Video games used to be mostly single-player experiences until not long ago – except for MMOs. Once you bought a game and installed it, you could play it for as long as you wanted, regardless of whether you had an active Internet connection or not. Naturally, you still had to get a few patches from the Internet now and then, but it wasn’t mandatory, especially if the issues fixed by these patches were not game-breaking anyway.
However, that is no longer the case. Most modern games are now sold on online platforms like Steam, Uplay, Origin, or GOG, which means that you rarely actually own them in physical form. Hence, if one of those platforms happens to go out of business in the future, most of your game library will be gone as well – regardless of how much you paid for your games.
Not only that, but many games require an Internet connection even if you never interact with other players or play in multiplayer. Usually, this is in the form of DRM, which is designed to prevent piracy. Still, there are all sorts of issues with this approach. Hence, you might actually be unable to play your games if the DRM servers are malfunctioning, which is about as annoying as it sounds.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have actual multiplayer games, which obviously require an Internet connection to be played. The most popular games on the market right now are multiplayer games, such as Fortnite, Dota 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
This is also where VPNs come into play, given the fact that more and more people opt to secure their connection with a VPN to maintain their privacy and prevent their ISP from spying on their Internet habits. As it turns out, rerouting all of your traffic in the background is bad news for video games, especially since many of these titles are played competitively.
Introducing additional latency into a fast-paced video game is the last thing a gamer would be OK with, which is why most gamers turn off their VPNs while playing. Setting aside the fact that it’s a nuisance to do this whenever you want to play something, this also introduces quite a few security risks, since there’s always the chance to forget about it when you stop playing and get back to browsing the internet.
Thankfully, it turns out that not all VPNs ruin your gaming experience, at least not if you pick the right one. Hence, while it is obviously impossible to avoid slightly higher pings, you can still keep your competitive edge while having a VPN running in the background, at least if the VPN in question has fast and reliable servers.
What makes a VPN good for gaming?
First and foremost, the servers are what matter the most when it comes to reducing latency. As such, major VPN providers have the upper hand in this regard, given the fact that they can afford to spend a lot of money on top-of-the-line equipment when it comes to the servers used to reroute your traffic. Smaller providers usually have to rely on rented equipment, which is not always optimized for speed and efficiency.
After that, the download speeds are also critical. While it is obviously not the case for every game, some titles require you to download big patches to stay up-to-date. MMOs are notorious for this practice, given the fact that they are always adding new content to keep the players happy. If your VPN reduces your download speeds to a crawl, you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to get the latest patch installed.
Perhaps surprisingly, upload speeds are not as important, given the fact that no game out there requires you to upload files. Granted, you are always sending data packets to the game servers while playing. Still, their size is usually measured in bytes or kilobytes, so the transfer is almost instantaneous regardless of how fast your connection is.
Security is also fairly important, although you should keep in mind the fact that you are not going to be protected against cheaters or exploiters if you use a VPN because they are not programmed with that function in mind. However, the traffic is encrypted while gaming as well, which is not a bad thing.
What to look for in a good VPN for gaming
If you are thinking about getting a VPN subscription, but you are worried about whether it will affect your gaming sessions, there are a few things you can research beforehand to make the best choice. Some of these are things you should be aware of anyway before giving a company your hard-earned money, but others are more specific for gamers.
As such, the first thing you should check is how many servers the VPN offers, as well as what locations are available to connect to. In some cases, the servers are nowhere near you, geographically speaking, which means that you will be taking a major latency hit whenever you start the VPN.
After that, it’s wise to do a speed check using a service like fast.com or speedtest.net. However, keep in mind that the thing you should be interested in is the response time from the server, not the download and upload speeds (although those are fairly important as well, depending on your needs.) Thus, even if you can reach high download speeds, they are really not going to help you too much if the pings are ten times higher than what you get when the VPN is inactive.
Lastly, most people are also interested in using the VPN for other purposes as well, such as unblocking streaming services or accessing restricted websites. If that’s the case for you as well, you should also keep those things in mind. The same is true if you need special features from your VPN, such as split-tunneling, static IP, or specialty servers for P2P downloads.
Speaking of which – a good gaming VPN should allow you to make use of a split-tunneling feature because that’s the only way to avoid latency in some cases. Hence, if the servers are not fast enough for you, at least you should be able to tell the app that it should allow the game to bypass the VPN entirely.
With all that being said, here is a list of features you should look for when choosing a gaming VPN:
- The number of available servers and locations
- Response times in various speed tests
- Download and upload speeds
- A split-tunneling feature
- A money-back guarantee in case you are not getting the desired results and you change your mind
- Good security for when you are using the VPN for things other than gaming
- A trustworthy company that does not collect data about you
Best 5 VPNs for gaming in 2020
As always, we have researched for you and picked the best VPNs for gaming, so you don’t have to do it yourself. Granted, you still have to choose one that suits your particular needs, so feel free to use the links below to see what each VPN has to offer.
Alternatively, you can also check out this table in order to compare the features offered by each VPN.
|Private Internet Access||CyberGhost||ExpressVPN||Surfshark||Hotspot Shield|
|Split-tunneling||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Only for websites|
|Company part of the 14 Eyes alliance||Yes||No||No||No||Yes|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||45 days||30 days||30 days||45 days|
|Maximum simultaneous connections||10||7||5||Unlimited||5|
|Live chat support||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
According to our tests from a while back, Private Internet Access is one of the fastest VPNs on the market at the moment. It is also one of the most generous in terms of servers and locations. Not only that, but it is also very affordable when it comes to pricing, which means that you do not have to pay an arm and a leg in order to be able to enjoy these privileges.
However, we also noticed that the pings were very low across the board, even when using locations that were very far away from us. Granted, physics won’t allow you to have sub 100 ms pings across thousands of kilometers, so you are definitely better off choosing a location that’s fairly close to you. On the other hand, the important thing is that there’s not a lot of overhead while Private Internet Access is running in the background, and that’s what matters.
In terms of features, very few VPNs come close to PIA, especially since you are allowed to tweak almost every part of the app and the connection itself. Thus, you can choose between a wide variety of protocols, including the popular OpenVPN. In addition, you are also free to change things regarding connection ports, as well as mess with the encryption method used to protect your data.
The most important thing is that Private Internet Access allows you to use split-tunneling, which is god-sent for gaming. In essence, this means that you can manually add the desired game to the list of apps that are allowed to bypass the VPN connection, which removes all lag. Obviously, this means that the game in question is allowed to collect your data freely if that’s the case, but that’s a risk you have to take if latency is your main objective.
In addition, Private Internet Access is also very useful if you want to watch geo-restricted content on Netflix since it can easily unblock the service, as well as many others like it. All you have to do is choose a server in the desired country and enjoy your movies and TV shows, regardless of whether you are using Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
If you are worried about security, PIA also comes with a feature called MACE. This is very similar to your browser ad-blocker, given the fact that it does many of the same things. However, unlike an ad-blocker, this also protects you from fishy websites and malware. Granted, you shouldn’t throw your antivirus software into the trash either, since there’s only so much PIA can protect you against.
Lastly, there’s also the fact that PIA now offers you a 30-day money-back guarantee. It means that you can receive a refund if you are not happy with the service, which can also be considered a trial of sorts. There are also not many restrictions when it comes to whether you are eligible for a refund or not. Read our review.
+ Great pings on most servers
+ Impressive download and upload speeds
+ Works great for Netflix unblocking as well
+ Includes a built-in ad-blocker and anti-malware component
+ Very affordable subscription prices
+ Huge number of servers and locations
– The company is based in the U.S.A., which is part of the 14 Eyes Alliance
If you are interested in having access to as many servers as possible, then CyberGhost is definitely the way to go, given the fact that it has over 6,000 of them active at the moment. To make things even better, all of those servers are designed to be as quick as possible, which means that you get great download and upload speeds across the board, regardless of the location you are connected to.
This also makes CyberGhost a very good choice for gaming, especially since you have such a large selection of servers at your disposal. The latency on these servers is top-notch as well, not to mention the fact that your speeds do not take a significant hit in the process either. This should allow you to remain competitive while playing online while also being able to download patches very quickly.
CyberGhost also offers a split-tunneling feature thanks to the inclusion of the Smart Rules panel, which allows you to easily set up which websites or IPs are allowed to bypass the VPN. As you might already know, this feature is very important if you want to game without lag, which is why it’s nice to see it included in the app as well.
However, there’s also a problem when it comes to the desktop app: The kill switch is enabled by default and cannot be disabled. While this is fine for regular VPN use (and we actually recommend that you never disable the kill switch), things are different if you use it for gaming. As such, if your Internet connection is disabled while playing, you will also be disconnected from the game server, which is bad news if no reconnect is possible quickly enough.
Hence, in games like Dota 2 and League of Legends (where disconnects are punished quite severely), a kill switch can really ruin your day if the VPN server experiences issues while CyberGhost is running in the background. Hence, it would be nice to have the option to disable the kill switch while playing.
The service wins some points in other regards, such as the fact that it offers an incredibly useful list of specialty servers for streaming. Thus, you can choose between servers that are specifically designed to work with Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red, as well as many sports streaming platforms that are available in different countries. Thus, location spoofing is also possible, which is not something that’s available in many other VPNs.
CyberGhost is also based in Romania, where laws regarding P2P traffic are very relaxed. Thanks to this, you can enjoy unrestricted torrenting and P2P downloads, especially since there’s even a special list of dedicated servers for this purpose. These servers are also designed to maximize download speeds, which is obviously a good thing to have.
Lastly, you also get a very generous 45-day money-back guarantee. This is a significantly longer money-back guarantee than most services are willing to offer, and you do not have to worry about silly restrictions either when it comes to receiving a refund. Read our review.
+ The biggest network of servers on the market
+ Great pings and download speeds
+ Allows split-tunneling
+ 45-day money-back guarantee
+ Specialty servers for many types of streaming platforms
+ Location spoofing is possible
– The kill switch cannot be disabled
It would seem like ExpressVPN has a hard time staying off our lists, but it’s really hard not to include it when we have already concluded that it’s by far the best all-rounder on the market. Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s a great choice for gamers as well, in spite of the fact that its rather steep monthly price might be a bit of a turn-off for many people.
However, you don’t get to lead the market without investing in your product, which is why ExpressVPN features one of the most robust server networks you can find. Because of this, the latency recorded on most servers is incredibly low even when compared to your regular connection, which means that you shouldn’t notice big differences in online games either.
At the moment, ExpressVPN offers over 3,000 servers in 160 locations and more than 90 countries, which means that the entire globe is covered, and you should never be forced to connect to a server that’s very far away from you. Not only that, but the download speeds are incredibly high as well, which means that you can easily download your games and keep them up to date without having to disable the VPN.
You can also make use of split-tunneling in order to allow your games to access the Internet without going through the VPN, which is useful if you want to reduce your latency even more. This way, you can keep the rest of your activities safe from prying eyes, such as playing videos in the background or browsing the web between your Dota 2 matches. The kill switch can be disabled as well, so kudos for that.
Once you leave the game and you want to enjoy a good movie on your favorite streaming platform, you can count on ExpressVPN to provide you with access to all the geo-restricted content you want. Hence, the service is capable of unblocking Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, as well as a variety of other services. Not only that, but this feature works across all of your devices, especially since there’s a native app for almost any operating system out there.
If you are worried about data collection, then you should know that ExpressVPN stands by its no-logs policy, which means that no information is collected while the VPN is running. Not only that, but the company behind ExpressVPN operates in the British Virgin Islands, which is not under the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes Alliance. Hence, your data cannot be shared with other countries in case the authorities want to peek at it for whatever reason.
Lastly, there’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee, which can also serve as a trial period if you are still unsure about whether ExpressVPN is the right choice for you. Not only that, but you are offered a full refund if the product does not meet your expectations, and there are no hoops to jump through in order to be eligible for it. Read our review.
+ Plenty of servers and locations to choose from
+ Fast download and upload speeds, as well as great pings across the board
+ Split-tunneling can be enabled for your games
+ Highly customizable app with plenty of settings
– Slightly too expensive for some people
If you want freedom when it comes to how many devices you can use with the same subscription, Surfshark is definitely the way to go, given the fact that you are allowed to connect an unlimited number of devices at the same time. However, that is not the only upside you enjoy by choosing Surfshark, given the fact that the service is also quite capable in almost every other regard.
In terms of gaming, Surfshark likes to stay out of your way, and it also doesn’t impact your gaming performance too much. The download speeds are very high and consistent, and the pings are very good as well, in most cases. Naturally, you don’t get quite as many servers to choose from, given the fact that you have to make do with “only” 1,000 of them, but at least they are spread out in over 60 different countries.
To make things even better, there’s also a split-tunneling feature included with the app, which is about as straightforward as it can get. Hence, all you have to do in order to allow your games to bypass the VPN is to add them to the whitelist section. After that, Surfshark won’t reroute your gaming traffic at all, which should make it very easy to maintain your regular pings while still protecting the rest of your traffic.
One extra feature you get from Surfshark is the ability to block ads, thanks to the built-in ad-blocker that can be activated from the settings panel. This feature is called CleanWeb, and it also works as an anti-malware solution that can help you avoid malicious websites or various scams around the Internet.
If streaming is your thing, then you can definitely enjoy that as well, given the fact that Surfshark can unblock Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, as well as many other similar services. Unfortunately, there are no specialty servers for this, but you can rest assured that most servers will also double as a Netflix unblocker if you choose the correct country.
Privacy-wise, Surfshark allows you to use MultiHop connections, which are designed to obfuscate your traffic even further and make it next to impossible for anyone to keep tabs on you. In fact, the service is one of the very few VPNs that also work in China, which means you can really get a lot of use out of the app outside of gaming.
You can also use special servers for static IPs, depending on your needs. In fact, this feature should be god-sent for gamers, especially if you want to host your own servers. Thanks to this, you should be able to allow other players to connect to your server even while the VPN is active, given the fact that your IP is not being shuffled in the background.
As mentioned before, Surfshark supports an unlimited number of simultaneous connections, which is not the kind of freedom you can get from most other VPNs. However, you also get a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is redeemable regardless of how you use the service before the 30 days expire. Read our review.
+ Unlimited simultaneous connections for any subscription
+ Decent download speeds and pings
+ Supports split-tunneling and static IPs
+ Blocks ads with the built-in ad-blocker
+ Cheap monthly subscription prices
– Not as many servers as the competition
– No specialty servers for streaming
In terms of raw speeds, Hotspot Shield is the fastest VPN we have tested here at FYV, which is why we also deem it very good for gamers as well. However, even if high speeds and pings are incredibly important when it comes to online gaming, that doesn’t mean that everything else is irrelevant. Thus, while Hotspot Shield is undoubtedly a good VPN, it also has a few flaws that prevent us from recommending it before all the other services on this list.
As far as server count is concerned, Hotspot Shield is definitely up there with the best of them, given the fact that you gain access to over 3,200 servers in 98 locations and over 80 countries once you purchase a subscription. Given the impressive speeds and low pings, these servers are also very high-quality, which means that your gaming sessions should be smooth and lag-free most of the time.
One of the first drawbacks, however, is the fact that Hotspot Shield does not offer fully-fledged split-tunneling functionality, which is not good news for gamers. In essence, the app does allow you to whitelist certain websites, but you cannot do the same for apps. Hence, you can’t tell Hotspot not to interfere with your games, which is a bit of a bummer.
However, the service holds its own when it comes to unblocking Netflix and other streaming services since it can do that with no issues. P2P is also allowed because there are no restrictions when it comes to what you can download and how much you can transfer every month. Granted, bandwidth restrictions are not something you should deal with in 2020, regardless of what VPN you happen to pick.
The other downside when it comes to Hotspot Shield is the fact that the company is based in the U.S.A., which is part of the 14 Eyes Alliance. However, that’s not a big thing in and by itself, given the fact that Private Internet Access is also based in the U.S.A. Unfortunately, Hotspot Shield has a spotty past when it comes to data collection, not to mention the fact that it will collaborate with the authorities and share your data with them if they request it.
On the other hand, there are some nice upsides as well. One of them is the fact that there’s a 45-day money-back guarantee, which is a lot more generous than most VPNs are willing to offer. To make things even better, there’s also a free version and a trial for you to play with, which is a great way to find out whether the service ticks all the right boxes for your particular needs. Read our review.
+ The highest download and upload speeds we have measured so far
+ Plenty of servers and locations to choose from
+ Low pings, which is excellent for gamers
+ Unblocks Netflix and similar platforms
+ 45-day money-back guarantee
– Company is based in a 14 Eyes Alliance country
– Some shady behavior in the past when it comes to data collection
– Split-tunneling works for websites only
As you can see, you do not have to sacrifice security to be able to play online games, especially since modern VPNs are fast enough not to interfere with your pings too much. The effects are barely noticeable if you choose a server that’s very close to your actual location, and that still gets you all the benefits of having a VPN.
Moreover, most of the VPNs on our list allow you to use split-tunneling anyway, which is exactly the feature you need to keep your gaming and general internet browsing separate. Hence, it should be easy to keep the app running in the background at all times, regardless of whether you are on Facebook, watching a movie on Netflix, or playing a competitive game online.