Held in Thrall: On Chris Metzen Retiring

There’s any number of things I should be writing right now (sorry, editors) but instead I’m writing about the news that Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development of Blizzard Entertainment and silver fox Chris Metzen is retiring. I have a lot of feelings about this folks. For as much as I have loved roasting the guy over the years, it always came with an acknowledgement that it was mostly in good fun.

The reason for this is because as much as Metzen was the visible face of many decisions and mis-steps within the franchises I loved, he also struck me as a guy who really believed in the hype. His exuberance and overwhelming passion for the things he was talking about on-stage was so earnest as to be embarrassing and frankly I’d watch the ill-fated “GEEK IS” speech before I watch another demo from some lifeless husk on the stage at E3 touting the latest military shooter.

Metzen traded in the stories of his youth and young adulthood and it showed, for all of the good and bad that came with it; this seems unsurprising given that the guy was hired into Blizzard (which was then Chaos Studios) in his early 20s, friends with people inside of the studio who he gamed with. I cannot imagine what the journey of my life would be, what my imagination would be like if I attained the ultimate nerd job when I was still college-aged. The threads of Metzen’s interest in heavy metal, comic books, swords and sorcery have run through the kinds of games many of us have enjoyed playing over the years — epic adventures full of singular heroes, daring triumphs and crushing downfall. It’s the Hero’s Journey writ large, refracted through the lens of someone allowed to succeed in a job that few of us could dare to imagine. For all of those things, I can imagine that for many, even including myself at times, it seemed like unbridled hubris. It seemed to be the kind of dream that only a select, specific few get access to in their life.

I can’t say that I always liked having the Metzen touch on everything; World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, with it’s hyper-masculine, heavy metal-via-the-way-of-orcs aesthetic put me off enough to quit Warcraft for a time, and Overwatch was saved by the wise choice of putting Tracer ahead of the dour gun daddy Soldier: 76, who read unmistakably as Chris’ self-insert OC. I’m a very different person from Metzen, who seems to be peers to many other creative people at the top of Blizzard, and so their choices for stories put me off on quite a number of occasions. But throughout reading his retirement post on the forums, I could see the shape of a man who realizes that his time in the industry has wound to a close and that maybe it’s time to let someone else be the face and the voice of one of the largest companies in the gaming sphere. In interviews and stage presentations, there seemed to be a tiredness and a confusion with what precisely had grown up around him in the industry while he was busy being an dream-maker.

If there’s anything that I hope Blizzard as a company takes away from Chris leaving the company is to retain his enthusiasm and heart but to get someone whose passion lives in new spaces and ideas that Blizzard hasn’t always been the fastest to embrace. There seems to be signs of new growth from within given the success of things like Overwatch, Hearthstone and the Legion expansion, but I hope they nurture those things and feelings instead of letting them falter. I hope someone with different life experiences gets to create the new set of worlds that we’ve yet to see. There’s some optimism here — for all of my yelping about the ship being hard to steer, we don’t seem to be moving quickly into the rocks.

So with that being said, I wish Metzen a hearty farewell and hope his new life of being a dad first, a dreamer second, suits him well. I am glad someone in the game industry gets to enjoy their family. I’m glad I got to spend time in the worlds he helped breathe to life. I’m most of all glad that he decided to know where exactly his story gracefully ends.