Having the best VPN for gaming is non-optional. Whether you like to battle it out in League of Legends or explore vast landscapes in World of Warcraft, a virtual private network is a key part of the experience.
That’s because gaming is now synonymous with going online. I remember the days when I had to invite friends over to get absolutely wrecked at Super Smash Bros. Now, I can be humiliated by complete strangers at a moment’s notice.
Yes, online connectivity has changed the world of video games for good. We can share experiences and have epic battles with players from all over the world. But online gaming has a dark side — and I’m not just talking about people who rage-quit Call of Duty when they’re losing.
No, I’m referring to the usual dangers of being online. Just like browsing the internet, online gaming exposes your IP address, leaving you vulnerable to hackers, swatting, DDoS attacks and scammers. If you’re online, you need a VPN — end of story.
So what’s the best VPN for gaming? How does a VPN affect gaming? And how do you even begin choosing the best gaming VPN? Don’t be afraid; this article will take you from noob to poggers.
What Does the Best VPN for Gaming Need to Have?
I mentioned that there’s a lot of misinformation in the gaming VPN world. Much of it comes from the VPN services themselves. Companies will make outrageous claims to convince you they have the best gaming VPN. I’ve seen providers say their VPNs can get you early access to games, help you circumvent forum bans and even speed up your latency.
The last claim is the most suspect. The sad truth is that no VPN company can speed your ping beyond what your modem gives you.
Hiding your IP address involves routing your internet connection through a secondary server and encrypting all your data. To do that, a VPN has to slow down your computer somewhat. That means the best gaming VPN is the one that slows your connection down the least.
Three kinds of connection speed are most important for gamers:
- Latency, also called ping, measures how quickly one packet of data passes between your computer and the game server. If it’s too high, you can see lag.
- Download and upload speeds measure how much data passes between your device and the server in a second — download from the game to you, and upload the other way. If either one is too low, you may see delayed actions.
There are other important features, which I’ll note as they come up. But those three concepts are at the heart of gaming speed, whether you use a gaming PC or a console. Look for gaming VPNs that maintain them as much as possible.
Why You Need a Reliable VPN for Gaming
Anytime you’re online, you need a VPN, but it’s especially important while you’re gaming.
Hackers and scammers are an ever-present danger. They can steal your gaming account credentials and sell them on the dark web, or take over accounts where you reused an old password. They can steal financial information if you make any transactions while gaming. Any unencrypted transmissions can be hijacked by man-in-the-middle attacks.
There are also dangers inherent to gaming. It’s not unheard-of for sore losers to resort to swatting or data denial of service (DDoS) attacks when you beat them in an online game.
DDoS is annoying, but swatting is one of the scariest possibilities. If one of these psychos learns your IP address, they can deduce your physical location and call in a fake bomb threat, sending a SWAT team to overrun your home. And yes, people have died this way.
Be warned that if you’re gaming with someone who already knows your real IP address, a VPN will not protect you from swatting or DDoS attacks. The best time to get a gaming VPN was yesterday; the second-best time is right now.
The Best Gaming VPN: Comparison
The table below is an at-a-glance comparison of my top five VPNs for gaming. The speed given for each is the best one I was able to get with the fastest protocol and VPN server.
|VPN service:||Pros||Cons||Best price|
Clean user interface
|Higher prices||$6.67 per month for 15 months|
Easy to use
|Small network in Southern Hemisphere||$3.71 per month for two years|
Split tunneling not available on all apps
|$2.21 per month for 27 months|
|Private Internet Access||Friendly UI,|
Fast download speeds
|Uncertain upload speeds||$2.19 per month for three years|
Great speeds on nearby servers
|Speeds lag on faraway servers,|
|$8.33 per month for one year|
The Top 5 VPN Services for Gaming
These five VPNs will help you stay anonymous and safe while gaming without dropping your internet connection speeds so far that you miss out on sick frags and phat loots.
An incredible VPN for everything but pricing.
- Fast speeds
- Speedy Lightway protocol
- User-friendly VPN client
- Higher prices
ExpressVPN is a top-tier VPN, no matter what you’re trying to do with it. Its speeds rival NordVPN and Surfshark, and its user-friendly interface and customer support are second to none.
ExpressVPN also has its own proprietary protocol, Lightway. The open-source Lightway was built from scratch instead of being based on an existing protocol (unlike NordVPN’s NordLynx, which we’ll talk about next). I found it faster than WireGuard and just as secure, passing all IP and DNS leak tests.
To give you some hard numbers: I started with a download speed of 35.56 Mbps. Using Lightway and the server ExpressVPN told me was fastest, I saw my download speed plunge to…35.53 Mbps. That’s hardly a rounding error. ExpressVPN’s latency is also the best in the business, adding just 10 ms to my unprotected ping.
There are a couple of knocks against ExpressVPN. It costs more than most VPNs, with the best deal being 15 months for $6.67 per month. But in gaming, good speeds are everything, so I put ExpressVPN in the top spot.
A secret-sauce protocol makes NordVPN the second-best for gaming.
- Excellent speeds
- Hyper-fast NordLynx protocol
- Easy to use
- Small server network in the Southern Hemisphere
NordVPN is an undisputed VPN champion. Name an area of importance to any VPN service — from security and privacy to its price to its range of server locations — and NordVPN is at least competitive. But are the best VPNs overall necessarily the best VPNs for gaming?
Not at all (as I hope I’ve made clear by now). When you’re choosing a gaming VPN, speed takes on outsized importance. Luckily for NordVPN, speed is one of its best features. The NordLynx protocol — NordVPN’s version of WireGuard — grants lightning-quick speeds without sacrificing security.
In speed tests, using the fastest server had almost no impact on my download and upload speeds. Connecting to NordVPN slowed my download speed by about 2%, low enough that I forgot the VPN was on. Upload speed dropped at approximately the same rate. With NordVPN, you can enjoy the full graphical beauty of Azeroth, Hydaelyn, or…Minecraftia.
NordVPN’s effect on latency is also negligible. The fastest server jumped my ping from 14 to 36 ms — not nothing, but definitely low enough to avoid lag.
Speed isn’t NordVPN’s only standout feature. It also comes with split tunneling, which lets you protect only certain apps with the VPN connection while others run unprotected.
If you still find that NordVPN drags on your connection too much, you can disable it for your game alone. Just make sure not to send any sensitive personal information while you play.
This gaming VPN has unlimited simultaneous connections and serious speed.
- Secure VPN protocols
- Great speeds
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Complicated interface
- Split tunneling not available on all apps
Surfshark has attitude. If it had been launched in the ‘90s, I can imagine “Surfshark” being the hero of a mascot platformer, like Sonic or Crash Bandicoot. So it’s no surprise that Surfshark is one of the best VPNs for gaming.
Like NordVPN, it owes its place on the list to amazing speeds on nearly all its servers — the fastest cut my download speed by less than 5%. Latency is also great, with only a 4 ms jump on the nearest server.
Surfshark VPN has a larger network than NordVPN, helping more people around the world access faster VPN speeds.
Another awesome thing about Surfshark is that it comes with unlimited simultaneous connections on every subscription. That’s a godsend if you have multiple rigs or like gaming on your phone and tablet as well as your computer. It’s also useful if you’ve got a whole family of gamers and want to really destroy your eight-year-old at Smash.
The only thing keeping Surfshark from the top of the list is that its speeds drop when you get too far from a server. NordVPN is fast no matter where you are (at least when using NordLynx), but if you’re in a location without much coverage, Surfshark might cause some lag.
4. Private Internet Access
This budget gaming VPN doesn’t sacrifice speed or power.
- Friendly UI
- Affordable pricing
- Fast download speeds
- Concerning parent company
- Inconsistent upload speeds
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a minimalist VPN that focuses on being simple and affordable. If you just want to get your bases covered, so you can get back to your MOBA already, you could do a lot worse.
The great prices are the first thing you’re likely to notice about Private Internet Access. It has one of the lowest monthly rates on the market at $6.95, making it a good choice if you’re not ready to commit to one VPN for a year or more. Its long-term plans save you even more money, with the cheapest coming in at $2.19 per month.
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean PIA sacrifices speed. Latencies and download speeds are generally fantastic, though upload speeds vacillate a bit. My unprotected latency and speeds were 22 ms ping, 39.78 Mbps download speed, and 27.36 Mbps upload speed. With the VPN, I got a 26 ms ping, 34.17 Mbps down, 22.15 Mbps up.
Check out PIA’s pricing here.
A highly secure VPN that’s also great for gaming.
- Security-focused design
- Great speeds on nearby servers
- Affordable prices
- Speeds lag on faraway servers
Whenever I talk about VyprVPN, I feel a lot like I’m describing a band nobody has heard of. It doesn’t top a lot of lists right now, but when it breaks through one day, I’ll be able to say I liked it before it was cool.
First, let’s talk speed. VyprVPN is very fast as long as you’re connected to a server near your actual location. When I used a server just a few hundred miles away, my latency and speeds barely moved, adding just 3 ms to the ping and taking just over 10% of my download and upload. If you’re near a VyprVPN server, you’ll enjoy the best VPN gaming experience possible.
That changes as you get farther away. Download and upload speeds mostly stay fast enough for gaming, but latency might cause lags if you can’t get close to a server. VyprVPN has 73 server locations, distributed well across the globe; southern Africa is the only major coverage gap.
Router installation is another pro with VyprVPN. All the VPNs on this list are router-compatible, but this VPN service has one of the easiest installation processes for a new user. And there’s even split tunneling (though VyprVPN calls it “connection by app”).
One big bummer is that VyprVPN changed its pricing in late 2021. It used to have one of the most affordable long-term plans; now it’s one of the most expensive, surpassing even ExpressVPN.
Can I Use a Free VPN for Gaming?
You can. You can also snowboard in the nude. I don’t recommend either.
Many free VPNs make their money by selling your personal information on the side. There’s a handful of legitimate free VPN services — TunnelBear, Windscribe, Hide.me — but they all impose limits. All three I just named restrict your data per month. As a gamer, you’ll chew through data fast.
To my knowledge, the only trustworthy free VPN that doesn’t limit your traffic is ProtonVPN. But that service restricts what servers you can use and limits your connection speed to barely usable rates.
Take my advice: pay for it. You won’t spend nearly as much per month as you spend on Steam, anyway.
Conclusion: Virtual Private Networks for Gaming
Video games have enriched the lives of so many people. They were a lifeline for me and many others during the COVID-19 lockdowns — things never felt as bad when I hopped on Animal Crossing.
Whether you play to relax or to win, you want your gaming experience to be as pure and stress-free as possible. Choosing any one of these five gaming VPNs will help you get there.
Do you have a favorite gaming VPN that I didn’t mention? Got a favorite Minecraft project to share? Or do you just want to yell at me for having no idea what “poggers” means but saying it anyway? Sound off in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time with another VPN review.