Video Games Will Soon Be An Official High School Sport. Delane Parnell’s PlayVS Has 1st-Mover Advantage, Completes $15M Funding Round

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Delane Parnell, a 25-year-old Detroit native, announced today the closing of an historic $15 million Series A funding round for his startup, PlayVS, which is bringing esport infrastructure to high schools.

The financing was led by New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare, with participation from existing investor Science, as well as CrossCut Ventures, Coatue Management, Cross Culture Ventures, the San Francisco 49ers, Nas, Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin, Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin, and others.

“It is the largest Series A ever by a black founder in consumer internet history and top five across all industries,” Parnell tweeted today.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”) secured a partnership to introduce esports in about 19,500 high schools across the country, Parnell said in February during a panel discussion at Black Tech Week Miami 2018.

“There’s only 21,000 high schools in the country and what that means is esports will be sanctioned just like any other sports — basketball or football — where you can compete for state championships and have your statistical records recognized by the State Athletic Association,” Parnell said.

The soft-spoken Parnell hinted in February to a Black Tech Week audience in Miami that the Series A round might be big:

“We’re really quiet about what we’re doing,” he said. “We don’t really talk about it at all publicly. I can’t speak about what we are going to raise in our next round. I don’t think we can do that publicly because of FCC laws, but we’re getting a lot of interest. We hope it’s one of the larger rounds (by any) Black entrepreneur and we’re going to put it together.”

Today, Parnell offered up thanks in a tweet:

“This moment is for our ancestors who were enslaved and killed for the color of their skin. Our grandparents who were beaten while fighting for our civil rights. Black men whose lives have been taken away by the prison system. And our youth who needed to know its possible.”

Parnell has a background in venture capital. He became known at age 21 as one of the youngest African American venture capitalists in the country. As founder of an earlier venture, DP Project, Parnell brought tech investors to Detroit from the broader tech community — along with publicity for Detroit’s tech scene — including Mitch Kapor of Oakland-based Kapor Capital.

For those unfamiliar with esports, it’s competitive gaming, Parnell said:

“It’s a multi-billion dollar industry – – people play on teams of four or five and they get paid millions of dollars to do so. They also compete for prize pools which exceed hundreds of millions of dollars and we’re bringing that to the high school level. The collegiate level is already grown. The NCAA is exploring it. There’s 50-plus colleges that offer various-level scholarships but there’s no way for that sport to be multigenerational without some sort of high school development, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Nearly 200 colleges in the U.S. and Canada are actively recruiting and offer scholarships for esports, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Companies in the esports industry are looking to hire those with experience across multiple aspects of gaming.

The PlayVS deal is one of the most important in gaming history, Inc. reported on May 31. This fall, eSports will be officially sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the organization that writes the rules for high school sports and activities. When it does so, Parnell’s PlayVS will be the company providing the online infrastructure–a platform that hosts competitions, compiles statistics, and streams matches for fans.

“We looked at many potential esports partners, and PlayVS was the clear choice thanks, in part, to its overall education-based concept, mission and vision,” said Mark Koski, CEO National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in a statement in April.

Seventy-two percent of teens play video games regularly, so esports is a great way to engage more students in after-school activities, Koski said.

Before Parnell had a tech company, he owned brick-and-mortar businesses.

His first job at age 13 was at a cellphone store doing janitorial work. The store manager taught him how to sell phones. By the time he was 16 he started his own franchises of Metro PCS, opening three stores. He sold those stores and stared a car rental firm with 20 locations across the country “that’s still pretty successful,” he said.

“I’d done all these brick and mortar type businesses, (but) I was fascinated with tech,” he said at Black Tech Week. He ended up leaving one of his companies when they hired someone to run it that had more experience than he did. He said he has learned since then that “it’s important to realize what you don’t know and be open to learning, especially when you’re young,” he said. “At the time I felt like I was being disrespected or overlooked (but that wasn’t the case).”

Before Detroit had a startup communy, Parnell was hosting events called startup talks in an effort to start bridging that gap between Detroit and Silicon Valley. A year ago, he moved PlayVS to Los Angeles.

https://twitter.com/delane/status/1003639458887946240

PlayVS launched out of the LA-based Science startup studio in April. The company partnered with the NFHS Network, the equivalent of the NCAA for high school-level sports, to build out leagues, rules and more around high school esports, Tech Crunch reported:

Esports represents a new challenge for the NFHS. PlayVS brings to market a platform that schedules games, helps schools hold try-outs and form teams, and pulls in stats real-time from games thanks to partnerships with game publishers. In October, PlayVS will launch its inaugural season, bringing organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools … But whereas other high-level teams look at high school athletes for recruiting, the same infrastructure has not yet been put into place for esports.

The idea for PlayVS started at Black Tech Week a couple of years ago, Parnell said. “I said I wanted to start a company. I had no idea what I wanted but I had some sort of vision that it was going to be esports. I wanted to put a round together and our first two ivestors came from people I met at Black Tech Week, just in like general conversation. From saying I wanted to do it and quitting my job to gettting all the money wired took literally like a couple of weeks, and the first $300,000 came from people I’d just met at Black Tech Week.”

The new funding round will help PlayVS expand to be in every high school in the U.S. The company hasn’t said yet which schools and which games will be play during the first season, but PlayVS confirmed that the games will be PC-based and will come from the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, Fighting and Sports genres, according to Tech Crunch.

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