Week two of Halo Infinite’s HCS Pro Series showcased a growing shift in the European division, as previously established teams such as Natus Vincere and Quadrant fell short against rising stars in the region. Despite a close 3-2 defeat to Acend in the winners bracket finals, Na’Vi could only conclude the day with a third-place finish. Unsigned underdogs The Lads knocked them out in a tightly-contested lower bracket series for a chance against the dominant force of Acend in this week’s grand finals.
Acend’s notoriously unchecked aggression and slaying prowess were too much to overcome for the newer roster. The team’s dynasty continues to build with a convincing 3-1 victory in the grand finals serving as the capstone to another successful week.
Capture the Flag on Aquarius for game one put a spotlight on Acend’s abilities. Within the first few minutes, a round of kills from Sica had already converted into a flag pull. Little could be done to stop Acend from taking a 1-0 lead before some players in the lobby had even put their first kills on the board. Control of the map was flimsy but The Lads struggled to convert any opportunities gifted by active camo pickups and superior positioning into flag captures. Kills continued to fall in Acend’s favor and their small lead had turned into a 3-0 before the halfway point on the timer had been reached. A flag capture brought home by Septiq put The Lads on the board, but it proved to be a weak stopgap in Acend’s warpath to a 5-1 victory in game one.
Game two, Slayer on Live Fire, was more of the same. Live Fire has been a map Acend have looked comfortable on, its geometry well built for the movement techniques such as the curb slide that the team have mastered for their map rotations. A back-and-forth in the opening stages crumbled away with each second that Lqgend kept control of the sniper rifle for Acend. The Lads hoped to find an opening to reset, but Acend were indomitable as they carved a path toward a 50-27 victory. It was a match of contrasting fortunes, Sica putting up an impressive 17 kills with only six deaths at the top of the scoreboard for Acend, while The Lads’ comparatively low assists may tell a tale of where they fell short in teamfights.
Strongholds on Streets would be where The Lads had to make their final stand. However, having already punched well above their weight to reach top two, the pressure that would have faced a roster like NaVi was less of a factor here. A shift in their playstyle to match Acend’s aggression proved to be instrumental in turning the tables on the No. 1 seed. Unhappy with only controlling two strongholds to score points, The Lads continuously pushed for the third stronghold on the map, rotating and forcing Acend into awkward spawns. Before long, their lead was well over 100 points. And The Lads, for the first time, looked comfortable against their opponents. Streets was telling a very different story to the rest of the games, and a stellar performance from Quadios led The Lads to a 250-51 victory over Acend.
Questions surrounded how the Acend roster would respond when put on the back foot. For a team of young players often comfortably in the driver’s seat, it could have been easy for such a swift defeat and shift in the narrative to tamper with their mentality.
As Oddball on Live Fire began, it would be Snipedrone, the majority French roster’s only English player, who would guide the team’s recovery effort. Having a hand in both his team’s kills and their control over the objective, it was business as usual for the team and round one fell in favor of Acend 100-15. Hopes of a reverse sweep from The Lads were quickly dwindling, the consistency that Acend had shown in the first two maps stalling any effort their opponent made for map control. As quickly as an underdog narrative had started to take shape, it was torn to shreds as round two was taken in as convincing a fashion as the first. Acend would make it back-to-back victories in week one and two of the HCS Pro Series in Europe.
Week two’s wins were far less convincing than in the week previous, showing promising signs of growth within the region that has appeared so subservient to Acend in the past. With talks of Acend hoping to boot camp in North America, Halo’s top esports region, whether or not they can continue this streak of Pro Series titles may depend on their opportunities for practice. With Fnatic also yet to announce their roster despite their partnered status with HCS, unsigned players putting up performances like The Lads may tease the team that Fnatic ends up revealing as the 2022 season develops.