My 8 litecoin I mined years ago are now worth around $500, and it was a week's worth of mining on an AMD 7850 at that time. I used a pool (coinotron) and last time I checked (a month or two ago) they still had my coins (too lazy to manage my own wallet) and if you're going after the big coins with a small rig you should look into pools like that.
I did suggest years ago that people interested in speculation should just get a few dozen of each of the easiest coins and sit on them. If any one of them pay off years later, great, if not, no big loss. Looks like that would have paid off if I had followed my own advice.
The one thing you can almost always count on, though, is that buying them is almost always cheaper than the electricity to mine them. So if you're going to mine them, be aware that you're really only doing so as a hobby. If you are "investing" then you'll generally come out ahead buying them.
By the time Joe average computer user finally decides to jump in, this tends to be the case, yes.
Most everything gravitates towards ASICs eventually, some sooner than others. Once people discover "the easy way," whatever it is, it tends to quickly spiral beyond the point where an individual can make any progress on his/her own.