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Video games to get ESPN, MTV treatment in new VENN Network

Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Apr 13, 2019; St. Louis , MO, USA; A general view as Team Liquid and TSM battle during the League of Legends Championship Series Spring Finals at Chaifetz Arena. (Photo: Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

I want my VENN?

Fans of video games and esports may soon have their own media outlet à la MTV or ESPN.

The Video Game Entertainment & News Network (VENN), set to debut next year with live studios in New York and Los Angeles, aims to be an online video home for esports and game culture.

Expected to air 24 hours daily, VENN will be available as an app on streaming and mobile devices, and with channels on current video game and esports destinations such as Twitch and YouTube. VENN also plans to have a presence on live streaming services such as Sling, YouTube TV, Hulu and PlutoTV, as well as social networks such as Snapchat and TikTok.

"We are creating a singular media brand at the nexus of Gaming, Entertainment, and the GenZ + Millennial generations, across a highly fragmented video marketplace," said Ben Kusin, a video game veteran previously with Electronic Arts and Vivendi Games, who is co-CEO of the new venture with Ariel Horn, a former NBC Sports producer (winner of four Emmys) and Riot Games executive.

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Watching VENN 

Viewers can get a monthly subscription that will gain them "enhanced viewing experiences," but VENN plans plenty of free to watch content.

“We are a Universal Network, aiming to be everywhere our audience is consuming content, and however they are consuming it," Kusin said. "Long form, short form, live, on demand, on social. Our network will be free to view on all platforms. Our own OTT will have value added offerings, including a more interactive experience. But by no means are we gating content.”

The network's co-CEOs announced $17 million in seed funding and some of its investors, which include Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill, Blizzard Entertainment co-founder Mike Morhaime, and Blizzard's former global esports head Amy Morhaime.

Kusin says earlier this year he pitched the idea of a TV network centered around video games, esports, and game culture and entertainment to Merrill. "He laughed, let me know that his former Global EP at Riot (Ariel) had just presented him a similar concept earlier that day, and said he'd feel better about backing the project if we teamed up," Kusin said.

Tasked with catching Horn, who was flying back to New York City that day, "two blown red lights, one fateful meeting, and seven months later, here we are together announcing VENN," Kusin said.

Everybody plays

Beyond simply providing a new home for esports competition and streaming of game play, VENN will also create content to engage more video game fans beyond hardcore players. 

"Esports have historically catered almost exclusively to audiences that play the game at a high level. This makes it extremely hard for outsiders, even avid gamers of other titles, to jump in given the jargon and complex strategy.," Horn said. "We will consciously welcome in a wider audience via subtly more inclusive coverage, how-to guide programs to bridge the divide."

Also expect "expanded entertainment" content such as Imagine Dragon's music video "Warriors," created for the 2014 League of Legends World Championship and the fictional K-Pop group K/DA and its video "Pop/Star" for last year's championship.

"Keep in mind that we are focusing only a fraction of our attention on esports coverage, with the majority of our focus on elevating, and translating for television, other gaming formats that are quickly gaining traction on YouTube and Twitch," Horn said.

The time is right for a network or player that can "significantly raise the bar for video content in gaming and esports. We need to elevate the stars and stories in our community and provide a better and larger opportunity for brands to reach gamers," said Jens Hilgers, founding partner of esports investment fund BITKRAFT, which co-led VENN's funding round.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Video games, esports, game culture all will play on new VENN network