It might be as you say, but no need to jump the gun and get all pessimistic. My thoughts were that you could win free pro league tickets as alliance from participating, and then leader / general can distribute. But lets wait and see.
Obviously in the top alliances many there “pay to win,” some are free - but the thing all have in common is that they know the game / how to play.
Further down, there are many players that pay money, and don’t grow so fast as they don’t play well.
You can grow fast in this game as free player if you know what you are doing, obviously could go faster paying, but I don’t think its hard to grow faster / equivalent than most paid players if you know what you are doing.