What is latency and why does it matter for online gaming?

What is latency and why does it matter for online gaming?
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If you've played multiplayer games before, you've probably come across terms like ping, lag, and latency more than once. At times, it can get a little confusing. Lag is always a bad thing, but ping and latency can be good, yet they're often used interchangeably with one another. This article will define these terms and explain their importance to online gaming.

Latency is the amount of time it takes for your device to send data to the server for the game you're currently playing. It's measured in milliseconds or ms, and that means if you see 20 ms while playing a game online, that means it takes 20 milliseconds to send your data. In the case of online gaming, that data is your inputs or button presses.

Why is this important?

So, if you're playing League of Legends: Wild Rift and you want to use Blitzcrank's Rocket Grab ability, the latency will determine how long it will take for your phone to tell the server. You've probably guessed by this point that the lower your latency, the better. Not only does it make the gameplay feel better by making it more responsive, but from a competitive standpoint, low latency means your abilities are less likely to miss the target because of a connection issue.

But what is considered 'good' latency? Generally speaking, anything below 20ms is ideal and referred to as 'low ping'. It provides the most enjoyable gaming experience. Beyond that, a latency between 50 and 100 is viewed as playable. However, if you've previously enjoyed 20ms or below, this can feel a little clunky in comparison. Finally, anything above 100ms is considered 'high ping' and will negatively impact your game and result in lag.


Ping is often viewed as a synonym for latency, and while the two terms are closely related, that isn't entirely true. Although, it's unlikely choosing to use them interchangeably will cause any issues since most other players will know what you're talking about. Regardless, we will cover the differences between the two terms here.

As mentioned already, latency is the time it takes for data to travel from your device to the game's server. Meanwhile, ping is a signal sent from your device to the server, which is then measured to determine the latency. In short, ping is a signal sent, and latency is the time it takes to receive that signal.


Lag is something you've probably encountered in online gaming, even if you're not familiar with the term. You might have come across the word delay to describe lag since they mean the same thing. Lag will happen because of a poor connection to the game's server and will cause the game to freeze or stutter. Your character might not move smoothly, or your abilities or shots won't fire until a few seconds after you press the button. At its worst, lag can make your game more closely resemble a slideshow. Lag can be incredibly frustrating and is often the cause of losses in online games, particularly in MOBAs, where one player being unable to play properly is detrimental to the team.

Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.