Online gamers have more to worry about than just great throughput from their ISP if they want to win. See which broadband providers in the US have the goods for gaming.
Online gaming used to be a little niche in the world of play—now online is a given, and having an adequate connection to the internet is a must for everyone playing on PCs, consoles, and even smartphones.
While it’s been a couple of years since we looked at broadband internet service providers (ISPs) when it comes to gaming quality, one thing hasn’t changed. Almost any high throughput connection to the internet of any kind is going to be okay for today’s games. Most of the hard work is handled by the gaming device when it comes to rendering and gameplay.
But your twitchy trigger finger needs a very high quality connection to the internet. That means low latency and jitter on the connection—the hiccups on the line that could be the difference between your last minute frag, or someone else becoming king of the online hill.
Thus, don’t look to this story for a discussion of speed. We covered that last summer in the Fastest ISPs of 2018, and we’ll do it again later this year. Instead, below we’ll cover the already-fast ISPs that can make you a winner, no matter where you live in the United States.
Typically this kind of boilerplate rundown of how we test comes last, but it’s too important to this story that you understand exactly what we’re talking about up front.
This is our fourth look at the Best Gaming ISPs, and the results come from our personalized PCMag Speed Test tool. Test it yourself to see how your own ISP compares.
Curious about your broadband internet speed? Test it now!
When you perform the test it records the name of your ISP, your location, and the usual info on the connection like download and upload speed. For our Fastest ISPs stories, we use the up/down number of Megabits per second (Mbps) to create what we call the PCMag Speed Index. That’s a score that lets us directly compare ISP to ISP for speed. The formulae is 80 percent of the download speed plus 20 percent of the upload speed, rendered in Microsoft Excel as =((0.8*100)+(0.2*20)); that’s our way of saying download is probably a little more important than upload, but we provide all the numbers so people can decide for themselves.
None of which really matters that much if you’re gaming and rely entirely on your ISP to make you the best there is. If you’ve got a measly little 1Mbps download speed, you’re probably fine for most games (though you’re gonna want a faster pipe for all the DLC and updates). As we said, the hard work—the rendering and so forth—is handled by the consoles and gaming laptops or desktops.
What gamers require is low latency. Latency is the average amount of time, measured in milliseconds, that it takes a packet to traverse the internet from your home, to a server, then back to you. The lower the number, the better. Low latency means less lag. Our Speed Test also checks the connection for jitter, which is itself a check on the consistency of the latency of the connection to the ISP. Low jitter and low latency are what you strive for.
The best way to look at the numbers on both is just simply add them up. We call it the PCMag Gaming Quality index. Lower is better for quality—the converse of speed, where higher is better. You can’t reach zero latency/jitter on any connection, ever, not really—but it’s good to strive.
The tests used in this story were all performed throughout 2018, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. We used 268,647 US-based tests to quantify the results (in all we gathered 375,884 tests worldwide). All results came from the PCMag Speed Test tool. For an ISP to be included in the regional sections it had to have a minimum of 100 tests. For the nationwide results we looked for ISPs with over 1,000 tests and those with service in several states.
And yes, we know that your own local gigabit+ capable mega-ISP is fantastic and you’re apoplectic it didn’t make the cut to appear in this story. I’ll say it again: ISPs need a certain number of results to be statistically valid enough to include. Not enough results = those ISPs don’t appear in the story. However, you should tell us and your fellow readers in the comments which ISPs are killing it when it comes to helping you make kills in your favorite games.
The Best Gaming ISPs in the US
One thing you can’t always count on year to year is the gaming quality of a connection. The latency on ISPs can be up one year and down another, sometimes with startlingly different numbers. That’s the case this year, as our previous No. 10 best ISP for gaming—Hotwire—is No. 1 for gaming for the first time.
Hotwire takes the award with what is close to the best PCMag Gaming Quality score we have ever recorded (but not quite the best, as you’ll see below). That said, if you’re lucky enough to live in some of the multi-dwelling units that Hotwire Communications specializes in, that’s the place to set up your big VR rig right out of Ready Player One.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US – Quality
Verizon Fios, a long-time favorite in our Fastest ISPs on and off for years, does well here—there’s something great about symmetrical fiber-to-the-home (FttH) for gaming. This year, like last time, Fios is in second place, now with an improved index of 21.8, compared to 31.5 previously. The third place spot goes to Optimum, also improving its scores from a 38.8 down to 27.9.
We always like to compare the quality numbers above with the speeds our testers got from the same ISPs. The chart below shows ISPs in the same order above, but gives a pretty good indicator that speed and quality don’t always match up…though in Hotwire’s case, they certainly do. Hotwire’s got a smoking high PCMag Speed Index score of 339.8, over double that of Verizon Fios.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US – Speed
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 by Region
The problem with comparing ISPs to ISPs is that the vast majority of us don’t get a lot of choice when it comes to broadband providers. You can’t exactly jump ship to another ISP that may have better scores. Thus we try to narrow things down to the top ISPs for gaming in the six major regions of the continental US. Maybe within just a few states you could pick and choose—or at least move, if quality connections are that important to you.
Includes: IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, and WI
With numbers close to that of our top national ISP, the local provider FairlawnGig of Fairlawn, Ohio, is the ISP you’d want to have if you’re a pro-gamer moving to the states listed above. Of course, Google Fiber is in Kansas City, Louisville, and Chicago (via Webpass on the latter, which only services apartments and condos), but it probably won’t be expanding beyond where it is.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_North Central – Quality
Includes: CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA, VT, and WV
The first consistent winner, Verizon Fios, is still the top choice for low-latency connections in the Northeast, even though we last did the story two years prior. Fios managed to push the quality score down to a much better 21.8 from the 30.9 it had previously. Maryland’s Antietam Broadband is second with a 27.8, just a hair ahead of Optimum’s 27.9.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_Northeast – Quality
Includes: CO, ID, MT, OR, UT, WA, and WY
Ready to have your mind blown? Last time, Wave managed a score of 46.2 to win this area for gaming (which wasn’t saying much) but even improving that to 32.5, Wave couldn’t beat the top three. In reverse order, they are: Comcast’s Xfinity service (31.7); municipal ISP NextLight (31.4) of Longmont, Colorado; and DirectLink in first place. That’s a cooperative association ISP found in Canby and Mount Angel, Oregon, where members are owners. Apparently, ownership has its privileges: namely the absolute fastest PCMag Gaming Quality score we’ve ever recorded—a stunning 6.9. The jitter recording of 1.9 is practically perfect. The latency is just 5 milliseconds. It’s clear that if you’re a pro-gamer and need the best of the best, you’d best be moving to Oregon.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_Northwest – Quality
Includes: AR, LA, MS, OK, and TX
Fios was the previous leader here but selling off its networks piecemeal to Frontier put that ISP into the spotlight for the South Central US for the first time. But only in second place. The better ISP this time around is Google Fiber, which has service in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_South Central – Quality
Includes: AL, FL, GA, NC, SC, and TN
Hotwire is the clear winner here ahead of EPB Fiber Optics, the local municipal network of Chattanooga, Tenn., much beloved as one of the first gigabit cities in the US. All the fiber means EPB’s got a Gaming Quality score of 17.1, out-ranking most others (except Hotwire).
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_Southeast – Quality
Includes: AZ, NM, NV, and CA
California alone should be cornering the market on gaming-quality ISPs, but the southwest US perhaps isn’t the best place for gamers. The top ISP you could use is the Bay Area’s Sonic, which replaces Verizon Fios in this region as No. 1. CCI is still at the No. 2 slot, with an improved quality index (21.8 vs. 30.6 last time). Verizon Internet (not the Fios brand, which it mostly sold off in this area to Frontier) managed to do okay anyway in third with a 22.8—a better score than Fios got last time.
Best Gaming ISPs 2019 – US_Southwest – Quality
Wondering about the other two states in the union? In Alaska, the only ISP with enough responses to include is GCI; it came in with a pretty dismal quality score of 66.3. Hawaii’s top ISP for gaming is Hawaiian Telecom, with a quality rating of 52.4; Spectrum was right behind at 55.4.