Over the last few years, online gaming has gone fully mainstream. Games like Fortnite are cultural juggernauts, top e-sport (that’s the professionally competitive side of gaming) prizes are in the tens of millions of dollars and more people play than ever before. If you’re looking to join the ranks, here’s how to get started.
What you need
You don’t necessarily need a lot to get started with online games. You can play some of the most popular options, like Fortnite, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Among Us with your smartphone and a good cellular data connection. However, for the best experience and to be able to play the widest variety of games (and play them well), you need a bit more.
The biggest choice you have to make is whether you want to play on a games console or a Windows PC. Both options have pros and cons.
Sony and Microsoft both released brand-new consoles in 2020: PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The bad news is they mostly sold out and now some retailers are restocking, but they go fast. If you still can’t get your hands on one of these, the good news is that you can now get a great deal on a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. (There’s also the Nintendo Switch, though there isn’t as big an online scene there. If you already have one, though, check out Animal Crossing: New Horizons).
The main advantage of a console is it’s super simple to get started. Just plug it into your TV, connect to your Wi-Fi network and you’re ready to game. You don’t have to worry about graphics cards, drivers or anything else.
Well, except for a monthly subscription. To play most online games on a console, you need one. Both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live cost around $10/month, though there are free trials, and you can save money by signing up for longer. They also often include free games and other bonuses.
The other downside to consoles is that the multiplayer games selection is more limited. Some super popular games, like League of Legends and Dota 2, are only available on computers. Of course, some games are console exclusive, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so it’s not a total wash.
A Windows PC can be the best platform for playing games online: You don’t have to pay a monthly subscription, you have the biggest selection of games and you can usually use any kind of controller you want—from a keyboard to dedicated flight controllers. Unfortunately, it’s definitely the most awkward.
PCs come in all shapes, sizes and capabilities. A slim ultrabook that’s perfect for work might be capable of playing some games, like Minecraft, but it’s never going to manage a big shooter, like Call of Duty: Cold War. The problem is unless you take the time to build your own PC (or spend a lot of money on a purpose-built desktop), it’s not going to be the equal of a console.
If you know you really want to get into PC gaming, go right ahead, but for most people starting out, a console is the better option.
Get yourself a headset and a solid internet connection
Whether you go with a console or a PC (or even your smartphone), you need two other things to play multiplayer games online: a headset with a microphone and a decent internet connection.
A headset with a microphone is important for talking to your teammates without a load of background noise. You can play some games without one, but it’s harder and you won’t be able to communicate. Also, if your mic picks up too much environmental noise, everyone will mute you.
A decent internet connection, on the other hand, is an absolute must. It doesn’t have to be blazing fast—just 3 Mbps upload speed and 1 Mbps download speed is usually enough—but it has to be stable. If your connection speed drops in and out, or it takes too long for your data to reach the game servers, you’ll experience a lot of lag and everything will basically be unplayable. You’ll keep dying with no idea why. Obviously, a fiber connection is the gold standard here, but any good broadband service should do.
Finding the right game
There are as many different kinds of online games as there are kinds of players. Some of the big categories are:
- Massively multiplayer online roll playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft
- Multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) like League of Legends
- Battle Royale games like Fortnite
- Online shooters like Rainbow Six Siege
- Action adventure games like Red Dead Online
- Racing games like Forza Motorsport 7
- Sports games like Madden NFL 21
Really, whatever kind of games you like to play offline, you can almost certainly find something similar online. Many games, like Red Dead Redemption 2, have both single player and multiplayer modes.
The easiest way to work out which games are right for you is to watch people play them on YouTube or Twitch. It’ll give you a real feel for how fast paced and competitive they are. Some games, like Fortnite, are manic from the get-go, while others, like Among Us, are more slow-paced and deliberate.
Also, many of the biggest online games are completely “free-to-play” so just download them and try them out.
Some tips for beginners
Online games are meant to be fun! So don’t stress too much when you’re starting out.
Still, here are some tips and suggestions to help things go more smoothly.
Play with your real-life friends. While you can play with strangers, it’s often more fun to play with people you already know. Plus, it’s a great way to socialize when you can’t meet up.
Don’t worry about playing against people who are much better than you. Almost every online game uses some kind of matching system that keeps things competitive, no matter what level you’re at.
Don’t feel the need to talk if you don’t want to. It’s not necessary for many multiplayer games. It might make things easier and more fun, but plenty of people play solo online. On the other hand, if you want a chat, just start a conversation in the pre-game lobby!
Safety tip #1: Learn to manage abusive and angry players. Online gaming has a (somewhat justified) reputation for these difficult players. Every game, though, has tools for muting, reporting and blocking specific players. Familiarize yourself with them and, if someone starts swearing, screaming or flaming you, use them.
Safety tip #2: Don’t share any personal information in your username or the chat. Tracking your IP address, finding out where you live or otherwise invading your privacy isn’t something that can easily be done by other players. If someone starts threatening you or saying they’ll come to where you live, block them and move on.
And seriously, everyone starts as a beginner. Most games are designed to be easy to grasp the basics of—but hard to master. Jump in and enjoy.