I’ve been playing for 2+ years, have had elite since my third month, and used to be very, very active. I am nowhere near endgame.
That said, one of the really fun things about this game is that, no matter where you are in the spectrum (noob to end game), you can compete and have fun. As a level 26, you can attack or defend against levels 1 - 50, and you get to pick who you attack. You have a wide array of base difficulty you can choose to attack - so you can tailor the difficulty of the game to your skills. I enjoy the fact that, though I am not one of the best fliers in the game, I won’t just hit a skill wall that renders me unable to progress any further, since there are plenty of bases in a range below and above my level I can choose from, and so many that I generally don’t have to worry about attacking the same handful of people over and over.
Also, you d on’t need to be at end game to be decent. There have been some really great fliers who left the game for one reason or another, or that are still playing but just haven’t reached end game because it is a moving target with a big price tag.
So again - without BIG money, you will not reach end game. But this game has room for fun and competition no matter what level you are, no matter your abilities and skills, no matter your spending habits.