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How internet can make or break your game

Missed shots. Rubber banding. Failed combos. In video games, lag is always the enemy—and having fast and reliable internet can help you avoid it.

Internet speed is, by all accounts, relatively simple: the higher the speed, the faster the internet. Many gamers choose high-speed internet because they believe it will give them a smooth, lag-free experience, but the reality is a bit more nuanced and complicated. While high speeds can undoubtedly improve your gaming experience, there are other factors to consider that can impact your performance. The key is to understand precisely how internet speed and reliability affect gameplay.

How Bandwidth Affects Latency

The short answer is this: bandwidth, on its own, has no impact on latency. You can play online with download speeds as low as 2 megabits per second without a problem, although it would not be ideal. Bandwidth begins to affect latency when there is too little bandwidth for all of the necessary data.

Bandwidth is described as the maximum amount of data that can travel through a network. Xfinity xFi offers internet with download speeds of up to 2 gigabits-per-second in certain markets. This amount of bandwidth can make a significant difference when downloading patches or streaming, and can result in improved latency during your gameplay if someone else in your home simultaneously uses the internet to stream video or music.  

Unless you are live-streaming video consistently, you may not need a high upload speed, and it is typically limited to a fraction of the download speed—usually 5 Mbps or 10 Mbps. You need at least 5 Mbps to stream gameplay without losing quality, but you have options to adjust settings to compensate for lower upload speeds when streaming to services like Twitch.

Ping is King

When ISPs advertise high-speed internet, they mean bandwidth—and while a 100 megabit-per-second download speed will help your gaming experience, it isn't the only factor. The thing competitive gamers should be most concerned about is ping and latency.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not technically the same. Ping refers to the time it takes a signal to travel from one computer, across a network to another computer, and back again. Latency is the interval of time between stimulation and response. In less technical terms, it's the amount of time it takes a signal to travel from your system to the server and back. Latency is measured in milliseconds. For example, imagine you are immersed in a game of Rainbow Six Siege. An opponent rounds a corner at the end of a hallway and you pull the trigger.

The time it takes for your system to transmit the fire command to the server, register the shot, and show the results on your screen is your latency. For competitive gaming, less than 20 milliseconds is ideal. Any more than 150 milliseconds will result in noticeable lag. The sweet spot lies anywhere from 0 to 40 milliseconds.

Of course, this speed only matters if someone is able to react in time. The average human reaction speed is around 200 to 500 milliseconds, while the human eye can process an image in anywhere from 13 to 100 milliseconds.

One final note: latency and ping matter most if you are playing multiplayer games. If you prefer single player or offline experiences, you do not need to worry about reducing latency. For example, while latency can be a critical factor in online multiplayer games like Rainbow Six Siege, it won't have a significant impact on your experience in solo games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

How to Reduce Latency

Lag is affected by a lot of factors outside your control: time of day, overall internet usage, weather, etc. However, there are a few steps you can take to help reduce the lag you experience. The first step is to ensure a direct, hardwired connection between your PC or gaming console and the router. Use a Category 5e Ethernet cord for the maximum possible bandwidth.

The next step is to select a gaming server close to you. Pick a server based in your geographic region.

For gamers, lag is a part of life. There is no way to eliminate it completely, but you can (hopefully) reduce it to a level where it has no noticeable impact on your gameplay.

Get fast and reliable Internet built for gamers with Xfinity. Learn more at xfinity.com/gaming