To me, the first round is usually the most crucial in that it marks how the characters will stand in the future come the next set of preliminary periods and onto Regular Season. In the case of this year, I think that the first preliminary was created to flush out all the strong characters out of the way for a more stable and possibly unpredictable preliminary two. With seven characters to choose from per arena and voting for at most two per arena, an all-around style like this would make it easily predictable on who will win per group, etc. Notated during the preliminary rounds, it seems like not many people have recognized the newer characters than they did with past ISML participants. Thus, the newcomers seem to have a bad start for now. Again, with this type of format, it gives a general sense of how strong each character is. That is not to say, however, that what they showed here is possibly their true strength.
If anything, I see Preliminary two as the most critical format style to look at. While everyone will be in groups of 9, the format is set in a triple threat (1 vs. 1 vs. 1) style match. Since this round also supports a round robin type of style, similar to that of ISML’s Regular Season, these results will give us a more accurate and/or precise account on how the girls will fare in an actual ISML setting. Sure, it may not one on one like Regular Season, and split votes would occur here occasionally, but with one vote per match and a point system, this is close to Regular season style as one can get.
On the topic of personal opinions about the results, it was more or less predictable. If anything, I may have overestimated some of the higher ranked girls who came to Preliminary with high nomination numbers. I would have expected they would put up a show against the girls who did not make it to Post Season last year; however, it was not meant to be. In fact, the girls were mostly on par, if not weaker, what those girls. Still, if the girls who were near to or in the Top 16 last year take over a majority of the top, one can expect that the rest of the space will be filled with girls of the newer series with some former ISML participants in between. As of now, the most noteworthy of the new cast appears to be the Boku wa Tomodachi group, particularly Kobato and Sena. Kobato may be able to give girls like Kirino and Victorique a run for their money while Sena might come short into beating them. Mato can be seen as the most improved now that a TV series has been made, thus more people are prone to watch than its OVA counterpart. The main shock from Stella was Rin advancing earlier than expected. While certain that she will be in Regular Season, her victory in the third match of Stella 12 gave her access to be in the main tournament. Yui (K-On!) would have easily walked in as well, but due to her loss against Last Order, she gets thrown into a pit with Mikoto, and the rest was history. Other than that, everyone who was in the Top 16 last clear returned and cleaned house.