By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK, April 24 (Reuters) - From snack companies to carmakers, a wide range of brands is trying to reach one of the hottest demographic groups around: esports fans.
Those brands are finding their footing with 39 percent of brand exposure in esports' competitive video game broadcasts coming from non-gaming related companies in 2018, Nielsen said in a report on Wednesday.
"Over all forms of entertainment, their biggest passion is video games," Nicole Pike, Managing Director of Nielsen Esports, said of enthusiasts of professional video gaming.
Such companies are called "non-endemic" since they are not as naturally aligned with esports as those that manufacture gaming computers, consoles, chairs and other gear, for instance.
The list of non-endemic brands in the sector and already includes State Farm, Disney, Spotify, Toyota , Mastercard, Cheez-It, Hershey, Chipotle, Sephora , Wendy's and Head & Shoulders, and is getting longer.
Viewership of esports - when fans watch in person or online as professional video game players compete - is expanding.
The bulk of fans are typically between 18 and 35 years old, referred to in the Nielsen report by esports sponsor Doritos as "emerging adults."
They have more disposable income than other sports fans and many have cut the cord to traditional media.
In fact, 61 percent of esports viewers on Twitch, a main platform for watching esports streams, do not watch television on a weekly basis, according to Nielsen, making traditional forms of marketing a challenge.
Reaching out through esports does seem to work, since 90 percent of Twitch's esports viewers can name at least one non-endemic sponsor, Nielsen found.
Brands seen as authentically interested in the space fare better than those that just slap their logo on a jersey, advertising and esports experts say.
PepsiCo's Doritos, for instance, sponsored a "Doritos Bowl" hosted by Twitch for a Call of Duty battle royale tournament between top streamers.
Fans watched nearly 550,000 combined hours of that tournament, Nielsen said.
When 20th Century Fox wanted to promote the digital release of its movie "Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut," it turned to the gaming advertising and talent agency Ader.
Ader partnered with top Fortnite influencer DrLupo and also created new custom designed Deadpool "emotes" - essentially emoji characters - that viewers use in Twitch chat windows.
An influx of non-endemic brands also adds credibility to the evolving esports ecoystem, said Chad De Luca, head of gaming and esports at Publicis Sport & Entertainment.
"It is a mark of approval from a blue-chip company," he said. (Reporting by Hilary Russ, editing by G Crosse)