It might seem like the Summer has only just begun, but Back To School season has officially kicked off, giving school, college and university students great deals on just about everything you need, from stationery to tech.
That’s perfect for budget-savvy students, but there’s one big question that gamers heading to Uni will have: will I be able to play online games in my halls? While the simple answer is yes, there are caveats.
Don’t stress: here, we outline how to play online games at University.
Using a PC, PlayStation or Xbox in halls
Unlike when you’re at home, it’s not as simple as connecting to Wi-Fi on your PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S or PC when in halls - that’s if your accommodation offers Wi-Fi at all!
Like many big businesses, there’s an IT department in control of the internet access in your student accommodation (if you’re in halls, anyway) and if you want to gain access, you’ll likely have to jump through a few hoops first.
Register your device MAC address
Although the process does vary depending on the University and the accommodation you’re in, generally speaking, your University will require you to register your device’s MAC address - be it a console or PC - before getting access to the internet.
It’s a fairly standard practice, allowing the University to trace your online activities back to you if you were, say, downloading pirated movies for your big movie night.
You’ll likely receive documentation on arrival outlining how to register your device’s MAC address, but how do you find that information?
Open Command Prompt, input ipconfig /all and hit Enter. Scroll down to your network adaptor, and you’ll find your MAC address listed as “Physical Address”.
On PS4 and PS5:
Open the Settings app and select System > System/Console Information. You’ll find your MAC address listed for both Ethernet and Wi-Fi - make a note of the one you’ll be using.
On Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S:
Open My Games and Apps and select Settings > General > Network > Advanced Settings. You’ll find your MAC address for both Ethernet and Wi-Fi here.
If you need more help, contact your University’s IT department - they’ll likely be able to talk you through the process on the phone.
Use an Ethernet cable, not Wi-Fi
If your University offers both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, we strongly recommend using an Ethernet cable when playing online games.
Student accommodation has the potential to house hundreds of students at any one time, with most of them using Wi-Fi to connect to the internet from their phones, tablets and laptops, meaning performance is likely to be spotty at best.
That’s not ideal when playing online games, where every nanosecond counts - especially in fast-paced online games like Warzone.
More specifically, we’d recommend a CAT 8 Ethernet cable, offering theoretical top speeds of 50Gbps. You won’t get anything close to those speeds using the internet provided by your halls (or anywhere else for that matter) but at least you don’t run the risk of being bottlenecked by an old Ethernet cable.
My University limits online gaming, what can I do?
Much to the dismay of gamers, some Universities throttle internet speeds when gaming online, choosing instead to prioritise academia-based internet browsing - a crazy idea, right?
While it’ll be tough to get around network-level restrictions, there are a few tricks and tips to get the most out of your gaming experience.
Try using a VPN
If your network administrator has specifically put a cap on traffic from consoles, you could always try using a VPN to mask your online activity. The process is slightly different on consoles than PC, so we outline how to use a VPN on PS4 and PS5 and how to use a VPN on Xbox One separately.
If you’re unsure of which VPN to go for, take a look at our selection of the best VPNs.
It’s worth noting that if your slow connection is due to the sheer number of people using the internet in your halls at once rather than a network-level cap, using a VPN will make little-to-no difference.
While they aren’t as popular as they were once upon a time, you’ve always got the option of throwing a LAN party and physically connecting your PCs to play together.
This does limit the games that you can play - you can’t play the latest online games like Apex Legends or Fortnite for example - but there are plenty of great LAN-compatible games to choose from.
If you’re interested in throwing a LAN party for your gamer friends, you’ll probably want to pick up a network switch like the TP-Link 8-Port Ethernet Switch and a bunch of Ethernet cables to connect everybody’s systems together.
If you really want to play online from the comfort of your halls, you’ve always got the option of using a 4G router - as long as your cellular connectivity is strong enough.
While there’s no fixed number on how much data you use while online gaming per hour, studies suggest that it’s somewhere between 30MB and 300MB per hour - a third of what you’d use streaming a film via Netflix at the most.
Just be sure to switch to your halls internet when downloading big updates - especially the notorious Call of Duty updates - or you can wave goodbye to any data you had left!
If it’s an option you’re considering, we’d recommend the TP-Link M7350 - you do have to admittedly pay £64.99 for the kit upfront, unlike heading directly to a network provider, but the TP-Link kit is way more advanced than most stock options and allows you not only to use it with any network, but to pick up a dirt-cheap data package too.
Alternatively, if you're living in a 5G-enabled area, you can take advantage of the speedier connectivity with a 5G router or hotspot from a 5G smartphone.
If you need more information, take a look at our selection of the best mobile Wi-Fi routers.
Choose private accommodation instead
If it’s not too late, and online gaming is a priority for you - say you’re a streamer, for example - then your best bet may be to avoid halls altogether.
Staying in private accommodation will allow you to sign up for your own internet contract, allowing you to invest in faster and more reliable internet than what’s available in halls. And, with fewer people in the home using the internet, you should notice a big difference in performance.
For more, take a look at the best Student deals.