What is ping?
Ping is the measure of latency in communications, defined as the time it takes for a signal to reach its destination and return to the source. In online gaming, this translates to the delay between you performing an action (pressing the button to use your weapon) and receiving a response from the game server (seeing the enemy pop like a meat pinata).
Ping is measured in milliseconds (ms), with lower ping values being better. Conversely, higher ping values have the potential to completely tank your gaming performance. That’s why die-hard gamers obsess over their ping so much — playing with high ping (typically in excess of 200ms) causes lag and makes you a free kill. By contrast, having good ping (50ms or lower) lets online gamers show off their micro skills.
Why do I have high ping?
Ping rate is chiefly determined by your internet connection — if you’re living in the boonies with only a budget home-internet plan, then you’re probably no stranger to high ping. However, your internet speed (download/upload speed) isn’t the only factor that affects ping while gaming. Here are the most common reasons for having high ping values:
- Your ISP is throttling your connection. Gaming consumes a lot of bandwidth, so your internet service provider (ISP) may have put a “fair usage” clause in your contract to limit connection speeds when they detect gaming traffic. Bandwidth throttling is super frustrating because it’s not immediately obvious from a simple ping test — on paper, everything’s working as it should be, but your ping still goes into the stratosphere the moment you join a match.
- Your connection is overcrowded. Your internet service plan may sound great on paper, but that juicy 100 Mbps number will need to be shared with everyone at home, including any smart devices that depend on 24/7 access to the internet. If Dad’s streaming baseball in 4K, your gaming experience will likely be a swing and a miss — for peak performance, you need to have both good network throughput and bandwidth.
- You’re playing during peak hours. Unless you’ve got dedicated landlines straight to your game servers, you’re playing online over public infrastructure — and that infrastructure comes under a lot of stress if everyone hits the net at the same time. Peak hours are typically 5PM to 9PM, when most people come back home and start browsing, streaming, or gaming.
- Your gaming server is located far away. The longer the distance, the longer it takes for signals to reach game servers and make the trip back. If you’re playing on a game server in another continent, you’ll have higher ping than local players.
- You’ve got resource-hungry apps in the background. Sometimes, you are your own worst nemesis. If you’re listening to a live Twitch stream while downloading a ginormous DLC at the same time, you’ll be lucky to leave the starting area — nevermind having anything resembling a normal game online.
- Your equipment is getting long in the tooth. You can’t argue with thermodynamics — stuff just gets closer to entropy over time. Oblivion will eventually claim all, including your trusty home router and childhood gaming console. Older devices can short circuit, develop glitches, or simply lack the necessary firmware updates to interact with modern networks, leading to high ping when you play online games.
- Your Wi-Fi signal is obstructed. Wi-Fi signals can be surprisingly fragile. Walls or even large pieces of furniture between you and your Wi-Fi router can disrupt your connection and lead to higher ping.
How to lower your ping: 11 fixes to reduce lag
Your ping is not set in stone — there are many things you can try in order to lower your ping rate to a respectable level. So before writing off online gaming altogether, see if you can get your latency under control with these simple fixes.
1. Close software you’re not using
Even if you’re dishing out a premium for a really good internet connection, there’s only so much bandwidth to go around. Browser tabs, streaming apps, download managers, and system updates can each take a bite of the pie, leaving only a small nibble for your video game.
To fix high ping caused by greedy apps gobbling up your internet connection speed, you need to adopt a scorched-earth approach to your background processes. Close your browser, pause any active downloads, and make sure that no updates are running in the background. As a bonus, with all these distractions gone, you’ll be able to better focus on your gaming performance.
2. Restart your device
Sometimes, “turn it off and on again” really is the answer to high ping woes. Restarting your gaming device will get rid of sneaky processes that have been secretly introduced by other apps and fire up essential drivers that might be in dire need of an update.
3. Remove other devices from the network
Too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the broth — and too many devices connected to the same network can really spoil your online gaming experience. You don’t want your smart fridge to be leeching internet bandwidth that could be used for headshots, so the smart play is to disconnect any device you don’t need during your gaming session. Just don’t unplug anything without the owner’s permission if you’re not the only one in the house.
4. Remove Wi-Fi obstructions
We’ve already said that Wi-Fi signals have trouble passing through obstacles. Even something as simple as closing a door can lead to high ping. This can be tricky if you’re relying on a wireless connection to play a fast-paced online game in a crowded flat.
Fortunately, simple problems can be solved with simple solutions. See if you can clear a path between your gaming device and your router by shoving obstructions out of the way. If rearranging the furniture is not an option, try moving your gaming device to another room, closer to your Wi-Fi router — or do the reverse and reposition the router in a clear, open space.
5. Reset your internet connection
Sometimes, a poor internet connection has nothing to do with your choice of internet service provider or plan. If you’ve been riding your home router non-stop, chances are its cache is full and it has trouble processing your requests. To clear your router’s cache, unplug it from the power source for half a minute and then turn it back on
6. Factory reset your router
Over time, routers develop quirks due to poorly optimized updates or faulty settings. If you don’t want to dive into your device’s guts and tinker with router setup options and firmware, you can try performing a factory reset as a last resort. A factory reset will restore the device back to its original manufacturer settings, removing any problematic additions in the process.
7. Use a wired internet connection
A wireless connection lets you play from anywhere in the house — but if lag is constantly getting in the way of the frag, you should consider trading convenience for lower ping. A wired connection might limit your movement, but it also generally means a faster internet connection and a smoother gaming experience.
To go from wireless to wired, you’ll need an ethernet cable. You already have one at home (it’s the landline to your router), but you’ll need to get a new one for your gaming device — most modern computers no longer come packed with their own ethernet cable. Cables go from Cat 3 to Cat 8, with higher categories offering better bandwidth and transmission speeds. If you can, spring for at least a Cat 5 — these cables can handle internet speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps.
8. Play on local servers
You don’t want your gaming server to be located somewhere far away — a short distance means lower ping and little lag. Fortunately, publishers know this and pepper game servers all over the globe to satisfy customers from different regions. For example, if you’re from the European Union, playing on gaming servers in Paris or Berlin will yield drastically lower ping than playing on servers in the US.
9. Play at different hours
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you might need to change your online gaming habits to get the most out of your experience. High ping typically rears its ugly head in the early evening, when everyone’s taking a breather after work — to play games with lower ping, switch your online sessions to a different time slot and use the evenings for offline or non-gaming-related activities.
10. Contact your ISP
If nothing on your end seems to work, then maybe the problem lies somewhere further down the line. For example, your ISP could be performing maintenance in your area, forcing it to reroute or limit internet traffic during the repairs. Whatever the case, the problem is out of your hands — there’s nothing you can do to improve ping. Right?
Wrong. If you suspect there’s trouble on your ISP’s end, contact it. In some cases, service representatives might not even be aware of the problem, and your call will spur the company into action. If it’s already working on solving the issue, support specialists might be able to give you an estimate of the scheduled downtime to let you plan your time. Your ISP’s IT professionals can even advise you on how to lower your ping using other means — just don’t be afraid to ask.
11. Get a new internet plan
At the end of the day, you might just have to face the music — no amount of gaming setup, server switches, or rearranging the furniture will turn a slow internet connection into a good one. If the core problem lies with your internet plan, the only way to meaningfully reduce ping in your online games is to pay for a better option.
If you’re thinking about upgrading your plan, don’t just stick to your current ISP — shop around a little first. Other ISPs may have better infrastructure in your area and offer better internet speeds for less. Read online reviews, decide how much internet speed you need, and check out internet speed test comparisons to find the right internet plan for you.
Can a VPN reduce ping?
A virtual private network (VPN) can reduce ping if it sets up a more optimized path to your gaming server than your ISP. However, this is a rare scenario — usually, you should expect slightly higher ping with a VPN because your traffic will need to be encrypted, encapsulated, and routed through an additional node (the secure VPN server).
That doesn’t mean that there’s no place for VPNs in gaming, however — in fact, using a good gaming VPN can really boost your online experience. Once you connect to a VPN, nobody monitoring your connection can tell where you go or what you do online, letting you game with more privacy and security. VPN servers can even absorb DDoS attacks from salty losers trying to throw you off your game.
But wait, you say — doesn’t a VPN slow down internet speeds? Online VPN speed tests show that you’ll barely notice the difference with the fastest VPNs like NordVPN — in fact, if your ISP is throttling your internet connection when it detects gaming traffic, VPN encryption can help you bypass automatic checks and even improve your connection speed.
Finally, NordVPN even comes with Meshnet, one of the best ways to safely experience old-school LAN classics with your friends. Meshnet lets you create secure private networks between devices over any distance, letting you host old-school LAN parties at any time, anywhere.