Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, especially ones that market to gamers, would have you believe they offer fast gaming speeds and help lower ping. But is there truth behind the claim? I performed a simple test and found mixed results.
It works, but not all the time
As I am already a regular VPN user for ad-blocking and security reasons, I tested my service provider to see if there would be improvements to ping when I play. I customized my subscription, so I could connect to a VPN server located in the Philippines and Singapore, the latter being a common location for gaming servers in Southeast Asia.
To get a clear picture of how well my service provider performs, I observed my ping on several video games across different genres and platforms:
- Apex Legends
- Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
- League of Legends: Wild Rift
- Pokémon Unite
- PUBG Mobile
- Rules of Survival
- World of Warcraft
For each game, I played a bit, used in-game testing tools where available, and took screenshots under three configurations: one with my VPN switched off, one where my traffic was routed through my VPN’s Singapore server, and the last through the Philippine server.
Per the screenshots, here are my findings:
- When connected to my VPN’s Singapore server, I experienced better ping on Mobile Legends and PUBG Mobile. The connection also improved my ping to the Singapore servers of Apex Legends. For the other games, I was better off playing without a VPN.
- My ping in all the games I tested increased/worsened when I connected to my VPN’s Philippine server.
- For Overwatch, I use my VPN to help resolve what I suspect is a routing issue by my Internet service provider that caused me to join a less-than-ideal game server with bad ping.
- I could not connect at all to Rules of Survival when I used my VPN. It seems the game is actively prohibiting players with VPN from joining.
- For World of Warcraft, I pinged three IP addresses that are listed on Blizzard’s network troubleshooting page for the game. Results indicate my ping is lowest when I don’t use a VPN, but through the Singapore-based VPN server, my ping to WoW’s Europe region improved.
Why Do Ping Times Matter in Video Games?
As any professional or veteran gamer will tell you, a lower ping or latency coupled with a stable connection means a better experience when playing games online. This is especially true for games involving fast-paced actions, such as online shooters, battle royales, and MOBAs.
For professional gamers, the ideal ping must be lower than 50 milliseconds. Casual players should do just fine in the 50-100ms range. Things start to become iffy and bad when you have a ping higher than 100ms. Actions you make in the game take a longer time to reach the server and be registered. With an even worse ping, your game will begin to stutter, you’ll see characters teleporting, and you may even be suddenly disconnected from the game.
Your Experience May Vary
The importance of lag-free gameplay is why gamers are eager for proven tricks and techniques to lower their ping. VPN is one possible solution, but only if it can effectively streamline your connection to the game servers, thereby reducing ping. But as shown in my tests, VPNs do not always work.
Several factors can affect the effectiveness of VPNs in reducing ping times. These include your ISP (connection quality, bandwidth and speed limit, and throttling), location, time of day, and the load and location of the VPN server as well as the game server.
Should you decide to try VPNs, don’t simply rely on reviews and recommendations. It’s best that you try all the available VPNs you can get, and then choose one that works best for you and the usual games you play. If you need some pointers, I suggest testing these service providers first: WTFast, ExitLag, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN.
Do avoid shady products, and confirm if the VPN servers are really located in the country they’re claimed to be in. Some VPNs use virtual servers, which means they are set to have virtual locations to make it appear that they’re positioned elsewhere.
So that you don’t needlessly spend money on experimenting with VPNs, find service providers that let you avail of their free tiers and trial periods. In addition, see if they have money-back guarantees, so you can get a refund if you aren’t satisfied with the quality and performance of their VPN.
Then again, if you already have low ping times with your ISP connection, don’t expect any improvements by using a VPN. It will mostly just make your ping worse. Consider other solutions instead.