Chris Metzen’s retirement from Blizzard was a big deal. He’d been with the studio since the mid-’90s, worked on early hits like Warcraft 2, StarCraft, and Diablo, moved up to creative director on Warcraft 3, and held the position through everything else Blizzard has done, from World of Warcraft to Overwatch. It’s one of the most impressive oeuvres in the business, and remarkably consistent. So why walk away from it?
“Leaving Blizzard was an incredibly difficult thing. I’d been there since essentially when I was a kid, I was like 19 when I got hired. It was my whole life, it was my identity. And it was in many ways all-consuming,” Metzen said in a lengthy and very revealing interview with The Instance podcast. “It allowed me to kind of realize all the dreams I had, and aspirations I had when I was a kid. And it was just incredible. But there can be a cost sometimes to running that hard.”
That cost came in the form of a persistent fear of failure that grew commensurately with his success, and the increasing pressure he put on himself to keep it up. That made the failure of the Titan MMO project especially hard to swallow, and he said he “burned out really hard” during that time. “When Titan got shut off, I was at a very low place. Very frustrated and uncertain that I wanted to keep doing it—but desperately in love [with the job],” he said. “It’s almost like a relationship: This person is my whole world. How do you walk away from something that gives you security in that way, even if it ain’t all that good?”
Metzen is clear throughout the interview that he loved his job, and described the opportunity to work on Overwatch as “a gift” and “a blessing”—”One last great charge at the wall,” as he put it . But it was also an extremely stressful time, and it was just as clear that he had to leave.
“I started having panic attacks left and right, and non-stop anxiety, and for a year and a half, two years before I finally retired, I think, I had been having panic attacks all the time, but I didn’t know what they were,” he said. “I would chalk things up to having an allergic reaction. Kat and I would go on dates and almost all the time, I would start panicking in the middle of the movie. I had no idea what was going on—maybe I’m allergic to popcorn all of a sudden.”
The full interview runs well over an hour, and is an impressively frank look at the pressures of operating at the top level of the industry, and the toll it takes. Even if you’re not a Blizzard fan in particular, it’s definitely worth a listen.