It's a non-traditional sport that continues to grow in popularity — gaming.
A partnership between Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation has started up a competitive esports league, and it began Monday.
There was gaming computers, Nintendo switches and headsets lining the stage in Western Michigan University's (WMU) Esports Arena where middle schoolers will face off against each other in Mario Kart during a six week league.
"I just know there is a niche out there where there are kids who maybe don’t play basketball, volleyball, you know, your traditional sports and are looking for things to do," said Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation's Recreation Coordinator Pete Aerts.
Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation teamed up with Western Michigan University to open up the league to middle school aged children.
"A lot of the gaming they can do from home and still talk to people through their systems and whatnot, but now this is gives them a chance to meet other kids from different schools, where they'll be able to meet face-to-face and get to know each other a little bit. They can maybe exchange information and be able to do things online later, or just make that connection with some new people that are interested in the same things," said Aerts.
The esporters will compete in WMU's Esports Arena. They will meet once a week for six weeks and compete in multiple races in Mario Kart every week.
"Every day they will come in and they’ll play two different maps, or grand prix’s. We will tally up their score to the end of the season, and then we will have a playoff round with all of them with prizes and awards and things like that," said WMU Club Sports and Esports Assistant Director Andre Rattray.
It may be a non-traditional sport but, it’s rising in popularity.Tonight is the first night for @kzooparks Esports League where middle schoolers from #Kalamazoo and #Portage can face off against each other in #MarioKart 🎮 @FOX17 pic.twitter.com/S25VSwaPuk— Lauren Kummer (@LaurenKummerTV) March 14, 2022
WMU kicked off their esports varsity team back in 2018, and since then, those running the program said it has evolved, adding it can be an outlet like many other sports.
"In terms of gaming specifically, it can build a lot of character. It can build self-esteem, how to deal with stress and things of that nature. I’ve had a lot of students come into themselves and learn more about themselves and be able to manage themselves outside of gaming because of it," said WMU's Coordinator for Esports.
Each week as the kids play, parents are able to watch from the arena.
Organizers said they encourage them to learn about esports and foster their kids love for it if it is their passion.
"We're just another avenue that kids might be enjoying, might steer them into going to school for that, so just different ways that keep them involved and get them excited about things that they like to do," said Aerts.
The league will conclude with a final tournament on April 23, 2022.
For those interested in joining, you canclick herefor more information or to sign-up. You can also call the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation office at (269) 337-8191.