Is there a standard, such as defeating Cruel AI in 1v1?
While it is great if you can beat cruel AIs, the tactics you need to use to beat the Vicious and Cruel AIs are generally not the ones you need to succeed at with multiplayer. Those AIs get such a large income bonus and other cheats you basically need to abuse all of the AIs tactical weaknesses to inflict massive casualties and eventually win a war of attrition. Human players will not fall for these kind of tricks, they won't have any inherent economic advantage over you but they will use their fleet infinitely better than the AI and will gladly go for leave yourself vulnerable, even if that's only 10-20 minutes into the game.
If you've played online with other RTS games you should be able to adapt to it fairly quickly. Generally what you need to master is very fast initial expansion, situation awareness (I.e. try to keep scouting up at all times), the details of the counter system, that kind of thing.
Also, how big is the community? It seems to be small, which is surprising to say the least..
It's always varied, but yes it's never been huge compared to say Starcraft. Most competitive RTS players think the game takes too long and the people who like longer games think standard PVP multiplayer is too fast and cutthroat, so they only play against AI (compstomps) or with friends.