Best VPNs for gaming 2023: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and more

Best VPNs for gaming 2023: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and more

Endorsements from big-name streamers have put VPNs (or virtual private networks) on many gamers’ radars. Billed as closed, secure connections that protect you from common cyberthreats and unblock restricted titles, they sound as OP as a Blasphemous Blade or a Blue Shell. But there are some important caveats to be aware of before you download one for your PC or console (via router or hotspot).

Here’s what you need to know about picking the right VPN for gaming.

What is a VPN, exactly?

A VPN is a service that routes your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to one of its private servers before it’s sent out over the internet. This scrambles any data you send or receive and hides your Internet Protocol (IP) address, or the unique number associated with your geolocation that’s assigned to your device when it’s connected to the internet. In a nutshell, a VPN makes it extremely difficult for anyone (from hackers to your internet service provider, or ISP) to see who you are, where you’re logged in from, and what you’re doing on the internet.

This anonymity has its advantages: It allows you to bypass firewalls, evade geo-restrictions on streaming services and movies, torrent safely, and work remotely without putting company data at risk.

Do VPNs really help with gaming?

For gaming specifically, using a VPN has two notable benefits:

  1. You can protect yourself from distributed denial-of-service(opens in a new tab) attacks. DDoS attacks happen when a bad actor looks up your unconcealed IP address and overloads your gaming server or network with a ton of requests, making you lag badly or booting you offline completely. This is an increasingly popular(opens in a new tab) kind of cyberthreat that affects gaming companies and players alike, and it’s super easy for griefers and salty rivals to pull off if you’re not using a VPN.

  2. You can bypass network or geo-restrictions on games. With a VPN running, your traffic will appear to originate from the remote server you’re connected to. Hiding or “spoofing(opens in a new tab)” your true location in this way makes it possible to play games from places where they’re otherwise blocked or unavailable (like at work or school).

Despite what many providers claim, running a VPN while you game is not a foolproof way of lowering your ping. Connecting to a remote VPN server across the continent or world can actually increase latency, since your encrypted data is traveling a longer physical distance. This is an especially big problem for gaming, since split-second delays can be the difference between you and a death screen. To minimize a VPN’s impact on your connection speed, pick a provider that lets you choose the specific servers you connect to, and opt for ones that are relatively close to your location IRL. You can also look into an advanced feature called split tunneling, which will let you “split” your gaming and non-gaming traffic between the VPN and the open web to conserve bandwidth. (Some premium providers offer it.)

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you look over your game publisher or platform’s terms of service before running a VPN — some use cases will get you in trouble. Skirting regional pricing with a different IP address is technically a bannable offense under Steam’s Subscriber Agreement(opens in a new tab), for example. The potential security or remote access benefits ultimately aren’t worth losing a character or account you’ve had for years.

The TL;DR of all of this is that VPNs aren’t absolutely necessary for gamers — in fact, there’s a good chance their overall impact on your gaming experience will be negative. But they can serve practical purposes for some.

Read on to learn more about the handful of VPNs we recommend for gaming. Note that all pricing was accurate at the time of publication.

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