How Delane Parnell Invented The High School Esports Market And Then Dominated It

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
PlayVS delane parnell
Delane Parnell operates PlayVS, the esports firm that runs the official league for high school esports with over 21,000 schools in the U.S. signed up. Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of PlayVS at Black Tech Week, Miami, 2018. Photo: Anita Sanikop/Moguldom

Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of high-school esports company PlayVS, grew up in the streets of Detroit where he developed a passion for video games that he later turned into a multimillion-dollar high school esports business.

His company PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”) runs the official league for high school esports with more than 21,000 schools in the U.S. signed up, according to an interview with Moguldom.

Parnell credits video games with keeping him off the streets of his Detroit neighborhood, 7 Mile and Burgess, where median household income is $25,458—less than half the average in Michigan—and most households with children are led by a single mother.

Delane Parnell built an esports empire

That did not stop the esports prodigy from building a company that has raised $96 million, employs 42 people, and is now valued at more than $100 million.

Parnell is now focusing on growing PlayVS into a company worth between $50 billion and $100 billion.

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 has raised $96M.

Parnell made his first mark in the esports business in 2016 when, at 23, he sold the Call of Duty competition team he’d created a year earlier.

The right timing was everything for PlayVS. The startup’s entry into the esports business came at a time when esports was just breaking out, jumping from a global audience of around 115 million in 2015 to around 131 million esports enthusiasts in 2016, according to games and esports analytics firm Newzoo.

Revenues for esports enterprises are projected to break $1 billion in 2019, up from $325 million in 2016, with a spectator base of more than 454 million people.

Parnell’s entrepreneurship journey started when he was 13 after his mom helped him get a summer job at a mobile phone store.

“Just the opportunity to learn and to be doing something productive—that was meaningful given how limited the opportunities are for people who come from the place that I come from,” he told ONE37pm.