The big Halo Championship Series Raleigh group stage preview
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We are only moments away from the beginning of a new era for Halo. The Halo Championship Series Kickoff Major officially begins on Dec. 17. It’s the first of many online and in-person tournaments that will fill 2022 with Master Chief, Capture the Flag and one of gaming’s biggest first-person shooter franchises. Here’s a preview that covers the top Halo teams headed into Raleigh.

While hundreds of teams will be competing in the open bracket in North Carolina, a few of the best have already qualified for the group stage through previous performances.

Halo pools
The groups for Raleigh. | Provided by Halo Championship Series

Upcomer’s big Halo Championship Series Raleigh preview

There have already been some major shake-ups in the scenes; with Matthew “FormaL” Piper replacing Mathew “Royal2” Fiorante after Royal2 was banned for network manipulation. Raleigh is shaping up to be a tournament for the Halo history books.

The action will officially kick off on Dec. 17 on the official Halo Twitch channel.

OpTic Gaming

OpTic comes into HCS Raleigh as perhaps the clear favorite. They took the first two Open Tournaments with relative ease, defeating Cloud9 in the grand finals both times. While they did stumble against Sentinels in the finals of the Raleigh Kickoff Qualifier, that doesn’t dim the light on how they’ve been performing for the first month of Halo Infinite.

With a stacked roster of players who have been around each other for nearly a decade, OpTic has the cohesion and skill to win HCS Raleigh. The big question surrounding the roster, headlined by Justin “iGotUrPistola” Deese, is whether they’ll keep their foot on the gas in every match or whether they’ll slip up enough to squander a series like they did against Sentinels. One key advantage that OpTic does have over other teams, though, is the flurry of Greenwall fans that will undoubtedly flood the arena on game day.

— Joey Carr

Halo preview Cloud9
The Halo Infinite Cloud9 in-game skin. | Provided by 343 Industries


Cloud9 are close behind OpTic Gaming when it comes to being favorites for the Raleigh event. They have been on the coattails of the Green Wall both of the HCS open tournaments before the Raleigh Kickoff Qualifier. However, the second place finish is ultimately not where the team wants to be at the end of the day. The core four of Kevin “Eco” Smith, Zane “Penguin” Hearon, Jonathan “Renegade” Willette and Braedon “StelluR” Boettcher have been around since early 2021, when they first signed with Cloud9.

“We are looking to dominate,” Cloud9 Coach Emanuel “Hoaxer” Lovejoy said. “We expect teams like Sentinels and OpTic to be right up there with us, but it will be a disappointment if we don’t win the event.”

— Danny Appleford

Kansas City Pioneers

Kansas City Pioneers’ previous Halo experience comes as a Halo 5 squad. None of their players have competitive time in any Halo game besides Halo Infinite. This NA team, consisting of Canadian Roman “Druk” Nasirudin, American Michael “SoulSnipe” Girgis, Hunter “Taulek” Davis and Emmanuel “Manny” Lombert, looks to impress at Raleigh.

They fought against the best in NA but never won a tournament in Halo 5. They reached the finals of a tournament in December of 2020 at the Halo 5 Pro Series Season 2: North America Championship, but lost to Sentinels 3-2. That was their best major tournament finish to date, but they finished in the top four of two open tournaments in Infinite.

— Michael Czar

FormaL OpTic Chicago
FormaL has been around the block in Halo more than once, but he most recently played Call of Duty with OpTic Chicago. | Provided by Call of Duty League


When a roster features a player that has the same name as a character within the game they’re playing, big things are expected from that roster. Tyler “Spartan” Ganza and eUnited have looked strong in the first month of Halo Infinite, despite their mid-range placings in the first three tournaments.

eUnited has placed fourth twice and fifth-sixth once. Though, they appear to be trending up at the right time heading into Raleigh. They’ve put up solid fights against top teams, with the exception of their 0-3 loss to Sentinels in the Kickoff Qualifier. If eUnited can manage to put their skill sets together at the right time, they could be on the winning side of some upsets come the weekend of Dec. 17.

— Carr

FaZe Clan Halo Infinite
The FaZe Clan Halo skin. | Photo provided by FaZe Clan.

FaZe Clan

Eric “Snip3down” Wrona is a certified Apex Legends and Halo superstar. He’s a huge name in both scenes and has dozens of high tournament placements as part of Reciprocity and a number of smaller teams. FaZe Clan recently announced their full roster, but their players have already been making waves with third place finishes at the Esports Arena 25K Series E Launch Invitational and the North America Raleigh qualifier. This team has a lot of promise, although its core doesn’t have the same synergy that Cloud9 and OpTic do. They should make a high placement at Infinite’s inaugural LAN, but it’ll take something special for them to win it all.

— Garst

G2 Esports

G2 Esports managed to qualify for the Kickoff Major through accumulated HCS points over the course of the first two Open Series events and the Qualifiers. They finished seventh/eighth at both tournaments, losing to teams like Inconceivable, OpTic and Gamers First. At the Qualifiers, they lost to Cloud9 and the Kansas City Pioneers.

The team, consisting of Uriah “Artic” Legorreta, Chris “Gilk3y” Gilkey, Sabur “Sabinater” Hakimi and Cory “Str8 SicK” Sloss, have a wide range of experience levels. Str8 SicK, in particular, is a Halo veteran with years of experience competing at the highest level of the game.

If this team is going to make a dent at Raleigh, they’re going to have to level up their game significantly. As of now, they’re lagging behind the top teams like OpTic, Sentinels and Cloud9, who are leading the pack in the early days of the HCS.

— Zucker

Oxygen Esports

Oxygen Esports are one of the newer teams coming into Halo Infinite after forming their roster shortly before the Raleigh event. The team has played in two HCS tournaments so far, the first being the Nov. 28 HCS Open Series and the other being the Raleigh Kickoff Qualifier. At both events, Oxygen placed ninth-twelfth, which puts them in the middle of the pack among other Tier 2 organizations.

Despite the lack of events that the team has played together, they will still have the opportunity to show up at the first LAN. What they lack in experience with Halo, they make up for by being a dark horse team with the ability to upset teams that may underestimate them at the event.

— Appleford

Acend Halo preview
Acend recently signed the entire Cartel roster ahead of Raleigh. | Provided by Acend


Fresh off a first place finish at VALORANT Champions, this organization only just announced their official Halo roster. Acend’s roster is full of Europeans who have been dominating Halo Infinite and Halo 5 in 2021. Originally part of Cartel, British player Michael “Snipedrone” Juchau and French players Shady “Shaady” Zer, Kaci “Lqgend” Sabri and Renan “Sica” Grall won the Kickoff Qualifer, both Open Series tournaments and a number of Halo 5 tournaments earlier in the year.

Snipedrone hasn’t been playing with the French trio for long, but he’s been competing in Halo since Halo 3. This team should give OpTic and Cloud9 plenty of competition and could easily come out of Raleigh as the best team in the world.

— Garst

Natus Vincere

Natus Vincere will enter the first LAN in Infinite with a seasoned squad. The European talent on their team made strides in past Halo games, with victories from 2016 to top finishes this year in Halo 5.

The team includes the British trio of James “Jimbo” Bradbrook, Brandon “Respectful” Stones and Perry “tuf0xy” Kenyon. Jimbo, Respectful and German player Robert “Kimbo” El-Zein won the 2018 Halo World Championship in Europe by sweeping Vexed Gaming. Tuf0xy, an ex-Team Infused player, joined the core when they came together on FAB Games eSports.

Together, without Kimbo, they won the 2017 Halo World Championship in Europe, so this team is made out of players that have pre-existing synergy. Their performances on Infinite, so far, include one fourth place and two third place finishes in 2021. They have as good a shot as anyone heading into Raleigh.

— Czar

There are 16 teams in total in the group stage, plus 16 teams that fight out of the open bracket. While there may be favorites heading in tomorrow, it’s anyone’s LAN to win.