Delane Parnell’s PlayVS Raises Another $50M For High School Esports Infrastructure

Written by Dana Sanchez
Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of PlayVS at Black Tech Week, Miami, 2018. Photo: Anita Sanikop/Moguldom

PlayVS, the official league for high school esports, today announced that it has raised $50 million for a total of $96 million raised in 13 months.

Delane Parnell, the founder and CEO of PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”), described the raise as “a historical milestone” in an email to Moguldom.

The money keeps coming in for his Los Angeles company because Parnell has executed on his plans to build a competitive gaming platform for high school esports tournaments, he told Venturebeat.

In 2018, 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.

“We’ve had a lot of success by being focused,” Parnell told Venturebeat. “Other esports companies have not been focused on building really good products first. We spend our time thinking about PlayVS and our community — coaches, administrators, players, parents, and teachers. We are on the front lines having conversations with the stakeholders.”

PlayVS launched in April, 2018 and announced in June 2018 that it had completed a $15 million Series-A funding round to bring esports infrastructure to high schools across the country. A $30 million Series-B funding round followed in November 2018.

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

Jamarlin talks to Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of high-school esports company PlayVS, which just raised a $50M Series-C round.

The new $50 million Series-C was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) with participation from Battery Ventures, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain of 01 Advisors, Michael Zeisser, Sapphire Sport, Dennis Phelps, general partner at IVP and Michael Ovitz, co-founder of CAA, according to Crunchbase.

There are 21,000 high schools in the U.S. and esports will be sanctioned just like any other sports — basketball or football, Parnell said in a Moguldom interview. “You can compete for state championships and have your statistical records recognized by the State Athletic Association,” Parnell said.

To illustrate how fast PlayVS is raising money, Parnell tweeted 15 months ago on June 4, 2018 that the company’s $15 million Series-A was the largest Series-A ever raised by a Black founder in consumer internet history and the top five across all industries.

The company has also grown from 16 employees at the end of 2018 to 41 and plans to double that before the end of 2019. The new round will give PlayVS a chance to hire aggressively and also consider mergers and acquisitions as a means of growth, Techcrunch reported.

Parnell also introduced three key executive hires at PlayVS: CFO Gabi Loeb, a longtime finance executive at startups and corporations including ZEFR (IVP-backed) and News Corp; CTO Neel Palrecha, Y Combinator alum with experience from Snapdocs (Sequoia-backed) and Headspace, where he helped grow the organization to $100 million in revenue; and Vice President of Growth Robert Lamvik, previously at Headspace and Spotify, where he led the Performance Marketing team through the transition from paid-only to a Freemium business model.

Parnell recently turned 27 and tweeted that he was celebrating buying his first home.

A Detroit native, Parnell was just 20 when he founded FiftyFounders 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.

“I think location matters a great deal, Parnell told Moguldom. “Los Angeles is the ideal location for our company because esports and the entire gaming industry is mostly based in L.A.”

PlayVS also announced that its first product, “Seasons” and its platform will be available to high schools in all 50 states (including D.C.) in the fall, in addition to partnering with nine new state associations for statewide championships, according to a press release.

Seasons was released in five states in October 2018 and expanded to eight states in the Spring of 2019. On average, schools had 15 students participate in esports, which is half of the average baseball and basketball participation (30 students). More than 13,000 schools — 68 percent of the country — are waitlisted to build an esports program through PlayVS. By comparison, 14,247 high schools in the U.S. have a football program.

Some of the funding will be used to explore products outside of high school, including the collegiate market. Esports is still in its infancy and there’s a big opportunity to provide the infrastructure of these leagues early on. PlayVS has first-mover advantage.