VPNs — which stands for virtual private networks — can be used for a number of reasons, mainly keeping one’s online activity and streaming behavior private. When you use a VPN, websites and apps are unable to view your physical address. The location they see is of the server you are connecting to. You may be staying in a place like New York City, but with a virtual private network on a Spanish server, websites and apps will see your internet traffic coming from Spain.
A VPN can also level up your gaming sessions by decreasing your latency, or ping, with the desired result of a more responsive online play experience. Your IP address will be masked and your ISP will be prevented from throttling your connection. There are flaws associated with using a VPN for gaming, like possible terms of service violations and lagging connection speeds.
Our experts at CNET have spent years thoroughly testing VPNs to cut through all the marketing noise in order to highlight the best software options to fit your needs. While selecting the top VPNs, we mainly considered PC gaming — on Linux, Windows and MacOS. That said, nearly all VPN providers offer Android and iOS apps for mobile gaming. You’ll even find streaming boxes and apps, including Apple TV, Android TV and the Amazon Fire Stick. Consoles like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch don’t usually come with their own VPN apps — instead, you’ll need to use a host PC or configure your internet set-up for a whole-home VPN.
Whether you want to reduce ping while connected to a game server, boost online protection or circumvent throttling limits, a virtual private network can take your game to the next level. But you’ll need to check specific game’s terms of service to ensure you’re not violating subscriber agreements. Let’s dive into the best VPNs for gaming so you can keep playing your favorite titles.
What is the best VPN for gaming right now?
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for gaming right now, thanks to its impressive speeds, excellent privacy protections and expansive global network of servers. NordVPN is another top VPN for gaming because it’s one of the most reliable VPNs available, delivers on speed and privacy, and includes unique features that can enhance your gaming experience. Surfshark is a solid alternative for anyone on a budget, because its WireGuard speeds are lightning fast, it’s easy to use, has a wide selection of servers all over the world and is cheaper than most of the competition.
The best VPN for gaming in 2023
Price $13 a month, $60 for six months or $100 for a yearLatest tests No leaks detected, 18% speed loss in 2023 testsNetwork 3,000-plus servers in 160 locations across 94 countries Jurisdiction British Virgin Islands
Who it’s best for
Unmatched transparencyTop-notch security with no leaks detectedExcellent for streaming
Who should avoid
ExpensiveOnly five simultaneous connectionsOwned by Kape Technologies
If you want the best of the best and don’t mind paying a premium for it, then ExpressVPN is the choice for you. ExpressVPN is the best VPN for gaming, as well as CNET’s Editors’ Choice best VPN overall. Although ExpressVPN’s speeds took a minor tumble in our latest speed tests, it’s still one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested. The 18% speed loss we registered with ExpressVPN this year is still fast enough for most gaming conditions. And if you’re using ExpressVPN’s proprietary Lightway protocol — which is lightweight and built for speed and security — and connecting to a nearby server, you should have no issues achieving optimal speeds and minimal latency for your gaming sessions.
49% off with 12-mo plan (+3 free months)
Price $79 for the first two years or $60 for the first year (then $100 per year afterwards) or $12 a monthLatest tests No leaks detected, 10% speed loss in 2023 tests Network 5,600-plus servers in 84 locations across 59 countriesJurisdiction Panama
Who it’s best for
Among the fastest VPNsTons of featuresDiskless RAM-only server infrastructure
Who should avoid
No transparency reportsAmbiguous corporate structureOnly six simultaneous connections allowed
NordVPN currently ranks as the fastest VPN, based on our most recent speed tests, which is good news for gamers who need top speeds. NordVPN is also easily the most stable and consistently speedy VPN we’ve tested, making it an excellent choice for any gamer looking for first-rate gaming performance on servers in various global regions, even though it doesn’t have servers in quite as many countries as ExpressVPN or Surfshark.
Price $14 per month, $48 for the first year (then $60 annually)Latest tests No leaks detected, 17% speed loss in 2023 testsNetwork 3,200-plus servers in 100 countriesJurisdiction Netherlands
Who it’s best for
Lots of unique security featuresUnlimited simultaneous connectionsRAM-only server network
Who should avoid
Inconsistent speed performance14 Eyes jurisdiction (Netherlands)No transparency reports
Surfshark is a VPN provider that punches well above its weight class. Its budget-friendly plans begin at $13 monthly or $48 annually for your first year with Surfshark Starter (subsequently $60 per year). You can sign up for a two-year plan, setting you back $60 total for 24 months of service, after which you’ll pay $60 each year. We don’t recommend signing up for more than a year of service upfront because of volatility: The high-performing VPN you sign up for might be slower, less secure, out of business or acquired in a few years.
$2.69/mo with 24-mo plan (+4 free months)
Savings 50% off with 24-mo planLatest tests No leaks detected, 9% speed loss in 2020 testsNetwork 1,700-plus servers in 91 locations across 64 countriesJurisdiction Switzerland
Who it’s best for
Highly transparentOpen-sourceUnlimited free plan
Who should avoid
No live chat supportSplit tunneling only available on Android and WindowsOccasional speed dips
Proton VPN hails from the Swiss-based Proton AG, whose other offerings include Proton Mail, Proton Drive and Proton Calendar. Its reputation for privacy makes Proton VPN an excellent option for security-conscious gamers. Whereas most free VPNs are underwhelming, Proton Free bucks that trend as a high-performing, zero-cost option. It touts over 100 servers in three countries, no ads and excellent connection speeds. However, you’ll enjoy over 2,900 servers in over 65 countries with Proton’s paid tiers.
Read more Other VPNs we testedIPVanish
IPVanish is a solid budget VPN for casual users — including gamers. The monthly plan sets you back $13 per month. You’ll pay $42 for 12 months of service on the annual plan, then $90 per year after that. A two-year subscription goes for a fairly cheap $72 for 24 months of service and renews at $90 per year billed annually. While many VPN providers restrict the number of devices you can use at once, IPVanish flaunts unlimited simultaneous connections.
IPVanish’s apps are uncomplicated, working equally well for beginners and seasoned tech enthusiasts alike. With a VPN enabled, IPVanish’s speed loss is slightly higher than ExpressVPN and NordVPN but still competitive and usable for gaming. However, its unpredictable speeds make it a tough sell for video gamers who demand low lag. Likewise, IPVanish’s servers pepper 52 countries, which is decent but less than providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark. Once promotional pricing runs out after a year or two (depending on your plan), IPVanish’s prices are middling, considering its uneven upload/download speeds. With its uneven connection speeds, average pricing and smaller server contingent, other VPN providers outstrip IPVanish for gaming.
Private Internet Access (PIA)
Private Internet Access is a capable budget-friendly alternative to Surfshark. If you’re looking for something even cheaper than Surfshark, but still a decent option for most gaming situations, then PIA is a good way to go. PIA’s speeds were slower than ExpressVPN and NordVPN in our testing but still should be good enough for your gaming needs as long as you connect through a nearby server and use the WireGuard protocol. You’ll get access to a robust network of servers spanning 91 countries — which is fewer than ExpressVPN and Surfshark but more than NordVPN, IPVanish and Proton VPN.
We also like how customizable the PIA app is. If you like to tinker with software and customize your experience to your exact specifications, you’ll be right at home with PIA. You can customize how much information related to your connection you want the app to display. But what’s even more useful to gamers is that you can customize the level of encryption for your connection, so you can dial in the perfect balance of speed and security for your gaming session. PIA works well across all major platforms and costs only $12 per month or $40 per year.
How we test VPNs for gaming
Though we ran a series of hands-on gaming tests for this list, our evaluation of the best VPNs for gaming was based predominantly on our extensive research and previous testing of the services listed above. The scope of the online gaming universe is simply far too vast for us to be able to develop a testing protocol that would do justice to every little corner of online gaming. We’ve spent years testing VPNs and researching what they can accomplish for virtually any online activity, so we’re confident in our capacity to deliver a sound and trustworthy evaluation of gaming VPNs. We took into account each provider’s speeds, usability and features, platform compatibility, server network, privacy protections, and customer support to come up with our list of the best VPNs for gaming.
Factors to consider in a VPN for gaming
Based on our years of experience in the VPN field and our understanding of what online gamers need from a VPN, these are the most important factors to consider in a VPN for gaming:
VPN speeds are the No. 1 factor to consider when choosing a VPN for gaming, because slow speeds and high latency can ruin your gaming experience. Your VPN needs to be fast enough to deliver the speeds necessary to keep you in the game, especially in competitive settings. A fast VPN can even help you potentially lower your ping, depending on the VPN server you’re connecting to and the network you’re on. And if you’re experiencing inadequate speeds for gaming, there are things you can try to speed up your VPN connection.
A major consideration for any VPN, regardless of the activity, is privacy. It’s important to have a VPN that can provide the necessary privacy protections to ensure your activity remains hidden and you’re safe from DDoS attacks and other threats from malicious actors while gaming. Make sure the VPN you choose has strong encryption standards and essential privacy features like DNS leak protection, a kill switch and a no-logs policy.
If you want to fully optimize your gaming experience, you’ll want a VPN that has servers in a wide selection of regions around the world. This will help ensure you have a speedy, stable connection regardless of where you are in the world. At the very least, you should make sure that the VPN you choose has servers located near your physical location and close to the servers of any games you play online.
Of course, you want to make sure that the VPN is compatible with the platform(s) you’re gaming on. All of the VPNs we’ve listed above are compatible with and work well on all major platforms, so either one is a solid option whether you’re gaming on your PC, Mac or mobile device. If you’re a console gamer, you’ll need to make sure that your VPN works well on a router setup because gaming consoles don’t natively support VPN apps.
Help guides/customer support
If you’re having trouble with your VPN or have questions on how to optimize your VPN connection for gaming, it’s helpful to have a VPN that offers a robust help section along with accessible and knowledgeable customer support. Look for a VPN that has easy-to-follow setup guides for multiple platforms (including routers) and 24/7 customer support via live chat. Make sure that you have the appropriate help on hand when you need it, because responsive customer support and helpful guides can help ensure that your gaming session is not unnecessarily impeded upon.
The VPN server that’s best for gaming is the server location closest to the game servers you’re connecting to. Generally, the farther a virtual private network server is from the connection — either your local network or a game server — the slower the upload and download speeds. For instance, if you’re playing on a game server based in Toronto, Canada, use a Toronto or at least Canadian VPN connection if there’s one available.
The best VPN for gaming is ExpressVPN. It features an exhaustive slate of server locations, blazing fast speeds, superb privacy protections and advanced features while remaining user-friendly. Additionally, ExpressVPN works brilliantly for unblocking geo-protected streaming video content on Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video, therefore offering comprehensive entertainment coverage.
A VPN is better than a proxy for gaming, since virtual private networks deliver faster speeds and beefier security than proxy servers.
Gamers can use VPNs to lower ping when gaming on servers located far from their physical locations, circumvent internet service provider (ISP) throttling limits and bolster privacy to hide IP addresses.
Whether you should use a VPN for gaming depends on your needs. If you need to bypass ISP throttling or mask your IP address for enhanced security, a VPN while gaming makes sense. But a VPN slows down your internet connection — even if minimally — and might violate the terms of service for platforms like Valve’s Steam or games such as Fortnite.
Yes, you can use a VPN with game consoles. For Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, iOS, or iPadOS, most virtual private network providers offer easy to install applications. But for game consoles including the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch, you’ll need to either run a VPN on your router or connect your console to your PC to act as a VPN server.