparse, with ESL running online streams round-the-clock on Twitch and in certain over-the-top TV offerings. Cheddar, which has its own 24-hour network, also puts together original esports programming out of its studio in Manhattan. ESPN and Turner started broadcasting esports in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and run esports programs throughout the year on both linear and livestreaming platforms.

"I'm proud to support the team at VENN on an exciting new milestone for digital entertainment," Morhaime said in a press release. "Having a central location for high quality content from across the industry is an important foundational step for gaming communities."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.