How to Improve Speeds When Gaming with a VPN
Gaming with a VPN is pretty awesome - you can play on the same servers as your friends, reduce ping (sometimes), get early access to some games, play censored games, and stop your ISP from throttling your gaming bandwidth.
There's just one drawback, though - the speeds. VPNs slow down your Internet speeds, and it's sometimes noticeable while gaming. And yes, even the best VPNs to use when gaming online do that.
Is there anything you can do about that?
Actually, there is. We'll show you how to improve your VPN speeds while gaming in this guide.
Why Do VPNs Slow Down Your Speeds?
It all comes down to two things: the encryption and the distance between you and the VPN server.
Let's start with the VPN encryption. You can play Steam through a VPN but it makes your traffic unreadable. So it also makes your data packets heavier. So, it takes longer to transport them between your device and the VPN server. Also, some devices lack encryption/decryption accelerators in their CPUs. If your device doesn't have that feature, it'll take longer for its CPU to run the encryption/decryption process.
The distance between you and the server affects how long it takes for data packets to travel from your device to the VPN server (and vice-versa). If you connect to a server on a different continent, the device-VPN server communication process will obviously take more time.
IMPORTANT: VPN slowdowns are usually not very noticeable. However, they can be annoying if your ISP speeds are already slow.
How to Improve Speeds When Gaming with a VPN (6 Tips That Actually Work)
We ran tests on multiple devices, using different VPNs, and while playing multiple online games. According to our results, these are the most efficient speed optimization methods:
1. Use a Server in Your Country
We already said that you'll get slower speeds if you use a server that's too far away from you. So, the solution is obvious - just use a server that's in your country. The distance is minimal, so there should hardly be any slowdown.
If you can't find such a server, use one in a nearby country. For example, if you're in France, use a server in the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, or Spain. But if you use a VPN with thousands of servers, that shouldn't be necessary since the provider should have a server in your country.
What if you need a far-away server to play together with your friends?
In that case, skip this step and try the next tips.
2. Lower the Encryption
Most VPNs use AES-256 bit encryption. It's the standard, and for good reason. It's the same encryption cipher used by the military and banks. However, the 256-bit cipher is also more resource-intensive.
Some VPNs let you choose which encryption length you use. If you can switch from AES-256 to AES-128 do it. The security is just as good, but you get slightly better speeds. ChaCha20 is also a secure and fast cipher, so feel free to use it too (if it's available).
3. Use a Fast VPN Protocol
OpenVPN is the default protocol in most VPN apps. It's open-source, reliable, and extremely secure. However, it's pretty slow. OpenVPN is single-threaded, meaning it only uses one CPU. So even if you have a powerful eight-core CPU with encryption-decryption accelerators, your speeds will still be slow because OpenVPN only uses one CPU (usually the same one your operating system uses).
We recommend using WireGuard instead. At this point, most VPN providers integrated WireGuard into their apps. It's extremely lightweight (around 4,000 lines of code) and just as secure as OpenVPN. We always had smoother gaming sessions while playing Dota 2 and CS:GO using WireGuard instead of OpenVPN.
If WireGuard isn't available, you can also try IKEv2/IPSec and L2TP/IPSec. PPTP is also an option, but keep in mind it's not secure at all. The NSA can crack its encryption, so we don't recommend using it.
Pro Tip: If you're stuck with OpenVPN or only want to use that protocol, set it to run over UDP instead of TCP. UDP is more suitable for gaming because it's connectionless and doesn't focus on error-checking and correction. Translated, that means you'll get faster speeds with UDP instead of TCP.
4. Game over Wired Connections
WiFi speeds 100% depend on the strength of your WiFi signal. If it's too weak, your speeds will be very slow. And the signal will usually weaken the moment you leave the room with the router.
It's much better to hook up your device to the router using an ethernet cable. You don't need to rely on an unstable WiFi signal anymore. And you don't really have to sit right next to the router. You can use ethernet cables that are 20 meters (65 feet) long, so you can game online in a different room.
Alternatively, you could also use a range extender to increase the strength of your WiFi signal throughout your home.
5. Use Split-Tunneling (If It's Available)
With split-tunneling, you can decide which traffic is sent through the VPN server and which traffic is sent through your local network. If the VPN has to route less data, its speeds should be faster.
We tried that out and saw 5-10% speed boosts. We made the VPN only route traffic from Fortnite and ignore data from other apps (Skype, Discord, Chrome, Opera, uTorrent).
6. Disable Background Apps
If split-tunneling isn't available, just turn off any web-connected apps you're not using while gaming. Shut down your web browser that has 10+ open tabs, the torrent client, and instant messaging apps.
How Else Can You Boost VPN Gaming Speeds?
If you know other things that work, please tell us about them in the comments. If possible, try to mention what speed increases you saw when using those methods.