Scopely doesn’t want you to ascend characters, they want you to buy them.
I think this has been their plan all along. At first they made it sightly easier to get 6* toons and the gear needed to ascend them but then they cut off the supply. Shortly after they buffed the 6s and now that you need them to compete the gear and 5 fodder needed to create them have dried up. They wanted everyone to have a taste of what 6*s were and to let just enough people to get them to force everyone else to try or be left unable to compete.
5* Benedict is not longer given out as a reward for events
Flak Jackets and Beanies placed at higher teir reward than they should be (needed to T4 a 4*, allowing you to ascend it to 5* fodder)
Ascendance medals are rarely offered
Teir rewards for events are based on the idea you have several 6* toons (2 mil milestones, etc). Making it harder for you to earn anything
And lastly, throwing 6* toons into the premier wheel.
Buy them, don’t earn them seems to be the message being sent.
Edit: Also a lot of the gear needed to ascend can be coined or bought via ‘special offers’ but not earned.
Edit: As @Plagueis pointed out below, they have also made it more difficult to level up characters at any tier due to changes to the “You Got Lucky” mission that everyone relied on for character XP