PlayVS, a venture-backed startup that’s building the online and offline infrastructure for high school esports, has partnered with game publisher Riot Games to bring League of Legends to U.S. high schools.
High school students in five states can compete in esports leagues starting in October 2018, PlayVS announced in a press release. Students can sign up immediately thru Oct. 29 by creating an account at PlayVS.com. “Season Zero” will begin on Oct. 30 and end on Dec. 11.
Early access state-sanctioned leagues include the following: Connecticut (CIAC), Georgia (GHSA, GISA), Kentucky (KHSAA), Massachusetts (MSAA), and Rhode Island (RIIL).
Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”) and its 26-year-old founder and CEO, Delane Parnell, completed a $15 million funding round in June to bring esports infrastructure to high schools across the country.
It’s the largest Series A ever by a Black founder in consumer internet history and the top five across all industries, Parnell tweeted on June 4.
PlayVS signed an exclusive contract with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to provide support in building the video gaming infrastructure for high school esports, allowing students to play esports on behalf of their school all the way to the state championship level.
League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and published by Riot Games for Microsoft Windows and macOS.
“Riot is one of the best game publishers in the world. They have always championed League of Legends as a sport at the professional and collegiate levels,” Parnell said in a press release. “We are so excited to partner with them to make their game a high school sport.”
Unlike traditional sports, PlayVS teams can be made up of any students regardless of experience, gender or age and without tryouts, the company said. There is no limit to how many unique teams each school can have, which creates a “no-cut” environment and allows all students the chance to compete in esports at the varsity level.\
There are 21,000 high schools in the U.S. Esports will be sanctioned just like any other sports — basketball or football. “You can compete for state championships and have your statistical records recognized by the State Athletic Association,” Parnell told Moguldom.
Parnell spoke to Moguldom about the state of diversity in esports — “there isn’t really any,” — building a tech company outside Silicon Valley, and whether Black venture capitalists have a responsibility to invest in Black founders.
A Detroit native, Parnell was 20 when he founded Fifty Founders events, designed to bring tech-savvy entrepreneurs to Detroit. As a 22-year-old associate for IncWell Venture Capital, Parnell gained a reputation as the youngest African-American venture capitalist in the U.S., managing the funds deal-flow process and handling outreach. He was on the founding team of an automotive group and led the company to six- and seven-figure profitable years “through a tight focus on quality over scale,” according to his Black Tech Week bio. And he headed the retail division at Rocket Fiber, a venture-backed fiber-optic ISP startup in Detroit.
At the urging of PlayVS investor Peter Pham, co-founder of the startup incubator Science, Parnell moved from Detroit to Los Angeles to start PlayVS.
Students located outside of the five early-access states are encouraged to set up a PlayVS account and will be notified ahead of PlayVS’ inaugural season in February 2019.
“League of Legends is one of the most played PC games in the world and is a key driver behind the explosive growth of esports, making it an obvious choice for PlayVS’ first official game partner. Additional game titles will be added in the inaugural season.” — PlayVS
PlayVS is working to create a scalable program that will soon allow high schools in all 50 states and Washington D.C. to compete in esports through its exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations ( NFHS ) and the NFHS Network.
League of Legends requires critical thinking and teamwork, PlayVS said in a prepared statement. Each player must know their role and support one another to succeed competitively. College scholarship opportunities will be available to students who excel.
Around 200 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada offer esports scholarships, TechCrunch reported. But without infrastructure for high school esports, those recruiters were at the mercy of the publishers and a grueling tournament schedule:
“Meanwhile, young gamers who want to go pro are forced to gain a following via Twitch, or hit up all those tournaments and find a way to shine.”
In “Season Zero”, weekly matches will be played at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays for a total of 12 matches. Each state will host an end-of-season live-event championship at the end of January, crowning champions through a postseason single-elimination bracket. States will be divided into multiple conferences. Conference champions will advance to semi-finals, with the top two competing for the state title.
“Riot aspires to make League of Legends a generational sport, and partnering with PlayVS is a major step in that direction,” said Matt Birris, scholastic programs lead for Riot Games North America.
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