You may have an amazing setup, but even the best gamer on the best rig will come undone if they have lag caused by high ping. All online gamers have experienced those frustrating moments when you’re about the pull the trigger, be it shooting at goal or firing a rifle from cover when the game judders for a fraction of a second and your golden opportunity is wasted. The only thing worse is when lag gifts your opponent an easy victory.
But what is ping, why is it such an issue and what can you do to minimise interruptions to your online games?
What is ping and why is it a problem?
Put simply, ping is the reaction time between two devices online. It is often measured in milliseconds and reflects how long it takes for the device you are connecting to (often a gaming server) to respond.
If the ping is low then it will appear that everything is running smoothly and the game will feel responsive. However, if the ping is higher, it can cause serious interruptions to games with button presses not registered or misunderstood because you are, in effect, playing on a delay behind everyone else. With many modern games requiring pinpoint accuracy and fast reactions, a high ping can make some games unplayable.
How do I check my ping?
To see if your connection is causing the issue, the first step is to check your connection. This can be done using an online speed test tool which will tell you your ping rate, as well as download and upload speeds.
While it is close to impossible to avoid ping completely, if it is below 200ms (0.2 seconds) it will likely be imperceptible. Anything up to 400ms (0.4 seconds) could see your characters occasionally judder, but for the most part, would not cause any significant issues. If it was to reach any higher than that, it is likely that other players will have a serious advantage over you, as you will be playing catch-up constantly.
What can I do to improve my ping rate?
– Minimise network usage
The first thing to check when you notice lag is that no other demanding activity is occurring on your network. If someone is streaming a film or making video calls it will mean that your service is splitting its resources to fulfill multiple needs at once, and your game is likely to be where that is noticed most clearly. Video services will buffer to ensure a seamless stream, but that is not possible in the same way for online gaming, as real-time reactions are required.
– Use a wired connection
While Wi-Fi has become standard and can reach impressive speeds, a physical connection via Ethernet is still the fastest and most stable connection there is. Connecting your console or PC directly to your home router is a great way to ensure you are getting the best out of your connection – just make sure the cables are in good condition and are not excessively long.
– Close down background applications
This is not an issue for consoles, but PC gamers should make sure that any unnecessary applications are closed before you start playing. As much as we might like them to be, most computers are not exclusively for gaming – which means there are often a number of things going on in the background.
From Google Drive making backups, to iTunes and Windows Updates, the average computer can have a large number of processes running at any one time. If your computer has a lot of processes running it can be a serious drain on memory and performance.
– Tone down your graphics
Again, this solution is only for the PC users. While playing with graphics set to the highest levels may look incredible, the extra effort your graphics card and RAM are putting in could slow down performance in a similar way to background processes.
It might not be as visually appealing, but optimising your settings to get the best out of your computer’s components will help to make sure that the gameplay stays as smooth as possible.
– Try a VPN
Commonly, a VPN is not thought to be helpful when optimising a connection for gaming. To protect your data, a VPN service will ‘tunnel’ through servers based all over the world. While this will help to mask your activity online and improve your security, the process of sending data to a second server could mean your overall speed is slower.
However, it is important to note that having fast internet speeds does not automatically mean lower ping rates, and using your VPN to connect to a server that is closer to the game’s server can actually help you to reduce your ping levels.
– Upgrade your router
Once it is set up, a router can often be forgotten and left in the corner of a room to gather dust. While the box you may have received from your ISP should keep your standard internet activity running well for years, gamers should consider an upgrade. A new router, especially if it is designed specifically for gaming, will help to boost the strength of your connection and you are likely to see a marked improvement straight away.
A high ping rate may not be a persistent issue but when it does occur, it can be incredibly frustrating. With these tips, you should be able to reduce it to a manageable level and get back to showing the world your true potential when you aren’t handicapped by lag and network issues.