Chris Metzen talks to Scott Johnson of The Instance podcast about why he decided to leave Blizzard after 23 years and his reasons include a surprising revelation about his health.
It was a sad day for Blizzard fans everywhere when Chris Metzen retired two months ago, after 23 years with the company. Longtime Blizzard fans know that Metzen, the company’s Senior VP of Story and Franchise Development, played a key role in creating and developing every major franchise in company history, from Warcraft and Starcraft to Diablo and Overwatch.
When he announced his retirement, Metzen said he wanted to spend more time with his family, but in a new podcast interview with Scott Johnson of The Instance this week, Metzen went into much more detail about his thought process leading up to the decision.
“Leaving Blizzard was an incredibly difficult thing,” Metzen said during the podcast. “I’d been there since, essentially, I was a kid. I think I was 19 when I got hired and it was my whole life, it was my identity. And it was in many ways, all-consuming. It was just incredible, but there can be a cost sometimes to running that hard.”
Metzen played a key role in the development of Overwatch back when it was still code named Project Titan and intended to be the industry’s next big MMO. Blizzard put a ton of time and resources into this endeavor before ultimately deciding to scrap it after seven years of hard work. Metzen went back to the drawing board with the rest of the team and was able to pull Overwatch up out of Project Titan’s ashes, but by then, he was completely exhausted.
“I think during those years I burned out really hard,” Metzen told Johnson. “I think in my heart, I needed a change in my life. I wanted to slow down, I wanted to just not carry the weight of it all.”
Metzen said his love for Blizzard and the people who work there kept him going for a while but eventually, all of that hard work caught up to him. Metzen said he knew it was time to go when his job starting affecting his health.
“I started having panic attacks left and right and just non-stop anxiety,” said Metzen. “Before I finally retired, I think I had been having panic attacks all the time, but I didn’t know what they were. Kat and I would go on dates to go to a movie and almost all the time, I would start panicking in the middle of a movie. I had no idea what was going on.”
After Metzen had the panic attacks properly diagnosed, his wife gave birth to a baby girl and that was the final push he needed to make his way to the door. Metzen said the choice wasn’t easy, but it was the right decision for his health and his family.
The entire interview is worth listening to for anyone who has ever played a Blizzard game. It’s quite frankly a bit surprising to hear Metzen go into so much detail on a couple of different fronts. One, Blizzard as a company is notorious for keeping things close to the vest, but Metzen clearly feels liberated enough in retirement to speak openly about his thoughts.
And second, a panic attack is just about the last thing anyone who ever witnessed Metzen onstage at BlizzCon would associate with the man. Metzen was widely known within the Blizzard community for his booming voice and outgoing, almost in-your-face personality.
In the end, this just demonstrates that game developers are human too, and have their own personal concerns to deal with when they’re not getting yelled at on the Internet by an angry fan. Maybe keep that in mind the next time you go into a rage because of a change to your Overwatch skill rating.