Chris Metzen On Leaving Blizzard: 'I Started Having Panic Attacks'

For over two decades, Chris Metzen was a cherished mascot for Blizzard, where he was the senior Vice President of Story and Franchise development. When he retired in September, at 42, fans wondered why he'd abandon a company he'd been at since he was 19.

Image: Blizzard/AP (BlizzCon 2011)

Today, in an interview with podcaster Scott Johnson, Metzen explained how his dogged dedication to the games publishing company led him down a dark path of panic attacks, self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

Metzen's hands have touched StarCraft, World of Warcraft, Warcraft III, Diablo and several other blockbuster titles from Blizzard. He was recruited at the ripe age of 19, with his only "real training" a long-running Dungeons & Dragons game. Scaling the ranks, Metzen contributed artwork, design, plot and other crucial material to several games, finally co-creating Diablo's universe in 1996 and acting as StarCraft's Lead Designer in 1998. After a variety of other roles, including being the Creative Director on Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Metzer's position expanded to the role of Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development.

When he retired in September, Metzen wrote on the Battle.net forums that he'd be moving on to raise his new baby. He wrote, "I'll be focusing on the one thing that matters most to me in all the world — my family. They're the core of my life and the source of my deepest joy and inspiration."

Today, Scott Johnson published an hour-long interview with the Blizzard veteran about why he burnt out on what is essentially the dreamiest job in games. It's uncommonly intimate. Acknowledging that the job allowed him to realise all his childhood fantasies, Metzen told Johnson that it was "all-consuming". Metzen's struggle with self-doubt, and especially against the background of his successes makes him remarkably human.

After the failure of Blizzard's MMORPG Project Titan, which was cancelled in 2014 following disagreements between developers, Metzen said that morale at Blizzard was low. The team had spent several years on it and the disappointment was crushing, and especially for him. Metzen confided that one of his greatest fears was letting down Blizzard and its fans.

"What if the next game isn't perfect? What if people hate it? What if, through the course of action, I dishonour the company or dishonour myself through not performing well enough?" Metzen asked. "Looking back now, I see I had kind of fallen into a trap, which is this cycle of performance... At some level, I just had this desperate need for validation." A "vicious loop" of needing validation, performing, exceeding expectations, raising the bar and needing to perform beyond expectations again, he said, fostered new anxieties in him over the last three years.

"You're never safe. You have to out-do it the next time. It's kind of this train you can never get off," Metzen said.

After Titan's cancellation, Metzen fell in with the Overwatch project. It was, in his words, "one last charge at the wall". He helped rally morale and push the game through to completion. And it is a goddamned excellent game.

In the process, though, Metzen suffered from nonstop anxiety. During movies with his wife, he'd experience what he'd later learn were panic attacks. He felt like his lungs would stop, but when he consulted doctors, nothing was wrong with him. It was the beginning of 2016, and with the upcoming release of World of Warcraft's Legion, Overwatch, its animated shorts, the Blizzard movies and, also, a new baby, Metzen was crushed under the pressure to do it all.

"I need a change in my life," Metzen said. Blizzard was his family too, but he chose to leave and help nourish his real one. Over the last few months, he's been meditating on his time at Blizzard. He says that leisure agrees with him.

"I spent so many years running real hot and real fast and chasing this dream that I had and also being a good soldier, a good officer, for this company I was with," Metzer said. Now, he's just thankful.


Comments

    People don't acknowledge how well stepping away from work for a break can be. I just took 4 weeks off work to refresh and recharge my batteries. I'd been so stressed out over the previous 4 months of doing my job and the work of others while they were on extended sick and annual leave. Even the giants of industry feel the pressure and anxiety that is having too much work. I'm thankful for what Metzen's done with Blizzard and glad that retirement is working out well for him.

    Stress, anxiety, panic attacks and overthinking are a big problem in IT and like the article says the doctor cant do nothing. Me and my bro have had crippling attacks where the only thing can do is take a diazepam and get some sleep.

    This describes my current position almost perfectly. I work for myself (have owned my own business for 10 years) have grown it into something I am very proud of......BUT, I haven't had a holiday in those 10 years (any longer than 3-4 days over a weekend anyway) and I have been having panic attacks on and off for the last few years (funnily enough usually when I'm watching television with the Mrs). the way he described it as all consuming is as best as I have ever had it put........you can just never get away from it 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. the self doubt and the feeling of never being good enough or being an imposter are also so true.

    I just recently made the decision along with my partner to sell my business. Its a huge thing for us and it will produce its own set challenges, but I'm glad to see there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

    Must also be something to do with having a kid..
    I to experienced this a bit after becoming a dad (I'm also in IT).
    I think part of it is pre-kid you can tell yourself 'If it gets to much I can just walk away' whereas post kid your not just working for yourself so quitting without a new job lined up is no longer as viable. (Plus the whole broken sleep thing seriously screws you around).

    Panic attacks are the worst, its funny how when they first occur we often think its something else, I thought my neck was out or something was wrong with my ears because I would get dizzy.

    As someone who just quit my job of 3 years yesterday over anxiety issues and panic attacks, i can totally sympathize.

    The hardest part was hiding my anxiety and panic attacks and mental health issues and explaining away leave requests to see psych as mysterious medical appointments that occurred every month.

    The amount of relief i feel right now that i never have to go back to that place that drove me to anxiety, stress and bouts of depression is immeasurable.

    I wish Metzen all the best with his retirement, always been a huge fan of his work.

    Good on him for being open about it. People need to know this stuff is more common than they realise, and to not ignore it.

    Metzen has always seemed like the nicest dude, and has done some stellar work with Blizzard. Hope he makes the most of his time with his family and takes a well deserved rest.

    Acknowledging that the job allowed him to realise all his childhood fantasies, Metzen told Johnson that it was "all-consuming".
    Maybe if he didn't insist on voicing 90% of the characters, it wouldn't have been...

    Still. For better or worse, Metzen has basically been Warcraft. I remember poring endlessly over the first Warcraft game manuals when I was a kid, tracing and copying their concept art and sketches... the majority of which seemed to be signed, 'Metzen'. (The rest were Sam Wise, I reckon.) Same for Diablo. I drank in that lore, too. Loved his work.

    Last edited 18/11/16 12:50 pm

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