Sometimes the journey you start takes you to an unintended destination. We all get to decide what we do once we arrive. It has been well established by many that 2016 has been a rough year. I will not belabor that point in this post. My intention here is to celebrate the things worth celebrating that happened to me during this very complicated year.
This week I started my annual Goal Setting Process. I started a formal goal setting process under the tutelage of Fran Montano in 2007. This was during my ‘acting’ days, and Fran was both Acting Coach and default spiritual advisor. I learned the value of setting intention around the new year from Fran, and have continued that trend ever since. I will take you through my process in separate post. Suffice to say, I am in process and step one is expressing gratitude to those around you who helped you achieve your goals, or simply did something wonderful for you along your journey. I did that a few days ago.
That expressin of gratitude kicks off a process of self reflection. It is of course my responsibility to review the past year and think about what it was and how I feel about the year in its entirety. This year the task has been tougher for a number of reasons. The year itself had many ups and downs both in my personal life and my professional life, but I know at the end I am walking out of 2016 with some huge blessings. Some of which were very unexpected.
This is a blog where I discuss my professional life as a Content Creator, so I will spare you the details of my personal life issues. Also, This will not be a diatribe on the Political landscape of 2016, nor on the deluge of Celebrity Deaths in 2016. Lucky for you I subject my reactionary ramblings to my personal Facebook account. However, as I reflected on my life as a Content Creator, my thoughts inevitably turn to the big change in 2016, the moment I stopped Podcasting and Streaming.
I have heard a few folks comment on my transition on shows and on twitter and facebook. I have said very little about the transition, because to be fair, I had little to say. It was a big roller coaster ride, and I wanted share with you why I stopped Podcasting and Streaming, and why it was a good thing for me.
We have to start a while back. We have to go back a bit to 2015. 2015 was a HUGE year for Spazbot Studios, my content production company. We had seen MASSIVE audience growth and we were making some decent money. However, like all small buisinesses that ply their trade on the internet, I ran into a very common problem. I had issues with Scaling. By November of 2016, I was writing, producing, editing and posting four Podcasts. I had additional live streams on Twitch for three of those four Podcasts. I was spending somewhere between 20 – 25 hours a week on Spazbot Studios. It was not a full time job, but you have to also remember, I had a full time job working in the Post Production Industry here in Los Angeles, Ca. So, at the end of the day I was working around 60 to 65 hours a week. This pace was only worsening.
Luckily, Spencer Downey took some of the tough stuff off my plate, but I knew that I had a real problem. I was doing about 90% of the work, and I was the head of the company. This meant we would never really grow past what we had achieved, and the more I realized that, the more I became depressed and exhausted by the work. Never a good place to be at when you are making content, After over a year and a half of the grind at Spazbot Studios, I started to succumb to a very troubling thought. I wanted to quit. I was not burning out. I had burnt out completely.
If I were to paint the best picture I could, it would be the Spazbot Holiday Special we produced in 2015. We had every Spazbot Contributor on a two hour live stream, where we gave out gifts and talked about our shows. It was amazing! The Spazbot Faithful were out in full force, and it was a tremendous celebration. However, it was so much work and prep for me personally, that after it was done and the stream shut down. I simply laid down in my studio on the cold tile, and I fell asleep. Does that sound good to you? It did not feel good to me either.
Physically, I was breaking down. I had gained a lot of weight in 2015, a year I wanted to lose a bunch of weight. I often found myself exhausted and coffee was not doing anything to keep the engine reved up. I would often climb into bed with my kids to read them stories and fall asleep mid book only to have my wife wake me up, because I had to do a show. I share this part of it with you, because I think Burn Out is pretty awful, and if you are in this boat right now with anything you are doing creatively, I want you to really consider re-evaluating your work and workflow. It is not worth your health. Like me, maybe you are already considering whether or not you should quit, but the idea of quitting feels awful as well.
Quitting is not something I am good at doing. I do not like leaving jobs unfinished. I hate missing or flaking on committments. While I have become more selective about what I take on in life and as a professional, but, when I do take something on, I do not stop until I have achieved the goal I was hoping to achieve. My goal for Spazbot was to make it a full time job, but with the revenue stalled and the work only increasing. I knew that I had to either take a drastic risk and quit my day job, to tackle Spazbot full time, or I had to shut down Spazbot. Both of these felt like terrible solutions to the problem.
Was there a middle ground? What was taking up the majority of my time and making me feel the most stressed out. Guess what? It was not Spazbot Studios. It was my day job. A lot of Content Creators struggle with the ‘Day Job’. Lots of us do not talk about it very much. However, if you make content online, you will eventually start to bounce that question around. Could I just make stuff full time? How would I pay my mortgage? How will I get by? Some folks can and do take big risks, but with two kids and a wife in Graduate School, I simply needed to keep the job I had.
However, my number one source of stress was my Day Job. I will not get into the details of why my other career was red-lining. Suffice to say, we all work at places we do not want to work at in our professional journey. So, one day my wife and I were talking over breakfast, and she looked at me and said, “Mick, I don’t know what has to change, but something has to change. You will figure it out.”
That day I decided, I needed to devote some energy towards finding a new job. So, I set some goals. I wanted to stop working in Hollywood. I did not want to take a pay cut. I wanted to work for a terrific company. I wanted to work for a company that made things. I put some elbow grease into the process and in January of 2016, I started looking for a new day job.
We all know that finding a job can be a challenge, but I was determined. I had refined a workflow around identifying jobs. I developed relationships with recruiters. Yet, sometimes, a miracle happens, an unexpected Miracle.
A friend of mine had pointed me towards a position at Riot Games. It was a role on the Video Production Team. I looked over the job description and realized that much of my ‘day job’ career skills would transfer over to the role of ‘Lead Video Operations’. So, I decided to apply. I had my eye on a move to the Video Game Industry for a long time. With Video Game Studios ever expanding their in-house media products in support of their games, I thought that I could definitely lend some expertise. After all, I had 13 years of experience working in the Entertainment Industry, and I had been a writer, actor, producer and most recently a content creator. However, getting ‘In’ would be a challenge.
I had a close call in early 2016 when a producer for a significant ESPN ESports Project had asked me to join her team. However, the project was short term, and it did not feel like the right move at the time. I had to turn it down. That was discouraging, but luckily, I had been reading Jon Acuff’s book Quitter at the time, and he had actually written about this very scenario. So, I felt okay about the decision and kept moving forward.
Now, back to Riot Games. You folks know what it is like to apply for a job online right? You submit a resume, cover letter, and you immediately get a call back right? WRONG! We all know how discouraging it is to apply for jobs and never hear a lick of feedback. So, while I felt right for the role at Riot Games, I was somewhat cautious with my optimism. I did not know anyone there. I was submitted blindly on the website. So, imagine my surprise when, they reached out to me, and we started to chat. That was a big surprise, but a welcome surprise. Over the next few months, I spoke often with the Team at Riot Games.
I also kept making content for Spazbot Studios. I would even say that some of the BEST work we did at Spazbot Studios happened in 2016. We had am amazing opportunity to interview Dustin Browder about Heroes of the Storm. Blizzard invited me to their Warcraft Movie Premiere. I even had this great opportunity to attend the Legion Summit press event for Content Creators. We made the 150th episode of The Starting Zone, and everyone seemed to really enjoy that. Good stuff was happening for sure! However, a lot of these experiences kept reinforcing one simple thought. I had to work for a Video Game Company!
During the Legion Summitt event in 2016, I sat down and had some drinks with Jeremiah Bonjean. He was one of several NEW Blizzard Community team members I met at the Legion Summitt. Jeremiah had a similar story to mine. He had worked in the Entertainment Buisness and had hit that Burn Out phase. He had found a new home at Blizzard Entertainment, and he told me how wonderful the transition had been for him both professionally and personally. I did not share with him my talks with Riot, but I did share with him my own desire to leave the Entertainment Industry. He was incredibly encouraging, and wished me luck. I did not share with him I was interviewing at Riot Games. Only a small handful of people knew. But this small thirty minute chat made me feel like I was on the right track.
The interview process at Riot is very well documented on a lot of different job sites, but safe to say, it is a long intentional process. However, in some ways, that was really helpful to me. Had Riot offered me a role in March, I would have missed out on some great memories in 2016. That would have sucked. But eventually, the job offer came, and I had to make some tough calls.
Obviously, I said yes. Riot is a terrific company with an awesome Game, League of Legends. League has an amazing community of players, and if you know me, I am passionate about gamers. Also LCS is probably the biggest eSports attraction right now, and it would be terrific to get to see the behind the scenes of a major eSports operation. Plus, I would be working with a TOP Level Publishing Team making incredible video content. Lastly, the interview processs allowed me to meet and chat with a truly thoughtful and talented team of people. Riot tries to hire top talent, and it showed. So, saying NO to the opportuntiy would have been a mistake. So, I said yes!
I cannot tell you the bag of mixed emotions I had over the next three weeks. I felt elated to join Riot, but I also knew I had to say good bye to a lot of people and things I enjoyed doing. I also knew that the future of Spazbot Studios was in question. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say breaking the news to all the Spazbot Contributors was equal parts tough and great. I appreciated that everyone offered me kind words congratulating me on the new gig. However, when I let them know I was going to step away from Podcasting. That was definitely a bummer. I will spare with you the behind the scenes of what happened with each show. Suffice to say, the results were this:
Stormcast stopped Production Completely after three years of podcasting and streaming.
The Starting Zone stayed in production, but with brand new full time hosts, Spencer Downey & Jason Lucas.
Super Heroic was also taken over by Spencer Downey with the same Contributor Team, and the plan initially was that I would return to the show. That has not happened, and for the most part. I do not see it happening in the future. The team knows this, and we are still discussing what 2016 is going to look like.
Dead Fans Talking was taken over by Wendy Maybury and Jarret LeMaster. I returned briefly for an episode this Fall, but scheduling conflicts have not allowed me to continue. This show is also still up in the air for 2016.
I stepped away as well from Convert To Raid entirely.
Essentially, I stopped Podcasting and Streaming. And for the past four months outside of a single podcast episode of DFT in October, I have not made anything. Why?
There were two main reasons why I stopped and stepped away. First, I needed time to devote my complete mental and creative energy to Riot Games. It was a big adjustment for me, and I knew I needed to stay focused on that. Second, I needed a break from podcasting and streaming. See the Above section on Burn Out.
The process of leaving the shows could have been better on my part. I did not feel comfortable sharing with the Spazbot Community my new role at Riot Games. In fact, I didn’t share where I went for over a month publically. Why? Well, I did not want the where I was going to become the distraction for the the community. I wanted Stormcast to end and allow that to be the story for Stormcast. I wanted The Starting Zone to move forward without the story being about Mick going to Riot. In hindsight, that may have been the wrong decision on my part, but it is the decision I made.
However, despite needing that ‘break’ from making content, I had no idea the void it would leave in my life. I went from making four to six hours of programming content a week to absolutely nothing. The tweets and emails and facebook messages stopped. I went from having laughs with colleagues on a weekly basis to being alone in my own thoughts and process. That part was hard.
I have said this before, and I will write it again. There is a different between good content creation and great content creation. Good Content is well crafted, edited and produced and consumed by an audience. Great Content is well crafted, edited and produced and supported by a vibrant and passionate community of people. The community was the big reason I kept working and taking my work from hobbysit podcaster to professional content creator. It was tough to walk away from that. It is still tough to be honest, but lately I have become more and more grounded in my decision, and learning to value my new community of creative people.
I went to Blizzcon 2016 this past year for the first time as a fan. I saw some of my old friends, fellow content creators, and Blizzard staff. A lot of folks were kind enough to congratulate me on my new journey. Some people, even thanked me still for the work we did in 2016. I appreciate that. I have this memory of standing in the middle of the Con Before the Storm, and looking at the content creators and community members laughing and talking and making content. That community of people is still there. Still making stuff. Still laughing, and I am laughing with them still. I am still a fan, and I always will be.
While at Riot I have been a part of a lot of amazing projects, and I do not regret my decision to join the team in any way shape or form. Life is filled with complex emotional experiences. That is okay. You can experience joy and accomplishment and also feel lonely and worried. There is an eb and flow to everything. However, as I sit here four months after the break away, I still know I made the right decision, and I am glad that I made it. I work with some amazing people. People driven to make great things. People driven by this tremendous responsibility to honor the gamers who spend their time playing our game. I have never worked with such a collection of talented people. It is such a blessing.
I appreciate that people have asked if I will ever come back, or if I will ever make anything again, or podcast again. The answer is quite simply, yes. I will eventually do more work. I will create more things. They will be new things. They will be different things. I will be back at some point to continue the work, because I like to create things. That is my deal.
And I guess that was 2016 in a nut shell. The one thing that remained constant was my desire to create content. The one thing that changed was how I create content. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What changed for you in 2016? How do you feel those changes have affected you going into 2017? I would love to hear about your expereinences making things in 2016, and your plans for 2016! Feel free to leave a comment below, or hit me up on twitter!