We take a look at the best VPNs for gaming including the factors you should consider when choosing a VPN suitable for both playing and hosting online games.
Want a good VPN to play Dota 2, League of Legends, Starcraft 2, World of Warcraft, Counter Strike, Minecraft, Overwatch, or some other online game?
Online gamers want the fastest connection to a game server they can get, so it might seem counter-intuitive at first to use a VPN. Short for virtual private network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user’s choosing.
The encryption and re-routing process usually tends to slow down connections and increase lag. Dig a bit deeper, however, and gamers can find several ways to utilize VPNs. VPNs offer gamers the following benefits:
- Access geo-locked games inaccessible from your country of residence. Is your favorite game limited to South Korea or Japan? No problem! Just connect to a VPN server in those countries and brush up on your language skills.
- Bypass IP bans. Did you get unjustly IP banned from a game that you love? A VPN will change your IP address so you can get back in the action.
- Access to Steam and other marketplaces when traveling abroad. Steam and other online game stores may not accept payment if your IP address does not match up with the country in your profile. A VPN can help you get around this.
- Protection from DDoS attacks. If you’re a competitive gamer and the other team is using dirty tactics to target your IP address with a denial-of-service attack, many VPNs have built-in protections against that.
- Protection from hackers and snoops. Leaving your connection open to a game for long periods of time can be a security risk. The encryption and IP masking a VPN offers will help keep you safe.
- Play games not yet released in your country. If you live in Europe and want to get your hands on a game only available in the US, a VPN can help you get earlier access. Just make sure you’re not breaking any terms of service.
- Access to other regions’ game servers. If you have a friend in another country you want to play with but the game’s servers are split up by region, a VPN can let you play together.
Some VPNs claim they can even lower ping time and lag. We recommend you take that claim with a big grain of salt. In some cases, a VPN will give you access to a game server that’s performing better or even find a faster route between you and the game server, but in the vast majority of cases, the encryption process and re-routing through an extra server will increase latency.
To help you choose the best VPN for gaming, we’ve curated a list of the top options for gamers. We’ve chosen them based on these criteria:
- Number and location of servers. A lot of servers to choose from around the world will give you access to more games and less latency.
- NAT firewalls and anti-DDoS protection. These will help protect you from hackers and denial-of-service attacks.
- Speed and reliability. Good old bandwidth and a stable connection will go a long way in keeping you in the game and playing competitively.
- Dedicated gaming servers. Some VPNs have servers optimized specifically for gamers.
- Tier 1 Network. A Tier 1 network means the VPN provider connects its servers to the fastest possible network available. It does not settle for a downstream ISP that buys its bandwidth from a bigger company and then resells it. Essentially, a VPN that uses only Tier 1 networks is directly hooked into the backbone of the internet.
Best VPNs for playing games online
NordVPN boasts more than 1,000 server locations in over 60 countries on every continent except Antarctica. A handful of those come with built-in anti-DDoS protection for super stable connections. Next to each server listed in the app is the server load and number of miles between yourself and the server, which should give you some indication of ping time.
Unfortunately, specific cities are not listed, so it’s impossible to know, for example, if you’re connecting to a server on the East or West coast of the United States. Finding a fast one might be a process of trial and error, but you can “favorite” a server to find it quickly later on.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
IPVanish runs servers in over 60 countries and exclusively uses Tier 1 networks. It’s one of very few providers that actually owns its servers rather than renting them. That means if your priority is to play on a VPN without lag, IPVanish is an excellent choice. The app allows you to see the current load and ping time of each server and even filter by ping time, protocol, and country. The service includes a NAT firewall.
I read some earlier articles saying IPVanish has gaming-optimized servers. That might have been true at one time, but I can’t find any reference to that in the current version of the desktop app.
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Read our full review of IPVanish.
ExpressVPN operates servers in 94 countries around the world. its desktop app comes with a built-in speed tester so you can quickly deduce which servers have the lowest ping time in milliseconds. The VPN consistently scores well in our speed tests, offering more than enough bandwidth to keep up with opponents online.
If you’re a console gamer using a PlayStation or XBox that doesn’t support VPN apps, ExpressVPN sells pre-configured routers and makes free router firmware for certain models that will let you route all the traffic connected to them through the VPN. This is far more user friendly than trying to flash an open-source firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato onto your router and manually configuring a VPN, which is also a pain whenever you need to switch servers.
It lacks a NAT firewall and DDoS protection, though, so competitive gamers may want a different solution.
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Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
Like IPVanish, VyprVPN utilizes Tier 1 network providers and owns all of its own server infrastructure around the world, which means very little lag and a lot of bandwidth for gamers. It operates data centers in over 60 countries. The desktop app shows the ping time for each so you can find the one with the least amount of lag. A NAT firewall is built in to stop hackers and botnet attacks. German eSports professional team Roughnex famously uses VyprVPN to prevent DDoS attacks during tournaments.
VyprVPN’s parent company, Golden Frog, is now alpha testing a new service it describes as an “optimized gaming network” which promises to lower ping time, reduce lag, and reroute traffic to avoid network congestion. We’ll add more details as they become available.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
Cyberghost is an easy-to-use VPN that comes packed with all sorts of features that can help you tailor the service to your gaming needs. All of the servers available on Cyberghost’s premium tier are DDoS-protected, and a NAT firewall comes built in. Cyberghost Pro scored better-than-average times in our speed tests. It’s reliable, too, offering stable conections to 850 servers in 27 countries. You can toggle on or off useful settings like extra speed and data compression. A NAT firewall is built into the service. 256-bit encryption and a no-logs policy ensure your data is secure.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Read our full Cyberghost Pro review.
Best VPNs for hosting games online
Now you know which VPNs to choose from if all you want to do is play a game online. But if you want to host one? That requires a couple more criteria to consider:
- Port forwarding. Games often only operate on certain ports. Game servers and older LAN games will require a VPN equipped with port forwarding. Note that it’s not necessary or even recommended to port forward your router and the VPN at the same time. Only the VPN requires port forwarding, or else risk opening yourself up to attack.
- Static IP addresses, also sometimes referred to as dedicated IPs, though the two differ slightly. A static IP address will allow you to run a reliable game server that won’t change IPs all the time. They can also allow friends to connect to your host computer via LAN apps like Hamachi and Evolve without constantly updating your IP address.
Servers with dedicated IPs can be found using the “topology” dropdown in the LiquidVPN app and choosing “dedicated.” You can open ports in the firewall and have them forwarded to your IP address right from the control panel.
For an extra fee, LiquidVPN offers private static IP addresses to users. These IPs are exclusive to the user and not shared with others.
Read our full review of LiquidVPN.
Each Air VPN server has one static exit-IP address with which clients connected to that server are “visible” on the internet. No specific setup is necessary. Users may forward up to 20 ports simultaneously from the client area dashboard on AirVPN’s website.
Private dedicated IPs are available and can be requested by contacting AirVPN.
You can add dedicated server IPs to a list in the TorGuard app in the settings menu, under the Servers tab. It will then appear at the top of the server selection list on the main client.
To set up port forwarding, you’ll need to request it on the TorGuard website. Processing is usually instant. Go go My Services > View Details >> Management Actions >> Port Management.
NordVPN offers a handful of static IP servers at no extra cost. Port forwarding is not yet supported, but the company says it plans to implement it in a forthcoming update.
VPNs that gamers should avoid
We like BolehVPN on the whole, but not for gaming. We’re only singling it out here because we’ve seen multiple other sites claiming that BolehVPN offers gaming optimized servers and game hosting services. In fact, it never offered gaming-optimized servers and has since quit selling game hosting services. With only 14 countries to choose from, it’s just not great for gaming.
Free VPNs usually have a limited number of servers, cap data transfers, require queueing to connect, and throttle bandwidth. They also tend to have worse security and privacy policies compared to paid VPN services, so they are unsuitable for gaming.
Using PPTP for a faster connection
Normally we never recommend PPTP over other protocols like OpenVPN, SSTP, or L2TP. If those are too slow, however, you may consider using the PPTP protocol when gaming. PPTP tends to be faster than the other options and is still widely supported both by VPN providers and operating systems.
Be warned however, that you shouldn’t depend on a PPTP VPN connection to keep you secure. The protocol has known security vulnerabilities. Don’t use it for any privacy-critical tasks.
SOCKS5 proxy for gaming
If all you want to do is access a game that’s geo-blocked in your area, consider using a SOCKS5 proxy. Because SOCKS5 proxies don’t encrypt traffic by default, they tend to be faster than VPNs (not the overloaded free ones, mind you).
Bear in mind, however, that SOCKS5 proxies don’t come with any of the security bonuses of VPNs. The provider can mine your traffic for personal data and inject malware or advertisements. You won’t get a NAT firewall or DDoS protection.
NordVPN subscriptions come with free SOCKS5 proxies and plenty of locations to choose from. The company maintains a strict no-logs policy, so you don’t have to worry about them abusing your data.
See also: If you are looking for speed, check out our list of the fastest VPN services.