People all over the world use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for online gaming. However, there is quite a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding what a VPN can do. Most people believe VPNs will help them gain faster internet speeds and lower their ping, and while this is true in very rare circumstances, it often does the opposite.
There are still plenty of reasons to own a gaming VPN, however, whether it's to play against people who speak a foreign language (or their native tongue), purchase games for cheaper, or even beat cheaters that use a DDoS attack to disrupt your game. Keep reading to enhance your experience when playing games online.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is an online service that encrypts your internet data and routes it via a VPN server. In addition, when you connect to a VPN server abroad, you get a foreign IP address from that country, making it appear that you actually live there. This can allow you to play on foreign game servers.
We cover this aspect of VPNs in more detail in our guide to geo-spoofing.
If you're new to VPNs, we recommend checking out our What is a VPN? Beginner's guide to learn more.
Why do I need a VPN for Gaming?
There are a few reasons you might want to consider getting a VPN for gaming. Below we have listed all the benefits.
Depending on local laws, some games can be blocked in certain countries, usually due to gore or graphic content. In these circumstances, you will need a VPN in order to play. This works because a VPN can conceal your real IP address and replace it with one from a different country. This allows you to unblock games such as League of Legends in Syria or Iran, where they are restricted, by appearing elsewhere.
In addition, some games are released at different times in different places, and even cost different amounts depending on where you live. With a VPN, you can pretend to be in a different country to get hold of a game as soon as it is released, or to purchase it at a lower rate.
IP ban workaround
Some games may give you a ban for misbehavior or cheating - they do this by identifying and blocking your ip address. If your home’s IP address is banned, you will have no option but to use a VPN to conceal it. Typically people use VPNs to get around IP bans on games like Minecraft and Fortnite, but it also works with game-related services such as Discord or Twitch as well.
Bandwidth throttling - ISP throttling
When you play games over some networks, such as public WiFi and mobile networks, throttling is often used to stop gamers from hogging all the bandwidth. This can also happen on some broadband if the ISP decides that too much bandwidth is being used by a specific service.
Technically, ISPs are not legally permitted to throttle all your traffic if you are paying for a specific internet speed. For this reason, they have to separate your internet traffic into separate streams and only throttle the stream that is specifically accessing the data-hungry gaming server.
By using a VPN all your internet traffic is encrypted, making it impossible for the ISP to analyze your traffic and separate it into various streams. This means the ISP can no longer legally throttle your traffic to the gaming server.
ISP throttling is often the reason for increased lag while gaming, and it is for this reason that a VPN can speed up your internet successfully.
Game safely on public WiFi
When playing Peer to Peer (P2P) multiplayer games online, it is possible that the data sent between the two peers is not always secure. This means that eavesdroppers could potentially intercept the data sent between you and the other player.
This becomes a problem if you are chatting during the game and sharing personal data because a hacker could intercept that on public WiFi. A VPN encrypts all your data, so that the information passed between you and another player is completely secure.
Game safely over P2P
In addition, when you play multiplayer games that connect you P2P, it is possible for the other players or game server hosts to see your IP address. If those players are malicious, they could later probe that IP address for open ports and attempt to hack your connected devices.
Some games like Minecraft, in which players often connect to P2P, easily allow fellow gamers to see your IP address. Using a VPN to conceal your real IP address, is the only way to ensure that you aren’t broadcasting your real IP to the peers you connect to.
Competitive players or gamers who enter gaming tournaments to win cash prizes require a VPN to ensure that they cannot fall victim to a DDoS attack. Malevolent players who are bent on winning, often cheat by launching a DDoS attack at their opposition.
A DDoS attack works by flooding a victim’s machine with massive amounts of data requests. As a result, that player is temporarily locked out of the game, allowing the DDoS attacker to win the round and progress through the competition.
VPN servers have DDoS protection in place, which allows them to cope with a sudden surge in data requests. As a result, the VPN acts as a buffer, protecting the victim from a DDoS attack and allowing them to play in gaming competitions without fear of cheats.
Will a VPN help reduce my lag/ping?
Many people believe that the main reason to get a VPN for gaming is to reduce their ping. However, a VPN will not actually help most people to improve their gaming connection speeds.
Playing a game connected to a VPN usually requires your data to travel further, because it must go to the VPN server both on the way to the gaming server and on the way back. It also incurs some connection speed loss because of the encryption it provides. These two things combined will cause your connection to slow, not not speed up.
So, why do so many people believe a VPN lowers ping? A VPN can improve your connection speeds and improve in-game lagging if one of two very specific things is occurring:
Your ISP is throttling your bandwidth.
If your ISP is throttling your bandwidth when you game, a VPN will massively increase the speed of your connection. However, this is because the VPN is bypassing that throttling. For the uninitiated, this is sometimes assumed to be because the VPN is lowering ping, but the reality is that it is not.
Your ISP needs better routing (very rare)
ISPs enter peering contracts with providers of routing infrastructure (underground and underwater cables that route the internet from one country to another). On rare occasions, ISPs may save on peering costs by agreeing cheaper contacts that cause their subscribers’ internet to be routed the long way around to a final destination.
Connecting to a VPN server that is very close to your home may allow you to take advantage of your VPN provider’s better peering contracts. On the very rare occasion that this is the case, a VPN may lower a user’s ping.
However, we must stress that this is very rare, and 99% of gamers should not expect to take advantage of a VPN in this way. If you strongly suspect that your local ISP is poor, and you want to try using a VPN to see if it can reduce your ping; you are free to do so because VPNs offer money-back guarantees.
Finally, some people have rolled their own VPN to access a local ISP’s better peering. This works in the same way as finding a commercial VPN that has a server in a nearby location that also takes advantage of this ISPs better peering. However, finding a commercial VPN that benefits from that other ISPs faster peering will often work out cheaper.
For many years now, the internet has been filled with false information about how gamers can use a VPN to improve their internet connection speeds and ping issues.
This is because articles and websites often have something to gain from these claims or the publication spreading misinformation does so because the writer has not fact checked before copying other sources.
Although you are unlikely to improve your ping or internet speed in-game, VPNs still hold lots of benefits for gamers, with personal DDoS protection being invaluable. They can also help you unblock streaming services like Netflix, avoid government censorship, and ensure your privacy is in your own hands.
If you have any questions about information you have read here or elsewhere, feel free to drop us a message below and we will clarify anything for you.