Should you use a VPN for streaming Twitch?

Twitch is the place to be, whether you want to be a star streamer or a part of the audience! Personally, I love tuning in to the Esports tournaments and high-stakes competitions, but you'll also find casual runs of classic titles, sneak peeks of new releases, lore-based playthroughs, speed runs, live art and so much more. Considering that Twitch racks up an average of 2,900,000 views per week, it's no surprise that Amazon snapped up the site for $1 billion in 2014.


Part of Twitch's charm is that it allows regular people to make a living doing what they love - playing video games. It's the kind of thing you'd dream about as a kid! However, when there's money on the line, things can get serious. There are plenty of conversations happening right now about how to stream safely and get the best results - and VPNs factor into these discussions pretty regularly.

The big question is whether you need a VPN if you're a Twitch streamer or viewer. I've taken a look at both sides of the argument, but the answer will ultimately depend on your own circumstances and setup. So, let's get stuck in!

The advantages of using a VPN for Twitch

I'll start with the good stuff. A VPN has all sorts of tools and benefits that can enhance your day-to-day browsing outside of Twitch (like when you're scrolling through Twitter or binging Netflix), but there are also some streaming-specific advantages to be found. I've gathered up the most impressive ones below!

1. No more IP Leaks

Let's say that your IP address has leaked and become publicly visible - that's an IP leak, and they're a big issue because your IP address contains a lot of pertinent information about your online activity. Your location and ISP are linked to your IP address, for example, and you obviously wouldn't want this info out there and available to whoever happens to look.

Hackers just love IP leaks. They can exploit your device if they detect an IP leak and poke around in your data, and even run off with your identity. IP leaks can be a targeted attack, too. Some people are just... bitter, either because they've lost a match on stream, don't have the same size audience, or dislike the streamer in question (especially if you're a girl and you're, God forbid, winning!) - whatever the reason, they can try to leak their IP address to cause havoc, and the risk intensifies if the streamer is playing a game with a peer-to-peer connection.

So how does a VPN help? Well, it'll conceal your original IP address - as in the one that has all that information about your location and ISP. VPNs do this by routing your connection through an encrypted tunnel to a secure server, and protocols keep your data out of the reach of snoopers and malicious actors. Once you're connected to a VPN server, you'll be assigned a new and temporary IP address that's linked to the server and owned by the VPN. So, a hacker wouldn't be able to trace it back to you even if they tried!

I'd also recommend looking out for a VPN that offers IPv6 and DNS leak protection. Alternatively, if you're worried that your VPN might be leaking your IP address, we've got a great little leak testing tool you can check out by clicking here.

Check out CyberGhost

πŸ’» CyberGhost has a ton of servers dotted across the globe - more than 6,600 to be precise, and in 90 countries! A lot of them are bare-metal which is great for security, and as an added bonus, only the CyberGhost team has access to them. If you're in the mood for streaming, torrenting, or want extra privacy, CyberGhost also has dedicated picks you can choose from.

πŸ”’ And the service ticks all the boxes when it comes to security. CyberGhost opts for an AES-256 cipher, a RSA-4096 handshake, and the OpenVPN protocol, though IKEv2 and WireGuard are decent substitutes. All in all, it's an impressive setup that'll keep your IP address and all of your activity secure, whether you're hopping through streams or broadcasting all night long.

πŸ•΄Because CyberGhost makes its home in Romania, it's not obliged to keep tabs on its customers and can live up to its no-logs policy. Customers (aka "Ghosties", which I think is adorable - they should make plushies) gain all sorts of extra protection with a subscription, too. There's DNS, IP, and WebRTC leak protection, and an automatic kill switch that keeps your original IP address secure in the event that the VPN connection drops.

πŸ’΅ I've always been impressed by the 45-day money-back guarantee offered by the service, which is more than enough time to get a feel for what CyberGhost can add to your setup. If you're after a more whistle-stop tour, then there's a free 24-hour trial, too! Help is available around the clock, all-week long, and in English, German, French, and Romanian - c'est bon!

Try CyberGhost

2. Preventing DDoS attacks

A Distributed Denial of Service attack - aka a DDoS attack - occurs when an IP address is flooded with traffic and totally overwhelmed. Hackers launch DDoS attacks using botnets, typically, seeing as they require a hell of a lot of traffic, and you might've heard them being referred to as "swarming" attacks, too.

DDoS attacks are another big problem in streaming spheres. According to Netscout, more than 10 million DDoS attacks took place in 2020 - that's a record for the most attacks in a single year! As you can imagine, gamers get hit hard by DDoS attacks because we're all connected in some way or another, either playing together online or tuning in to streams, and those Bitter Betty's out there can even direct DDoS attacks at individual streamers to prevent them from doing their job or to get the edge in a competition.

You might think that DDoS attacks are caused by super smart, super covert hackers in bunkers, but the truth is that anyone could feasibly launch a DDoS attack if they had the right tools and resources. All they need is an IP address to target... and as I mentioned earlier, a VPN actually cloaks and conceals your IP address! Handy, right?

Connecting to a VPN extinguishes the threat of DDoS attacks, because a hacker targeting you wouldn't be able to see your original IP - instead, they'd see the IP belonging to the VPN server. The server would bear the brunt of the attack if it occurred, of course, but a lot of providers are well prepared for this eventuality.

Check out NordVPN

πŸ’»  NordVPN is a household name in this day and age - and for good reason! There's more than 5,400 servers in 59 countries to take your pick of, which is great for location spoofing.

πŸ”’ But where NordVPN really shines is in its security package. You'll be able to deter DDoS attacks with a super secure AES-256 cipher, a RSA-2048 handshake, and OpenVPN encryption. If you fancy, you can switch to the IKEv2 protocol, but OpenVPN is the gold-standard when it comes to staying secure on Twitch... and anywhere else!

πŸ•΄ NordVPN is fully committed to its no-logs policy and has even brought in an independent party to audit it - which is just what you'd expect from such a premium provider. Your timestamps and IP addresses won't be stored, and NordVPN also offers IPv6 and WebRTC protection, as well as obfuscated servers for folks living with oppressive internet restrictions.

πŸ’΅ As per the industry standard, NordVPN lets customers take the service for a spin with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Help is at hand 24/7, and you can reach out to support staff by email or live chat, or directly through the Nord Help Center.

Try NordVPN

3. Beat geo-restrictions

You can't get all the games in all the countries - a fact you'll be aware of if you have friends overseas who have access to a larger selection than you! Unfortunately, the same restrictions can apply to streaming sites.

Twitch is massively popular, and allows gamers to stream all sorts of titles - even the controversial ones. Certain governments out there do not like this. So far, China and Russia are the only two countries to ban Twitch, but in doing so they've still made the site totally inaccessible for millions of people!

Some of Twitch's own content is subject to geo-restrictions, though they're of the licensing kind rather than the oppressive kind. For instance, Twitch Prime is available around the world... aside from China and Russia, and certain other territories where it's been embargoed. Folks in these locations miss out on all the extra goodies that come with a Twitch Prime account, and through no fault of their own!

And, of course, if you're trying to access Twitch at work or at school, you're going to have a hard time. Network administrators love to clamp down on, and ban access to, these "time-wasting" sites to keep you focused on your exam prep or to save a bit of bandwidth.

A VPN can handle these issues neatly enough, and it's all thanks to location spoofing! It's a bit of a weird term, but all it means is that when you connect to a VPN server abroad, the sites and services you visit will think that you're physically located there, too! If Twitch Prime isn't available in your country, all you'll need to do is connect to a server in the UK or USA and sign yourself up. The network admins at work or school will be foiled by a VPN, too. Because a VPN encrypts your traffic and makes it unreadable, you'll be able to bypass restrictions without them ever knowing.

Check out Private Internet Access

πŸ’» If you want to beat geo-restrictions, then Private Internet Access (PIA) has you covered with a whopping 29,000 servers in 77 countries. That's an absolutely insane amount of servers, and the service continues to expand its empire after a recent boom!

πŸ”’ PIA keeps things on trend with an AES-256 cipher, RSA-4096 handshake and a generous selection of protocols. Again, I have to suggest that you stick with OpenVPN if you're going to be server-hopping! I'm also happy to report that PIA has finally given PPTP the boot! You won't find this outdated, unsecure protocol in any of the PIA clients from here on out - which is a win for the security conscious everywhere!

πŸ•΄ Although you won't have to worry about logs with PIA, its US headquarter can raise some eyebrows - any gag orders served to the company by the government would have to be followed to the letter, after all. But that no-logs policy does mean that there'd be no data to hand over to the government in the first place! It's not ideal, but it does go a long way to ensuring users that their privacy is valued. PIA sweetens the pot with IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection, and obfuscated servers for folks in Russia or China who want to stream like anyone else.

πŸ’΅  PIA has subscription prices that are ideal for anyone on a budget, and you can try before you buy with a 30-day money-back guarantee. For all those burning questions, send them on over to the PIA support team, available 24/7 via live chat.

Try Private Internet Access

4. Outwit ISP throttling

Internet service providers are not big fans of anything you do online that's data intensive - so think streaming Netflix or gaming online. And Twitch kind of combines these two things, right? If your ISP sniffs out that you're streaming (or even just part of the audience) they might throttle your bandwidth.

In a nutshell, bandwidth throttling happens when your ISP gives Twitch a slower connection to save themselves some bandwidth. The other sites you visit will be fine and unthrottled, but because Twitch can be data-hungry (and because streams can go on for hours and hours), it's a prime target. Unfortunately, throttling can result in slow and sluggish streams for everyone involved.

But a VPN prevents all of this by masking your internet activity. Your ISP won't be able to keep tabs on which sites and services you're frequenting, thanks to the VPN's encryption, and they won't be able to tell if you're streaming - so no throttling happens! You'll be able to broadcast all day if you want, hop from stream to stream, or just enjoy uninterrupted high-def viewing even at peak times of the day.

Check out: Surfshark

πŸ’» Surfshark is one of the newer VPN providers on the block but it's already made one hell of a... splash! More seriously, there's over 3,200 servers to pick from in 65 countries, meaning you should never struggle to find a location to hop to to unblock content. These servers all run on RAM and are completely diskless - great news for the security-conscious!

πŸ”’ And speaking of security, Surfshark doesn't deviate from the pack, with an AES-256 cipher and spread of secure protocols to pick from. There's IKEv2 and Shadowsocks, and the ever-trusty OpenVPN.

πŸ•΄ Surfshark has had its no-logs claim independently audited by a third-party to prove that it isn't interested in storing your logs, IP addresses, or session details! And a base in the British Virgin Islands means the service is not under any mandate to log data in the first place. Surfshark also offers IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection, and obfuscated servers are available to customers looking to escape from underneath strict government censorship.

πŸ’΅ As usual, Surfshark has a 30-day money-back guarantee where you can check out all its features and see how well it plays with your setup. Help is at hand whenever you need it, whatever the day, and you can call on an expert via live chat or directly from the Surfshark site.

Try Surfshark

How will a VPN impact performance?

Rule number one of streaming - whether you're watching or broadcasting - is that a fast internet connection is a must. If not, you'll end up with a stream so pixelated that it could double as an eye test. Streamers want as little latency as possible and consistent speeds... and surely a VPN only makes things worse?

Well, the truth is that you're always going to experience a little loss of speed when connected to a VPN server. It's inevitable, because the VPN is doing so much work to encrypt your data and route it all through the server. Any reduction in speed can have a knock-on effect, of course, and could cause lag and pixelation. The exact extent of the "damage" is going to depend on how quick your internet connection was in the first place. After all, the loss of speed caused by a VPN shouldn't even be that noticeable.

I appreciate that even the slightest increase in latency can have huge gameplay consequences, though! This is especially true for anyone playing a fighting game where every millisecond counts, or doing team matches where you all have to respond quickly to one another and the enemy crew. There's nothing worse than clicking an action and expecting it to fire off... only to see it activate a second later, and a second too late.

In rare cases, some users might find that connecting to a VPN actually improves their latency. This all boils down to geography. If the VPN server you connect to is closer to the game servers than your real-life location, you could reduce your ping! For example, if you're a UK gamer playing on US servers, you might be familiar with battling latency on the daily until you join a VPN server in New York or LA.

Check out ExpressVPN

πŸ’»  Let's talk servers! ExpressVPN is known across the industry for its blistering speeds, as well as a selection of servers in 94 countries that make geo-hopping a breeze. What's more, all ExpressVPN servers are RAM-only and don't ever write to the hard drive, minimizing the risk of data leaks.

πŸ”’  In terms of security, ExpressVPN has set the bar over the last few years with incredibly strong AES-256 encryption, a RSA-384 handshake, and a number of customizable protocols, including OpenVPN and IKEv2. If you'd rather use a less resource-intensive alternative, check out Lightway, the service's proprietary protocol!

πŸ•΄ You'll be hard pressed to find a provider that values your privacy more than ExpressVPN. The service's no-logs claim has been audited by an independent third party and its base on the British Virgin Islands takes it out of invasive jurisdictions and away from data retention laws. ExpressVPN also packs an automatic kill switch (known as Network Lock), and dedicated obfuscation servers that come in handy for folks in China. What's more, ExpressVPN has you covered with IPv6 and WebRTC leak protection.

πŸ’΅  Put ExpressVPN to the test with your gaming setup with a 30-day money-back guarantee and check out its customer service if you get stuck. They're around 24/7, and you can badger them via email or live chat.

Try ExpressVPN

Conclusion

VPNs give us a glimpse of the web as it was meant to be enjoyed - secure, and without restrictions. So, if you're wondering whether you need a VPN for streaming, they can certainly unlock all sorts of content and bonuses that you might not have had access to previously!

Of course, you'll need to decide for yourself whether the impact in your performance is negligible. A little loss of speed is unavoidable, as I said earlier, but it shouldn't be a game changer. I've recommended a bunch of VPNs in this guide that are seriously quick and can more than handle high-definition streams!

Twitch makes it possible to make money by playing games... but it's not always like living the dream. Hackers, sore losers, trolls (especially those outraged by female streamers with the audacity to enjoy themselves); they can all target you and your IP address if you don't have a VPN working to conceal it.

So, whether you decide to invest in a VPN or not, just remember to keep your Twitch account secure, share the love and not the hate, and stay hydrated!

FAQs

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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