Looking at just the big picture, day one of IEM Global Challenge Sao Paulo offered very little in terms of surprises. The most well-known and established players were the ones to advance, with SuperNoVa and DarKFoRcE topping group A, while Feast and DeMusliM won group B. However, there were a few, pleasant surprises to be found in the details.
d.KiLLeR's impressive ZvT
Though KiLLeR just barely failed to make it into the next round, he certainly earned some bragging rights by giving oGs ace SuperNoVa a stiff challenge. KiLLeR was within inches of handing SuperNoVa a shock defeat in his very first game on Antiga Shipyard, where KiLLeR took control of the map and pummeled SuperNoVa with giant waves of units. However, KiLLeR could not find a cost-efficient way to finish SuperNoVa for good, and the Korean Terran bounced off the ropes to land a knock-out blow.
In the second game, KiLLeR showed that game one was no fluke and handily defeated SuperNoVa, giving him his only loss of the day. Good mutalisk use weakened SuperNoVa considerably, and KiLLeR was able to seal the deal with his hive troops that time around.
SuperNoVa had learned his lesson by the final game, and went for harassment and multi-tasking oriented play rather than face KiLLeR in a straight up, brute force battle again. It turned out to be a shrewd plan, as SuperNoVa had a much easier time picking up a victory.
Mill.Feast tops group B
Most people expected DeMuslim and Feast to top group B. The real question was, which one of them would go through as first place? Feast defeated DeMusliM 2 – 0, with an opportunistic blink-stalker open in game one, and with a Shakuras Plateau, map-split, splash damage fest in game two.
Perhaps it wasn't a big surprise to close followers of European scene, who knew Feast to be one of the more dangerous up and comers. But for the Starcraft II viewing audience at large, a big win over an established player such as DeMusliM could be the signal to start paying serious attention to the Belgian Protoss.
Turning bad into good (manner)
There was one more thing to take away from DeMuslim and Feast's showdown in group B. During the games, an unscrupulous stream viewer messaged Feast and informed him of DeMusliM's opening build order (Feast had relogged, and had forgotten to set busy mode again).
Feast immediately paused the game, informed match officials of the situation, and suggested the possibility of a re-game. As the players agreed that it would be okay to continue the game as normal, the following exchange occurred:
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The crowd in Sao Paulo certainly appreciated the show of sportsmanship, and they cheered the players on as they resumed their match.
Host country fans have had a rather mixed IEM experience this season. American fans had something to be proud about as GoSuGatored 3 – 0'd GSL finalist oGs.TOP at IEM New York, while the Ukraine had the honor of being one of the only few countries to make home-field advantage really show up in the standings at IEM Kiev.
However, Sao Paulo looks like it's going the path of IEM Guangzhou so far, where none of the Chinese players made it out of the first round. With Brazil's Tunico going 0 – 3 in set, and 0 – 6 in map scores, it's not a promising start. Potiguar and the last minute addition DakkoN are up tomorrow, but it remains to be seen if they can cause an upset and give the energetic Brazilian audience something to really cheer for.
The third group of the tournament, Group C is neither the most difficult, nor the one filled with the most well-known players. But it very well might be the most fun to watch. All four of these players are either relatively unknown, possess fun playstyles, or both. Because of this, it's going to be a bit hard to judge objectively. Also, the match-ups this group will be solely PvP, ZvZ, and PvZ, the three weirdest in the game. All of this makes this group my favorite of the entire tournament. I love surprises, and I love up-and-coming players.
The player to watch in this group is mouz.biGs. Well known in the EU scene, biGs got his chance at international recognition when he was picked up last year by Mousesports. It was an interesting addition at the time. Few doubted the promise biGs was showing, and it was considered a clever pick-up by Mousesports. At the same time, the EU scene had, and still has, an embarrassing wealth of Zerg talent. Two players who were perhaps just below biGs in strength last September are here at this event (sLivko and Snute) making this a crucial proving ground for the Swiss-Korean player. While he has gotten Mousesports several wins in team leagues and has even jumped HasuObs in the depth chart in recent matches, major tournament wins or qualifications have largely eluded him. biGs is not a minnow in this group, but his ZvP is orthodox and not particularly strong. His ZvZ is somewhat better, but by no means a specialty. All told, this may prove to be an unfortunate group for biGs. He deserves a major result, but to get it here, he'll need to pull off at least a small surprise.
That might come against Empire.viOLet. The Korean has done extremely well in the foreign scene after an awkward exit after just a single Code S season in Korea. Since coming over and living in Texas, he's dominated the EU ladder with an 80% win rate, set records for Playhem Daily wins, placed first in the MLG EU qualifier, and bagged an impressive fourth place finish at the Homestory Cup 4. All of that puts him as one of the favorites for the entire event. But he's still vulnerable, and if he loses, biGs will probably be the one that hands him that loss. For all of the options that are present in SC2 ZvZ, it is that much more volatile. It is also been viOlet's worst MU outside of Korea (oddly it was his best in GSL). However, should viOlet drop the set to biGs, he still has ZvP to fall back on, a match-up at which he has been consistently brilliant. In contrast to the Mousesports zerg, viOlet is unorthodox every chance he gets, and his ZvP is filled with schenanigans like nydus worms and hidden bases. ZvP is his best MU at the moment, and I doubt the two remaining members of the group will be able to handle it.
The first, and undoubtedly the more well known and regarded of those two is TypeReaL, another Korean transplant, but this time to Germany. He was hugely underwhelming at Dreamhack, but suddenly looked like a serious contender at HomeStory Cup 4. Which of the two ReaLs to believe? The most convincing explaination is to place him somewhere in the middle. While there might be a path deep into the bracket in São Paulo, he won't bulldoze his way there. Don't expect a HomeStory repeat, but he'll be a favorite to edge his group. A good recent skillcheck was his 2-3 loss to TLO in the Heat Charity Invitational. In beating Tarson and Grubby both by 2-0 scores, he was impressive, but in the finals he was beaten by a creative and solid Zerg, a style that in some respects comparable to viOlet's. A recent loss to Bly in the Zotac Monthly Final isn't the biggest confidence booster either. So it's likely that it will come down to biGs vs ReaL for the second place in this group, unless we can get a memorable upset from...
KEYDPotiguar. The second of three Brazilian representatives at São Paulo, Potiguar is the country's best Protoss, and along with Tunico, perhaps its most dangerous player. In a group with two Korean ex-pats and a European Zerg, he's a steep underdog, but it'll be fun to see what he can pull out. Potiguar's PvP has never delivered him good results, but his PvZ can be quite deadly. A good user midgame gateway timings backed up by intelligent forcefields, Potiguar switches up his PvZ with weird mass-air builds that are entertaining, and occasionally effective. There's quite a bit to like about Potiguar in fact, which will make his international tournament debut all the more exciting, but his lack of experience against this calibre of opponent makes it difficult to see him advancing. On a purely personal note, he's the player I'll be cheering for.
As if IEM São Paulo didn't have enough Zergs, there needed to be a group completely full of them. It hasn't always been this way, but by now it's practically become an IEM ritual: someone (Fenix) dropped out at the last moment, and the nearest and most plausible replacement happened to be a Zerg. DakkoN will be filling in, his credentials being a quarter-final finish at the South American Qualifier won by Fenix, KiLLeR and Potiguar. I honestly know very little about DakkoN, beyond a few scattered videos on youtube, and his Liquipedia page, which has been helpfully updated with a single picture that looks right out of a fashion catalog. Against three elite ZvZ players from Europe, and on less than 24 hours notice, I'd be surprised if he took a single game. But the guaranteed $600 that essentially dropped from the sky, and the awesome experience of simply playing in an event like this ought to smooth things over.
The departure of Fenix leaves this group as a three man race between two up-and-coming players and one of the scene's most established and absolute best. The latter player, and the group favorite is Liquid`Ret. He's unquestionably one of the top foreign Zerg players, and has probably the best chance of anyone in São Paulo of preventing a SuperNoVa win. Before that can even get the chance to happen, Ret will need to get out of this group. It doesn't help that ZvZ is still a bit of a shot in the dark, and that Ret's ZvZ has always been his least solid match-up. But recently, the dutchman has given his fans a little more to be confident about. In taking second place in the MLG EU qualifier, he beat sLivko 2-0, and beat viOlet 2-0 as well... before losing 0-4 to viOlet in the finals. So that's both a positive and a concern. But regardless, Ret seems more confident in ZvZ than he's ever been before, and as long as he stays focused and doesn't look ahead of his group, he should go through it.
Speaking of RoX.KiSsLivko, the Russian Zerg has been steadily improving and logging better results for a while now. Like many of the other competitors at Sao Paulo, this will be his first real opportunity to prove himself (a previous trip to ESWC didn't go so well, and we'll give him a mulligan). He should be happy about the idea of an all ZvZ group, but less excited about the other Zergs, two of whom he has lost to quite recently. His overall ZvZ record has also slipped this year, although he did beat Stephano in January to put himself in position to qualify for this event. Ultimately, this tournament might come as a case of bad timing for sLivko. He has become better known and much better regarded quite quickly, but in turn, his playstyle has become more familiar to other top pros. It's a strange transitional period from surprise participant to established contender, and it might give him issues this week. He has the talent to advance, but in a talented group, he's seemed the least in-form.
Finally, this group holds GLSnute, whom I profiled back in our Year in Review article as a player to watch in 2012. Having missed out on Kiev and São Paulo by narrow margins in the qualifiers, he was one of the last additions to this event, filling the two un-taken Korean spots along with sLivko. It's no secret that I think Snute is one of the fastest improving and most underrated players in the world right now, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the quirky Norwegian. I'd love to see his 2012 journey begin with a great performance in Brazil, and there's definitely a lot going for it. Snute feels most comfortable in ZvZ, and he's been on a good streak recently. He and sLivko are somewhat rivals, and after many defeats at the hands of his Russian counterpart, Snute finally stuck back with a clear 2-0 victory in a recent EU weekly cup. Having already traveled to Korea for WCG, Snute has a clearer picture of what traveling to non-european events is like, and should have an experience edge over everyone but Ret. However, plenty can still go wrong. This group is most likely to come down to the sLivko vs Snute battle, and that's too close to make a good call on. So anything can happen, perhaps Snute with a small advantage, but it feels like a 50/50 chance.
Replays can be downloaded at ESL World.
Korea vs World hope games: KiLLeR vs SuperNoVa, Game 1, Game 2
If you stripped the names from these games and just watched them in a total vacuum, you probably couldn't tell which of the players came from a country with over ten years of RTS history, where the best players in the world practice for an absurd amount of hours a day -- and which player kind of stopped playing for a few weeks because he was pissed about having spent 40 hours in airplanes due to a visa mess-up.
North American hope game: Illusion vs DarkFoRcE, Game 2
No one expected Illusion to come out of nowhere and be completely awesome at his first big live event. Alas, all of us North Americans truly hoped. This is the best game Illusion played at IEM Sao Paulo, the one we can cling to for a little longer.
ZvZ is 'watchable' game: KiLLeR vs DarkFoRcE, Game 2
There were ultralisks in this game, is that enough?
Whine about PvT balance game: Feast vs DeMusliM, Game 2
DeMusliM played very well for most of this game on Shakuras f***ing Plateau, doing enough economic and army damage to give himself a nice supply lead heading into the map-split late game phase. However, he let Feast recover enough to secure three bases and make a ton of units that do splash damage. Feast actually forgot to get colossi range, but it didn't really matter. He pressed the T key a bunch of times, and stuff seemed to die. A mystery, I know.