Not many high schools have esports league, that is until now. The company PlayVS is chartering unmarked territory by being the first epsorts league for high school students to compete in through its exclusive partnership with the NFHS. Its goal is to provide the opportunity for all students to get involved in something outside of traditional sports, extracurriculars, and spark an interest in technology and STEM. The inaugural season will take place this year with an initial rollout of 18-20 states, which will be around 5M students.
AlleyWatch spoke with CEO and founder Delane Parnell to learn about its latest round of funding and its highly anticipated October season.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We just announced our $15M Series A funding round led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) with participation from Science, CrossCut Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, funds affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers, Nas, Michael Dubin (Founder of Dollar Shave Club), Kevin Lin (Co Founder and COO of Twitch), Russell Okung (Pro Bowler for the LA Chargers), Paul Judge (Co Founder of Pindrop Security), Baron Davis (NBA All-Star), Anthony Saleh (Manager for Future and Nas), and Kelvin Beachum (NFL player for the New York Jets).
Tell us about PlayVS.
PlayVS’ mission is to build the infrastructure for high school esports. Through our exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and NFHS Network, we’re introducing esports into all high schools in the U.S. This marks the first time students will be able to compete in esports for an official state championship and be recognized by their states athletic/activity association. Absolutely any eligible student can join a team, wear a jersey, and become part of something bigger than themselves
What inspired you to start PlayVS?
I credit gaming as one of the main activities that kept me off the streets and got me into technology. I wanted to create a company that would allow me to give back and help kids excel by doing something they loved. By turning it into an organized activity in high schools across the country, I’m excited to get millions of kids involved and set them up for success, both by teaching core values like teamwork and by making them eligible for hundreds of scholarships and even more professional opportunities.
How is PlayVS different than other esport companies?
PlayVS is creating the first esports league for high schools – it’s bringing a new opportunity to keep kids engaged and set them up for success. PlayVS is giving teens who may not be interested in traditional sports an outlet to have fun, grow and learn, and to feel like they have a place to belong in school.
What market is PlayVS targeting and how big is it?
In time, all 16.1M high school students will have the opportunity to compete in various esports on behalf of their school, culminating in state championships. PlayVS’ inaugural season will commence October 2018, with an initial rollout in 18-20 states which is approximately 5K schools and 5M students.
What’s your business model?
PlayVS will charge a $16 membership fee per student per month that they (or their school) must pay in order to access the platform. In the future, we’ll also be exploring sponsorship and streaming right opportunities.
What attributes about PlayVS made the NFHS want to join forces?
PlayVS is complementary to the NFHS, and they liked us – this is the basic reason. There were also creative nuances that PlayVS had that solved problems of the NFHS. For example, traditional sports aren’t scalable. There are only so many teams across each individual sport at each school with a captain and a roster spot, so participation is always fixed. We presented esports as having no cuts and being totally inclusive – they liked that we were building this out.
As far as the funding process, it happened very fast. It happened over about a month and a half which is a huge privilege and we’re grateful for that.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The most challenging part of the funding process was deciding who to go with. We had over a half dozen options. We chose NEA because
1. The tradition of their funds and their amazing track record and
2. The people – they’re incredible to work with. NEA really cares about their entrepreneurs and instead of just saying that, they really showed it. It was a cool experience getting to know each other, they truly invested in the process.
We also didn’t want to work with any funds that didn’t work with black founders in the past or that didn’t have any black people on the team. Also, if they wouldn’t let us add a woman to our board, we told them no. We were pretty lucky that there were enough investors who offered everything we were looking for and NEA was the best of those people.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
PlayVS offers perpetual exclusivity to every high school in the country. It’s a completely untapped market – reaching every kid in the country and offering them an esports program. Everyone is super excited about this and PlayVS is the only company that can offer such a huge opportunity.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Right now, we’re focused on launching the product and the inaugural season. We’re still completing the product and working on technical integrations with publishers. We also want to make sure the PlayVS player experience is optimal. We want morale to be high in the schools and for students to be engaged.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Keep building. This is the most important thing – to keep pushing forward. It’s also important to stay focused by setting a mission and sticking to it, whether you have capital or not. Set objectives for your company every quarter and do whatever you can to get closer to those objectives. Lastly, stay persistent and keep your eye on the prize; and in the future, you’ll raise capital.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We’re building a really special company, one that will engage a massive community and will launch technology that hasn’t been seen. Beyond being profitable and practical, we can have an incredible impact across the country by teaching valuable life skills. That’s what we’re focused on right now: impacting as many people as possible through esports.