Meet the 27-year-old who raised $96 million to make video gaming a high school sport

Key Points
  • PlayVS, an esports start-up, has plans to create officially sanctioned video game leagues in high schools across the country.
  • "It's giving kids a structured environment to do the things they love," founder Delane Parnell tells CNBC.
  • Parnell's company, which was founded in January 2018, has raised $96 million to date.
PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell on the rise of esports
PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell on the rise of esports

Delane Parnell wants to make video gaming an official high school sport in all 50 states — and his company has nearly $100 million to help do it.

Parnell, 27, is the founder of PlayVS, a less than two-year-old start-up that provides the infrastructure for high school students to compete in officially sanctioned esports leagues. On Wednesday, it announced it raised $50 million in a round of Series C funding, bringing its total capital raise to $96 million.

"It's been a long process, a draining and exhausting process," Parnell said Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk Alley." "In reality, the time period has been pretty short."

While some may bristle at the idea of video games being a varsity sport, Parnell said he believes the high school teams will bring the same benefits to students as other sports.

"Parents actually want their kids to have success in the student environment, and sports and activities have shown evidence of increasing student GPA, student engagement, student attendance," said Parnell. "It's giving kids a structured environment to do the things they love."

The Santa Monica, California-based company is tapping into what is already a billion-dollar global esports industry. In addition to broadcasts on ESPN, esports has seen rapid growth at the collegiate level.

PlayVS' business is propelled by its exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, which is like the NCAA for high school sports, Parnell said.

This fall, there will be 15 states with official high school esports championships, according to TechCrunch. It also has 13,000 schools on a waiting list to launch teams, and its platform to host a league — called Seasons — is now available in all 50 states.

Parnell, who is from Detroit, said PlayVS also has partnerships with video-game publishers. Those partnerships let PlayVS integrate the games into a version capable of being a high school sport, Parnell explained.

PlayVS' lineup of games has included League of Legends and Rocket League.

In addition to backing from institutional firms such as NEA and Elysian Park, PlayVS has received independent funding from rapper and entrepreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs and Twitch founder Kevin Lin.

Parnell said PlayVS makes money through a $64 participation fee, paid for either by families or schools.

The recent round of funding will help the company continue to scale its offerings, Parnell said. He added that they have plans to monetize in other ways down the road, too.

"We really believe PlayVS will be not only a generational gaming product, but also a 100 million-plus user subscription business," Parnell said.