30 Under 30 In Games 2019: The Creators And Players Leveling Up The Games Industry

Matt Perez
Written by Matt Perez

Gaming is a constantly evolving $135 billion industry, and 2018 brought with it a mix of highlights and challenges. While esports exploded in growth with major investments and permanent league associations, game studios continue to struggle with sustainability and rising budgets.

It’s against this backdrop that Forbes presents this year’s 30 Under 30 in Games, a group of individuals striking new paths and riding through a whirlwind of change.

View the Forbes 2019 30 Under 30 In Games here.

Bringing esports to high schools is one such venture. Delane Parnell’s PlayVS greatly simplifies the process of building competitive high school squads by providing an online portal that schedules matches, tracks stats and auto-reports wins and losses. An exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations means his tech will enable high schoolers across the country to compete for state championships in games like ‘League of Legends’.

A billion-dollar corner of the game industry, esports itself saw a year marked with vastly new changes. Games like ‘Overwatch’ introduced franchised leagues—associations with permanent teams not unlike the NBA or NFL. The stability attracted a slew of multimillion-dollar investments into teams and infrastructure.

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PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell. CREDIT: JAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

Someone thriving in this environment is Aileena Xu, who leads competitive initiatives at TSM, one of the most recognizable brands in the industry. Before any formal esports structure existed in ‘Fortnite’, Xu signed a star roster and set them up in a team house. Fan engagement soon after doubled, and the team signed Chipotle as a sponsor. This summer, the organization received $37 million in Series A funding, which included three-time NBA champion Steph Curry as an investor.

Teams attract revenue-vital sponsorships based on performance and personality, and professional gamers like Yiliang Peng deliver both. “Doublelift” is known as much for his unrelenting boasting as he is for backing it up. Considered one of the best American-born athletes to ever play ‘League of Legends’, Peng helped bring well-known Team Liquid its first North American championship in the spring—then brought it one more with a repeat win in the summer.

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Team Liquid’s Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. CREDIT: RIOT GAMES

Professional players like Peng saw crossover success this year, particularly in the case of Tyler Blevins. A former Halo competitor, “Ninja” danced his way on to Ellen when he became the most followed player on Twitch by streaming ‘Fortnite’. Early in the year, he broke Twitch’s concurrent viewer record for a single user with over 600,000 people watching at once. He then finished first at Epic Games’ first sanctioned ‘Fortnite’ tournament alongside fellow Under 30, Marshmello.

Building such an audience in the increasingly oversaturated gaming marketplace is a daunting task, and it’s a testament to indie designers like Gabby DaRienzo and Ty Taylor that they shine through.

DaRienzo’s ‘A Mortician’s Tale’ takes the management sim genre into a funeral home to explore death as something other than a “Game Over.” The title was a finalist and honoree at the 2018 Independent Games Festival. Taylor’s M. C. Escher-inspired puzzle game, ‘The Bridge’, earned props from IndieCade and the Independent Games Festival and has sold over 600,000 units in its lifetime.

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These experiences and gaming as a whole sits at the intersection of art and technology. As an example, the ‘Pokémon GO’ sensation was powered not just by Nintendo’s lovable creatures but by its AR framework that allows players to capture Pikachu in the real world. The studio behind the app, Niantic Labs, acquired Ross Finman’s Escher Reality this year. Finman and his team’s work on AR tools earned his company a spot with Y Combinator, and now he leads the future AR teams at Niantic.

This year’s list was curated by a prestigious panel of judges. Siobhan Reddy is the co-founder and studio director of Media Molecule, the company behind the award-winning franchise ‘LittleBigPlanet’. Her team is now working on the sandbox game ‘Dreams’, which offers an immense suite of user-friendly tools for creating worlds in full 3-D.

Robin Hunicke is the co-founder and CEO of Funomena, which launched the VR title ‘Luna’ this fall. Prior to starting her indie studio, Hunicke served as the producer of ‘Journey’, which earned five BAFTAs and became the fastest-selling PlayStation Network game in the U.S. when it launched in 2012.

And rounding out the group is Noah Whinston, the CEO of esports organization Immortals. An Under 30 alum from 2017, Whinston this year expanded into the ‘Overwatch’ League and acquired one of the strongest rosters in ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Forbes valued the brand this year at $100 million.

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

About Matt Perez

I’m the reporter for the Games section of Forbes.com. I previously served as a freelance writer for sites like IGN, Polygon, Red Bull eSports, Kill Screen, Playboy and PC Gamer. I also manage a YouTube gaming channel under the name strummerdood. I graduated with a BA in journalism from Rowan University and interned at Philadelphia Magazine. You can follow me on Twitter @mattryanperez.