If you're into MMOs, RTS games, or first-person shooters, you'll probably have heard a lot of talk about ping and its impact on player performance. And it's true that high levels of ping can cause havoc in online games, especially for Esports professionals and streamers! However, the actual definition of ping can seem overly technical if you're unfamiliar with the concept.
So, let's take a closer look at ping, what you can do to solve your ping issues, and just how much it affects gamers!
😮What is ping?
You'll almost certainly be familiar with ping even if you don't know the dictionary definition of the term. We've all experienced those moments where a game or match is going fine… until you're suddenly lagging like crazy!
Ping is often the culprit, and dealing with it can be really frustrating – especially if you're in the middle of a high-stakes session.
In regular computing terms, ping is essentially a signal that your computer sends across the network to another computer. That computer will send a signal right back at you. The returning signal is measured in milliseconds, so you can see exactly how long it takes for a signal to leave your computer, reach another server, and return.
In gaming terms, ping means pretty much the same thing, only we're talking about sending a signal from your PC (or console) to the gaming server! Ping tells you how quickly your signal (which is basically your gaming input – firing a gun, using an item, or moving around, etc) can reach the gaming server and then execute in the game itself.
So, gamers use ping to figure out how fast their PC can talk to the game and its server.
Lag and latency
Ping and lag often crop up in the same conversations, and sometimes they're used interchangeably. However, they're slightly different terms that relate to different aspects of your connection speed and stability.
If you've ever had your game freeze for a few seconds before suddenly executing all your inputs in one go, that's lag. Lag can also add a delay to your inputs, so your character will jump a moment after you press the button, and even cause you to disconnect from the game. Generally, high ping is responsible for lag.
👾How does ping impact gamers?
Well, that depends on whether you're experiencing low ping or high ping!
Low ping is better and what everyone should aim for. You'll have an easier time reacting to things, seeing as your inputs execute that much more quickly, and reaction is key in a lot of high-stakes online competitions – think fighting games, FPS, and MMOs.
Gamers get a much smoother experience if their ping is low, primarily because it just takes way less time for the game server to receive and process your PC's signal.
On the other hand, high ping can be a nightmare for anyone trying to keep up in online games. It can lead to stuttering, constant freezing, and disruptive lag, and that's the last thing you'll want to deal with if you're already battling a raid boss or trying to out-pace an opponent team.
And, if your ping gets too high and becomes unmanageable, you might find that the game you're playing automatically disconnects you!
What counts as low ping?
Good question! Check out the list below to see where your ping response time falls in the scale. You should bear in mind, however, that ping will affect different games in different ways – games that necessitate really precise inputs and reactions, like MK11 and COD, won't run as smoothly with high ping as less timing-intense titles, like Starcraft or Civilization.
- < 20 ms – The gold standard! Anyone with ping this low won't have trouble or lag stutters playing pretty much any online multiplayer game.
- 20 – 50 ms – An impressive amount of ping that'll still ensure a smooth gameplay session.
- 50 – 100 ms – This is a more average ping response time. It doesn't render games unplayable by any means but you'll probably have the odd spot of lag.
- 100 – 300 ms – Here's where things get sticky, and you should expect a drop in performance within this range, with lag spikes that are occasionally disruptive.
- > 300 ms – Gamers will struggle with this much ping, and have to battle against long input delays and a lot of frustrating lag.
🏆How do I improve my ping?
Some gamers shell out a fortune on super-responsive mice and expensive internet packages to reduce their reaction times to levels that, frankly, I personally only achieve when silencing my alarms in the morning. If you're looking for some more immediate, and less costly, methods of reducing your ping and improving your online experience, you can check out my top recommendations below:
- Use an Ethernet cable – you'll see this advice plastered all over Reddit, but there's a reason for it! A wired connection is much more stable and direct, and doesn't suffer from the same packet loss as a wireless connection, which can be disrupted if you have multiple internet-enabled devices in the home. Plus, Ethernet cables are pretty cheap and come in all lengths!
- Reschedule updates – the last thing you want when you're gaming online is some random system update hogging all your bandwidth. Schedule your updates to take place either before or after you're doing gaming!
- See what's running in the background – take a look at which applications and processes you have ticking away in the background and close them if they're not immediately useful. They can take up important processing power or siphon your bandwidth… as can roommates or family members streaming a Netflix marathon during your gaming time!
- Pick a nearby server – if you can take your pick of game servers, make sure you're connecting to one as physically close to you as possible. This can reduce your ping seeing as your signals will have further to travel!
- Do your spring cleaning – make sure you're giving your machine some TLC and removing any built-up grime! It's also worth making sure that your router isn't stuck in some dark corner gathering dust, too.
❔Would a VPN help?
A lot of top-notch VPN providers are now claiming that their services can reduce ping. The truth, however, is a little more complex than that.
A VPN requires your signals to pass through a proxy server, and this effectively makes their journey that much longer… which can lead to increased ping and a negative knock-on effect on your gaming.
However, there are times when a VPN can improve ping. For instance, connecting to a VPN server that's physically closer to the game server can shorten the journey your signals take and help tackle lag. So, if you live a long way away from your game's servers, it might be worth your time to check out a gaming VPN.
Of course, VPNs have a ton of other uses! Not only can they grant you unfettered access to streaming services and all their various international libraries (like Netflix US!), but they can also deter DDoS attacks. They do this by hiding your IP address, which is also great for your privacy, and means that any bad actors out there won't be able to target you with a malicious attack.
High ping is one of those things we've all been affected by at some point, but perhaps couldn't explain if we were put on the spot – but it's a pretty simple concept when you break it down! Gamers want as little ping as possible to ensure that the only thing between them and their objective is their own reaction time… and possibly their teammates. You don't want to be thrown off your game by a nasty lag spike, after all!
Ping issues can happen for a number of reasons, and there's not always a straightforward or cost-effective solution. However, there are a few simple things you can try to give yourself that all-important online edge!