When people put together a gaming setup, they tend to focus on graphics cards, fast internet, controllers, CPU speeds, and gaming headsets or chairs. And all of those things are essentials for serious gamers, but even the most experienced players sometimes leave out a very important ingredient of a grade A gaming rig: a high-quality Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Why are VPNs essential to modern gaming? There are actually plenty of reasons. Firstly, they ensure anonymity on chat rooms and gaming platforms. So, if you annoy a fellow gamer and they try to dox your identity, you’ll be fully protected and safe from harm. That’s especially handy for parents with kids who love multiplayer games like Fortnite.

Secondly, VPNs can deliver enhanced ping speeds, by routing traffic straight to gaming servers, instead of messing around with ISPs. In some cases, they may also prevent ISP throttling – the practice of limiting connection speeds for heavy data users.

Thirdly, VPNs allow players to work around irritating obstructions put up by the PlayStation Network, Xbox One, or Steam. Many games are regionally locked, release dates might be staggered, and some games are just rotated out of European or North American selections due to lack of downloads. In any case, a good VPN will allow gamers to imitate whatever region they need, to work about this kind of geo-blocking.

It all means that VPNs are vital for an optimized gaming experience. But which VPNs should you use? And, before we get into our favorite providers, what should you look for in a good gaming VPN?

Key Features To Look for in all Good Gaming VPNs

When you use a VPN for gaming, it needs to have certain capabilities and features, or it won’t deliver everything players require. These features vary subtly from VPNs designed solely around privacy, or with businesses in mind. And a VPN that works brilliantly for keeping employees safe on unsecured wifi networks, won’t necessarily be ideal for World of Warcraft or FIFA.

In general, good gaming VPNs need to be fast. This is pretty obvious when you think about it, and anything more than a 5% step down from ordinary internet speeds will result in noticeable – and sometimes crippling lag. Look for a speed guarantee, and a large range of servers, and read feedback from your fellow users at sites like Reddit. They will soon let you know if the advertised speeds bear any resemblance to reality.

Gaming VPNs also need a broad geographical reach in terms of servers. Geo-blocking is a major issue, and it really helps to have a few regional options available to search for new releases and appealing prices (prices can vary between regions as well, another perk of VPN usage).

Reliability is also vital – more so than for everyday VPNs. Any connection outages could throw you off gaming servers, and ruin your efforts to hide your digital identity. So look for providers with impressive uptimes.

Gaming is also data-intensive, so don’t get stuck with a VPN that limits your consumption. Free VPNs tend to enforce miserly allowances for individual users, but the best paid-for VPNs will ensure unlimited downloads and no speed restrictions. As an added bonus, VPNs that do away with limits also tend to be stronger on privacy (as they don’t need to monitor data usage as thoroughly).

Privacy, the absence of logs, and the use of watertight encryption all matter, albeit less so than with professional VPNs. However, don’t go for anything with less than 256 bit AES encryption, and avoid any providers that have looser logging policies.  You don’t want any data to find its way to your ISP, especially if throttling is a worry.

Finally, don’t cut corners on customer support. The best VPNs offer in-depth, responsive support via live chat and email. Staff will help you access blocked services, and find ways to deal with latency or service disruptions. And with the gaming world changing all the time, support will probably be needed at some stage.

Our Top 4 Gaming VPNs

So now we know a few of the things to check for when subscribing to a gaming VPN, and we should be clear that having a VPN is absolutely essential. But what providers do we recommend, and why?

1. NordVPN
Our first choice and the service we advise you to use is Panama-based NordVPN. NordVPN offers very cheap multi-year packages, has great support, and industry-leading reliability. It will select gaming servers if asked, and with over 5,000 servers worldwide, finding fast connections isn’t an issue. A 30-day money-back guarantee should seal the deal, allowing you to sample NordVPN to see if it works for you. To find out more about it, check out our in-depth NordVPN review.

2. ExpressVPN
Often seen as NordVPN’s primary rival, ExpressVPN is a hugely popular tool with gamers, thanks to its speed and almost 100 uptime history. Its British Virgin Islands location provides reassurance about privacy, and there are 3,000+ servers to choose from. Geo-blocking won’t be an issue, users can try 3 separate protocols, and the ExpressVPN kill switch will shut off your connection if the VPN does drop – another line of defense that all good providers offer.

3. HotSpot Shield
Affordable and very, very fast, HotSpot Shield is the “best of the rest” as far as gaming VPNs go. You won’t feel let down by latency rates when playing first-person shooters or FIFA matches, and the service is generally very reliable. The only downside is that the server community isn’t as large as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, and prices for the cheapest packages are slightly more expensive than our gaming champion.

4. VyprVPN
Another go-to VPN for gamers, VyprVPN scores very well when it comes to reliability, and it’s comparatively fast – the two core features that gamers need. The provider claims to drastically reduce the risk of DDoS attacks, and it’s barely been touched by ISP throttling and is definitely one to look at if other gaming VPNs don’t measure up.

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