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[Dev Blog] Ethernet vs Wifi – Lagging in LoL

August 12th, 2016

CLAIRVOYANCE BLOG

It is a truth universally acknowledged that LAG SUCKS. Plenty of players experience ping spikes, lag, and full-blown disconnects all the time. But what if there was a quick fix for all your connection issues? For some players, there might be: switching from WiFi to an Ethernet connection when you play could have drastic results for your in-game experience.


I’m Viscarious, a product manager on Riot’s live services team. About six months ago, I lagged out of a game so hard that I decided I had to do something about it. It was the last game of my placement series, and I was playing as Sona supp. Our jungler was thundering into bot lane for a gank, and my Jinx ADC landed a sick double trap on our opponents (Leona and Ezreal). First blood was guaranteed. I was just about to follow-up with my ult when the lag gods smote me. The next thing I knew, Jinx was dead and the enemy Ezreal was snowballing. All I could do was apologize and resist the urge to kick my router.

I had to wonder: what if my problems were caused by my WiFi connection? What if, to claim my rightful spot as a true PC gaming god at the top of the challenger ladder, all I had to do was switch to Ethernet? To understand the problem as deeply as possible (and because this is a Clairvoyance blog post) I dug into some data to find out.

 

TERMS TO UNDERSTAND


 

PLAYING PING PONG AND LOSING SOME PACKETS

 

WIFI VS. ETHERNET: AVERAGE PING DELTA
IN MILLISECONDS

When you look at League players around the world, the average ping for players on a WiFi connection is between 6.7ms and 11.7ms higher than for those using an Ethernet connection.

However, this usually doesn’t manifest as consistently higher ping. Instead, increased ping is frequently experienced as ping spikes; your ping increases significantly over a short period of time, then goes back down a few moments later(usually after your whole team is already dead and the enemy Yi is dancing around your nexus). The chart above doesn’t show the severity or duration of ping spikes—just the average ping difference over the course of many games.

 

WIFI VS. ETHERNET: AVERAGE PACKET-LOSS DELTA

IN PERCENTAGE POINTS

Similarly, we found that players on WiFi had between 1.9 and 3.7 percentage points higher packet-loss than players on Ethernet. While this may not seem like a lot, there are two things to consider:

1. Every time a packet is lost between your computer and Riot’s servers, a request has to be made for that packet again. You want your packet-loss percentage numbers to be as close to zero as possible because, depending on when the packet-loss happens, you could miss a last-hit, fail to activate your ult, or even whiff the smite on Baron (that’s definitely what it was, right junglers?).

2. Similar to our ping chart, this doesn’t show the magnitude or duration of packet-loss when it happens. Players most commonly feel lag when there are big spikes in packet-loss. The 1.9 to 3.7 percent figure is just the average difference between WiFi and Ethernet players over the course of many games.


 

WHO’S PLAYING ON WIFI?

Out of curiosity, we analyzed who is playing on Ethernet and WiFi and came across some pretty interesting results:

Some regions rely on WiFi way more than others. While over 90 percent of games in KR are played on Ethernet, well over half of games played in NA and OCE are on WiFi.

 

PERCENT OF GAMES PLAYED BY CONNECTION TYPE

BY REGION

Part of this is likely due to the popularity of hard-wired PC bangs in Korea, but it’s also probably because we NA players are complete scrublords.

We saw a slight increase in Ethernet use in Ranked games compared to ARAM and Normal games across all regions.

 

PERCENT OF GAMES PLAYED BY CONNECTION TYPE

BY GAME MODE

But most interesting was the change in Ethernet vs. WiFi use by rank. Across all regions, a higher percentage of high-rank games were played on Ethernet. Although we’re not able to draw a causal relationship between playing on Ethernet and an increase in your rank, it’s clear that players at higher ranks are more likely to play on Ethernet. My best guessplanation for this is that highly ranked players are more likely to do everything possible to play on glorious, photo-worthy, wired battlestations.

 

PERCENT OF GAMES PLAYED BY CONNECTION TYPE

BY TIER


 

HOW DOES WIFI AFFECT GAME PERFORMANCE?

We now know two things: 1) WiFi has an adverse affect on connection quality, and 2) it’s unlikely that Faker has ever played on a WiFi connection. So the next question is whether your WiFi or Ethernet connection affects your in-game performance in a measurable way.

For this analysis we decided to look at a range of gameplay metrics including: Minions Killed (CS), Gold Earned, K/D/A, Mastery Grade, and Win/Loss ratio. We decided to isolate our analysis to ranked games and players who played the same champion on both Ethernet and WiFi within the timeframe analyzed. Basically, we didn’t want to compare the same player’s Mastery Grade with Fizz on Ethernet to their Mastery Grade with Fiddlesticks on WiFi (since ping affects some champs more than others).

We didn’t find conclusive evidence that playing on WiFi negatively impacts certain specific performance metrics such as CS, K/D/A, or Mastery Grade.

Our analysis included only NA region players, but the results should apply globally.After all that gloom and doom we found about ping spikes, the results surprised us. No matter how we cut the data, we didn’t find conclusive evidence that playing on WiFi negatively impacts certain specific performance metrics such as CS, K/D/A, or Mastery Grade.

We have a few hypotheses regarding this:

1. While lag experienced from WiFi can negatively impact gameplay, it usually only has noticeable effects intermittently, so it’s difficult to isolate the effects within the course of a game (i.e. it’s hard to find the signal among the noise)

2. Players on WiFi may be able to adapt to added ping and packet-loss (playing around it, effectively).

3. Since there are four other players on the team, the impact of one WiFi player may not significantly influence the outcome of a game, especially if there are other players on WiFi on the other team.

When we removed the constraint that players had to play the same champion, we found that the win-rate on Ethernet was 1.1% to 1.7% higher than on WiFI.

Surprisingly, when we removed the constraint that players had to play the same champion across WiFi and Ethernet, we found that the win-rate on Ethernet was 1.1 to 1.7 percentage points higher than on WiFi. This is pretty consistent across regions. We’re really not sure why removing the champion constraint had this result. One hypothesis is that by controlling for champion across connection types, we’re also focusing more on players’ main champs. If you main a champ, you probably get used to dealing with the ping spikes that come with WiFi, but those same spikes hit you harder when you’re just learning a champ.

 

ETHERNET VS. WIFI: DELTA IN WIN-RATE

IN PERCENTAGE POINTS


 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

The same night I lost that disastrous promo game, I popped open a browser tab and bought a 50 ft. Ethernet cable. After untangling my cat from the wire, I ran diagnostics on my network and found some pretty drastic differences in the quality of my connection on Ethernet vs. WiFi.

 

CONNECTION QUALITY OF WIFI GAME SAMPLE


Ping



Packet-loss



Both


 

CONNECTION QUALITY OF ETHERNET GAME SAMPLE


Ping


Packet-loss



Both


 

CONNECTION METRIC WIFI
SAMPLE
ETHERNET
SAMPLE
AVERAGE PING 62.4ms 38.2ms
AVERAGE PACKET-LOSS 3.9% 0.0%
JITTER 33.7ms 0.21ms
PING ‘SPIKES’ (>2X LOWEST PING) 19 0
PACKET-LOSS ‘SPIKES’ (>15% PACKET-LOSS) 9 0

Sure enough, I was experiencing higher ping, more packet-loss, and more connection issues when on WiFi. Especially interesting was theway I was experiencing lag. While there were periods of stability over the course of the game, there were also short periods with large spikes in either ping or packet-loss. These were the times that I felt lag most acutely.

 

 

My experience was pretty extreme, but let’s throw this to the commenters: what’s your own experience using either connection type? What lengths have you gone to improve your connection (longer than 50ft?) and how many of you intend to switch to Ethernet after reading this post?