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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

PlayVS, a software startup that allows high school students to compete on varsity esports teams through their schools, just closed a $50 million Series C, bringing its total funding to $96 million in just 13 months.

Where things stand: Through an exclusive partnership with the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as well as deals with game publishers, PlayVS hosts and streams matches, compiles stats and standings and sets up leagues to allow neighboring schools to compete against each other.

  • PlayVS makes money by charging either the player, parent/guardian or school $64 per player to participate in a "season."
  • This spring, they offered competition in three games: "League of Legends," "Smite" and "Rocket League."

How it works: "On average, every school has one coach — typically a teacher who oversees the program. After that coach has been onboarded and activated, they go out and recruit students," PlayVS founder Delane Parnell tells Axios.

  • "The 'home' of esports on campus is typically either the computer lab, the library or an under-utilized classroom that's been retrofitted, though some schools have invested in building actual esports arenas," he added.
  • "Unlike traditional sports, there's no need to get on a bus and travel to another school to compete. Instead, teams go to PlayVS, we connect them to their opponent and they play."
  • Important note: Not every kid is playing the same game, so it's kind of like track and field in that sense, where hurdlers and shot-putters are on the same team despite competing in different events.

By the numbers: PlayVS launched in five states last fall and expanded to eight in the spring. The growth will continue this fall, with 15 states using PlayVS to compete in esports leagues, all culminating in state championships.

  • Those 15 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
  • Over 13,000 schools (68% of the country) are on the waitlist to build an esports program through PlayVS, according to the company. For comparison, ~14,000 U.S. high schools have a football program.

The big picture: Think about all of the organizations, products and services that exist around traditional high school sports. Things like recruiting platforms, state tournaments, equipment companies and coach management tools.

  • Almost none of that has been built for esports yet, putting PlayVS in a unique position to build an all-encompassing environment where they're both the platform and the infrastructure.

The bottom line: With esports still in its infancy, there's a huge opportunity to build the talent pipeline that every skill-based industry needs to survive — and companies like PlayVS are beginning to seize it.

Go deeper: Industry veterans fear an esports bubble

Go deeper

Abbott says he'll hire Border Patrol agents who whipped at migrants

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday defended the actions of U.S. Border Patrol agents who charged at Haitian migrants on horseback, blaming the Biden administration for not preventing them from crossing the border.

Why it matters: Abbott's remark on "Fox News Sunday" comes amid increased backlash over the incident, with President Biden saying, "I promise... those people will pay,” and the Department of Homeland Security launching an investigation.

Everyone wants to be an influencer

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The number of people looking to become online influencers has exploded during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Almost anyone can find themselves in a position to become an influencer, and brands are throwing billions of dollars at online content creators.

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

Photo: Jacob Cordeiro/Twitter

An Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, resulting in at least three deaths and multiple injuries to passengers and crew on Saturday, per authorities and a company statement.

The big picture: 141 passengers and 16 crew members were estimated to be on the Empire Builder train, traveling from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, when eight of the 10 cars derailed about 4p.m., Amtrak said early Sunday.