As we celebrate Black History Month, Cheddar is highlighting prominent Black Americans who are carving their own historic paths and trailblazing in their industries. While Black History Month has become synonymous with reflecting on past achievements of Black Americans, it is important that we acknowledge today's historic feats as they happen.

PlayVS CEO and founder Delane Parnell is helping shift the culture of amateur sports across the U.S. through esports. PlayVS has positioned itself as an organizer for all things esports-related in high schools and is working on expanding to colleges. High schools that sign on to join the PlayVS platform are able to create teams, utilize tools to track competition stats, and manage schedules. PlayVS is also the only nationally-recognized body that offers a platform for varsity-level esports. 

The platform established a relationship with the National Federation of State High School Associations in 2018, shortly after the agency recognized esports players as athletes and helped introduce state associations and high schools to the emerging industry. Before getting his business into high schools and gaining federal recognition, Parnell said convincing NFHS that esports provided a path to professional viability was one of many challenges his company initially faced.

"The first was around the education barrier, particularly regarding the NFHS and state associations. We had to educate the organizations about esports, its benefits, and what the experience would look like, as they were unfamiliar with the industry," he told Cheddar.

The game publishing industry also presented an obstacle for Parnell and PlayVS at its inception. He said that publishers initially didn't recognize how their games could be beneficial to the advancement of esports in the scholastic space.The company now has exclusive deals with five publishers and developers, including recently announced Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, and Psyonix.

"Publishers had historically not worked with any third parties in this way, making it our job to collaborate and lay the groundwork based on the limited number of existing partnerships. This was a new type of relationship that had to be forged by PlayVS, learning how to best work together from square one," he said. 

Parnell is trailblazing in the tech space with PlayVS and has created a lane that could transform the landscape of the high school to college to pro career path. When it comes to growing professionally and personally, he said he's happy to show kids from Black communities that you can take an unconventional route to success, all while being unapologetically you.

"Early on in my career, I felt pressure to be a perfect representative of the Black community. I monitored what I said, what I wore, and even who I hung out with. However, by the time I started PlayVS, I felt very comfortable with who I was and no longer felt pressure to change in order to represent my community. There are very few Black executives and founders, especially in technology, so there's a lot of pride in representing excellence in those spaces," Parnell noted.

Since its launch in 2018, Parnell led the company through five funding rounds totaling more than $106 million. He also inked the company's exclusive partnership with Activision Blizzard at a time that now presents a swath of new opportunities following Microsoft's nearly $70 million acquisition of the game publisher.

"Assuming the deal passes regulatory approval, we're very excited to work with Microsoft," he told Cheddar. "Microsoft has a renowned education group, making them the perfect partner for PlayVS…PlayVS is a gaming company, we build software in connection with developers and do all of this to serve the purpose of education."

Read more of our "Celebrating Movers and Shakers This Black History Month" series:

Real Estate Mogul Ayesha Selden

Rares Founder Gerome Sapp

Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka

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