PlayVS Founder Delane Parnell Steps Down as CEO

His exit comes after a tumultuous year that included allegations of PlayVS misleading its partners and intimidating non-profit competitors.

Delane Parnell, the embattled founder of high school esports organizer PlayVS, stepped down as the company’s CEO on Tuesday, PlayVS announced in a press release.

Parnell’s exit comes after a tumultuous year that included allegations of PlayVS misleading its partners and intimidating non-profit competitors, along with a settled lawsuit in which a former employee said she was the victim of gender and pregnancy discrimination. PlayVS will appoint its vice president of finance, Joe Gibson, as interim CEO while its board searches for a permanent replacement.

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

In a text conversation with The Jacob Wolf Report, Parnell said he’s leaving the company to pursue a new opportunity. He made his decision in the fall and negotiated his exit in January. He will remain a significant shareholder in PlayVS as well as a board director, and is actively assisting the company in its search for its next CEO. Board members of PlayVS did not respond to requests for comment when contacted by The Jacob Wolf Report.

Parnell founded PlayVS in July 2017, while a part of the Science incubator in Los Angeles. Focused on organizing high school esports competitions in partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and building matchmaking competition around those events, PlayVS quickly became one of the most venture-backed enterprises in all of esports. To date, the company has raised $106 million in venture capital from some of the most influential people in technology and entertainment. In April 2022, Pitchbook valued PlayVS at $405 million.

But its wealth of capital did not insulate it from issues with partners and competitors.

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In April 2022, six former employees and one other spoke to The Jacob Wolf Report and alleged that the company knowingly provided inaccurate player-count numbers to Epic Games, with which it had a partnership for amateur and college “Fortnite” competitions. Parnell, for his part, denied the allegations at the time.

Later that month, The Washington Post reported that PlayVS had misrepresented its relationships with two other game publishers, Activision Blizzard and Nintendo, in stating that it had exclusive relationships with those companies for competitions. In that same piece, several non-profit high school organizations alleged that PlayVS attempted to intimidate them from running competitions. Parnell denied these allegations, too, but an email posted on Twitter by one of those non-profit leaders showed that Parnell had personally sent them a cease-and-desist email.

A former employee also filed suit against PlayVS in March 2022, alleging that she was discriminated against and later abruptly terminated by the company after she disclosed her pregnancy to a manager. The employee and PlayVS settled that lawsuit in September after court-ordered mediation.

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