In June, Lukas Wiklund and Elliot Vaneryd faced each other on opposite sides of the international esports stage for the first time. The childhood friends were going head-to-head in the semifinal match of an Overwatch Contenders tournament, but something bigger than a chance to compete for a championship title was on the line: bragging rights.

“You already know I had to keep [Lukas] in place by printing out the score of the only time we ever played an official against each other,” Elliot tweeted after his team clinched the victory 3-1.

Elliot, who goes by his gamertag “ELLIVOTE” or nickname “Elli,” played in the off-tank position for Team Envy. Lukas (“LullSiSH” or “Lull”) was a main-tank for the Angry Titans. Although Team Envy lost to Fusion University in the next and final round, the competition was a success for Elli. He beat his best friend and he won’t let him forget it.

“We did play each other,” Elli said when asked how to scout Lull. “And I just want to reiterate that I won.”

Lull’s comeback was weak: “No.”

The 20-year-old gamers have come a long way since playing Call of Duty at each other’s houses in Sweden after school and passing a ball down the soccer pitch on the same youth team. They will soon move to the United States to compete with the Washington Justice, D.C.’s professional esports team, for the 2020 season in the same way they were recruited and how they have done practically everything else: together.

“We like this idea that we’re moving towards of having pairs of people that work really well together,” said Aaron “PRE” Heckman, the assistant general manager of the Washington Justice. “It cleans up a lot of our communication, so players don’t have to be explicit about asking for help or saying what they’re about to do. It leaves more room for the rest of the team to talk.”

The Justice is a mixed-language roster, so Heckman said clear communication and “easy English” is an essential skill for its players. Elli and Lull received positive feedback from their new Justice teammates during tryouts and were recognized for the intangible compatibility they had with each other, a trait that makes them especially effective tank players.

“I think in real life and in tryouts they have a natural synergy that takes a long time to develop,” said Ethan “Stratus” Yankel, a Flex DPS player on the Justice. “Or it’s something that is just really special where it clicks between people.”

The tank positions, which often require the most synergy of any two players, were a natural fit for Elli and Lull.

“I’ve always felt that I know where ELLIVOTE is without thinking about it,” said Lull. “Any sport we played in school - it could be floor ball or soccer, anything — I don’t even have to look at the field. I pass the ball and he’s there. It’s just subconscious. It’s the same in gaming. I don’t know where he is, but subconsciously I know already.”

Recruiting longtime friends like Elli and Lull is not yet standard practice across the Overwatch League (OWL), but the 2020 season could serve as a trial for the type of paired structure the Justice is moving toward. Although they were recruited together, Heckman said Elli and Lull were individually qualified to join the roster, and will hopefully add depth and flexibility to the team. He said one of Elli’s biggest strengths is his diverse hero pool, while Lull is a communicative shot-caller.

Both players have also had the advantage of competing together in the Contenders Division. They played on the Germany-based Angry Titans for a year before Elli moved to Team Envy, the academy team for the OWL’s Dallas Fuel, last March. Following their faceoff at the Overwatch Contenders Atlantic Showdown, Lull made a temporary transition to Team Envy, rejoining Elli, before the two were picked up by the Justice in July.

“It was actually super random from our point of view," said Lull of their recruitment to the OWL. "Because we didn’t have any connection [to the team] or hadn’t talked with any of their players before. One day we just got a message from our general manger in Discord that they wanted to try us both out as a duo.”

The move wasn’t so random for the Justice, which had been scouting compatible players from the OWL and Contenders Division in attempt to recover from a shaky start to its first season. It took a single four-hour tryout for the team to confirm that Lull and Elli were a fit.

“We know they perform well [in front of big crowds], which is something you really can’t take for granted‚” Heckman said. “I think they’re going to slot in very quickly and very easily. They’re kind of the poster-children for what the Contenders Division provides to the league in terms of getting players ready for being at this level."

Once the two players make the move to the team’s D.C. housing, they said they will take up their usual living arrangements as roommates, with Elli being messier and Lull being the “maid.”

“We had an ongoing joke on the Angry Titans,” Elli said. “Lull would always be late for practices because he was doing his dishes.”

“It wasn’t just my dishes,” Lull said. “I had to keep the entire kitchen clean for everyone basically.”

The teasing only serves to motivate Lull, who is just as competitive as Elli. Both players agreed that their competitiveness and ability to stay positive keeps them from tilting, or playing sloppy, during matches.

“Even if we lose very hard, we still give it a hundred percent,” said Elli. “We don’t blame anyone but ourselves.”

The pair will continue to be tested on the world stage, with their next major tournament coming when they compete with Sweden’s Overwatch World Cup team this weekend at Blizzcon in Anaheim. Maintaining this attitude will be important at the next level, in which the competition will be a far cry from their days of playing soccer or gaming with their grade school friends, but the pair knows this. They said there are still a lot of firsts to go, but at least they won’t be facing them alone.

Read more: