The child of a single mother, Delane Parnell grew up in an impoverished neighborhood off Detroit’s Seven Mile Road. His father was murdered a few months before he was born. His mother transported him from home to home as she bounced between jobs. Still, the young Parnell had a knack for business. By the time he was 17, he had parlayed a job mopping floors at a MetroPCS into co-owning three Detroit-area cellphone shops.
Seven years later, a chance meeting with a venture capitalist inspired Parnell to move to Los Angeles and found a gaming startup. His company had a name–PlayVS–but little else beyond office space at startup studio Science Inc. Still, he had no funding, no employees. Despite all that, his goal was nothing short of bringing esports to the highly lucrative and largely untapped high school market.
He was on the verge of fulfilling his lifelong dream–or failing miserably.
Delane Parnell strolled into the Santa Monica offices of Science for his first day in June 2017 and was led to his workstation: A small wooden desk in the corner of the second floor with a stack of Post-it notes on it. This was where he would begin to work on his new venture, which he’d decided to call PlayVS (as in “play versus”). To personalize his space, Parnell installed the oversize monitor he’d brought with him, and then printed out some photos and taped them above his desk. One was a screenshot of the original Google homepage–a reminder of the $700 billion company’s humble beginnings. Another was a photo of Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Their music had served as the soundtrack to Parnell’s childhood, and he’d hung their likenesses on the wall of his bedroom back in Detroit. Both had grown up without their fathers in drug-ridden