Everything you need to know about the Halo Championship Series: Kickoff Major

by Andrew Kulp

The Halo Championship Series is back in action this weekend with the first official Halo Infinite esports LAN ever, the Kickoff Major Raleigh.

After a nearly two-year hiatus, the HCS returned in November alongside the release of Halo Infinite. One month later, the league is set to hold its first big tournament of the 2022 season, the Kickoff Major, which takes place Dec. 17-19.

This major is also the first Halo LAN event since DreamHack Anaheim went down in February 2020.

Sixteen qualifying teams representing four regions will compete against an additional 16 teams that emerge from an open bracket at Kickoff Raleigh. HCS points, a $100,000 grand prize and bragging rights as the first major champions of the Halo Infinite era are all on the line.

Here’s more on the format, the teams that have already qualified, which squads are poised to potentially make history this weekend, and the recent cheating scandal that’s shaking things up with the tournament just days away.

Format

Teams competed in regional tournaments leading up to the major, gaining entrance into a group stage either based on their finishes in those tournaments or by accumulating HCS points.

Qualified teams will be split into four groups, with all 16 advancing to the championship bracket — the top two from each pool advancing to Round 2 of the winners’ bracket, while the rest begin in Round 1.

Additionally, 32 teams will compete in a double-elimination, best-of-five open tournament to gain entrance into the championship bracket, with the top 16 teams getting a shot to join the qualifiers.

The championship bracket will also consist of double-elimination, best-of-five matches until the winner is crowned.

Qualifiers

The field of qualifiers is, not surprisingly, North American-heavy — given Halo’s outsized presence in the U.S. — with seven teams in the mix. The European region will be represented by four clubs, followed by three from Latin America and one from Australia-New Zealand.

Several independent teams have been signed by orgs as the tournament approaches, which are denoted in the list of qualifiers below.

  • Cartel (EU)
  • Chiefs Esports Club (AP) — formerly Nurtibullet
  • Cloud9 (NA)
  • eUnited (NA)
  • FaZe Clan (NA) — formerly Inconceivable
  • Fire N Ice (LATAM)
  • G2 Esports (NA)
  • HMDA (EU)
  • Kansas City Pioneers (NA)
  • LeaveNoWitness (LATAM)
  • Natus Vincere (EU)
  • OpTic Gaming (NA)
  • Oxygen Esports (NA)
  • Pittsburgh Knights (LATAM)
  • Quadrant (EU) — formerly OEX

Cheating controversy

For those counting, there are indeed only 15 teams listed above. That’s because the top-seeded squad from the NA region, Sentinels, were forced to forfeit their spot in the group stage.

Matthew “Royal2” Fiorante for the Sentinels has been suspended by the HCS over allegations of “geofiltering,” or blocking certain servers to create a higher ping for opponents in online matches. Royal2 denies the act was intentional, but the league reviewed the evidence and determined it was irrefutable before moving forward with the ban.

Because the Sentinels will not have the same squad of four that they qualified with available for the tournament, they are unable to compete in the group stage at the major.

The Sentinels will participate in the Kickoff Major, however, opting to enter the open bracket and borrowing Matthew “FormaL” Piper from OpTic to complete their squad for the event.

It was not immediately clear if Sentinels would be replaced by another team in the group stage.

Teams to watch

Favorites: OpTic Gaming, Cloud9

Obviously, this is a new game and there are a lot of new faces flocking to HCS, so it’s difficult to assess which are the best teams right now. That being said, the top (remaining) seeds from the NA region is probably a good place to start, as they’ve had the toughest road to get here.

While Sentinels were previously awarded NA’s top seed via their victory at the region qualifier, OpTic and Cloud9 actually dominated the two open tournaments held beforehand, finishing first and second respectively in each. OpTic followed that up with a runner-up finish in the qualifier, with Cloud9 also reaching the top six.

These were much bigger tournaments than any held in the other regions, averaging 416 teams, whereas other regions topped out around 100. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be OpTic or Cloud9, a team from any other region standing victorious on the stage at the end would have to be considered at least a mild upset.

Contenders: Cartel, Chiefs Esports Club, Pittsburgh Knights

We don’t want to discount our international friends entirely, though, as the top seeds from around the globe did dominate their regions.

Cartel, Pittsburgh Knights and Chiefs Esports Club (formerly Nurtibullet) have won every HCS open tournament and the qualifier held in their region to date, so there’s no question, as far as one month into the season is concerned, which are the best squads from the EU, LATAM and AP.

The European pickup team, Cartel, might be the most intriguing of the bunch, as they have yet to sign on with an org — so if you want to stick it to the man, this may be your group. The Knights’ roster out of Mexico and recently signed Chiefs from Australia could be viewed as upstarts as well, though, even with their backing.

Dark horses: Sentinels

Sure, the Sentinels’ road will be much tougher coming out of the open tournament now, especially not even knowing what opponents will be lurking there. Still, it would be crazy to dismiss them given the talent on this team.

Not only did Sentinels win the NA qualifier, topping a group of 330 teams in the tournament, but they also have a second-place finish in a 512-team open (though the team has since been docked points as a result of the scandal). Here, they only need to be among the top 16 from a field of 32 to reach the championship bracket, and top eight to start in the winners’ bracket.

And while adding a new player into the mix right before such a big tournament can’t be easy, FormaL is obviously no slouch. The man is an experienced hand and former Call of Duty world champion, so he knows how to communicate and he knows how to win.

Would Sentinels winning be the most satisfying outcome given the circumstances? Maybe not, unless you happen to be a Senintels fan. Yet, even after everything that’s happened, examining this tournament format and looking at the team they’ll show up to Raleigh with, it’s unclear whether they are actually a dark horse, or are just another one of the favorites.

Lead image credit: Halo Waypoint

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