Today, PlayVS is powering up for its frst full season, which will run from
February through May in high schools across 15 states (and counting). It’s the
only time in the NFHS’s 100-year existence that it has completely handed over
the operation of a sport to another organization. In addition to receiving fees of
about $64 per student, per season, from participating schools, PlayVS has the
right to operate all online and real-world e-sports competitions and partner with
game publishers to bring their titles into high schools. To reassure educators,
Parnell is choosing his frst titles carefully. League of Legends, for example, is a
multiplayer game that encourages teamwork and strategy.
Some critics recoil at the idea of school-sanctioned e-sports. “We wouldn’t bring
gambling into high schools, because we know it wouldn’t be good for kids,” says
Hilarie Cash, cofounder and chief clinical offcer of the Restart Life clinic, outside
of Seattle, which treats addiction to video games and other digital technologies. But
Mark Koski, CEO of NFHS Network, the organization’s video platform, sees e-sports
as a way to engage disenfranchised teens: “We want students who are currently not
in athletic activities to be involved in the school community.”
Parnell has an even bigger vision. “This is the most accessible, affordable, and
inclusive sport at the high school level,” he says. “If we grow, the e-sports [industry]
grows.” He aims to build the same kind of recruiting
and scholarship infrastructure around gaming that
exists for other sports. Tobias Sherman, a former global
head of e-sports talent at WME/IMG (now Endeavor)
who founded the gaming studio Foundry IV earlier
this year, shares this perspective: “As an agent, [I was]
always looking for anything that supports the ecosys-
tem and allows players to reach their full potential.”
He sees PlayVS as an opportunity not only to develop
new athletes, but also to help parents and teachers
“understand there’s a pathway to a career.”
It’s not just fame and prize money at stake. With
some of the biggest brands in the world acting as
funders, sponsors, and headhunters, e-sports can
get young people interested in (and scouted for)
careers in gaming and tech. Pro gamer Lester Chen,
for example, is now a global head of emerging gaming partnerships at You Tube. The e-sports job board
Hitmarker posted nearly 2,500 openings in the space
for the frst half of 2018. Gaming can help “students
think more critically from an engineering and design perspective,” says Len Annetta, a professor at
East Carolina University who researches gaming.
“A lot of kids who aren’t succeeding in school play video games. They have an
The plan, Parnell says, is to get video-game publishers and other brand partners
interest in learning what’s under the hood.”
Parnell knows as well as anyone how a future career can present itself in untra-
ditional ways. “It’s like having somebody open the door for you, and you gotta fnd
your seat,” he says. “I didn’t just fnd a seat, though. I took it.” For now, it seems that
the schools most in need of those opened doors will have to wait. The PlayVS plat-
form requires equipment specs (strong Wi-Fi, CPU power, and PCs with high-quality
graphics cards) that can be prohibitively expensive. Parnell acknowledges that some
schools have been benched because they can’t afford the technology—a missed
opportunity given the dearth of black and brown players in e-sports.
to help refurbish computer labs and cover participation costs. “We’re focusing on
narrowing that wealth gap,” he says. There may be another young CEO-in-the-
making who’s depending on it.
in January, major league soccer announced
a partnership with ea sports, which makes
the FIFA 19 video game, to create an emls
league. it will pit the best players from the u.s.
and canada against each other to determine
who will represent the league in the fifa
eworld cup. the tournament’s sponsors include at&t and wells fargo.
the nba 2K league, a partnership between the
nba and game publisher take-two interactive,
tipped off its inaugural season this past may
with 17 teams (each owned by real-world nba
franchises) competing for the $1 million prize.
games were live-streamed on twitch, and
sponsors included dell and intel.
NFL and NHL owners
pro sports team owners, including robert Kraf
(new england patriots), stan and Josh Kroenke
(los angeles rams), and Jeff wilpon (new york
mets) each paid $20 million to buy a franchise
of the year-old overwatch league, overseen by
gaming giant activision blizzard.
U.S. colleges and universities
since forming in 2016, the national association
of collegiate esports (nace) counts more than
80 educational institutions as members, and
awards more than $9 million in annual scholarships. today, some 1,500 student athletes
compete on varsity e-sports teams.
two years afer tbs launched its eleague
tournament and broadcasting operation, the
network now airs a one-hour show on friday
nights with teams playing CS:GO, Overwatch,
and Rocket League. advertisers include arby’s
and credit Karma.
United Talent Agency
afer acquiring e-sports talent firm press X
agency and gaming management agency
everyday influencers in June, uta is now the
only company to represent both e-sports
athletes and gaming publishers.
how mainstream organizations
are pushing into gaming
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