Virtual private networks (VPNs) are used for various purposes, like strengthening online privacy and streaming. While using a VPN, apps and websites don’t see your actual IP address, instead viewing the location of the server you’re connected to. For instance, you may be in New York City, but with a VPN on a London server, apps and websites see your traffic as coming from the UK. A virtual private network could improve your gaming experience by lowering your ping (latency) for more responsive online play, mask your IP address and prevent throttling. But there are downsides to using a VPN for gaming — notably, slower connection speeds and possible terms of service (ToS) violations.
Here at CNET, we’ve spent years meticulously testing VPNs to cut through the marketing braggadocio and help you pick the best software for your needs. While curating the top VPNs, we mainly considered PC gaming — on Windows, Linux, and MacOS. However, most VPN providers offer Android and iOS apps for mobile gaming. You’ll even find apps for streaming boxes, including Android TV, the Amazon Firestick and Apple TV. Consoles like the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch typically don’t have their own VPN apps — instead, you’ll generally need to configure your router for a whole-home VPN or use a host PC. Whether you want to reduce ping while connected to a game server, boost online protection or circumvent throttling limits, a virtual private network can take your game to the next level. But you’ll need to check specific game’s terms of service to ensure you’re not violating subscriber agreements. Let’s dive into the best VPNs for gaming so you can keep playing your favorite titles.
What is the best VPN for gaming right now?
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for gaming right now, thanks to its impressive speeds, excellent privacy protections and expansive global network of servers. NordVPN is another top VPN for gaming because it’s one of the most reliable VPNs available, delivers on speed and privacy, and includes unique features that can enhance your gaming experience. Surfshark is a solid alternative for anyone on a budget, because its WireGuard speeds are lightning fast, it’s easy to use, has a wide selection of servers all over the world and is cheaper than most of the competition.
The best VPN for gaming in 2023
Other VPNs we tested
IPVanish is a solid budget VPN for casual users — including gamers. The monthly plan sets you back $13 per month. You’ll pay $42 for 12 months of service on the annual plan, then $90 per year after that. A two-year subscription goes for a fairly cheap $72 for 24 months of service and renews at $90 per year billed annually. While many VPN providers restrict the number of devices you can use at once, IPVanish flaunts unlimited simultaneous connections.
IPVanish’s apps are uncomplicated, working equally well for beginners and seasoned tech enthusiasts alike. With a VPN enabled, IPVanish’s speed loss is slightly higher than ExpressVPN and NordVPN but still competitive and usable for gaming. However, its unpredictable speeds make it a tough sell for video gamers who demand low lag. Likewise, IPVanish’s servers pepper 52 countries, which is decent but less than providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark. Once promotional pricing runs out after a year or two (depending on your plan), IPVanish’s prices are middling, considering its uneven upload/download speeds. With its uneven connection speeds, average pricing and smaller server contingent, other VPN providers outstrip IPVanish for gaming.
Private Internet Access (PIA)
Private Internet Access is a capable budget-friendly alternative to Surfshark. If you’re looking for something even cheaper than Surfshark, but still a decent option for most gaming situations, then PIA is a good way to go. PIA’s speeds were slower than ExpressVPN and NordVPN in our testing but still should be good enough for your gaming needs as long as you connect through a nearby server and use the WireGuard protocol. You’ll get access to a robust network of servers spanning 91 countries — which is fewer than ExpressVPN and Surfshark but more than NordVPN, IPVanish and Proton VPN.
We also like how customizable the PIA app is. If you like to tinker with software and customize your experience to your exact specifications, you’ll be right at home with PIA. You can customize how much information related to your connection you want the app to display. But what’s even more useful to gamers is that you can customize the level of encryption for your connection, so you can dial in the perfect balance of speed and security for your gaming session. PIA works well across all major platforms and costs only $12 per month or $40 per year.
How we test VPNs for gaming
Though we ran a series of hands-on gaming tests for this list, our evaluation of the best VPNs for gaming was based predominantly on our extensive research and previous testing of the services listed above. The scope of the online gaming universe is simply far too vast for us to be able to develop a testing protocol that would do justice to every little corner of online gaming. We’ve spent years testing VPNs and researching what they can accomplish for virtually any online activity, so we’re confident in our capacity to deliver a sound and trustworthy evaluation of gaming VPNs. We took into account each provider’s speeds, usability and features, platform compatibility, server network, privacy protections, and customer support to come up with our list of the best VPNs for gaming.
Factors to consider in a VPN for gaming
Based on our years of experience in the VPN field and our understanding of what online gamers need from a VPN, these are the most important factors to consider in a VPN for gaming:
VPN speeds are the No. 1 factor to consider when choosing a VPN for gaming, because slow speeds and high latency can ruin your gaming experience. Your VPN needs to be fast enough to deliver the speeds necessary to keep you in the game, especially in competitive settings. A fast VPN can even help you potentially lower your ping, depending on the VPN server you’re connecting to and the network you’re on. And if you’re experiencing inadequate speeds for gaming, there are things you can try to speed up your VPN connection.
A major consideration for any VPN, regardless of the activity, is privacy. It’s important to have a VPN that can provide the necessary privacy protections to ensure your activity remains hidden and you’re safe from DDoS attacks and other threats from malicious actors while gaming. Make sure the VPN you choose has strong encryption standards and essential privacy features like DNS leak protection, a kill switch and a no-logs policy.
If you want to fully optimize your gaming experience, you’ll want a VPN that has servers in a wide selection of regions around the world. This will help ensure you have a speedy, stable connection regardless of where you are in the world. At the very least, you should make sure that the VPN you choose has servers located near your physical location and close to the servers of any games you play online.
Of course, you want to make sure that the VPN is compatible with the platform(s) you’re gaming on. All of the VPNs we’ve listed above are compatible with and work well on all major platforms, so either one is a solid option whether you’re gaming on your PC, Mac or mobile device. If you’re a console gamer, you’ll need to make sure that your VPN works well on a router setup because gaming consoles don’t natively support VPN apps.
Help guides/customer support
If you’re having trouble with your VPN or have questions on how to optimize your VPN connection for gaming, it’s helpful to have a VPN that offers a robust help section along with accessible and knowledgeable customer support. Look for a VPN that has easy-to-follow setup guides for multiple platforms (including routers) and 24/7 customer support via live chat. Make sure that you have the appropriate help on hand when you need it, because responsive customer support and helpful guides can help ensure that your gaming session is not unnecessarily impeded upon.