ESTNN sets the stage for this weekend’s HCS showdown in Raleigh, North Carolina, including Pool Play and more!
Competitive Halo is off to a hot start following the release of the series’ latest title — Halo Infinite. Viewership and participation numbers have set quite the precedent just one month following the game’s multiplayer release. The Halo Championship Series (HCS) made Halo Infinite’s competitive scene an instrumental tool in the game’s growth.
Aspects such as crowdfunded prize pools, esports organizations and a decisive roadmap have helped place the HCS in an ideal position. With three record-breaking online tournaments in the rear-view, the competitive scene shifts its gears toward the HCS Raleigh Kick-Off Major. Sporting a $250K USD prize pool before crowdfunding, HCS Raleigh features 272 teams and an utterly sold-out venue from a spectator perspective.
The tournament ahead promises to deliver on all expectations. Today, ESTNN sets the stage for HCS Raleigh as the scene looks to crown its first major Halo Infinite Champions.
Halo Infinite: The Road So Far
Thus far in the Halo Championship Series, two teams are a cut above the rest — OpTic Gaming and Sentinels. The former looked unstoppable out of the gate. Pistola, aPG, Lucid and Trippy overcame a formidable Cloud9 roster in the first HCS Online Open. OpTic reset the bracket and delivered an impressive win for the Green Wall. Week two provided more of the same, as OpTic once again defeated Cloud9, this time from the winner’s bracket without dropping a single map until the Grand Finals.
The two-time Halo World Champion-winning Sentinels took over the following two weeks, taking back-to-back wins in the HCS Raleigh Kick-Off Qualifier and Esports Arena 25K Series Invitational. OpTic and Sentinels stood above all else as clear front-runners in the early going. However, the latter found themselves in hot water following an internal investigation into alleged geo-filtering and server manipulation.
Royal 2 Suspended for 45 Days
— Mathew Fiorante (@Royal2) December 13, 2021
Sentinels’ player Mathew “Royal 2” Fiorante was undoubtedly responsible for the most significant drama-filled storyline to date in Halo Infinite. The HCS launched an investigation into Sentinels following a wave of complaints from other top teams. League administrators found reason to believe Royal 2 utilized geo-filtering to give his team an advantage. Royal 2’s long-time teammate Tony “LethuL” Campbell Jr. lashed out at the HCS, but Royal 2 ultimately admitted wrongdoing.
The HCS dropped a proverbial hammer on Sentinels, stripping all of the team’s earned Pro Points, removing them from Pool Play at Raleigh and suspending Royal 2 for 45 days. LethuL, Frosty and Snakebite initially pulled out of HCS Raleigh with no time to find a fourth. That changed rather quickly, as retired professional Call of Duty player Matthew “FormaL” Piper left Spacestation Gaming to join Sentinels temporarily.
LethuL, Frosty, Snakebite and FormaL are the confirmed roster heading into Raleigh. They’ll have to fight through the Open Bracket if they hope to win.
Setting the Stage: HCS Raleigh
We made it to the promised LAN 🙌
📅 Dec 17-19
💰 $250K + Crowdfunding
⚔️ 272 Teams
⭐️ @Twitch Drops
— Halo Esports #HCS (@HCS) December 14, 2021
More than 270 teams and even more spectators will fill the Raleigh Convention Center for an action-filled weekend. Sixteen squads have stood out in the small sample size since Halo Infinite season began last month. North America, Mexico, Europe and Australia/New Zealand are represented in Pool Play, while all other teams need to battle through the Open Bracket.
Considering HCS Raleigh is the first offline tournament since 2020, there’s an element of unknown. How will teams respond to the long-awaited return to LAN events? The question has no definitive answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play the role of predictor. Let’s take a look at each Pool and pick two in each that stand out amongst the rest.
- NA: OpTic Gaming
- NA: Pioneers
- EU: Bing Chilling
- MX: Chiefs Esports Club
OpTic Gaming is a clear favorite to advance comfortably out of this Pool, and it’s hard to disagree. Their first four tournaments have resulted in two wins and two runner-up finishes, so it’s safe to pencil OpTic in for a spot in the Winner’s Bracket Round Two. Pool A sees a significant drop-off after OpTic.
Pioneers is another North American team that has played surprisingly well thus far. Represented by Druk, SoulSnipe, Taulek and Manny, the Pioneers squad has secured a top-five finish in three of their first four tournaments. While not a bold call, OpTic and Pioneers are the safe picks to secure a first-round BYE coming out of Pool A.
- NA: FaZe
- NA: G2 Esports
- EU: NAVI
- ANZ: Divine Mind
Pool B offers a more balanced selection of teams, including Australia’s Divine Mind, Europe’s NAVI and North American teams FaZe Clan and G2 Esports. FaZe Clan is unquestionably the favorite based on their recent performances. Led by the veteran Snip3down, FaZe Clan managed back-to-back third-place results in their last two tournaments. This squad should safely advance out of Pool B with the best record.
G2 Esports is a safe pick to join FaZe Clan, but their results thus far have fallen below expectations. I’m going to pick NAVI here to finish with the second-best record in Pool B. They’ve done well on the European circuit and could shock the world in Raleigh.
- NA: eUnited
- EU: Quadrant
- NA: Oxygen Esports
- MX: The Boys
Europe’s consensus number two team Quadrant and North America’s eUnited lead the way in Pool C. Each has looked admirable. Still, the newly-signed have fallen short of only Acend, formerly known as Cartel. Quadrant managed four consecutive second-place finishes to open the season. They are in discussion to exit this group relatively unscathed.
Eunited has also done well since the start of Halo Infinite, finishing no worse than top-five. They consistently make it deep in tournaments but have struggled to close. HCS Raleigh is their chance to deliver, and eUnited should do just that in Pool C.
- NA: Cloud9
- EU: Acend
- NA: XSET
- NA: Spacestation Gaming
The fourth and final Pool features a killer’s row of talented Halo teams. I could make a case for any of Cloud9, Acend, XSET and Spacestation Gaming to find their way out. However, Cloud9 and Acend stand slightly above the other two. Firstly, Cloud9 nearly defeated OpTic in the first two events. They’ve cooled off recently with two top-six finishes but should hold their own here.
Acend certainly has a question mark above their head. After all, this European team squares off against a different collection of opponents compared to North America. Nonetheless, winning three straight tournaments is no fluke. Sniperdrone and company are coming to represent their region in Halo’s most significant event so far. They will be just fine against NA’s elite competition and should narrowly advance to Winner’s Bracket Round Two.
Tournament Winner Prediction
Sentinels would have been our pick to win without question. The addition of FormaL keeps them in the conversation. Unfortunately, they’ll have to play a lot of Halo throughout the weekend to reach the Championship Bracket. LethuL and crew should reach that level without issue, but what lies beyond is unknown. There’s too much uncertainty to predict them as victors.
For that reason, OpTic Gaming is our pick to win the HCS Raleigh Kick-Off. Teams will struggle to overcome Pistola and aPG’s veteran presence mixed with Trippy and Lucid’s raw skill. OpTic has won two of four tournaments to start Halo Infinite, and HCS Raleigh will be their third. Hopefully, Sentinels will manage to reach the Grand Finals for a showdown with OpTic.
Regardless of what happens, the weekend ahead is a must-watch. Be sure to tune in to see who claims the first Major Halo Infinite Championship of the year. You can watch the action on YouTube and Twitch starting tomorrow at 12 PM EST.
Feature Images: Halo Waypoint