Whether you're part of an MMO guild or group, a competitive member of the FGC, a single-player enthusiast - or a combination of the three, you might've wondered how can a VPN help your gaming experience.
VPNs come with handy apps for PC and consoles, now, and a quick hop over to any provider website will provide you with a long list of reasons to subscribe - but would the average gamer benefit? It's a subjective choice, honestly, and the answer will depend on your habits and usage… but I can certainly help you make up your mind! In this guide, I explain everything you need to know and explain how a VPN can help gamers.
But what is a VPN?
Okay, so let's get familiar with the tech! VPNs (aka Virtual Private Networks) are handy tools that allow you to bolster your digital security and access all sorts of sites and services that might've been geo-restricted, previously.
Because a VPN encrypts all of your device's incoming and outgoing traffic, and conceals your original IP address, using one can massively enhance your privacy, and prevent nosey parties from monitoring what you get up to. And, by joining a server overseas, you can fool sites into thinking that you're physically there, because the VPN will assign you a new, temporary IP address based in that location.
That's known as "location spoofing", and just like those security benefits, it's a major selling point of any VPN. But providers have begun to market their products towards gamers, too!
Do you need a VPN for gaming?
Like I mentioned earlier, you're ultimately going to be the one who answers that question - but I've rounded up five of the most impressive potential benefits a VPN could provide for gamers, as well as a handful of VPN services that I'd recommend checking out if any of these claims strike a chord with you!
1. Unblocking power
This is the VPN's calling card! Games will often use your IP address to determine which server to connect you to - like MMOs that lump players together based on language or region. But, a VPN allows you to put yourself anywhere you like on the world map, and makes it possible to play with friends even if they're way overseas.
Games also don't hit the market at the same time across the globe. Blame time zones and licensing agreements for that! But, it can be massively miserable to look forward to a release and have to see other folks enjoying it first, just because they live in the "right" place - and dodging spoilers of Twitter is downright impossible at the best of times. Again, because a VPN allows you to location-hop in a few clicks, you'll be able to connect to a location where the game is available!
Private Internet Access - or PIA - has the competition well and truly pegged when it comes to offering a buffet of servers. There's more than 29,000 to choose from, in fact, and they're scattered across 77 countries. That's a staggering number, and it means that geo-restrictions and regional launches shouldn't be a problem!
I really can't recommend PIA enough if you're on a budget. You get a premium product for a bargain price, and all of PIA's apps are easy to set up and even easier to actually use - so don't worry if you're a VPN newbie. Oh, and if you're looking for something to watch whilst you grind out levels on an MMO or run a few Overwatch matches, PIA can also comfortably unblock Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
PIA also has:
- A handy ad-blocking feature that declutters your day-to-day browsing.
- 10 simultaneous connections, enough to cover all of your devices or share with your friends.
- Very sturdy, industry-standard, AES-256 encryption.
2. Cheaper prices
Games are released at different times in different places, and the price tags can vary depending on the location, too! It's kind of inevitable when you think of how many economies and currencies there are out there - but it's still frustrating to find out that you've been paying more for your games than someone on the other side of the world. Game companies are clever, and do their research to figure out local sales taxes and exchange rates, and it's this info that dictates the final price… but you can negate these shady tactics with a VPN.
All it takes is a bit of location hopping and some savvy shopping to determine where the best bargains are. Then, you won't have to worry about overpaying for AAA releases, classic titles, and downloadable content ever again!
CyberGhost is one of the best-looking, most reliable VPNs available in 2021, and one subscription comes jam-packed with features. Bargain hunters can take advantage of more than 6,300 servers in 90 countries - they're all super secure, too, being bare-metal and single occupancy, and only accessible by CyberGhost staff! AES-256 encryption keeps your connection nice and secure whether you're shopping, running content with friends, or just browsing during the day.
I'm constantly impressed by CyberGhost's 45-day money-back guarantee. I think it's the ideal amount of time to take the service for a test run and see how it works with your specific setup, and all without being tied into a lengthy subscription. Or, if you'd rather not spend a dime, there's a free 24-hour trial!
CyberGhost also has:
- A no-logs policy that is sturdy and kept well because of the provider's headquarters in Romania, where there are no mandatory data retention laws.
- Up to seven simultaneous connections and apps for pretty much all devices - including consoles!
- Dedicated stream, torrenting, and privacy servers, for folks wanting to curate their connection.
3. Improving ping
Is there a more gut-wrenching feeling than finally settling in to make progress on the latest Extreme or Savage raid and realizing that your internet is just not having it? There'll be a noticeable delay with all of your skills, you'll rubberband around the arena, and see the game freeze and stutter, over and over. MMOs and fighting games suffer the most when it comes to laggy connections - and unfortunately, a VPN is unlikely to help in this regard. Because your VPN has to do extra legwork to encrypt your traffic and route data through a (potentially) faraway server, you'll actually experience a slight loss of speed.
But there are rare cases where a VPN could improve your gaming performance. You can experience a lot of ping if your PC or console is too far from the gaming servers, for example, and connecting to a VPN server that's geographically closer could make a bit of difference.
Similarly, a VPN can prevent ISP throttling - a tactic used by some cheeky providers to stop gamers hogging all the bandwidth that can lead to laggy connections. A VPN's encryption conceals your online activity from your ISP. They won't be able to tell if you're gaming, browsing your socials, or working away on a Google Doc - and so they won't be able to pump the brakes and throttle your bandwidth.
ExpressVPN is a titan in the VPN market - and for good reason, seeing as you'll be hard-pressed to find a more reliable service with more robust security. What's more, all of ExpressVPN's servers are blisteringly fast and dotted around the globe in 94 countries. You'll want to check them out for yourself if speed or ping is your main concern, and I'd also recommend making use of the provider's proprietary Lightway protocol, which is a lightweight and speedy alternative to OpenVPN.
Don't forget to check out the services ExpressVPN can unblock, either - like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, to name a few!
ExpressVPN also has:
- Comprehensive security, with OpenVPN AES-256 encryption and customizable protocols.
- Sleek apps for all devices, including PC and games consoles, and even routers!
- Unlimited bandwidth and split tunneling, which makes downloading games a breeze.
4. Defence against DDoS attacks
One of the most pertinent selling points of a gaming VPN is the protection they offer from DDoS attacks. If you're not familiar with the term, I'll still bet that you've experienced one at some point. When a crook floods an IP address with masses of traffic it can't handle, and subsequently forces it offline, that's a DDoS attack.
And DDoS attacks are a problem for anyone relying on gaming servers, but competitive members of the FGC looking to win money or points (or prestige) can be hit the hardest by them! A DDoS attack can ruin a player's run through a tournament, and they can be targeted, too, seeing as it's frighteningly easy for someone to launch an attack if they have the right resources and knowhow. Luckily, a VPN can foil their plans by concealing your original IP address - and a DDoS attack needs an IP address to work.
NordVPN has carved out a reputation for itself as one of the securest VPNs on offer in 2021, and customers can count on AES-256 encryption, as well as the OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols, to keep their connection secure. If you want to learn more about getting the right balance between encryption and speed when gaming, check out my guide on what is the best VPN protocol for gaming. What's more, NordVPN comes with an intuitive kill switch that can be customized to run at the system or app level, ensuring that your original IP address won't leak even if your VPN connection drops out.
The no-logs policy is particularly reassuring, and essentially means that NordVPN has no interest in keeping tabs on what you do whilst connected to one of its servers - it won't retain your traffic data, IP addresses, or connection times, and this claim has been confirmed by third-party auditors.
NordVPN also has:
- Round-the-clock customer service ready to tackle any issues that crop up.
- Six simultaneous connections to cover all of the devices in your home!
- Obfuscated servers for folks who want to do some seriously secure browsing or bypass the strictest censorship.
5. Defence against social attacks
Of course, it's often the people behind cyberattacks that are the real problem. And plenty of us - and plenty of women, in particular - know that a few determined bad apples can kill the vibe in a matter of seconds, and even resort to extreme and targeted measures.
But why? Well, let's say your match doesn't go to plan. You say "gg" and collect your rewards, no worse for wear, but one salty individual can't let it go. To hit back, they might seek out your IP address, or search you out on social media, to figure out where you live. In really rare cases, they can use this information and resort to "swatting" - where they'll call in a fake emergency at your home, like a bomb scare. This is a terrifying invasion of privacy and a massive waste of the police's time. But a VPN conceals your IP address, meaning that even the sorest of losers will have a hard time hunting you down.
Surfshark might be the baby of the group, but it's certainly held its own over the last few years! Now, it's a fully-fledged service in its own right. AES-256 encryption keeps all of your gaming sessions secure, and you'll be able to take your pick of IKEv2, OpenVPN, and Shadowsocks protocols. There's a kill switch available, too, but you'll need to remember to turn it on before it can protect your original IP in the event of a VPN dropout.
I really like that Surfshark goes the extra mile to provide private DNS and leak protection. Your internet connection is always private, your data is always unreadable, and there's no need to worry about logging, either. Surfshark's no-logs policy has been audited by a third-party, and the service keeps its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands where there are no laws requiring that user data be stored.
Surfshark also has:
- Unlimited simultaneous connections - seriously! You can secure all your devices, all your friends' devices, and all the neighbour's, too.
- More than 3,200 servers in 65 countries, making geo-restrictions a breeze to bypass.
- A CleanWeb feature that keeps malware, ads, and trackers at bay.
VPN shopping list - what you should look out for
Hopefully, you'll now have a better idea of whether a VPN is a necessary addition to your gaming setup - but remember that they can do way more than save you money and defend against DDoS attacks. We've got plenty of guides covering the scope of a VPN's functionality, but when it comes to gaming, here's the rundown of how they can help:
- Bypass restrictions to check out new releases, downloadable content, and maps
- Prevent DDoS attacks
- Save money when shopping for new and old titles
- Improved security and privacy whenever you're connected to the net
- Beats ISP throttling to potentially improve game performance
- Deter swatting attempts
- Increased security when playing on public Wi-Fi
- Apps for multiple devices, multiple simultaneous connections, and router support
If you're still undecided, or just fancy learning more, I've got you covered! Below, I've tackled some of the more common questions I come across on the daily, either at work or home, or when trawling the web during my research.
🤔 Can I use a VPN on all of my systems?
Of course you can! All of the VPN's I've recommended in this guide come with apps for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC - and even mobiles, for those dedicated mobile gamers out there. These services also come with simultaneous connections, meaning you can have multiple people in the household take advantage of the VPN's features at the same time.
🆓 Can I use a free gaming VPN?
You could, but it wouldn't be a good idea. Free VPNs are either samples of premium services, or dodgy products that you're better off avoiding altogether. They can potentially log your data to sell to third-parties, riddle your device with malware, and lack encryption and customer service completely. Obviously, this is sort of the opposite of what you want from a VPN. There are plenty of reliable and low-cost services out there, though - like PIA!
🚫 Could I be banned for using a VPN?
The honest answer is maybe. There'll almost certainly be games where it's against the ToS to use a VPN - so have a quick flick through the rules if you're concerned. Steam has also been known to ban VPN users in the past, because they'd rather you pay full price for games and not location-hop to nab a bargain.
🕵️♀️ Do VPNs offer complete anonymity and protection?
A VPN won't grant you total anonymity, no. The concept is kind of unachievable, to be honest, because a determined individual would still be able to target you even if you were using a VPN - a VPN just makes it more difficult. VPNs are really better at preventing surveillance on a larger scale. If you're looking to take your privacy to the maximum and create a super-secure connection, I'd suggest layering up your products - invest in an antivirus as well as a VPN, and check out a password manager, too!