Black-Owned Esports Start-Up Raises $96 Million in 13 Months

When asked what advice he would pass on to entrepreneurs if he could tell them anything, Delane Parnell kept it simple.

“Stay focused,” he said. “Focus on the work that’s in front of you.”

The 27-year-old chief executive officer founded a software company that has amassed nearly $100 million in investments in the past 13 months, the startup reported.

Delane Parnell
Delane Parnell launched a software company that raised nearly $100 million to make video gaming a high school sport. (Photo by Sean Yalda)

PlayVS, which was founded in January of 2018, provides the infrastructure for high school students to compete in sanctioned esports leagues.

The company announced on Sept. 18 that it raised $50 million in Series C funding, bringing its investments for capital to $96 million.

“We don’t celebrate stuff like that,” Parnell said in a recent interview with Atlanta Black Star. “We keep our heads down, and we remain focused.”

The business has an exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, which is parallel to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Imagine if the NCAA partnered with one group, Parnell said.

“We’re essentially that group for esports in high school,” he said.

Delane Parnell is giving high school students the same kind of venue for interscholastic competition in esports as they have in athletics. (Photo by Sean Yalda)

The company based in downtown Santa Monica has staked a unique claim in what is already a billion-dollar esports industry.

“This marks the first time that students will compete in esports on behalf of their high school, with the opportunity to win an official state championship, just like any other youth sport,” the company said on its website.

It’s attracted investors from hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs to Shea Moisture founder Rich Dennis.

Parnell, now a Forbes’ 30 Under 30 entrepreneur, said starting his business hasn’t been easy.

“Everything’s difficult,” he said.

He wanted to create an entry-point in the video gaming market for amateurs but didn’t have a road map to do so. 

“Imagine taking a test where no one knows the answer,” he said. “That’s difficult.”

Still, PlayVS has grown from a company of 16 employees to one of 41, and it plans to double that by the end of the year. 

The software company’s first product, “Seasons,” was released in five states in October 2018 and quickly expanded to eight in the spring of 2019, according to a news release from the startup.

Delane Parnell is kicking off the upcoming season of his esports leagues with schools in 15 states participating in statewide competition, but the platform is available in all 50 states. (Photo by Sean Yalda)

More than 13,000 schools are on a waiting list to build an esports program through PlayVS, the company said. That’s just less than the 14,247 high schools that even have a football program in the United States. 

The upcoming season starts Oct. 21 and runs through the following January. 

Schools sign up to participate, assess players a $64 participation fee for in-game content and compete tournament-style.

Georgia and 14 other states will compete for a championship in partnership with their state associations, and states not endorsed by an association will compete regionally, according to PlayVS.

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