Three Spicy Storylines Heading Into HCS Raleigh
Since the surprise launch of Halo Infinite on November 15th, many members of the esports industry and a wealth of fans have turned their attention to the arena shooter thanks to 343 Industries unveiling a fully-fledged roadmap detailing the upcoming Halo Championship Series (HCS) season. For the first time in over a year, the best players on the planet will descend on the Raleigh Convention Center to compete for the opportunity to be crowned the first Halo Infinite champion, along with the chance to win a share of $250,000 in prize money.
The weeks leading up to the event have been nothing short of eventful, with teams making changes hours before the roster lock and veterans making a return for another shot at championship glory. With that said, here are three of the spiciest storylines heading into a brand-new era of competitive Halo.
FormaL's Last-Minute Switch
Former Call of Duty star Matt "FormaL" Piper quickly expressed an interest in making a return to Halo for the first event of the HCS season and up until December 13th, it appeared that he would be representing Spacestation Gaming at Raleigh. Due to Matthew "Royal 2" Fiorante receiving a suspension for geo-filtering during online competition, FormaL left Spacestation Gaming to join Sentinels, a roster that had been leading the North American charge.
With Royal 2 suspended until the end of January, it looks like FormaL has a new, yet temporary, home under Sentinels until Royal 2 is allowed to compete once again. The 2017 Call of Duty world champion is no stranger to competitive Halo, having won titles on Halo Reach and Halo 4 before switching to Call of Duty. With Sentinels now having to run the gauntlet of the Open Bracket, regaining its pool play spot will not be a straightforward task, but with a veteran filling the shoes of one of the very best Halo players of all time, it will be interesting to see whether Sentinels can get another shot in pool play.
The Return Of Snip3down
Widely considered to be one of the greatest Halo players in history, Eric "Snip3down" Wrona turned his attention to competitive Apex Legends and content creation under the TSM banner before announcing his return to competitive Halo with FaZe Clan. With over 20 event victories under his belt, the veteran joins Michael "Falcated" Garcia, Jesse "bubu dubu" Moeller, and Adam "Bound" Gray in a bid to take home the trophy.
Armed with a wealth of experience and team chemistry, the Red Militia are being overlooked by the likes of OpTic Gaming and Sentinels, giving the team the perfect opportunity to spring a huge surprise at the first Infinite tournament of the year. Whether they can send the Green Wall home is another matter, but this team is certainly one to keep an eye on throughout the competition.
How Will Europe Fare?
European Halo has often come close to toppling the North American powerhouses with NAVI, Cartel, HMDA, and the all-French roster representing Quadrant leading the charge. How will they overcome a wealth of North American talent that has dominated Halo from the very beginning? Perhaps the most recognisable European lineup, the former Team Infused trio of James "Jimbo" Bradbrook, Robert "Kimbo" Earl El-Zein Faulk, and Brandon "Respectful" Stones have reunited alongside another veteran in the form of Perry "Tuf0xy" Kenyon in a bid to become the standout squad in the region. Although NAVI is no stranger to competing at the top level of Halo, their online form has been questionable, with both Cartel and Quadrant managing to achieve higher placings in the Raleigh qualifier. As with most esports titles, the online form should only be taken with a pinch of salt, so it will be very interesting to see whether NAVI can perform on the big stage.
Heading into Raleigh as the top European seed is Cartel, a team that has yet to join an organisation despite Fnatic continuing its search for a roster to represent the black and orange. The French contingent alongside former Epsilon player Michael "Snipedrone" Juchau has looked strong in a number of online tournaments and if they can carry that form over to LAN, there’s a high chance of an upset and maybe even a deep run into the double-elimination bracket.
HCS Raleigh Top 3 Predictions
1st: OpTic Gaming
3rd: FaZe Clan
Despite plenty of incredible talents from Europe, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific battling it out, I think that the North Americans will be far too strong, which is why three teams from the region are in my top three for the event. Matches between OpTic Gaming and Sentinels have been close online, but with the latter having to work their way through the Open Bracket before they even get a chance to topple the Green Wall, I think that OpTic will emerge victorious. Despite the ruling, Sentinels will make it into pool play but could run out of steam against opposition that has had fewer matches to play.
The battle for third is between a few teams, but I think FaZe Clan will take the final step on the podium. The team has defeated the likes of Cloud9 and eUnited in recent tournaments but if either one of them fails to replicate a solid performance on LAN, there’s every chance the Red Militia could fall into the top six but with the sheer amount of experience on the roster, I don’t see that happening.