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The best gaming VPN in 2021

best gaming VPN
(Image credit: Muhannad Ajjan)

A gaming VPN might not be at the top of your list when optimizing your machine, but the best VPN can do more for gamers than just keep you safe and secure from DDoS attacks from enraged opponents.

Poor connection speeds can be an absolute killer, especially in games that need lightning reflexes, but ISPs often target high-bandwidth users like streamers and gamers with connection throttling. This is done to ensure every customer gets similar speeds, and those who use the most bandwidth are penalized. 

It's no secret that even the top VPNs can affect your connection speed – although by less and less these days – so how can a gaming VPN improve your connection? 

Well, if you notice your speeds fluctuating a lot, you might be a victim of network throttling. A VPN can eliminate this by anonymizing your traffic, meaning your ISP can't tell what you're doing, and subsequently can't decide to throttle you.

What makes the best gaming VPN?

If you’re planning on using your chosen service as a gaming VPN, speed will be a priority – but privacy doesn’t have to take a back seat. The best gaming VPN today is ExpressVPN, thanks to excellent speeds, low ping times, plus powerful privacy features and simple apps for all sorts of devices. That's a winning combination.

If you want to access geo-blocked games or play on different regional servers, making sure your VPN has a wide network is essential. Again, ExpressVPN excels here with over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, and with an excellent app for routers, you can evade throttling on your PS4, Xbox, Switch, or any other device you connect to the web.

As mobile gaming becomes more and more popular worldwide, a good mobile gaming VPN version is essential. Plus, having a great range of entertainment in our downtime is great, so make sure you can access all the streaming services you need.

Below we'll explore more about why we think ExpressVPN is the best gaming VPN on the market, and we’ll also look at its closest competitors to see which is the best fit for you.

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1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN for gaming
For gamers looking to max out connections and avoid lag and ISP throttling, ExpressVPN is the top VPN for the job. Its speeds are great, but its reliability is unparalleled, and once it's switched on you'll forget it's even there. Plus, now you can claim three free months on a 12-month plan.View Deal

2. NordVPN – the biggest name is super secure
You're probably no stranger to NordVPN – your favorite streamer might even plug the service at the start of their videos. Thankfully Nord genuinely is a great gaming VPN that now delivers excellent speeds, and with a 30-day money-back guarantee it's certainly worth considering.View Deal

3. Surfshark – the best-value VPN on the market
If Express and Nord are just a little too pricey, then you'll want to check out Surfshark. For just $2.49 a month, you'll get fully featured VPN cover and unlimited connections so you can install the app on every one of your devices. View Deal

The five best gaming VPNs today

ExpressVPN best gaming vpn

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN

The best gaming VPN on the market

Specifications
Router support: Yes
Speeds on 1Gbps line: 490-630Mbps
Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Hulu
24/7 customer suppoort: Yes
Simultaneous connections: 5
Reasons to buy
+Excellent, reliable speeds+Super simple router setup+Apps for tons of devices+Great for streaming
Reasons to avoid
-Only 5 devices at once

We're not surprised that ExpressVPN performs better than any other service when it comes to being a gaming VPN – it tops loads of our other guides, and again it's knocked it out the park.

Most importantly, Express delivers excellent speeds so you won't see yourself lagging – and if your ISP delivers regular speeds of around 100-200MB, it's unlikely you'll notice any change at all. In our testing it topped out at a searing 630mbps on a 1Gbps line, which is more than fast enough to 360 no-scope n00bs (how do you do, fellow kids).

ExpressVPN also provides a dedicated router VPN app, which means you'll be able to avoid throttling and stay secure even on consoles, which don't natively support VPNs – there's no special treatment for the PC gamer here. Plus, while it doesn't offer encryption, Express's MediaStreamer Smart DNS tool will allow you to switch locations on your PlayStation or Xbox to watch geo-blocked content.

Outside of gaming you'll also be able to unblock pretty much any regional Netflix library, as well as access restricted sites like BBC iPlayer in the States. Plus, if you ever have any issues with the service, the 24/7 live chat will be able to sort you out in minutes.

If we had to find a negative, it'd be that Express only offers five simultaneous connections per plan. However, if you install one of those on your router, any device connected to that will be covered – then you can install the other four on phones and laptops you take away from home.

Overall, there's not a service that can challenge ExpressVPN today. If you're looking for a gaming VPN that can help you avoid throttling, keep you safe from hackers and trackers, and unblock streaming media too, ExpressVPN should be at the top of your list.

Get 49% off plus 3 free months of the best gaming VPN
Blistering speeds plus excellent privacy equals the best gaming VPN on the market. And, Tom's Guide readers can claim three months FREE, working out at 15 months for the price of 12. Not happy with the service? Just request a guaranteed refund within 30-days for your money back, no questions asked.

NordVPN best gaming VPN

(Image credit: NordVPN)

2. NordVPN

Privacy-first gaming VPN

Specifications
Router support: Yes
US speeds on 1Gbps line: 480-820Mbps
Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Hulu
24/7 customer suppoort: Yes
Simultaneous connections: 6
Reasons to buy
+Incredible NordLynx speeds+Privacy-focused experience+Good support
Reasons to avoid
-Some fluctuation in speeds

As the most famous VPN around, you'd expect NordVPN to work great as a gaming VPN – and you'd be right. 

Our NordVPN review found the Panama-based provider delivered some of the fastest speeds we've tested, and you'll have a network of over 5,000 servers in 59 countries to pick from. That means no matter where you are, you're pretty much guaranteed a connection that will work great on your regular internet line.

Previously, NordVPN suffered from slightly unreliable speeds, but now with the full roll-out of the WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol it's one of the very fastest on the market, topping out at a blistering 820Mbps.

Nord's apps are very stable, meaning you won't be going back and forth to check on it, and you can also set it up on a router to cover your consoles. Plus, streaming support is strong so you'll be able to watch pretty much whatever you want, wherever you are. However, unlike ExpressVPN, Nord doesn't offer a dedicated router app, so setup can be tricky.

Although not quite a polished and reliable as ExpressVPN, it's still a close match and Nord's definitely worth considering.

Sign up now on the NordVPN website

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Surfshark best gaming vpn

3. Surfshark

Seriously good value gaming VPN

Specifications
Router support: Yes
Speeds on 1Gbps line: 550-700Mbps
Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Hulu
24/7 customer suppoort: Yes
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant price+Simple and easy to use+Maintains good speeds+Unlimited connections
Reasons to avoid
-Others have better support

Surfshark is a super effective cheap VPN which works really well as a gaming VPN, and our Surfshark review found the bargain provider very impressive in a lot of areas.

In our last round of testing, Surfshark's connections speeds were impressive when using the modern WireGuard protocol, and while not quite as consistent as Nord and Express, you can still rely on it not to slow your Wi-Fi to a crawl.

Its network of 3,200 servers is ample, but the biggest draw is the combination of unlimited connections plus a sub-$2.50 price tag. Both are almost unheard of in the VPN industry, and that combination is absolutely unbeatable. Surfshark is simply the best way to get a gaming VPN on the cheap.

No, the apps don't have quite as much configuration as others, and yes, the support system is marginally slower, but if you're happy to stick with the recommended settings, evade throttling, access tons of Netflix libraries and more, then this is the best-value way to do it.
  
Head over to Surfshark's website to sign up

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Hotspot Shield best gaming VPN

4. Hotspot Shield

Unbelievable speeds mean lagless gaming

Specifications
Router support: Yes
Speeds on 600Mbps line: 330-410Mbps
Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Hulu
24/7 customer suppoort: Yes
Simultaneous connections: 5
Reasons to buy
+Speedy connections+Good free version+45-day money-back guarantee
Reasons to avoid
-Minor logging concerns

Hotspot Shield is well known for its free VPN, but the full version we look at in our Hotspot Shield review works very well as a gaming VPN. With no data limits and speeds twice that of pretty much any other provider, it's a tempting proposition.

Hotspot Shield reaches those incredible speeds because it uses its own proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol. However, that means that you won't be able to use the more commonly supported OpenVPN protocol, and subsequently you're tied to Hotspot Shield's own clients – you can't use the VPN without them.

There are also a couple of minor logging concerns. Hotspot's privacy policy states that it collects, amongst other things, your bandwidth used, how long you use it for, your device and more. 

While it claims none of this information can identify you, this won't impress those looking for serious privacy – but for gamers who want maximum speeds, it's safe to say this is still miles ahead compared to not using a VPN at all.

If you can cope with all that, there isn't another VPN on the market that can deliver the same speeds as Hotspot Shield, so if you have an ultra-fast internet connection to match, this is the fastest gaming VPN around.

Sign up now on Hotspot Shield's website

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IPVanish best gaming vpn

5. IPVanish

Excellent gaming VPN functionality

Specifications
Router support: Yes
US speeds on 600Mbps line: 290-380Mbps
Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu
24/7 customer suppoort: Yes
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
Reasons to buy
+Tons of info about your connection+Decent value+Unlimited simultaneous connections
Reasons to avoid
-Struggles with iPlayer-Speeds are only middling

IPVanish is an unashamedly techy gaming VPN, and its neon green and black interface might match your iridescent Razer gaming mouse pretty nicely. 

While we're used to seeing the provider impress as a US VPN, in our most recent IPVanish review connection speeds were especially good in the UK, reaching nearly 400Mbps, while US speeds weren't quite as impressive, only reaching around 190Mbps on a 1Gbps line.

Available to be installed on routers, IPVanish has recently unveiled its fresh unlimited connections policy, which means you can cover every single device in your household. And, on top of that, its wide device support means that's actually possible.

IPVanish also displays a whole load of information about its servers, and while in many cases this is overkill, if you're looking for the best gaming VPN server this is actually super useful. If you're more concerned about ping rather than download speed, you can make your decision based on that.

Finally, although it can't access iPlayer, IPVanish works great as a Netflix VPN, and you'll also be able to explore tons of other content after you've hung up your keyboard or controller for the night.

While the whole experience isn't quite as polished as the very best, if you're after a reliable, quick, detailed gaming VPN, IPVanish is a worthy option.

Head over to IPVanish's website to sign up

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Best gaming VPN FAQ

Why do I need a gaming VPN?

There are a couple of reasons why you might want a gaming VPN. 

Firstly, if you find your internet connection fluctuating, that could quite possibly be because your ISP is throttling your connection due to your activity. A VPN helps you avoid this by anonymizing your activity, meaning your ISP can't single you out as someone to throttle.

Secondly, privacy. Anyone is vulnerable, but gamers especially experience DDoS attacks and run a higher risk of being hacked. A VPN can protect anyone – not just gamers – from a whole load of the inherent risks on the web, plus it'll stop Google tracking you, too.

Is it legal to use a VPN for gaming?

Simple answer: yes. 

However, what you use your gaming VPN for might not be – remember that while it may make illicit activities possible or easier, it does not make them legal.

If you're using your VPN to spoof your location and buy games at a lower price, that's probably against the developer or distributor's Ts&Cs, and if you're caught you may have your account suspended or worse.

But, if you're just using it to make sure your ISP isn't throttling you, you don't have anything to worry about.

Will a VPN increase my ping?

This is a tricky one. Compared to your standard connection at peak speeds, a VPN is likely to slightly increase your ping – but, if you're very near one of your VPN's servers it could possibly decrease it if you're lucky.

Really, though, what you're using a gaming VPN for is to stabilize and make your connection more reliable. So, on your regular connection you might peak at a 10ms ping, but when you're being throttled that might increase to a difficult-to-manage 300ms.

By using the best gaming VPN, you can make sure your ping will stay at a usable speed – perhaps 20ms or better if you're used to 10ms – but you can be sure that it will stay that way for as long as you play. 

To learn more about this, see how to use a VPN to speed up your internet.


What should a gaming VPN have?

The most important feature of any gaming VPN is excellent connection speeds. You'll want to be able to get as close as possible to your regular connection speeds as possible, so having a fast VPN is a good start.

Then, you should also ensure that your gaming VPN has excellent privacy credentials. While it might not be top of your priority list, seeing as so many services deliver excellent speeds as well as great security, there's really no reason to sacrifice either.

Finally, do your research and make sure that your chosen service is reliable – it's not good if your VPN will be constantly cutting out, and if it has a kill switch activated you'll see your whole connection die in this situation.

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Gaming VPN disclaimer

Mo is eCommerce Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees privacy and security content, and his product guides help his readers find the best software and products for their needs. When he's not testing VPNs, you'll find him working on his classic car or plugged into a guitar amp.