Latency: The Physics Behind Missing Your Shots

Latency: The Physics Behind Missing Your Shots

Daniel Hall 11/06/2024
Latency: The Physics Behind Missing Your Shots

The first image uploaded to the internet was of a CERN-based pop band in 1992. It’s no surprise.

The internet had its inception within the walls of the Franco-Swiss research facility, as a project of British scientist Tim Berners-Lee.

That very first picture, of the quartet Les Horribles Cernettes, started an arms race. Its size was kept deliberately small (120x50 pixels) to avoid choking CERN’s servers, an issue that would define competition among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in subsequent years.

ISP Servers


Upload and download speeds have fascinated ISPs and their customers since the internet emerged from its Geneva-based lab. The associated delays when things aren’t working have become a popular scapegoat, too, especially in gaming circles. 

In gaming, “lag” is caused by issues like congested networks, out-of-date ISP servers, and bad net codes. It significantly reduces the quality of a gaming experience and affects the overall quality. Network-related gas is a particularly big issue. Luckily, a virtual private network can be of help here as it helps users to mitigate connection issues by providing a more stable and direct route. By connecting to reliable services like CyberGhost for PS5, users can potentially reduce latency and ensure a more consistent and faster connection.

Tech experts have their own language for dealing with the web’s malfunctioning tubes. While colloquial terms like lag are popular with players, gaming software prefers ‘ping’. Helpfully, all these terms describe a single thing - latency. 

Defined as the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two computers, latency affects all information sent over the internet. 

It’s regarded as an especially annoying aspect of gaming, though, with a report from the Hyperoptic ISP revealing that nearly half (44%) of 1,000 players considered it the biggest bugbear of all. A ping of more than 100ms will produce unexpected effects, like missed shots and teleporting.

Ironically, multiplayer gaming doesn’t require much internet bandwidth, usually falling in the megabytes/hour range. Netflix uses 1-3 GB per hour, in comparison. 

Real-World Physics


Are latency issues the final boss they appear to be? Unfortunately, the internet is constrained by real-world physics just like everything else - but the answer is still disappointing.

Data on the internet should move at (or near) the speed of light. This is because light and information have no mass and, therefore, can’t become so massive that they can’t move. The faster something goes, the heavier it gets. 

For now, remember that, theoretically, the universe and the internet have a maximum speed of 299,792 kilometres per second. 

Information on the internet has the same potential issues as a motorway or railway line, i.e. the quality of infrastructure. So, struggling servers and poor quality netcode become another enemy for the player to beat, and data speeds never reach their true potential. 

It’s always going to take time for computers to talk to each other. Latency control is more about minimising conversation lengths rather than trying to remove it entirely. Most games recommend wired over WiFi connections, for instance. 

Hundreds of variables increase or decrease latency so it can seem like an oddly subjective issue. The distance from servers is a common cause of game lag, which makes multiple data centres a priority for publishers, especially for eSports purposes. 

Latency, lag, or high ping isn't going away, sadly.

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Daniel Hall

Business Expert

Daniel Hall is an experienced digital marketer, author and world traveller. He spends a lot of his free time flipping through books and learning about a plethora of topics.

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