High school and collegiate esports programmes have grown significantly in number and scale in recent years, and PlayVS is one of the key companies helping to drive scholastic adoption. Founded in 2017, the North American firm provides a turnkey platform for schools to establish their own esports programs and host competitions across games such as League of Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch.
Schools are buying into the programme in droves, with more than 21,000 signed up to date across the high school and university levels, encompassing 143,000+ students. With more than $900,000 (~£671,080) in scholarship funds for the current academic year, PlayVS also provides a way for students to fuel their own education by playing the games they love.
“The mission is really to power the standard for amateur esports,” Aakash Ranavat, Vice President of Central Operations at PlayVS, explained to Esports Insider’s sister brand, The Esports Journal. He added that scholarship funds are “our way and our publishers’ way of investing back in the ecosystem.”
Ranavat points to several potential benefits for schools establishing their own esports programmes. Organised school activities can lead to better social and behavioural skills for students, alongside a helpful lesson in sportsmanship. As more and more schools invest in esports programmes, they are also fueling a drive to make competitive gaming every bit as much of a legitimate, recognised school sport as any traditional, physical activity.
“Through our partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, it’s really about making esports a varsity sport,” said Ranavat. “Just in the way that you would participate in basketball or football for your school, you would participate in esports, which means you’d compete for a state title and you’re recognised as the best in that state.”
While schools can opt to create their own bespoke esports programmes, there are multiple advantages to using the PlayVS platform. It’s easy for schools to get up and running and plug into the setup, which lets them get started with competition against other schools, to handle scheduling and tech support, and to tap into the connections that PlayVS has with state athletic associations and game publishers alike.
“What we want to do is handle all of the logistical legwork for schools so that they can focus on what matters most, which is the players and the experience,” explained Ranavat. “That’s scheduling, logistics, and match day support, plus our publisher partners really entrust us to integrate their titles with our product, which I think really enhances the player experience.”
“We’re able to operate at scale,” he continued. “We have a scalable platform that allows us to bring on high schools or colleges and universities across the nation and seamlessly integrate them and offer the best experience possible.”
PlayVS certainly has investors interested in its vision. In September 2019, the company announced a $50m (~£37.28m) Series C round that brought its investment total to more than $95m (~£70.84) to date. According to Ranavat, PlayVS has used that funding to significantly expand its team, nearly doubling its headcount, and to fuel more accessibility and inclusion programmes to help spread the word of scholastic esports far and wide.
One of those programmes is Game Changers, an initiative designed to help bring more young women into esports competition through reduced entry fees and mentorship from industry professionals. With ambassadors such as former 100 Thieves League of Legends Academy head coach Kelsey Moser and G2 Esports Head of Content Karina Ziminaite involved, PlayVS is also helping young women learn about potential career paths in the space.
“The mission is to inspire more young women to explore gaming, tech, and esports as a career opportunity, creating a safe space for more girls to get into gaming on their campuses, and then also providing a platform for amazing women in the gaming industry to share their experiences and advice to the next generation of female gamers,” said Ranavat.
Read the full version of this article in Edition 7 of The Esports Journal.