If connection troubles are getting you down when gaming, you might not be as powerless to fix things as you think. Video games have come a long way when it comes to multiplayer experiences, but a poor connection and laggy gameplay can ruin even the most robust online environments.
Perhaps you’re struggling with slowdown in crowded MMOs, such as World of Warcraft’s latest Battle for Azeroth expansion, or dropping match-deciding combos in precision fighters like Smash Ultimate and Soul Calibur VI. When excessive lag is getting in the way of your enjoyment, this guide can help you understand the problems, and give some simple fixes to get things running smoothly again.
We’ve also compiled some detailed info on how to get the most out of your connection with some of the biggest multiplayer games being played today, Including Fortnite, Black Ops 4, and League of Legends.
How to tell if you’re lagging
Video games, especially when played on a PC, can attract a host of technical niggles. It is important to focus in on precisely what’s sparking your frustration, and learn how to identify when connection troubles are giving you lag.
Broadly speaking, lag is when your connection causes your in-game actions to have a noticeably delayed effect. Maybe your character is unresponsive to your inputs, or enemies don’t register your attacks against them. The ways that lag interferes with gameplay depends on which game you are playing, but they all have equally frustrating results. Here’s a few bullet points to quickly identify common forms of lag.
- Input delay – You press a button, but your character doesn’t immediately react to the command.
- Server lag – Your character behaves normally, but the world and other players don’t immediately react to you.
- Packet loss/Stuttering – Your character behaves normally, but everything else occasionally stops in time, then rapidly speeds up or jumps forward.
- Rollback/Rubber banding – Everything in game, including your character, appears to jump a second or two back in time.
The way that a game deals with lag is baked right into the code itself. This means that, although different titles may behave differently, a single game will always display the same problems when it has a poor connection.
A low frame-rate can sometimes look like a poor connection. It’s important to be sure that frame-rate isn’t your issue before you start trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Frame-rate issues all stem from hardware being unable to meet the demands of the software, and result in games appearing choppy or running slowly.
This can be fixed by lowering the graphical settings on a game, or improving your hardware. Sometimes this is simply a problem with the software itself, or is caused by an area being ‘overloaded’ with more objects than the designers planned on being there (such as a large crowd of players).
Connection problems will almost never result in animations looking choppy, only in them playing ‘out of time’. So if your game is starting to look like a slideshow, latency isn’t your problem. Although, you could be suffering from both problems at the same time.
What is ping?
Some games will tell you how laggy you are by indicating your latency or ping. This is usually measured in milliseconds (ms), and is the length of time that your game (or client) takes to send message to the server and get a reply. The amount of latency you can tolerate often comes down to your experience with a game, but generally a latency below 30ms is ideal, and above 100ms will cause notable frustration.
It can be useful to get a general idea of your average ping to easily spot when you’re experiencing a poor connection.
Other players can give you lag
Even the best internet in the world can’t stop you from interacting with other poor connections. Sadly, that’s just the nature of multiplayer games and it will often negatively impact your play, without anything you can do about it. The different types of lag mentioned earlier are some of the ways that designers try to minimize the impact that poor connections have on everyone else playing.
A rollback system means games play smoothly, without delays or stuttering, at the cost of occasionally jumping back in time to keep all players on the same page.
How to fix lag
Before we get into the specifics about improving connections for popular titles, here’s a few basic tips to generally improve latency for any online multiplayer game.
- Don’t use up your bandwidth – Although playing games doesn’t require much data to be send through your connection, filling it up with downloads and video streaming is going to cause bottlenecks, and delay the packets being sent from your game. This is affected by all the devices on your router, so expect to encounter some lag when everyone else in your house is watching Netflix.
- Don’t use WiFi – Wireless connections are notoriously unreliable, and rapidly switch between a high and low latency on a frequent basis. This is because WiFi works through a ‘fire and forget’ mentality – flooding the air with packets of data in the hope that some will eventually hit their target. Playing games doesn’t require much data at all, so it’s much more important that it gets to its destination directly through an Ethernet cable.
- Don’t use a proxy server or VPN – Some ‘gaming’ VPN services will promise you better connections if you play through their servers, but adding another middleman into your connection is only likely to cause further delay.
- Restart your router – Sometimes machines get confused, and your router can forget where things are supposed to be going. A quick restart will usually have it working good as new.
Some of the more advanced fixes below suggest changing your router settings. This might seem a bit intimidating, but all these suggested changes are easy to undo and reset if you make a mistake or encounter other issues. All the fixes below are recommend by the developers of these titles.
It might be the biggest game in the world, but developers Epic Games don’t offer much help when it comes to optimizing your connection. Besides the tips listed above, here’s a few quick fixes to help with launcher troubles and issues logging in.
- It is recommended to have a 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed. Note that this is a very ‘safe’ requirement, and you will likely be able to happily play at lower speeds.
- Check that Fortnite isn’t down for maintenance on the official service status site.
- Make sure you are not behind a proxy server and do not have epicgames.com filtered by a firewall.
- Unblock ports 80, 433, and 5222. Epic Games provide step-by step instrutions for PC.
- Temporarily disable your Firewall.
- Restart your router.
League of Legends
It might be a decade old, but League of Legends remains one of the most played multiplayer titles on PC to this day. Here’s what Riot Games recommends to help with high latency in-game.
- Close network-intensive programs like Chrome, torrents, and streaming services.
- Add firewall exceptions for League of Legends. This can be performed automatically with their free network troubleshooting tool.
- Avoid using a wireless connection, or move as close to your router as possible.
- Switch your ISP to one with a better connection between you and your local League of Legends server – that’s EU West (EUW) for UK players.
Black Ops 4
Activision identify the most common forms of lag for the latest Black Ops title being Rubber banding, stuttering, and hit marker delays (“When it appears you have landed several shots on an enemy, yet the enemy is able to kill you with fewer shots fired back”). Here’s what you can do to fix these problems.
- Play on a wired connection.
- Enable Quality of Service (QoS) features on your router, if you have them.
- Don’t stream music or video whilst playing, or stream your own gameplay.
- Switch to an ISP with better connectivity in your area.
- Forward the appropriate ports on your router with Activision’s port forwarding guide. Simply navigate to your system on the list and follow the instructions provided.
Red Dead Online
Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the biggest hits of 2018, and the recent addition of online play adds a whole new experience to the title. It is worth noting that Red Dead Online is still in the public beta stage of development, so connection problems are to be expected until the system is fully completed. Here’s what Rockstar recommends to make sure your connection isn’t what’s struggling.
- Check the server status. Maintenance can be somewhat common, so make sure that the game isn’t offline when you’re failing to connect.
- Make sure you meet the minimum recommended connection speeds of 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. Rockstar recommend Speedtest as a reliable way check your bandwidth.
- Set your router’s NAT Type to Type 1 or Type 2. Type 3 can cause conflicts with other players.
- Restart your router.
- Open and forward the appropriate ports on your router. Follow Rockstar’s guides for Xbox One port forwarding and Playstation 4 port forwarding to make sure you only forward what you need to.
It may seem surprising that so many of these developers recommend changing ISP as a way to fix lag. The truth is that, with playing any game online, there’s a long line of routers and servers that your connection is using – and any changes you can make are only affecting a tiny part of that connection. We’ve been talking a lot about latency, but your data is really always moving at a steady pace – the speed of light. What’s really making the difference is the route that your data is travelling along.
Identifying the best ISP in your area for minimal latency can be a difficult challenge, as providers rarely mention latency as a factor in purchasing broadband. Although high download speeds can indicate a low-latency network, this isn’t always the case.
Full-fibre, cable, and FTTC broadband provides a much more stable connection than ADSL alternatives, so dipping into any form of fibre broadband is highly recommended if that option is available to you.
You can enter your postcode to see a full list of the best connections and deals available from the ISPs in your area. If you’re out-of-contract with your current provider, you could make the switch to better broadband at any time, and start enjoying online games with a little less salt and frustration.