This is very variable. The first time I got a legendary artifact for accelerators was when I was in the Industrial Age. On occasion I leveled up, but age does not change on the leaderboard. But I got many artifacts for accelerators without leveling up. Many were used at university that don't generate XP. Anyway... many possibilities and it's hard to point out what each one is doing. However, this amount of accounts from lower Ages was not common in these types of events. No wonder we're talking about this.
Nope. His VIP level is not level 1 and he's not a cheat. This is just an alt account of his that he wants to get to Drone asap. His main account has won the leaderboard several times in the past. I know it looks like cheating, but I'll be very surprised if he doesn't stay at #1.