We've all been there. You get a team kill with Junkrat in Overwatch, and you're raking in the wins when suddenly your ping takes a nosedive. The game is barely playable anymore, and the team rags on you for not contributing to the match, even though it's out of your control. No matter which game you're playing, lag will always be a problem. You remember reading somewhere that VPNs can help - but can VPN really reduce ping?
Well, you'll be happy to know that yes - VPNs can help with ping under specific circumstances. Here are some quick things to check before we get into the main topic.
What Causes High Ping?
Several factors could cause your game to lag while playing online, including:
- Internet connection quality - if your ISP provides poor service to begin with, not even a VPN can reduce ping. It's time to upgrade or switch Internet providers entirely.
- Router positioning - if you're using Wi-Fi, it's better to keep the router close to your gaming device and remove any obstacles in the way of its signal (such as large furniture).
- Connection type - wired connections are almost always faster and more stable than Wi-Fi, so try switching to see if things improve.
- The path your data takes to and from the game server - high ping can be caused by your data encountering a defective node on its way to its destination. (Network) traffic jams, basically. More on the subject in the next section.
There are a few other factors that could affect your game latency, such as the Wi-Fi channel and DNS provider you use. We cover everything you need to know in our guide on how to lower ping when playing in other regions.
Can VPN Reduce Ping? (Yes, with a Catch)
For the record, even the best VPNs for gaming will slow down your speeds somewhat. That's because your data first needs to be encrypted (which also affects your speed) and then travel a greater distance than usual (i.e., to and from the VPN server).
Learn more: How to Speed Up Your VPN
On the other hand, this exact process can help your data avoid one of those network traffic jams we've mentioned previously. Think of it as taking the next exit off the highway once you realize the huge line of cars is barely budging. You might not be able to go as fast on the side road, but at least you're not stuck for hours before things start moving along on the fast lane.
One cool thing you can do is install a VPN on a compatible router. This will allow all of your devices to use a VPN connection, including gaming consoles that don't come with built-in VPN capabilities. If you're experiencing high ping on services like PS Plus or Xbox Live, and nothing else seems to work, then it's definitely worth a try.
Can a Free VPN Reduce Ping?
With all the info above in mind, you're probably thinking "can't I just use a free VPN to reduce ping?". The short answer is: not necessarily. Sure, a free VPN may help you bypass faulty network nodes causing high ping on occasion. However, the end result is not really worth it, considering just how much free VPNs slow down your connection. You don't have to take our word for it, as you can always test them out for free.
Of course, that might not be a good idea because of the security risks of free VPNs. Here's a quick rundown of what you might expect:
- Having your data collected and sold off to advertisers. And yes, this is perfectly legal as long as the provider mentions the practice in their terms of service.
- Worse yet, you could have your data leaked online, just as 20 million free VPN users experienced in July 2020.
Meanwhile, the best VPNs can afford to buy, upgrade, and maintain a powerful network of servers all around the world without resorting to such shady tactics. You'll need a VPN with a wide server network so you can always find a location close by, no matter where you live. The closer you are to the server, the better the speeds.
Don't know where to start? ExpressVPN ticks all the right boxes when it comes to VPNs, including over 3000 lightning-fast servers in 94 countries. On a final note, you can compare the performance between free and paid VPNs - risk-free - by taking advantage of their 30-day money-back guarantee.