I would like to point out one thing. If we had a proper MP beta, this disscusion would most probably never happened. But they did not test MP at all, other then, "can we connect" phase, and at the end they have decided to please people who like to play fast and simple.
I mean common, this is 4x game. Everyone who decides to play any 4x game does not expect to finish game in 20 minutes. And I am sure that people who play those types of games, play them for their complexity and replayability.
"We took them out. Yes, in an ideal world we could have made this an option, but anyone who has been on a forum for any amount of time knows that you'd still have people flaming us who found tactical battles boring because while the other guy was fighting some drawn out battle, they were stuck watching it."
Ok now, who you want to please? what game are you making? Do you want to please those who like 4x games and your fans, or those who like instant action and fast gameplay? You have decided to remove tactical battles for people who does not want to play 4x game. And you would rather hear flaming from the fans of the genre? So be it...
I think, you should realise, that elemental, is not suitable for any competetive gameplay. And I do not think it will ever be. For this type of gameplay, you need simplicity(for the balance), and short games.
If you would make something like, wizzard battles(only tactical combat), with given points, which each player can use, for building army and customizing sorvegin, then yes. Something like this can work nicely, with ladders and matchmaking.
It is up to you, do wathever you fancy. Just give us, custom servers, or LAN and I am sure, people will make mods, which will deal with MP nicely.
Sword of the stars has done one very nice thing. It allowed anyone to join any created game over the internet (if creator allowed to), and join the game at any point, and also leave at any point. If player left, AI took control of his empire for the time he was being gone. Player could set how AI should act for the time when player is gone. It is really nice touch.
Battles were done in real time, with overall time limit and if battle was not decided in that time limit, it continued in next turn. Which does not work for elemental. But time limit for every move in tactical combat would be welcome.
Overall SotS is the most playable 4x game in MP, in my opinion.