Gaming virtual private networks (VPN) do much more than keeping your IP address anonymous from prying eyes (or a tilted enemy’s DDoS attacks). They can help you avoid bandwidth throttling issues, improve routing, and give you access to region-locked games. A VPN can even help you secure the best deals on the latest esports peripherals.
Of course, not all VPNs are fit for the job, and the free ones, albeit easy on the wallet, are rarely easy on your gameplay experience; they’re restrictive, slow, and often have bandwidth caps. Most free VPNs also gather and sell your data on themselves, which defeats the whole purpose of having a VPN.
Luckily, there are plenty of reasonably-priced premium VPNs out there that’ll allow you to game safely without utterly destroying your ping in the process. Here are our top three picks of 2022.
Best VPN for Gaming: The Three Most Popular Ones
The most trusted and popular VPNs for gaming are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and TunnelBear. Each is better suited to different needs and budgets. ExpressVPN and NordVPN both offer a 30-day moneyback guarantee, while TunnelBear has a free version with a bandwidth cap.
1. Best All-Rounder VPN for Gaming: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN delivers a reliable connection that’ll allow you to battle it out securely without ping spikes, disconnections, or other gamechanging interferences. It has thousands of servers spread out across over 90 different countries – meaning you can effortlessly find a server nearby your chosen game’s servers – and is easy to use and configure. Where ExpressVPN particularly shines though is its compatibility with routers. It offers router-tailored firmware and even has a dedicated website that’ll help you through the router installation process.
ExpressVPN works on up to five devices simultaneously and supports the following protocols: OpenVPN and IKEv2. Express VPN has also developed their own lightning-fast protocol, aptly called Lightway. Aside from delivering a super fast, reliable connection, Lightway also doesn’t drain your battery as much as other protocols do.
While ExpressVPN lacks a warrant canary, they don’t collect activity or connection logs. You can also pay for a membership using cryptocurrency, meaning you won’t have to give away any personal information. A standard membership costs $12.95 per month, or if you pay 12 months upfront, it’ll set you back $6.67 per month. Currently, ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
ExpressVPN has excellent customer support and its website is packed with beginner-friendly in-depth guides and troubleshooting tips to help you out.
2. Most Secure VPN for Gaming: NordVPN
NordVPN brags over 5,500 servers to connect to and unbeatable privacy. It doesn’t keep any user logs and is headquartered in Panama – a country with no data retention laws. NordVPN also has an up-to-date warranty canary and several privacy-tailored features, from a kill switch to double VPN support.
Gaming with NordVPN is an absolute dream. Its interface is easy to navigate and the connection is stable and fast. The ping difference is negligible in most games and the VPN is sure to keep you protected against bandwidth throttling and DDoS attacks. NordVPN is available on most platforms, including iOS and Android, and can be set up on routers.
Full disclosure: NordVPN has had a somewhat tainted past – the 2018 server breach, to be exact. However, the company has since taken substantial measures to rectify its mistakes and maximize security, including moving to colocated servers and a bug bounty program. They have also undergone two independent audits in 2019 and 2021, both of which backed the company’s no-logging claims.
A NordVPN subscription can support up to six devices simultaneously and costs between $3.99 and $13.99 per month. The VPN also comes with malware protection and a tracker and ad blocker.
3. Great Value VPN for Gaming: TunnelBear
TunnelBear is an affordable VPN designed with total beginners in mind. It provides all the essentials in an insanely gorgeous and easy to navigate interface. You also get a cute bear sidekick to keep you company in your digital ventures across the world.
TunnelBear ensures your gaming experience is smooth and painless too; the connection is stable, you rarely experience congestion issues, and using multiple devices won’t cause any slowdowns or lag. TunnelBear can’t quite match the connection speeds of competitors, but for casual gaming it does the job perfectly.
TunnelBear has around 3,000 servers in over 40 countries. While this is fairly limited, the company is constantly expanding their server network and makes up for this with their high-end encryption, no-logs policy, and range of protocols to choose between. TunnelBear also offers a free version that gives you access to all of their servers and features. The only difference between the paid and free version is that the free version has a bandwidth cap (500MB per month).
TunnelBear doesn’t have a warrant canary, but it does undergo independent security audits annually. A membership costs between $3 and $10 per month, depending on how much you pay upfront. A single subscription supports up to five devices.
Does a VPN Slow Down Games and Should You Use It for Online Gaming?
While VPNs have a bad reputation for slowing down online games, this isn’t always the case. In fact, using a VPN in some instances can actually improve your current ping. Many ISPs often deliberately cut down your connection speed – aka bandwidth throttling – when you engage in heavy bandwidth-consuming activities like gaming. However, a VPN hides your internet usage from the ISP, which prevents them from detecting you as a target to throttle. A VPN can also reduce your ping time by using more direct routing than your ISP, or by connecting you to a server nearer the actual online game server.
Of course, these situations are pretty specific. In most cases, a VPN is only going to match your current speeds, rather than drastically improve them. A VPN can cause significantly higher latency while gaming, but this typically only happens if you’re using a poor quality VPN, haven’t optimized its settings for gaming, or have connected to a congested server.
A great benefit of a VPN is that it also gives you access to geo-blocked online games, though make sure you’re familiar with the legalities and risks involved with this.
Best VPN Protocol for Gaming?
A VPN protocol is essentially a set of instructions that determine how data will be encrypted and exchanged between your device and the actual VPN server. Put simply: VPN protocols make sure your connection is secure and reliable.
Each VPN protocol is unique and better suited to different needs. For example, there are those that prioritize maintaining the best possible speeds, while there are others that prioritize privacy and security. Unsurprisingly, as a gamer, you’re going to be interested in the former – VPN protocols that help you maintain a fast, stable connection. The best VPN protocols for gaming to date are WireGuard, IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, and Lightway (an ExpressVPN exclusive). Most premium VPNs offer multiple protocol options for you to choose between.
OpenVPN is one of the most popular VPN protocols. However, it isn’t ideal for gaming. While it offers superior security and is highly customizable, it uses up a lot of resources and you’re likely to experience slowdowns.
Are VPNs Legal?
VPNs are legal in most places in the world, but how you use them is a whole different matter; illegal activities like torrenting copyrighted content are still going to be illegal.
Using a VPN to access geo-blocked content or bypass an IP ban can also breach the terms and conditions of certain games, streaming services, and applications. While these aren’t illegal practices, they can still result in your account getting punished.
Countries that have restrictions in place or outright ban VPNs include Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, China, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Russia.
Does a VPN hide your browsing history?
Yes, a VPN does generally hide your browsing history, including search history, websites visited, links shared or clicked, and your IP address. This is because it sends all of your data through an encrypted tunnel and only decrypts the data once it has received its intended recipient. Your ISP won’t be able to access any of your browsing history, nor will any third parties like the owner of your Wi-Fi router.
With that said, keep in mind that depending on the VPN you use, your browsing history might not be completely private. Some VPNs, especially free, cheap VPNs, often keep track of your data for themselves to sell on to third-parties. The premium VPN’s we’ve listed above don’t keep usage logs of your data.
Can you be tracked with a VPN?
A VPN guarantees that your data usage won’t be tracked to your actual IP address, but information you provide sites, apps, and services can still be tracked. For example, if you log into Facebook and start spam-liking a load of memes, Facebook will see this activity. VPNs also won’t typically block cookies, browser fingerprinting, and ad trackers.
Of course, VPNs are still able to track your data activity and sell it on themselves, so it’s important you ensure the VPN you go with is trustworthy and doesn’t keep your connection information on file.
Is a free VPN worth the hassle?
Generally speaking, no. As the saying goes, nothing in life is truly free. If you’re not paying for a VPN service, chances are, they’re making money off you in other ways; they might be laden with infuriating ads or retain your usage logs and sell the data to third parties. Some might even be packed with malicious malware.
Even if you find a reliable free VPN that has strict privacy measures, it’s likely still not worth the hassle. Most free VPNs have bandwidth restrictions, poor connection speeds, and a limited server range. A free VPN would only be worthwhile if you just need it to quickly browse geo-blocked websites or shops, and aren’t fussed about how your data is being processed.
Does a VPN slow down internet speed?
Yes, a VPN can potentially slow down your internet speed because, instead of taking a direct route, your data is encrypted and sent through the VPN’s own servers before arriving at its destination. The process is a lot more involved and typically adds more travel distance, hence why your internet speed can become sluggish.
However, with a well-optimized premium VPN, this speed difference is going to be negligible. In some cases, a VPN can even increase your internet speed – it can prevent bandwidth throttling and shorten the connection path between you and your recipient.
Can a VPN provider see traffic history?
Yes, a VPN provider can see your traffic history, but most premium VPNs, like ExpressVPN, discard this data (activity logs and connection logs). You can typically find out what data a VPN keeps logs of by reading through the terms and conditions and company’s privacy policies. For example, while some premium VPNs won’t log your traffic history, they might log your usage of their services to identify technical issues.
Keep in mind that most free VPNs do keep logs of your data to sell on for profit. You also should consider how a VPN secures your data – leaks and breaches have occurred in the past.
Can my internet provider see my VPN?
Yes, your internet provider can see that you’re connecting to an IP associated with a VPN. In some cases, your internet provider might also be able to identify connection timestamps and the VPN protocol you’re using. However, your ISP won’t be able to decipher your data, nor where your data is traveling from and its intended recipient.
Is it legal to use a VPN in China?
Yes, it’s technically legal to use a VPN in China – they’re often used by large business organizations to securely communicate with the rest of the world. However, it is a gray area and there are restrictions in place. You need to use a government licensed (approved) VPN service and not use the VPN to access content or engage in activities the government deems illegal. Unsurprisingly, the only VPNs the government approves of are ones that give them backdoor access to user data.
While you’re unlikely to be punished for using a VPN in China for personal reasons, there’s still a risk and using one should be done with extreme caution. You also should never use a VPN to break state laws. Be aware that Chinese laws surrounding VPN usage and the internet frequently change.
Why Do Countries Ban VPNs?
The most common reason countries ban VPNs is to censor information and international media. China is particularly notorious for this. Over the years, the government has implemented several legislations and technologies to control digital freedom – measures that have collectively been called the “Great Firewall.”
Of course, the underlying motives for censoring information and media vary, from enforcing state virtues and preventing political dissent, to monitoring terrorist activity and improving domestic trade (prevents citizens from accessing international services). Some countries, like Turkmenistan, also sometimes stop and search citizens to inspect their phones for VPN apps.
Best country for VPN anonymity?
Switzerland is considered the best and safest country for VPN anonymity in the world, thanks to its strict data privacy laws and high freedom house assessment score. As Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, it also doesn’t need to share sensitive data with other European countries. Plus, downloading copyrighted content for personal use is legal in Switzerland. Other countries that are ideal for VPN anonymity include Iceland, Romania, and Malaysia.
How do I know my VPN is working?
The simplest method is to use an IP checker website like WhatIsMyIP. If your VPN is working, the website will show you the IP associated with the VPN server, rather than your local IP address. Most premium VPNs also have their own personal IP checker you can use – ExpressVPN’s IP checker can be found here.
What is a Warrant Canary and why you should care?
A warranty canary is essentially a way that companies (legally) let you know that they’ve received an order from a government agency to hand over personal data. This is how it works: a company publishes an announcement on their website such as “we haven’t received any requests to share user data.” Once they receive a request, they then remove the announcement.
While not every company has a warranty canary on their website, a lot of VPN companies have done so due to the nature of their service, like NordVPN and Surfshark. If a VPN service hasn’t released a warranty canary – or its announcement is suddenly removed – it could potentially be a sign that your data is at risk.
However, keep in mind that no-log VPNs, if they truly are no-log as they claim, shouldn’t have any useful or sensitive data on you to share anyway.
What is a double VPN?
A double VPN is a system that routes your data through two VPNs servers instead of just one. This process increases your privacy and security because your data is encrypted twice. The second VPN server also won’t know your local IP address. A number of popular VPNs, like NordVPN, have a built-in double VPN feature.
Is a triple VPN overkill?
Yes, a triple VPN is overkill. While it does guarantee you more privacy than a standard VPN – it’s the equivalent of adding two extra locks on a safe – it will absolutely wreck your connection speed. Games will be virtually unplayable and even browsing the web is going to be a slow, frustrating experience.
Unless you’re a political activist living in a tightly-censored country, a triple VPN isn’t necessary. All you need is a reliable VPN that doesn’t keep user logs, has a good range of servers, and is headquartered in a country with excellent data protection laws (shoutout to Switzerland).
Can you install a VPN on a router?
Yes, you can set up a VPN on your router. The main benefit of this is that it ensures all devices connected to your router are protected by the VPN– even those that typically can’t use VPN software like smart home devices. However, be aware that not all routers are compatible with VPNs. And even if your router is, it may not be powerful enough to handle your desired tunneling protocols. There are several VPN-tailored routers on the market though, including Linksys WRT 3200 ACM, Asus RT-AX58U, and TP-Link Archer C5400 v2.
How you install a VPN on a router will ultimately depend on the type of router and your desired configuration. You can follow this in-depth guide for further help.
Is a VPN faster than a proxy?
A proxy functions as an intermediary server between your device and the internet. While it hides your IP address, it doesn’t encrypt your data traffic and can only work on a specific browser or software. In theory, proxies should be faster than VPNs because they don’t have to encrypt and decrypt all your web traffic. In practice, they rarely outperform high-quality VPNs – proxies often aren’t as stable and usually have overcrowded servers. Proxies also won’t guarantee the same protection a VPN provides.