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Do I need a VPN for playing games? And what is the best one?

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A VPN can be a godsend to gamers, and it’s likely you’ve heard the term being bandied about, but what exactly does it mean, and why should you care? If online gaming is something you do regularly, it might be worth your time to dig a little deeper and sign up to a VPN service to make the most of your online sessions. 

VPN stands for Virtual Private Networking and is essentially a way to use the internet securely by encrypting your data and routing it through a server. There are a number of additional benefits that using a VPN can bring to your gaming, so we’ll hop right in. 

What are the benefits of a VPN?

First off, VPNs give you an added layer of security when using the internet by encrypting your data on your end before it leaves your device. In terms of gaming, it makes you safer from potential DDoS attacks.

The second bonus is being able to access geo-restricted content. VPNs spoof your location, letting you download and play games and DLC from any region. This is handy if you're living somewhere with particularly strict access to a local online games market. So if you can't access Steam or certain titles for PC gaming for example, a VPN can help with that. 

Although to be fair, gamers have been able to do this on consoles for a while without a VPN by simply setting up an additional account and putting in a random address for the chosen country. So accessing PSN US or Hong Kong for any exclusive sales or demos from the UK is fairly simple. You can then play those games with your local PSN account instead. Do look out for buying cheap DLC from a foreign store though as it needs to be the same region as the base game or it won't work.

Back on PC, if a particular title has a staggered launch, rolling out in different countries on different days, you can use a VPN to access them early. You may also find that you’re paying less for some games if you buy them from outside of your region. But be advised that some publishers don’t take kindly to players using these methods to access content early, so you do so at your own risk.

The third benefit is an improved connection, although the actual results may vary. It’s not uncommon for internet service providers to artificially slow down their customers’ connections during peak times, or during periods of high traffic. As a result, your online gaming can fall prey to these restrictions, which is when you’ll encounter lag, or a less than ideal connection. 

VPNs can provide a way to bypass these methods of throttling, potentially reducing your ping time, and improving your overall download/ upload speeds. This isn’t always guaranteed, and in some instances, you may well find no discernible difference at all, or experience the opposite effect and actually get a slower connection (more on this below), so we wouldn't pick up a VPN if this was one of the main reasons you're interested.

You can potentially cut down on lobby waiting times in online games by adjusting your location to an area where there’s a high volume of players, letting you jump right in rather than sit about twiddling your thumbs for an age, waiting for it to full up.

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 What are the drawbacks of a VPN? 

There are p[otential drawbacks to consider when looking at the option of getting a VPN for gaming. While they can bypass ISP throttling to make for a faster connection, it is possible that having a middleman of sorts can actually slow down your connection. Encrypting your data is resource-intensive and you may find that your internet speed and the stability of your connection can suffer. If you don’t research your options, or scrimp when it comes to choosing a service provider, you’re at risk of sluggish speeds slowing down your online sessions. 

While VPNs are perfectly legal, the ability to circumvent geo-restricted content can actually open you up to potential bans or account suspensions online. If you’ve been buying titles from stores outside of your region for a lower price, or accessing games before their release date, you could find yourself in breach of the terms and conditions. It might be better to just hold on for a few extra days, and play the game on its official launch.    

 Choosing the best VPN service for gaming 

While you don’t necessarily need a VPN for gaming, it’s worth looking at the options available to find a solution that meets your specific needs. Things to look for in service providers include the number of servers, speeds, security, and of course price. 

VPNs have uses way beyond gaming that we find useful in our day to day activities. They offer additional security on PC, laptop and mobile devices, especially with public Wi-Fi areas. Our best Netflix VPN guide will tell you the best options for checking out the streaming services content in other countries too or even signing up for services you can't get over here. As someone based in the UK, I heartily recommend checking out Hulu.

Luckily, we’ve saved you a significant amount of time by doing the legwork for you. You can peruse our list of the very best VPNs for gaming, as well as taking a peek at the best PS4 VPNs if that’s your console of choice. We even have suggestions for VPNs for DOTA 2 players that you can check out right here. 

Whether low ping is a priority, or security is at the forefront of your mind, taking a look at what's on offer is worth your time, and with prices from as low as $10 a month, free trials, and 30-day money-back guarantees, there's no reason not to give them a whirl.   

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

What's the best VPN to use for gaming?

While there are a number of great VPNs out there (and they've come a long, long way in the past few years), we'd probably go for Express VPN as our pick of the best not VPN for gaming, streaming and even the best Fire Stick VPN. It offers one of the most secure services, it doesn't track your activity like some providers, and it's a large, stable company with enough servers to give you one of the best connections out there, wherever you are in the world. To add to that... it's actually really good value for money, especially considering the service you get and the ease of use setting up. Here are the best offers on Express VPN below, we actually have an exclusive offer running right now that saves you a whopping 49%.