Downloading a VPN to your computer has become an essential bit of software over the last couple of years. And even if they're not generally absolutely necessary for gamers, the amount of time you probably spend on your rig means that investing in the best gaming VPN is still well worth doing.
For starters, there’s the ever-present consideration of security. Using a gaming VPN can increase your protection against the likes of DDoS attacks - indeed, it’s not unheard of for these to be used as a weapon against online opponents, particularly when it comes to competitive gaming - as well as adding an extra layer of security to combat the vulnerabilities that non-gamers alike face on a daily basis.
But on top of their web security prowess, virtual private networks will also allow you to access games only available in other geographical regions, as well as unblocking games like Fortnite that can be off limits in certain offices and academic institutions.
And whilst we’re not going to argue that there aren't possible pitfalls (slower connection and a higher ping time being the most obvious), if you follow our guide to getting only the best gaming VPN, then you'l be able to overcome these threats while at the same time staying safe online.
Gaming VPNs: how to choose the best
As we say, most gamers won't specifically need a VPN to enjoy their passion. But it stands to reason that many - especially those on the best gaming PC - will still want to have a VPN installed for other reasons (be that for security, streaming, IP spoofing or anything else).
At the moment, we recommend ExpressVPN as the overall best gaming VPN out there.
First and foremost, you want to ensure you're getting a service that isn't going to slow your whole system down. We specifically test connection speeds on multiple servers of all the VPN services we review, so we can tell you the fastest. Believe it or not, there’s always a chance that your gaming VPN will actually reduce your ping time and improve download/upload speeds. It’s difficult to state this categorically, and everyone’s mileage will vary, but in some of our VPN testing we’ve found our connection to be faster with the VPN turned on compared to our standard rates.
General security and privacy are clearly a must, too - time to say goodbye to those DDoS attacks for good. And if you game on multiple platforms, then we suggest picking out a provider that is easily usable on a variety of devices. Luckily, ExpressVPN ticks all of these boxes (and more).
1. ExpressVPN is the best gaming VPN
The qualities that makes ExpressVPN our overall #1 VPN - swift connection speeds, watertight security, excellent support for setting up on a range of devices - are what have also taken it to the top of our gaming VPN leaderboard. Plus, you can now get it with 3 months extra free.
2. NordVPN - avoiding DDoS and bandwidth throttling
If you're in the heat of an epic gaming session, you really don't want to have the burden of remembering to turn your VPN on and off every other minute. Thankfully, NordVPN's connection speeds are so fast that you can just leave it running in the background, knowing you're protected without the slow downs.
3. IPVanish - comes with dedicated gaming VPN features
IPVanish is an excellent VPN generally, but gamers will really like the fact that the provider allows you to sort available servers by ping time. It means you can be sure you're connecting via the best possible place, with 24/7 live chat support on hand if you need an extra helping hand.
The top 5 best gaming VPN in 2020:
With 160 different locations across 94 countries, ExpressVPN should allow you to find a swift server from anywhere in the world. Indeed, it not only boasts some of the fastest speeds we witnessed during our testing, but they're really stable and reliable, too - and that's pretty much the same on its servers all over the world. So if you're worried about your ping rates sky rocketing, you really needn't.
It's secure as well, so DDoS attacks can be put to the back of your mind when you're facing off in the last gasps of a battle royale.
The service excels in the mobile department by offering intuitive custom apps, in particular for Android and iOS. It's ridiculously easy to set up on PCs and there's easy to follow online guides to help get it going on PlayStations and Xbox, too.
Admittedly, ExpressVPN costs more than some other VPNs, but opting for a 1-year plan is the most affordable choice and gets you a bonus three months extra free. And, if you're not satisfied with the service, you can contact customer support within 30 days of your purchase and get a full refund, no questions asked.
NordVPN - probably the world's most famous provider - isn't coy about talking up its speeds. And to be honest, that's entirely vindicated by our real world testing that found its connection performance to be well above-average and so ideal for gamers who like to leave their VPN running in the background.
It's also really clear about why it thinks that all gamers need a VPN. NordVPN is very aware of the dangers of those DDoS attacks and, while admitting that VPNs are not a 100% watertight solution, it pledges to help mitigate more traffic than your regular broadband connection.
It has a higher server count than even ExpressVPN, with more than 5,000 around the world - only CyberGhost of the big VPN players can beat that. And they're spread far and wide, with locations as diverse as Costa Rica to North Macedonia.
IPVanish runs its own network and infrastructure, and this shows in terms of performance – in our testing, we found this service up to five times faster than some rivals over short hops, with excellent download speeds all-round. That said, it that isn't the case everywhere, but generally most servers should treat you speedily.
Indeed, IPVanish goes the extra mile by allowing you to specifically sort by ping time. So if you're settling in for a sesh, then you can save time on VPN set up by grabbing the fastest available server at that time. Furthermore, usage options allow you to hunt specifically for servers tailored for gaming.
This provider also offers a good number of servers in over 70 countries, and it’s easy to find a solid server. OK, so its mobile VPN apps aren't quite as good as the services listed above but, assuming that you're planning most of your gaming on a desktop PC, IPVanish would make a very decent choice. It even throws in (at the time of writing, at least) a whole 250GB of cloud storage as a welcome freebie, too.
Hotspot Shield gave us some amazing performance in our tests - it's one of the best we've seen in the speed department. You'll hardly feel any slow down even on long distance servers. That's mainly due to the Catapult Hydra protocol that the provider uses. In addition, the service is quite simple to use, with one On/Off button in the center.
The service also offers native apps for Android and iOS, both being very similar in performance and simplicity. That should be great for most people, although those looking for more configurability should note that you can only use Hotspot with its own apps and clients.
Excluding the monthly plan, Hotspot Shield offers great value with its annual pricing and you also get a 45-day money back guarantee. Plus, if you just want to give it a go first, then we'd always recommend downloading the free version to see how that pans out (although you can only use it for 500MB per day).
Head over to our guide to cheap VPN providers and you'll inevitably see Surfshark among the top few. It's come in and really managed to undercut a lot of the competition - and we're certainly not complaining!
But if you're thinking that cheap means you'll have to sacrifice quality then, in this instance at least, you'd be wrong. Yes, it lacks the sheer amount of servers than the likes of NordVPN and ExpressVPN, but it still has plenty of the world covered in terms of locations in over 60 countries. And it also puts the squeeze on the competition by letting you use just one Surfshark account over multiple devices. Your PC, your Mac, your mobile, your spouse's mobile, your parents' mobiles. The lot.
And it's fast as well. Connections speeds in our tests were impressive. And if you're a seasoned gamer but new to the world of VPNs, then Surfshark will ease you in gently with its easy-to-use interface and friendly installation.
Is a VPN good for gaming?
It depends. Opt for a poor VPN service and you risk ending up with a bit of software that slows down your connection and isn't as secure and anonymous as you'd intended. But choose one of the best gaming VPNs and you can trust your data will be encrypted and, in some cases, the service's ability to get around ISP throttling may actually speed up your gaming!
Should I get a free download for my gaming VPN?
We wouldn't recommend it. We've got nothing at all against free VPNs generally - we think they have a time and place, for sure. But they often come with pretty prohibitive data allowances that mean they'll stop working after a short stint of gaming. Their ads can be pretty off-putting, too. And you'll have far fewer servers to choose from.