Latency or ping/lag is probably the most irritating problem for online gamers in general, but it is even more annoying for organised gaming leagues. Disrupted gameplay, with players jumping around on screen, can create an unlevel playing field and completely ruin the competitive experience. What can gaming league organisers do to reduce this?
Top level eSports contests are usually carried out with all the players connected together in one location, meaning there should be no problems with lag here. In this article we will focus more on eSports and Gaming Leagues which are conducted remotely with people in different locations, where there is more risk of lag as competitors are potentially a long way apart.
Fortunately, there are some things a league admininstator can do to minimise the risk of lag in online gaming. By monitoring the geographical location of competitors, the type, strength, quality and configuration of their internet connection, league organisers can hope to minimise or eliminate the presence of lag in their lobbies.
Lets look at these steps in more detail below, first in quick summary form:
- For games really sensitive to lag/ping, make sure players are close enough geographically to keep ping down.
- Wired connections are always preferable to wireless connections for the stability and quality of a signal. If a direct ethernet connection is not possible then a Powerline Adapter is an excellent alternative option to deliver a strong wired connection.
- Ensure players conduct an internet connection test, on the web browser of the console that is going to be used, using one of the tools we recommend such as speedtest or ping-test, and pay special attention to the ping to make sure it is low enough.
- Encourage participants in high internet use households to implement Quality of Service settings on their router if available.
- Participants can also use some kind of port forwarding on their router to improve connectivity – using DMZ settings is our preferred method of doing this for games consoles.
Now let’s run through each of these factors in more detail, firstly explaining why latency is so important for gaming, and dedicating a sub-section to each factor above to explain why they are important and how to best fix them for online gaming.
The Importance of Latency For Online Gaming
As we have covered in another article, latency or ping is the most important factor for online gaming over and above bandwidth (download and upload speeds). Latency is the time taken for a packet of data to be sent from console to console (or server) and back again, usually measured in milliseconds.
Online gaming does not actually tend to use that much bandwidth, but what bandwidth it does use needs to be sent as quickly as possible to prevent lag. This depends not so much on the “speed” of the connection in terms of bandwidth but more the quality of the connection, both inside the house and across the wider internet.
Of course this becomes more complicated when online gaming is involved as you have multiple people all in different locations with different ISPs, setups, connection types and so on, and it only takes one connection to be bad for it to affect the experience of others.
This is especially true for any fast paced games where the relative position of players is important, such as racing games or first person shooters. A player with a bad connection will jump around on screen and make the online experience disjointed and in some cases unfair or unplayable.
In some racing leagues for example it is not unheard of for a lagging car to “take out” another one simply because the car keeps disappearing and reappearing on screen.
For sure it can sometimes be that the games themselves are not coded optimally and as such there are bugs and instabilities in the online modes which can cause lag. Patches are usually quickly introduced to fix these problems.
It is safe to say though that for the majority of cases lag is caused by a poor connection on the part of one or more of the players in a lobby, with the good news being that in most cases there is a solution to this problem.
If people are organising competitive online leagues then it makes sense to take some steps to vet and verify the connection quality of any participants who enter the league to keep lag to a minimum. Lets take a look at some simple steps we can take to do this.
1. Check The Geographical Location of Competitors
This is probably the most primary or basic factor that determines latency as it will simply determine how long gaming traffic will take to be send from gamer to gamer so it is best to only put gamers together who are geographically reasonably close in a league.
The further away a gamer is from their competitors, the higher the latency will be
How close is “reasonably close”? That is highly subjective and will vary in each case, but having gamers in the same country is preferable, or at least the same continent. Even this is not reliable though, as even gamers on the same continent such as Europe can suffer lag when playing each other online.
Similarly some gamers will no doubt report they played against someone from a different continent with no visible lag problems.
Therefore it will most likely require some trialling out in test lobbies to see if players who are some distance away can play OK without lag. If the connection is not good enough, the league admin may need to refuse them entry, simply because lag and “jumpiness” can really ruin the experience when you are playing competitively and seriously or semi-seriously.
It is not always that much of a problem as regional leagues for many games can be found in most parts of the world. Similarly many games already help you out with this by allowing online lobbies to be filtered for localised matchmaking so you are only playing against people close to you geographically.
2. Encourage All Players to Use Wired Connections
Even with the development of bigger and better wireless routers with supposedly stronger Wi-Fi in recent years, it is still true that wired connections are the most solid and consistent for online gaming over wireless ones. See our post which covers this in detail.
Unfortunately Wi-Fi signals will always get weaker the further one is away from the router as it is built into the laws of physics with the Inverse Square Law, which dictates that radio signals weaken by a square of the distance from the source.
Therefore weak Wi-Fi signals and deadspots are pretty much an inevitability in some houses no matter how advanced router technology becomes, especially houses with thick walls and floors where the Wi-Fi signals have more “stuff” to travel through. ISPs and router manufacturers cannot overcome the laws of physics!
Therefore it is by far the most preferable scenario that online gamers are using a wired ethernet connection instead of a wireless one to play online, as it will guarantee the strongest and lowest latency connection between their console and their router.
In the case of the PS4 for example this can be easily verified if you ask the player to submit a screenshot of their “View Connection Status” screen from within the “Network Settings” menu. A screenshot can be taken by simply pressing the Share button on a Dualshock controller, either once or twice depending on indivdual settings.
From there you can see from the screenshot whether they are using a wireless connection or not, as this page displays whether the connection is wired or wireless at the top. Similarly, a screenshot of a Connection Test results page will also reveal what type of connection they are using, as top line of the speed test will have the “SSID” attribute, indicating that they connecting to their router wirelessly. The absence of this SSID indicates a wired LAN connection.
A screenshot of a PS4 player’s Connection Status screen will reveal what type of connection they are using. A screenshot of their Connection Test page will do the same thing (Look for SSID to indicate a wireless connection).
We suggest that if a gamer is struggling with lag and their connection is revealed to be wireless then this is the number one things that needs addressing if they want to try and reduce this lag. Wired connections are always more solid and consistent than wireless ones for latency sensitive activities like online gaming.
In some cases of course it is not practical or possible for gamers to run ethernet directly, even though they may want to. They may simply be too far away from their router or they may not want or be allowed to run long ethernet cables through walls or down stairs.
In these cases a Powerline Adapter is a brilliant next best solution to running ethernet directly as we have discussed in another article.
They consist of a pair of plugs that send data to each other using the electrical wiring of the house, creating a strong wired connection without having to use long ethernet cables.
See the video just below for an excellent 2 minute intro into how powerline adapters work.
Click here to view the entry level TP Link Nano Powerline on Amazon. It will provide a solid, wired ethernet connection to your router using the existing electrical wiring of your house.
Powerline Adapters are a fantastic way to reduce latency for gamers as they can often give a connection as good or almost as good as if you were plugged into the router directly, certainly in terms of low ping. See our article where we tested this.
They are by far preferable to using Wi-Fi and so if a league admin has someone on Wi-Fi who cannot use a long ethernet cable, they are definitely worth recommending to reduce the risk of lag.
3. Get All Participants to Test Their Internet Connection (Primarily for Latency not Bandwidth)
This is the most important test that admins can instruct new entrants to do, but it is important to test the right things. As we have already discussed, latency or ping is far more important then bandwidth for online gaming, so a “speed” test that simply gives download and upload speeds, such as that on the PS4, is not really much use, beyond the few mbps that is needed for most online gaming.
It is far more important to test the latency or ping of an internet connection, as this is what will determine whether the person is likely to lag in online play.
If a league organiser has someone wanting to join a league then it is a good idea to have them test their ping on one of these tools and submit a screenshot of the results. For best results you will need to test the ping to a server that is nearest to where the league is “based” ie. where most of the current competitors are based.
It is also crucial that any tests are done on the console that is going to be used and not on another device, as different devices can have a different quality of connection depending on location, hardware, configuration etc. Both the PS4/5 and Xbox One/X consoles have basic web browsers from which users can access the speed test tools we recommend and conduct the tests.
Any ping below 50 milliseconds is considered good, anything between 50 and 100 OK, but anything over 100 ms may (or may not) be problematic for online gaming. Certainly any ping over 200 ms almost guarantees problems with lag in fast paced games. See our article which covers good ping values for gaming.
Depending on the ping test results, admins can either refuse entry into leagues or ask them to take some steps like the others we laid out in this article to strengthen their internet connection. If geographical distance is not a limiting factor then there are usually solutions to reduce ping to acceptable levels.
4. Ask Players to Use Port Forwarding To Improve Connectivity
Another important step to take is to ask potential league entrants to implement some kind of port forwarding on their games console to give the best connectivity. Port forwarding is a way of opening up a console more fully to the internet and bypassing some router filtering which can serve to improve connections.
There are several different ways of forwarding all ports to your games console – see our article on the three main methods of implementing port forwarding. Some methods are more easier to do whilst other are more precise and customisable.
Our preferred method for games consoles is to use DMZ settings on your router, as it is relatively easy to do but can also open ports up specifically to your games console and nothing else on the home network.
See our article on DMZ for a full run down of how to forward ports this way. Here are the very quick steps:
- Get the MAC address of your games console (Connection Settings/Status menus).
- Log into your router by typing it’s IP address in any browser (often 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1) and the password.
- Find DMZ Settings under Security or Advanced or similar.
- Enter or select your consoles’s MAC address and place it in the DMZ.
- Save settings and close.
- See the linked article for more detail on the steps if you get stuck.
- DMZ is safe to use for games consoles but not other devices.
- DMZ can also resolve NAT Type issues, with certain players being stuck on the wrong NAT Type, which reduces connectivity.
V. Ask Gamers in High Internet Use Houses to Use Quality of Service Settings on Their Routers
This is another crucial factor that can affect online play, especially now with more and more bandwidth hungry streaming devices connecting to routers like tablets, smartphones and set top boxes. If several people are using the internet at the same time as a gamer is playing online in a house, they can often report lag as their router is overloaded with bandwidth requests.
This problem is often exacerbated if the person is also using a wireless connection, as Wi-Fi bands can often get clogged up with the sheer number of devices connecting at the same time. Dual band Wi-Fi partially alleviates this problem by sharing traffic across two or more frequencies, but as we already mentioned wired connections are preferable for gamers anyway.
Nevertheless many routers have Quality of Service settings which allow you to prioritise gaming traffic over all other traffic, so that your gaming traffic is dealt with first to keep latency down.
Other services like video streaming and browsing will not be affected by this; configuring Quality of Service settings just instructs your router to process the traffic in a certain order so that activities that need the lowest latency can be dealt with first.
Therefore if you have any gamers wanting to join a league who live in large households with lots of internet users, it is a good idea to ask them to check their router to see of QoS settings are available. They are unfortunately not available on all routers. Netgear routers most often do have QoS settings but it is worth checking all routers.
Here are the very quick steps for configuring QoS:
- Find the MAC address of your games console in Connection Settings/Status
- Log into your router (IP often 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1, plus password)
- Find QoS Settings if they are available
- Select your console using the MAC address you found earlier.
- Set the priority to Highest or Maxiumum.
- Save settings and exit your router.
- See our full article on QoS for more detailed steps.
- Unfortunately QoS is not available on all routers.
- The video just below covers how to set QoS for the PS4.
A Demonstration of Quality of Service Settings in Action
This will now instruct the router to deal with all gaming traffic first which should keep latency down even when other people are streaming video or downloading at the same time.
It is an excellent tool for managing bandwidth in households and is definitely worth recommending for league organisers. For really serious gamers who want to take further steps to reduce their latency then they may want to also consider using port forwarding mentioned in the above section as well.
We have tried to lay out a step by step checklist that league admins can use to make sure only people with good enough internet connections are gaming in a league.
Once geographical location has been ticked off as close enough to permit lag free gaming, it is then a case of making sure any player’s internet connection is correctly configured to keep latency to a minimum.
In other words making sure the connection between the console and the router is as good as possible, as well as the connection between consoles across the wider internet. All the steps we’ve gone into are just different ways of optimizing these connections for minimal ping online.
Having all participants sort out all of these factors should make latency minimal or non existent for online gaming leagues. Whilst it is true that there may be some lag that is caused by uncontrollable factors like ISP service disruption or game bugs, it is probably less then optimal connections within the home that is the cause of most lag online.
If league organisers ensure each individual gamer optimises the internet connection from their own end to make sure they have the strongest connection possible, this should get rid of the bulk of lag in online gaming.
This was confirmed to this writer when he discussed the issue with the owner of Invictus Racing League, an online league for the Formula 1 games, known for their lag issues in lobbies. He confirms to us that a simple process of testing and vetting internet connections has basically eliminated lag from his league:
“I actually conduct an internet test prior to all those who wish to join our website. They have to go through a testing phase both on and off track before being allowed to compete. We use http://speedtest.net as a resource to test connection speeds and stability as well as further testing…….We have next to no lag in our races.”