There are few things more frustrating than playing Smash Ultimate or Splatoon online and having the game stutter the whole match, especially after paying for Nintendo Online.
Nintendo isn't famous for a robust Internet connection, but it should at least be playable. So, what´s happening to your internet? How can you improve it?
Why does my game lag when I play with my Nintendo Switch Online?
It´s very unlikely that your internet speed is the culprit of any lag spikes that you experience. While it´s true that you need to have a good connection to play online (Nintendo recommends having an internet speed of at least 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up, similar to the Steam Link requirements), the most important features to keep in mind to have a smooth online experience are almost always latency and stability.
Latency is usually measured by ping, which is the time it takes for your router to communicate to the game server and then back to your computer or Switch. It is usually measured in milliseconds, so playing with a ping of 1000 is roughly equivalent to playing with a one-second delay. It might not seem much, but imagine Mario jumping a whole second after you pressed the B button, it can ruin the experience.
You can have the fastest internet connection on the planet, but if the server is on the other side of the world, your ping will still be terrible. This is a common problem for people living in the southern hemisphere, like in Australia or Latin America, that play on the North American servers.
Some games measure ping and let you view it, more so on PC than on the Switch. If you are curious, numerous webpages let you measure your ping to servers around the world. The only surefire way to improve your ping is by playing on servers closer to home. Sadly, rarely do Switch games let you even pick a server, so this isn´t an answer for a lot of people.
The other main issue that can ruin your connection is a lack of stability. If your internet is losing packets between the router and your game, it will negatively affect your experience and cause lag.
This mostly occurs when playing over wi-fi. The signal is prone to getting interference from other objects in your household, like phones, TVs, microwaves, and pretty much every modern electronic device. The loss is usually negligible, but with an old router or un-updated drivers, it can become big enough to ruin your game.
However, if there´s one thing that can completely ruin your connection, is playing while other people share your internet. If you are trying to have a match of Smash Ultimate while someone else is using the house´s computer and wifi to download things for their own, then the connection will become unbearably laggy, even if you have fast internet.
Remember that your bandwidth is not unlimited. If you share the wi-fi with your roommates, neighbors, or family, it will bottleneck and make everyone´s connection worse off.
Now, we talked about what causes a bad connection and lag, but how do you make it better?
How to improve your internet connection when playing on the Nintendo Switch
First off, make sure that you are the only person using the internet on your home when you play online. If you can´t avoid having other people use the wi-fi, at least try to make sure they are not downloading anything.
Try to play on the servers closest to where you live, if the game gives you that option.
One of the biggest improvements to your online experience, however, can be found if you stop playing on wi-fi and start playing with a more stable, wired connection.
You might have noticed that the Switch doesn´t have an ethernet port, so, how can you do this? The only way is by buying an ethernet adapter for the Switch, like this one.
Now, this is far from the only adapter on the market, and there are cheaper alternatives too, but this one is made specifically for the Switch. Not all adapters will work on Nintendo´s hybrid console, but if they use the same chipset as the Hori´s adapter, they should work.
But, what is an ethernet adapter? It´s a device in which you plug your ethernet cable, and then you connect it to your Switch via its USB ports. This allows you to have a direct, wired connection to Nintendo´s console and avoid all the disadvantages of playing on wi-fi.
With an ethernet adapter, your connection should be much more stable and you can enjoy a smoother online experience.
UPDATE: The new dock for the Nintendo Switch OLED does have a LAN port, so if you have one, there is no need to buy an adapter.
Now granted, there are more ways to try and squeeze a better connection out of your internet, but they require messing with your router's settings. You can try forwarding your ports, setting your Nintendo Switch IP address to a DMZ outside your firewall, or increasing the MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) your router sends.
If you are willing to try the previous solutions, chances are you pretty much already know what to do and how to do it, or your connection is so bad that you are very desperate. If you find yourself in the latter camp, calling your ISP to upgrade your router or change your plan might be the smarter approach.
If you did all this and still experience a delay between your button presses and the game, you might want to see if controller lag is actually your problem, as it affects all controllers on the market, Nintendo and otherwise. If the lag persists even in single-player games, then your controller is probably at fault. Try playing on handheld mode and see if there´s any difference.
A final word of caution. Some ethernet adapters are known to heat the Switch even while not in use, so make sure to unplug it after playing. If you think your Nintendo Switch is overheating nonetheless, check out our article on how to deal with it here. or check out other accessories for the Switch on our page here.