There are many claims online surrounding the use of VPNs when gaming. In this section we go through each use case and verify whether they are true or false based on our in-depth testing and research.
Here’s a quick summary of our findings:
You can use a gaming VPN to:
- Avoid SBMM and find easier lobbies
- Stream geo-blocked movies and TV shows
- Prevent DoS attacks
- Bypass IP bans
- Avoid ISP throttling
- Change a strict NAT Type
- Bypass local firewalls
You can’t use a gaming VPN to:
- Speed up your internet connection
- Lower your ping and remove lag
- Prevent DDoS attacks
- Access games early or at a discounted price
1. Avoid Skill Based Matchmaking
Best VPN: NordVPN
Popular battle royale games, such as Call of Duty: Warzone and PUBG, utilize a system known as skill-based matchmaking (SBMM).
The matchmaking algorithm determines your skill level based on your in-game performances, then matches you with similarly-skilled opponents.
By connecting to a server abroad or in a region with a smaller player base, the algorithm will prioritize filling the server over matching skill. As a result, you can play in much easier lobbies and perform better.
We would recommend using NordVPN to avoid SBMM as it has one of the largest server networks we’ve tested with 5,372 servers across 60 countries.
2. Stream geo-blocked movies and TV shows
Best VPN: ExpressVPN
Games consoles such as the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S all support streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+, and HBO.
A VPN lets you change your IP and DNS location to unlock video content from other countries.
ExpressVPN is equipped with its own Smart DNS system, MediaStreamer, which spoofs your location to access international libraries such as US Netflix. If you want to know how to set up MediaStreamer on your Xbox, follow our step-by-step instructions for using ExpressVPN on Xbox.
You can also change your location to a VPN server in the relevant region and access the content that way. If this is why you want a VPN, see our list of the best VPNs for streaming.
3. Prevent DoS attacks
Verdict: True for DoS attacks but false for DDoS
Best VPN: Private Internet Access
If you’re into competitive online gaming, e-sports, or Twitch streaming, a VPN can protect against denial of service (DoS) attacks on your IP address.
DoS attacks are when an attacker sends large amounts of traffic to your IP address to disrupt your connectivity and potentially disconnect you from the internet.
Connecting to a VPN assigns you the IP address of the VPN server, effectively concealing your real IP address from DoS attacks.
Private Internet Access (PIA) is great for preventing DoS attacks, using AES-256 encryption and Perfect Forward Secrecy to ensure your identifiable data is kept secure. We can confirm from our testing that PIA does not leak your IPv4, IPv6, or DNS.
A distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) is a far more sophisticated attack on your network from multiple sources. These types of attack are generally faster, more severe, and much harder to protect against.
A commercial VPN would not be able to prevent or disrupt an ongoing DDoS attack.
4. Bypass IP bans
Verdict: True (But we don’t recommend it)
Some online games will blanket ban IP addresses it suspects of wrongdoing. This can wrongly lead to your IP address being banned, preventing you from playing the game.
A VPN will hide your banned IP address from the game server and assign you a new IP address instead.
We don’t recommend you do this as bypassing an IP ban would violate the terms and conditions of the game you’re playing and potentially lead to a permanent suspension.
Moreover, using a VPN won’t bypass email address or account-related bans.
5. Avoid ISP throttling
Best VPN: ExpressVPN
Sometimes ISPs throttle your internet connection when you’re gaming. ISPs do this because you’re engaged in a high-bandwidth activity, or because of your geographic location.
It’s also not uncommon for ISPs in hotels, college dorms, or other shared accommodations to throttle your connection.
A VPN will hide your activity and location from your ISP, preventing it from throttling your connection.
6. Changing a Strict NAT Type
Verdict: True, but only on Windows
Best VPN: ExpressVPN
A Strict NAT Type can affect your matchmaking, connection to the game server, and restrict your communication with other players.
Some games and consoles – the Nintendo Switch for example – rely largely on P2P and won’t work online if you have a strict NAT Firewall.
Despite what you may have read elsewhere, connecting to a VPN does not change your router’s NAT Type. If anything, running your console’s traffic through both your router and a VPN server would restrict your NAT Type further.
However, you can access a different NAT type by connecting a VPN to a Windows 10 hotspot. This will consistently provide you with a Moderate NAT Type regardless of your router or network settings.
7. Bypass local firewalls
Best VPN: Surfshark
You may not be able to access an online game at your school, university, or workplace due to firewalls in place.
A VPN can encrypt your traffic and redirect it to a secure, remote server. This means your online activity will be hidden from your local firewall.
Firewalls differ in application and can require different solutions to outmaneuver them. Surfshark is well-equipped with obfuscation technology and Shadowsocks protocols specifically designed to bypass firewalls.
8. Faster connection speeds and no ping
It is widely reported that using a VPN will improve your connection speeds and lower your ping when gaming: this is false.
By routing your console’s traffic through a VPN server, you are adding an extra ‘stop’ on the way to the game server. This will always add to your latency and result in varying degrees of speed loss.
However, all of our recommended VPNs for gaming are fast enough to prevent any noticeable loss in speed.
A VPN can stop your ISP from throttling you, which would result in an increase in connection speeds. However, it cannot boost your base speed.
9. Access games early and discounted
It’s widely reported that using a VPN to spoof your location can allow you to purchase games early in a different country or at a cheaper price.
Unfortunately, this is not true.
Can you use a VPN to get PS4 and Ps5 games cheaper & earlier?
The location and content of your PS store is determined by the region and address you entered when you initially created your PlaySation Network (PSN) account.
This is fixed and cannot be changed.
If you want to access content early and at a discounted price then you need to make an entirely new PSN account
There are several factors to consider:
- Ensure the new address you submit is an acceptable ZIP or postal code from your selected region.
- You cannot transfer any of the progress from your previous PSN account including: purchased games, PS store credit and funds, trophies, or your friends list.
- The PSN Terms of Service claims that your account may be suspended “if you give false information.” There’s never been a reported case of this happening from using a VPN, but it is a possibility nonetheless.
This process does not require a VPN at any step.
Can you use a VPN to get Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S games cheaper & earlier?
Similarly, a VPN cannot be used to access games cheaper or earlier on Xbox consoles.
Fortunately, the process is much simpler as Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S are not region locked. This means you can purchase a game in Europe and play it on a North American Xbox console.
To access Xbox games earlier and cheaper, follow these steps:
- Change your location on the Microsoft Store by clicking the globe icon at the bottom of the page.
- Search for Xbox digital gift card and buy one that covers the full cost of your game.
- Redeem the gift card on your Xbox Live Account.
If you are prompted to provide an address, use a publicly accessible one from the location you’ve switched to e.g. an embassy or a hotel.
- Go to the Xbox Game Store and click on the globe icon at the bottom of the page to change your location to the same one from step 1.
- Search for your chosen game in the now updated Store and purchase it with your account’s funds.
- If you are asked to provide an address, use the exact one from step 2.
This process does not require a VPN at any step.
Can you use a VPN to get games on Steam cheaper & earlier?
We do not recommend you use a VPN to buy games earlier or cheaper on Steam as doing so will result in a ban.
This is made clear in Steam’s Subscriber agreement:
You can still use a VPN normally to encrypt your traffic on Steam.
In general, we advise against any attempt to spoof your location on Steam. Valve is increasingly looking to restrict efforts to obtain discounts or access geo-restricted content.
In the past two years, Valve has introduced the following counter-measures:
- Steam only lets you change your store location and currency once every three months.
- You need a regional payment method that matches the location.
- Steam will ask you to provide a billing address from your new region.