PlayVS Founder Delane Parnell Announces $30.5M Series B Led By Dodgers Ownership. Diddy’s In Too

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Written by Dana Sanchez

PlayVS, a Los Angeles-based startup that’s building the online and offline infrastructure for high school esports, has closed on a $30.5 million Series B funding round with new investors including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Adidas and Samsung.

The new round comes just five months after PlayVS’s $15.5 million Series A funding, for a total of $46 million raised.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 24: Delane Parnell

Jamarlin talks to prodigy Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of high-school esports company PlayVS, which just raised a $15M series A round.

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Delane Parnell, the founder and CEO of PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”) announced the funding round this morning on Twitter.

“Humbled to announce our $30.5m Series B led by the @Dodgers ownership with participation from 5 existing investors including NEA, Science, and Crosscut, and new ones like @Adidas, @Samsung, @Diddy, Rich Dennis, David Drummond of Alphabet, and Rahul Mehta,” Parnell tweeted.

Earlier this year, PlayVS signed an exclusive contract with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to help build 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.

Play VS is the first company to introduce esports into high schools as a state-sanctioned sport. The Series A was the largest ever by a Black founder in consumer internet history, Parnell said.

PlayVS
PlayVS Founder Delane Parnell | Image: Anita Sanikop

Parnell discussed on the GHOGH podcast how he grew up in the streets of Detroit, developed a passion for business and tech, and closed the exclusive deal with the NFHS, which writes the rules for most high school sports. He also talked about how he put together the raise, and how entrepreneurs can keep a positive attitude after being rejected by investors.

The PlayVS Series B was led by Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership with participation from existing investors New Enterprise Associates, Science Inc., Crosscut Ventures, Coatue Management, and WndrCo. New investors who participated include Adidas (this is the company’s first esports investment), Samsung NEXT, and Plexo Capital, among others, according to CrunchBase.

The L.A. Dodgers have been searching for the right investment in esports, said Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain in a written statement. Kain is managing partner of Elysian Park Ventures,

“With PlayVS, we have found a model that works, built on a powerful platform that delivers an unparalleled player experience and will have a profound impact on the future of youth sports across the country,” Kain said.

The Dodgers’ support is particularly meaningful, Parnell said, because the group “shares our vision for what the future athlete looks like.”

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.

Global venture investment in esports — organized professional competitive video gaming — is up 73 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017, CrunchBase reported. That’s $701 million over 60 deals in the first half of 2018 compared to $403.7 million raised across 53 deals in 2017.

In addition to the Series B funding, PlayVS also secured deals with Psyonix, the publisher of Rocket League, and Hi-Rez Studio, publisher of SMITE, a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena.

These partnerships mean new competitions and opportunities for high school students, Parnell said:

“One of the reasons we’re most excited about esports is accessibility. With this new round of funding and the addition of Rocket League and SMITE, we’re able to take another huge step forward as we open the pathway for more students to compete and be recognized in the burgeoning esports industry,” Parenll said.

As part of a partnership with Riot Games, PlayVS is in the middle of a League of Legends trial season featuring high school esports teams in five states (Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island). “Season Zero” began Oct. 30 and ends Dec. 11.

With the new Series B funding, Play VS plans to expand competition to seven more states and add three more video game titles. The 14-person company said it is also expanding its markets to include high schools in Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of Texas.

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.

The inaugural season for PlayVS will start Feb. 25. Students and schools can register on the PlayVS website until Feb. 8.