Where it comes from and how to reduce it.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. What you call ‘ping’ is actually called ‘latency.’ It’s a common vernacular mistake in gaming circles but, in fairness, the terms are actually linked. In simplest terms, ping is the test, and latency is the result. Whether you erroneously call it ‘ping’ or you properly call it ‘latency’, ultimately, matters very little, because that distinction doesn’t help you to ensure the value stays as low as possible.
For games that still include latency as numerical values (thanks, devs!) and not coloured bars – or, worse, nothing at all – the number is indicative of the time, in milliseconds, it takes for data to be sent from your PC to the server or hosting player, and received back on your PC again. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be; some games cheat and halve the value, so it’s only showing the time it takes to send the data from your client PC to the game server.
The lower the latency value, the better the online experience. Except it doesn’t always work that way. There are several invisible factors that can get in the way of better latency. The most obvious and easiest to address is the difference between wired and wireless network connections. Wi-Fi may be more convenient, but it’s likely to increase your latency. Throw in potential interference, local network congestion, and even micro drop-outs (which can lead to packet loss), and you really shouldn’t be doing any sort of serious online gaming on a wireless connection.
Ethernet is where it’s at. This doesn’t mean that Ethernet is free from network congestion on a local network, mind you. Whichever internet connection you happen to be playing on will have a total amount of available bandwidth. Depending on the router, this bandwidth may also be limited by device or connection type (i.e. wired or wireless).
If you don’t want to scream at housemates or family to get off the internet when you game, there’s another solution. You can invest in a gaming-friendly router, like the Netgear Nighthawk X4s or Asus RT-AC86U. They’re not cheap, mind you, but these routers use Quality of Service (QoS) controls to prioritise real-time traffic. This means applications like VOIP services or games will be prioritised over anything else in the network, so the fact that someone else is downloading large files or streaming movies won’t impact your latency when QoS is active. Otherwise, if you’re, for instance, on an ADSL2+ connection and someone else on your home network is trying to download large files or stream HD videos, your latency will likely spike. This is because the total bandwidth on the shared internet connection has been exhausted. While most online games use very little bandwidth, they’re still at the mercy of the total available bandwidth on a local network. Ideally, you want an internet connection better (and more reliable) than ADSL2+, but that’s not always available, practical, or affordable. If your latency spikes, either fully or sporadically, your online experience will suffer. Sometimes this might translate to teleporting, bad hit registration, or taking damage behind cover, as all input commands on a dedicated server must be approved by the server. The longer it takes for the information to be sent to, approved by, and received from the server, the more the real-time illusion of your average online shooter is impacted. Online shooters are the best examples for latency, because they’re the most impacted by it. Turn-based games or even slower-paced RTSs can better mask the illusion of real-time gameplay. For shooters, though, there are complex real-time inputs from, potentially, 100 players in the case of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which will, at times, intersect. Every keystroke, mouse movement, and every button pressed is input that has to be processed partially or fully on your local PC (client-side) and accepted as true externally (server-side).
online shooters are the best examples for latency, because they’re the most impacted by it
The higher your latency, the longer it takes for this server-side confirmation to be received, because there’s a lengthier round-trip time. This becomes particularly relevant even if you’re not the player with the high latency. Other high-latency players connected to the same server may mar your experience because their data takes longer to be sent to the server and then on to you.
It should go without saying you also want to ensure you have adequate bandwidth on your own device: downloading in the background, or having software on that automatically downloads is a big no-no. Before playing, I religiously close any nonessential software that might be using my internet connection (or system resources) to ensure the best online experience. To date, I’ve never had the dreaded desync in PUBG. It’s also worth noting that certain types of malware can chew-up bandwidth, so be diligent with your anti-malware scans and antivirus updates.
There are other factors outside of your control, too. If you run a trace-route test in command prompt, targeted at a game server, you’ll see just how complicated external factors can be. Those initial IP results on the traceroute test are your local network. Then it hits your ISP. After that, if you’re lucky, there are minimal gateway hops before your data is received by the server. More hops may result in higher latency, but more hops also mean you’re more likely to suffer from packet loss.
If you do discover more than a few hops between you and a game server, try talking to your ISP. Bear in mind that higher latency response times in the traceroute test aren’t necessarily indicative of an issue.
By far the biggest basic influence on latency is the physical distance between your connection and the server. If the server’s in the same state, chances are good your latency will be low. If it’s on the other side of the country, expect it to be higher. If it’s in another country, that’s where the latency value can creep into the hundreds of milliseconds. Where possible, connect to a server that’s closest to you, or stick to your region.
It’s also worth ensuring your networking equipment is up to date, and getting into the semi-regular habit of restarting related devices – computers, modems, routers – gives you the best possible chance of lower latency. There’s a lot that’s outside of your control when it comes to having an ideal online gaming experience, but manage these latency factors, and you’ll have a better chance of mastering the aspects you can influence.
The Asus RT-AC86U is a “gaming-friendly” router...
... and so is the Netgear Nighthawk X4s. They both let you prioritise gaming traffic
Always close any non-essential software (i.e. what isn’t PUBG) before playing online
Sometimes high latency is no excuse. It didn’t stop Quake Champions player Daniel “dandaking” De Sousa qualifying for the North American regional finals earlier this year despite a ping of over 200.