With the dust settled on the HCS Raleigh Kick Off Major let's take a brief look at how the top teams performed and where they stack up headed into a month of Pro Series online tournaments:
Previous rank: #3
They didn’t win a single online qualifier but who cares? C9 showed up and took care of business when it mattered. They raised the trophy and are the current best team in Halo, but with all that said they don’t look invincible.
Cloud9 lost a game in seven of the eight series they played at Raleigh, and it even took five games to beat XSET, a team that placed outside the Top 16. They also dropped a game to two separate EU teams, Acend and Quadrant.
One of their biggest challenge this weekend would come in the form OpTic Gaming matchup in the winner’s semifinals. Cloud9 choked a 41-29 kill lead in a Game 2 Slayer on Bazaar, letting OpTic come back to tie the game at 47-47 before C9 finally regained their composure and secured the final 3 kills.
In a Game 4 Oddball on Live Fire Cloud9 lost the third round 100-99, setting the stage for a Game 5 where C9 would go on to win by an anticlimatic 13 kill margin.
eUnited also did a great job challenging C9, requiring multiple giant comebacks on Cloud9’s part to claim the Winner Bracket Finals and the tournament itself.
Cloud9 tied a game 1 CTF with a minute left before going on to win in overtime. Eunited would win the Game 2 Slayer 50-48 before disappearing in Game 3, giving Cloud9 a 2-1 series lead. Cloud9 would then overcome a 166 point deficit in a series-deciding Game 4 Strongholds on Recharge to advance to the tournament’s Grand Finals.
In the Grand Finals Cloud9 would again face Eunited, and eUnited again gave them problems early on. Cloud9 needed a 53-98 round 2 oddball comeback on streets to take a 1-0 series advantage.
They also barely won the following Game 2, Cloud9 was down 40-36 with two minutes remaining before securing the winning kill in the game's final seconds.
From that point on Cloud9 would go on to close out the series and the tournament with a relatively mundane 4-1 victory. They won but they didn't make it look easy, they'll have a month of online Halo ahead of them to work out the kinks before once again returning to LAN at HCS Anaheim in February.
Previous rank: #4
As mentioned above, while eUnited wasn't able to overcome Cloud9, they performed well in both of their series against the tournament's winners. They also performed well in the tournament overall, in bracket player eUnited beat Spacestation Gaming, the Kansas City Pioneers, and they even a red hot FaZe Clan in the Loser Bracket Finals. The only team they lost a series to that entire weekend was Cloud9.
Despite being a team that is apparently "better on lan" with a month of online halo ahead of us they’re gonna need to do something they haven't done yet, place top 3 or better online, if they want to maintain their seed going into Anaheim.
3. FaZe Clan
Previous rank: #5
Minus the exception of G2 Esports in pool play FaZe clan had a great tournament at Raleigh, Bound showed up, and Snip3down firmly re-established himself as one of professional Halo's best. They narrowly edged out Sentinels in a tight four-game Loser Bracket series and just came up short in a Game 5 Slayer vs eUnited that would've given them a Grand Finals appearance in their first attempt.
The core of Bubu Dubu, Falcated, and Bound are entering their gaming primes and with Snip3down fully committed to Halo, it wouldn't be far-fetched to see them make some noise. The stakes are different for this team, with one of the most rabid fanbases in esports, they've shown the pressure of representing FaZe Clan hasn't affected them one bit.
Previous rank: #2
All things considered, Sentinels had a pretty good trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, they were missing one of their best players and still walked away with a Top 4 finish.
Sentinels didn’t show much life in their first series vs OpTic Gaming. They nearly got steaked in a Game 2 slayer and choked a 25 point lead in Oddball with 10 seconds left in Game 3, but they got it done in the Loser's Bracket where it really mattered. It’s also worth noting they didn’t win either a CTF or an Oddball game vs OpTic in either series, relying on a stronghold and two slayer wins to take the second series. They would go on to lose a 3-1 series vs FaZe in the elimination semifinals that was much closer than the scoreline indicates.
With formal leaving for a permanent roster a very real possibility and 4 pro series tournaments between them and Anaheim, they’ll need to find another high-level replacement to temporarily step in while Royal2 serves the remainder of his sentence for cheating. The HCS season is still early but by the time Anaheim rolls around, they'll be over a month behind other rosters practice and continuity-wise.
5. OpTic Gaming
Previous rank: #1
Easily the most surprising thing that happened at HCS Raleigh was seeing OpTic Gaming, the consensus favorites heading into the event, being eliminated by a short-handed Sentinels roster and sent home in 5th-6th place with less than 10k in prize money for their efforts.
One of Halo's best teams online, they'll have plenty of time and opportunity to once again prove themselves before the next LAN tournament. Needless to say, they weren't happy about their final placing, but they did beat several teams who ended up getting farther in the bracket. OpTic Gaming is far from finished and they're still a very safe bet to win the 2022 Halo World Championship.
6. Kansas City Pioneers
Previous rank: #6
On the bright side, the Kansas City Pioneers swept the teams they were supposed to beat, unlike many other top squads at Raleigh. But when it came to defeating the Tier 1 talent in the Halo pro scene, they just couldn't come out ahead, despite some very competitive matches.
They were up two games to one against FaZe Clan in the Loser Bracket Quarterfinals because failing to seal the deal in their final two tries, even getting stomped in a series-deciding Game 5. KCP is close to being one of the best teams, and perhaps they'll get there by the end of the season, but for now, they still need some more time in the lab to work out the kinks.
7. Spacestation Gaming
Previous rank: #7
Everyone knows the story, Spacestation Gaming lost Formal at the last second and as a result, it impacted their final standing at Raleigh. Tusk is more than a capable replacement, and they even still reached Top 8 but when you look at the details it isn't pretty. The entire weekend they only beat two European teams and one North American team, Team War.
They get a pass given their circumstances going into Raleigh but we will learn a lot more about this team's ceiling when they’ve got a month to build continuity going into Anaheim.
8. G2 Esports
Previous rank: #8
Bringing up the rear is G2 Esports, a team currently with only 3 players after Artic was dropped from the roster following the event. They showed promise early on in the event with a 3-0 series victory over eventual third-place finishers, FaZe Clan.
In their first championship bracket match, they were swept by the European Acend roster before eventually rematching with FaZe Clan. In their Losers Bracket Round 4 matchup versus FaZe Clan they would at one point hold a 2-1 game advantage in the series before eventually disappearing in the series final two games.
G2 has shown flashes of brilliance this season but can they put it all together? Whoever they decide to add to this roster will play a major part in answering that question going forward.