This 26-year-old entrepreneur wants to turn high school gamers into professional esports stars

August 9, 2019

Delane Parnell sees the future of the billion-dollar esports industry — and, it’s still in high school.

Parnell, 26, is the founder and CEO of PlayVS, a Santa Monica-based tech start-up that has raised $46 million from high profile investors to create officially sanctioned high school esports leagues that can turn teen gamers into varsity athletes. Through an exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) is the official operator of esports in high schools in 15 U.S. states, so far.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of excitement and momentum around esports today,” Parnell tells CNBC Make It, referring to the fact that esports is already a billion-dollar industry where the top professional gamers rake in millions.

“But, what people don’t really recognize is that esports really only exist at the pro level.”

Professional esports leagues and tournaments have a global audience of roughly 380 million viewers, according to industry research firm Newzoo. But Parnell — a college dropout who furiously networked his way into a tech career — had formed and sold his own esports team, so he realized that the growing esports business would soon need a talent pipeline where amateur players could hone their competitive gaming skills to maybe one day go professional.

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