Embattled PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell steps down

PlayVS' office
Image via: AAmp Studio

High school esports platform PlayVS has announced that its CEO, Delane Parnell, has stepped down from his role.

The departure comes after widespread criticism and a series of scandals that have engulfed PlayVS since 2022.

Parnell has acted as CEO since he founded the company in 2018, but says he is leaving to pursue other projects. PlayVS announced that Joe Gibson, the current VP of Finance, will take over the role of CEO while the company searches for a successor.

PlayVS is a for-profit, venture-backed startup that runs high school esports leagues for North American high school students to compete in.

The company has raised over $100m (~£80m) across multiple funding rounds, according to Crunchbase. It has backing from several high-profile investors, including Softbank Innovation Fund, Adidas, Samsung NEXT and Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs.

However, the company has faced a string of controversies in recent years. In 2022, Esports Insider reported on PlayVS’ dubious claims to, and use of, exclusivity deals, which it wielded to stop competitors — including non-profits and educators — from using esports at the high school level. Sources for that report often singled out Parnell for his actions.

In April 2022, the Jacob Wolf Report reported that the company allegedly misled its partner Epic Games, and that an ex-employee was suing the company for discrimination and wrongful termination. Several publishers, including Activision Blizzard and Nintendo, distanced themselves from PlayVS following negative media reports.

In a release, PlayVS said that Parnell had initiated internal leaving discussions with the company Board in the Fall of 2022, before coming to an agreement with them in January to leave. Parnell will remain on the Board of Directors and continue to be involved in the company as a senior advisor, according to the release.

PlayVS has grown into one of if not the largest high school esports platforms in North America, despite the controversy and criticism from teachers, coaches and scholastic esports stakeholders. PlayVS notably struck an exclusive partnership with high school sports body the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved at PlayVS in only a few years,” Parnell said. “Leading such a talented team has been an honour, and developing an innovative product that has created so many opportunities for an underserved audience has been a dream come true.

“It has been humbling to serve as a role model for Black tech founders in gaming, and I hope that my example inspires others to break down barriers in the industry. I’m excited to see PlayVS continue to grow and make a positive impact on the world of gaming and education.”

Jake Nordland
Jake has worked at Esports Insider as a journalist and editor since early 2021. Now ESI's Media Manager, he continues to act as lead editor of print magazine The Esports Journal, and contributes his words to the website from time to time.