Chances are, while visiting websites or listening to podcasts, you will come across many advertisements for VPN (virtual private network) services. Thanks in part to a renewed focus on privacy and security, they are everywhere today.
VPNs have always appealed to gamers with promises of privacy protection and improved performance. Let̵
What a VPN does
There are essentially two types of VPNs you will come across. The first is a business VPN that you get through your employer. These VPNs are encrypted tunnels that allow you to connect to your company’s network to access private resources such as documents or the back of a website.
The second type is a consumer VPN, which is what all those ads are for. This kind of VPN is also an encrypted tunnel, but this time it connects securely to a server and then to the open internet. To the rest of the world, it seems like the VPN server is your PC. This protects your real location.
VPNs like these are great if you want to watch a show on Netflix that is only available in the US while in Europe. A VPN is also useful if you are on a public Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop or airport and want to secure your connection so that the Wi-Fi network operator cannot sniff out your traffic.
Gaming is a different matter, however.
Can a VPN protect you from DDoS attacks?
The main reason gamers, or those who advise gamers, suggest using a VPN is for protection. There are a number of games that use peer-to-peer technology to aid networking in multiplayer games. If so, it is sometimes possible to find out the IP (Internet Protocol) address of an opponent.
An IP address is like a street address, but for computers and routers on the Internet. If you know the IP address of another device, you can try connecting to it. Bad actors use this information to perform distributed denial-of-service attacks, flooding an IP address with so much internet traffic that the connection goes offline. It’s easy to rent times on botnets to perform DDoS attacks, making the threat of a DDoS attack very real (as long as you have a target IP address).
RELATED: What are Denial of Service and DDoS attacks?
Resisting DDoS attacks is an everyday experience for major internet companies such as Amazon and Google, as well as servers operated by gaming companies and a number of VPN services. However, it’s not something that an internet connection at home can easily withstand – so the need for a VPN. Should you become the target of a DDoS attack while connected to a VPN, you could still be knocked offline, but getting back online wouldn’t be a problem as your actual IP was not affected.
If you look around the internet, you can easily see a lot of fear of being hit by a DDoS attack while gaming. Check out the forums of any game that has an online multiplayer component, and you’ll see concerns about DDoS, including games like CSGo, Overwatch, Duty, Destiny 2, and League of Legends.
Some of these fears are legit, and (hopefully) game creators will do everything they can to prevent DDoS attacks, as Bungie did for Destiny 2 early 2020. However, for most games, the bigger fear is that someone will hit the corporate servers and try to take the game offline that way, as happened World of Warcraft late 2019. If the game servers are under attack, a VPN will do absolutely nothing to make the game more playable, as the game’s servers, not your internet connection, were the target of the DDoS attack.
Another way you can be hit with a DDoS attack is not through the game itself, but everything around it. For example, if someone tries to start a chat with you, that may be enough to get your IP on some platforms. The player may also try to lure you to a website or chat room that he operates to find your IP address. These types of attacks are not common. But in general, if you get an unsolicited chat request before or just after a match, don’t take the bait.
You don’t really need a VPN these days to withstand DDoS attacks while gaming, but there can be exceptions. If you think you are the target of a DDoS attack while gaming, see if others have had similar experiences and what you were doing on your computer prior to that attack. Read the game developer’s forums and support pages to see if this is an issue. If it turns out to be the real deal, consider a VPN.
Can a VPN improve gaming performance?
Another reason gamers like the idea of a VPN is to get better performance if they use a VPN server closer to the game’s servers. But this hardly ever works, as VPNs don’t offer the same bandwidth speeds as a bare internet connection. That means you’ll almost always have longer latency and poorer network performance when connecting through a VPN – unless there are other circumstances, a VPN improves. (However, with a fast VPN, the delay can be very small.)
For example, if your ISP throttles gaming connections but not VPNs, a VPN can improve your performance. If you’re connecting on a public Wi-Fi network that blocks game connections but allows VPN connections, you can use a VPN to tunnel through that restriction and connect to the game server.
Another possible use case is the idea that you want to play in a different region, such as Europe or Asia. If this is about playing with friends, make sure the game doesn’t automatically connect you regardless of the region. For those region-locked games, make sure that if you jump through regions with a VPN, you won’t get kicked out of the game.
Finally, a final concern could be bypassing IP filters at a university or corporate firewall. Bypassing a company’s firewall to play a game is a horrible, horrible idea that could cost you your job. For students, a better option would be to talk to the campus IT department. Sometimes they try not to block gaming, but traffic that looks the same, and they can help diagnose your connection problems.
So, do you need a VPN for gaming?
VPN services are great tools for accessing streaming services overseas or for securing your connection on open WiFi. But do you need one for gaming? Probably not.
You certainly don’t need it for general protection or performance issues for all online games, but there are situations where it can come in handy.
Before spending money on a VPN plan, do some research to see if the game you’re playing uses peer-to-peer networks or if the chat platforms you’re using are a problem, then see what the developers do to prevent DDoS attacks. Consider whether you need one to get around the restriction or restrictions on the networks you use.
In particular, find out if you have a specific problem that a VPN for gaming can help you with.