KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As esports continues to gain popularity, a partnership between Western Michigan University and the local parks and recreation department is welcoming another group of gamers to compete.

Before this spring, middle schoolers were the only other esports players to sit in the same seats as those from Western Michigan University’s esports team. But now, high schoolers can also share the stage.

The new competitive league will set high stakes for high schoolers with the high-speed, high-flying game called Rocket League.

It will run under the same format as the Middle School Rocket League Esports League formed by the partnership between Kalamazoo Parks and WMU esports. In March, a field of 16 pairs of 32 players total, will play 2-on-2 matches every week at Western’s campus to eventually place and compete for the end of league tournament in early April. Players do not have to be from the same school to be paired together.

“Rocket League is really popular on the high school level and on the collegiate level, so it’s really awesome that they have a chance to really get a spotlight,” Napier explained. “When we do the finals, we plan on doing production for that, so that’s an opportunity for them to showcase to other people, maybe other high schools, and get recruited.”

With a competitive landscape already established for games like Rocket League with the Collegiate Rocket League (CRO) and the professional Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), WMU Esports Assistant Director Tavian Napier says the need to recruit and build such pipelines with local leagues is a testament to how far esports has come.

“The fact that more schools are getting into it is really exciting. More schools are taking it seriously. The colleges are getting more support on the league structure,” Napier said. “The more opportunities they have — especially locally — the better.”

“Esports continues to grow in popularity, and we are thrilled to add a high school esports league on top of our middle school program,” said Kalamazoo Parks Recreation Coordinator Pete Aerts in a statement.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be able to facilitate high schoolers, but not have to go chasing them down or anything of that nature,” Napier added. “So, it’s a really great partnership, since they are already in this avenue with other things outside of esports.”

To register for middle school or high school leagues, visit the Kalamazoo Parks website.