VPN protocols are rules that determine how you connect to a VPN server. They’re responsible for everything that goes on in the background whenever you hit Connect.
VPN providers normally offer more than one protocol. And with a total of around eight protocols, how do you know which one to use when gaming online?
We’ll give you an overview of the best gaming VPN protocols. We’ll also tell you which protocols you should avoid and why. Plus, we’ll offer some useful speed optimization tips as well.
What’s the Best VPN Protocol for Gaming?
We ran over 20 speed tests using different VPN providers and protocols. We tested numerous online games like Dota 2, CS: GO, Fortnite, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, and Overwatch. According to our results, WireGuard is the best protocol for gaming.
WireGuard offered minimal slowdowns no matter how far away the server was. In the screenshot above, our tester from Romania used a US server from Surfshark with the WireGuard protocol. They only experienced a 10% slowdown, and were able to play two matches of Dota 2 without any lag or disconnects.
WireGuard is a new protocol, but pretty much all secure VPNs for gaming online support it now. It’s extremely lightweight, it’s open-source, and it offers excellent security (it uses the ChaCha20 cipher which is faster than the AES cipher).
We also like that WireGuard has instant connection times. We rarely experienced high ping. On average, it took us about 1-2 seconds at most for the VPN connection to be established.
Other Protocols You Can Use
WireGuard isn’t the only protocol that’s fast.
Lightway is a great alternative. However, it’s only available for ExpressVPN users. That VPN provider didn’t implement WireGuard, but it doesn’t need to. Lightway is just as fast as WireGuard. It even has faster server connection times. We’re generally able to establish server connections in a fraction of a second when using Lightway.
If you don’t use ExpressVPN, try these protocols:
- IKEv2/IPSec – A very popular protocol for smartphones because it can resist network changes (your connection doesn’t drop if you switch from WiFi to mobile data or vive-versa). It’s not as fast as WireGuard or Lightway, but it’s still pretty speedy.
- L2TP/IPSec – Slower than WireGuard and Lightway, but it gets the job done pretty well on desktop computers.
- SoftEther – It has excellent speeds, but very few VPNs support it. That’s because SoftEther requires additional third-party software to run. You can’t enable it inside the VPN app.
Protocols You Shouldn’t Use
We believe the following VPN protocols just aren’t suitable for gaming:
OpenVPN is a great protocol. It’s just not fast enough to qualify as gaming protocol. It’s pretty resource-intensive, so the slowdowns are more noticeable than what you get with WireGuard, Lightway, IKEv2/IPSec, SoftEther, and L2TP/IPSec.
Here’s the problem with OpenVPN – it’s single-threaded. That means it only uses one CPU. It doesn’t matter that you have an eight-core processor – OpenVPN will still only use one CPU (usually the same one the operating system uses). Due to that, the encryption-decryption process is slower, so it takes longer for your device to exchange data with the VPN server.
You can use OpenVPN over the UDP protocol (instead of TCP) to get faster speeds. But they still won’t be as fast as what you’d get with the protocols we recommended above.
Wait a minute – isn’t PPTP really fast?
Right you are. But it’s also a huge security risk. PPTP encryption is very weak – to the point where the NSA already cracked it.
If you don’t care about security at all, you can use PPTP. But we still recommend using WireGuard instead because it’s safer. You never know when a hacker will try to abuse unsecured WiFi vulnerabilities to spy on your gaming traffic. The last thing you want is someone getting their hands on the characters or profiles you’ve been leveling up for months and deleting them.
SSTP offers a similar level of security to OpenVPN. However, it’s a closed-source protocol solely owned by Microsoft.
We don’t recommend using it for gaming because it’s not really fast. Also, not a lot of VPN providers support this protocol.
Quick Ways to Increase Your VPN Speeds While Gaming
Besides using a fast VPN protocol, you can also do other things to increase your speeds:
Connect Only to Nearby Servers
If you only use servers that are close to your location, you’ll get faster speeds because the data packets your device exchanges with the VPN server will travel faster.
If possible, use a VPN server that’s in your country. If you can find one in your city, it’s even better.
Game on Wired Connections
When you use WiFi, your speeds are at the mercy of the WiFi signal. If it’s too weak, you’ll experience unbearable slowdowns – especially if you’re using a VPN.
It’s much better to connect your device to the router with an ethernet cable. Don’t worry – that doesn’t mean you have to sit right next to the router. You can get a 20 meter (65 feet) ethernet cable (or maybe even longer) and game anywhere you want in your home.
This is a feature that lets you force specific traffic through the VPN server, while the rest goes through your ISP’s network. If there’s a smaller amount of data to encrypt, decrypt, and route, your VPN speeds will be faster.
In this case, you should use split-tunneling to only send traffic from your video game through the VPN.
The Bottom Line
Our tests show that WireGuard is the best VPN protocol for gaming. If it’s not available, you can also try IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, and SoftEther. If you use ExpressVPN, stick to Lightway since it’s just as fast as WireGuard.
Which VPN protocol do you use when playing games online? Please let us know in the comments. Also, if you know other ways to increase VPN speeds while gaming, please mention them.